By the time I was five, I played mostly with other boys, but I still played with Roberta. I was the only boy she invited to her 4th and 5th birthday parties. We liked playing together, just us two, in her basement. I especially liked hiding together beneath the basement stairs.
After our fifth birthdays, while we played in her driveway, Roberta cocked her head one day, threw her pigtails, and said, “Let’s play a game.” Out of her pocket she pulled a foot-long strawberry Twizzler. Holding it up, she said, “I’ll put one end in my mouth. You put the other end in yours. We’ll eat until we get to the middle. And then, there’ll be a surprise.”
She positioned us face to face. I held one end between my teeth while her teeth held the other end. An exceptional glee covered her face. I began chomping from my end, carefully, hands at my side. Every now and then, when it seemed the Twizzler was popping out, she nudged it back into her mouth or mine.
The distance between us shrank. Neither of us said a word, except for her saying, “Keep it in.” My heart raced. The middle came closer. I could feel her body heat. She reached her hands out to hold my shoulders. Then, in a moment, our lips touched.
I flinched as her lips grazed mine. A half-inch segment of Twizzler, with my front tooth sticking out of it, dropped into Roberta’s hand: the first baby tooth I lost.
Jim Ross 85 pieces of nonfiction, a dozen poems, and 250 photos in over 90 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. Publications include Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, and The Atlantic. In the past year, he wrote/acted in his first play, and a nonfiction piece led to a role in a high-profile documentary film. He and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones—split their time between Maryland and West Virginia.