By Gum


As I watched the gum kill my sister, all I could think was that I knew this would happen someday.

Carrie always had a mouthful of gum, a wad of goo that turned her words to sludge. She went to bed each night with artificial flavors and colors tucked safely into her cheek.

You're gonna choke, I'd say.

I need it, she'd say. And she did. Carrie was a bonafide addict. At Thanksgiving, we all used to lay bets on when her teeth would start to go. Aunt Becky cleaned up when Carrie cracked one at seventeen. She switched to sugar-free and the betting pool shifted to cancer.

Carrie chomped away even in her sleep; the noise invaded my dreams. That night I was in a factory surrounded by machine maws set with rows of metallic teeth. They crashed to a halt of squealing gears, the menace evaporating, and I knew something was wrong. Without the sound of clicking jaws, the room seemed surreal, the darkness foreign. Carrie's panicked gasps filled the void, growing faint before I recognized the sound for what it was. I stumbled across the six feet between her bed and mine, but it was too late by then. The gum was like a living thing; sticky tendrils had grown across her face, clogging her nose and curling through her dark hair to wrap around the bedposts.

The pack was still sitting on her nightstand, the cheerful blue foil reflecting the edge of moonlight. So innocuous, that gum, lying there evoking memories of pigtails and birthday parties. Carrie's hand spasmed once against the striped yellow comforter and lay still. My fingers closed around the gum. I was careful not to squeeze as I slipped the pack into my pocket.

The funeral was Thanksgiving all over again. Sue the manufacturer, said Uncle Paulie. Auntie Marcia wanted to call in a paranormal expert and search the house for ghosts. My mother was haggard, disbelieving. Silent. And still the gum was in my pocket, all clean lines and sharp edges. My fingers slid over the packet when they put my sister in the ground. Cousin Roger went on about aliens infecting our snack foods while he drove me home.

Me, I don't think we know enough to figure out exactly what happened that night. I stayed out of the arguments and kept my name off the petition Becky's son-in-law Jacob drew up.

Instead I handed out three pieces of gum at work, just to see.