Beth Bosworth is the author of A Burden of Earth and Other Stories (Hanging Loose Press) and of a novel, Tunneling (Crown Publishers). Her stories have appeared in The Seneca Review, The Kenyon Review/KR Online, Image, Calyx, Guernica, Exquisite Corpse, and elsewhere. She divides her time between Arlington, Vermont and Brooklyn, New York, where she teaches English at Saint Ann's School and edits The Saint Ann's Review.
There was this boy in a book I always loved. On the cover the boy was staring at a balloon that was rising above the streets of Paris. I wanted him to look at me, not the balloon. I wanted him to notice how much we belonged together. When I think about it, nothing had changed. I was still staring at the boy who was staring at the balloon as it rose, only now, the balloon's name was Edna.
Edna had strange eyes and straw-colored hair and she never seemed to notice when her dress hiked up the back of her seat. After school we met at the tracks and went down into the underpass and she showed me how to stand over her and spread my legs. At first I felt awkward, then I got to like it. Her name was Edna, Edna Pearl. Pearl was short for something: most of her family had died, she said, before we were born.
Once in our town there was a gold rush. This teenager pretended to find a flake of pure gold in his mother's garden and then his mother came home and found us kids digging beneath her azalea bushes. I fell in love with him when I heard the sound of his father's leather strap. "Wait for me," I begged the teenager, who was shivering and crying. "Just wait until I've grown some." Every day I went into the underpass where Edna and I and Deirdre, the new girl who smoked, stood spread-legged for one another. Sometimes we modeled our chests, too. Every night I measured mine: nothing doing.
One day he showed up. Just like that, the teenager of my dreams grew into a man of twenty. As for Edna, she was wearing her mother's tie-dyed brassiere. He said, "What are we doing in this dirty tunnel? Let's go to my pad." He kept these frogs, three male frogs and one female toad living in the same terrarium. He had a roommate, too, and a waterbed but it belonged to the roommate. "Someone has to keep watch," Edna told me and the others nodded. I waited outside the door but I could see through the keyhole what they were doing. I could have knocked or gone in any time. I did knock, once. I told them his roommate was climbing the stairs.
On the way home I passed a girl in a fancy dress. She was carrying a balloon and the stains on her dress were the color of the balloon. "Can I have that?" I asked her. She shook her head. Then she crossed her ankles and smiled. "I know you," she said, "don't I know you?" I carried that balloon home and only when I was good and ready did I pop it. I keep it in a jar on a high shelf. I know for a fact it isn't ever blowing away, but even so.