Your mother will tell you not to play doctor with the neighborhood boys, especially not that Bradley, the one a few years ahead of you in school. Listen to her. Instead, when you get to feeling like you just have to misbehave, make your kid sister stay home while you tromp alone to the field behind your house. Make sure no one is around. Just you. Then you can play Playboy. Lie down in the stiff, dead grasses. Pull down your pants; pull up your shirt. Squirm. Pose for a camera no one is holding. But don’t stay in the grass too long. You’ll get chiggers. When you look in the mirror later, don’t be surprised: You don’t look anything like those women yet.
Be careful all summer, especially with your sister, and especially when it rains. Remember that your mom told you the cul-de-sac is nothing but a big old bucket, the way it sinks down. Remember how the water spat out of the sub pump last summer, how it got clogged over and over again. Keep your eye on the weather for your mom.
When Bradley stands by the big rocks at the mouth of the cul-de-sac, leaning against them and acting tough, don’t spend too much time talking to him. He’ll ask whether or not you’re a virgin. You should say, “Well, Bradley, are you?” He’ll just laugh, but you’ll know it’s because he isn’t sure what the right answer is.
Ride your bike in the unfinished basement. Take off the training wheels and go around in super small circles. Your mom might laugh when you tell her you’re getting the hang of it. Let her. You can show her at the Fourth of July parade.
Bury your goldfish in a velvet jewelry box when he dies. Have a funeral. Dig a few inches into the hard dirt next to the house. Lay him in the box and snap it closed. Say something profound, or try to. Let your sister cover up the box; she likes the fine dirt running through her fingers.
When the night air smells like rain and your sister wants to get the mail with you across the street, outside the cul-de-sac, let her. She’ll hold the umbrella out in front of her, on purpose, letting it catch in the wind, giggling at her own lightness. A car will come down the hill too fast. You’ll have to move quickly, there will be no time to think. Save her. Shove her onto the hard concrete of the sidewalk. Watch the umbrella bounce off down the yards. Tell her not to cry. Watch the car’s brake lights brighten, then watch it speed off. Pick up your sister and carry her home.
Bradley will show up at the house when he knows your babysitter is sunning herself on the back porch. “Let me in,” he’ll say. “I wanna see her tits.” You probably shouldn’t let him in, but, if you do, keep your eye on him. Don’t let him go through your mother’s drawers. Don’t let him sit by the window without you. When you do see the babysitter untie the string to her bikini, her back naked and so long, don’t let him rap on the window like he wants to. Don’t.
Lie in bed with the sheet pulled to your chin and listen to the rain at the windows when the storms come. Listen for hail. Yell for your mom when you hear it. She’ll say, “I know, honey. I can hear it too.”
When the rain won’t stop, the bowl of the cul-de-sac will fill, just like your mom said. You’ll walk down the street with the new red umbrella over your head, your sister walking tucked into your armpit and both of you in rain boots and shorts. You’ll splash in puddles, but you’ll also see the neighbors standing too still in their front doorways, not smiling, their hands on their hips or reaching out reluctantly to feel the drops from the sky.
When Bradley knocks on your door, crying, don’t ask why. Follow him to his house. Walk through his door and try to close your nose to the smell of the mold. Watch his bony shoulders, the tendons in his neck, as he opens his basement door. Follow him down the steps into the water. Watch him take off his shirt, his shorts, his white underwear. Watch him slip, naked, into the water, and swim around in his basement, his old toys floating by. Blink hard when you think you see the velvet goldfish coffin floating next to a bloated doll. It couldn’t be. When he tells you to join him, say you can’t. Then walk down more steps until your knees, your thighs, are in the water. Feel his family’s stuff moving around your legs. Crouch down. Hold your breath. Slide in.