Sour Grass

by Victoria Lewis | A taste of the unknown.

Sour Grass

The boy reached into a clump of tall leaves and stems crowding our white picket fence, broke off a fistful of pale green stalks I’d never noticed before, and put one in his mouth. He held the rest in his calloused hand. A log truck downshifted on 101. They always slowed down before they turned in at the sawmill.

He’d been playing touch football in the street with my older brother Dave. After the game broke up, he walked into our yard.

“Just chew it and spit it out,” he said. “Don’t swallow.”

“What’s it taste like?”

“It’s sour grass, whaddya think it tastes like?”

We both wore once-white T-shirts, probably the same size. The next year I’d wear a bra under mine. Back then, I was waiting for everything: the next Archie comic, a new Beatles song, my period.

He turned his head and spit into the grass like guys who worked in the woods spit tobacco juice. He was a year ahead of me in school.

The earth smelled of decay and old rain. I bent down and, elbow deep in the cool cluster, snapped off a stalk. The whole stand swayed and thumped as I straightened up. How could I have missed this growing in my front yard?

I bit down, and acid shuddered down my back and clamped my arms to my sides. Brighter than lemon, smoother than vinegar, a green burst of sour. Two more bites, and saliva drooled out of the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t help but swallow some. The boy watched me hold back my tangled hair, lean over, and spit out a ropy strand of chewed grass. I’d never seen him smile before.

Green stained my shirt and tennis shoes. My stomach clenched and my chest vibrated like the thrum of pigeons in the woodshed loft. I reached down and broke off another piece.

“How come you don’t play football with us no more?” he asked.

“Dave won’t let me,” I said. “He says some of you guys chase me instead of who has the ball.”

I missed playing center, running and yelling “I’m open,” even though they never passed to me. I bit down. Sour fluid flooded my mouth and tightened my jaw.

“Can you still play basketball?” he asked.

The Longview, Portland & Northern, its cars loaded with wood chips, sounded its horn. Sulfur fumes from the paper mill stung my nose. I leaned over, spit hard, and drew the back of my hand across my mouth.

“Yeah,” I said. “I can play basketball.”

Victoria Lewis grew up on the Oregon coast, taught school in Portland, and has worked as a computer programmer.

This essay is a Short Reads original.

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