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Lacto-Intolerant

"Nice titties for sucking baby."

"What did you say?"

"You heard me." He smiled a slow smile. His eyes flashed.

He was very black, around six feet tall, short hair, perfect features, very good looking, walking a bicycle on 23rd heading west. I was heading east. It was lunchtime. Rush hour.

I could have not heard him. But I did. I heard him more from the look on his face than from the words that preceded it.

I stopped. "What's your problem anyway?" I said. Normally I wouldn't have bothered, but there was something about him.

He stopped too. "I don't have a problem, baby," he said. The look still there, that smile. His fingers rested lightly on the handlebars of his bike. Red. Tall and thin. People forced around us. We a small island, our edge defined by the bike.

"You do," I said to him. "You do have a problem. Talking to me like that. Your mother'd be ashamed of you she heard you talking like that." I tried to sound hip and annoyed but it came out angry and thin. I tried to sound black but it came out white. I slapped at the air.

It was a hot day and on hot days city heat is magnified to the point where you share what air there is with every person, every car, every building, or you don't breathe.

"Baby," he said. "My mother'd be proud of me, proud. She'd say ‘Son, I taught you right didn't I now'." He played the bike back and forth beneath his fingers.

I knew I should move on. But his words kept catching at me, like a pair of hands. "I should tell your mother," I said again. I wagged a finger at him.

He took my wrist in his free hand, breaking the city's Don't Touch rule. Our small island got smaller. But my breasts. They filled up faster than you could hail a cab home to a crying child and they let loose. Milk soaked the front of my shirt. We both looked down.

"Baby," he said, shaking my wrist lightly and then releasing it. "I told you," he whispered and headed down 23rd, the bike a big dog at his side.

Over the years, Susan Hradil has had poetry, short stories and literary essays published in various journals. Her most recent publication is a short story in the current issue of Ontario Review. Originally from Brooklyn, she lives and writes, quietly, in Rhode Island with her husband, daughter, cat and mother.

Copyright © 2004 Susan Hradil.