Jerry and I used to sleep together. (Yes, that Jerry.) It was intimate, tactile. A touchy-feely time. Jerry wore his hair in a close crew cut then. Soft yet prickly. How I thrilled to the texture of Jerry’s hair.
We played together. Messed around. Our fingers got wet. And gooey. It wasn’t the Fontainebleau, but I thought it an exotic surround. Amphibians under glass. A parrot in a cage. Art covering the walls, wildly colorful works of gestural abstraction.
We had no pool, but there were boys—and girls. Other bodies, sticky and warm. Bodies with translucent skin, silky smooth, lying next to Jerry, lying next to me, as I gazed into the spiral of Jerry’s ear.
Jerry and I enjoyed our snacks. We had sweet ones, mostly. But I liked best the salty butter sandwiches. Maybe Jerry did too. Or maybe he got enough bread on Sundays when his father broke it. (One thing’s for sure: Jerry never got tired of dough.)
Post-play, when Jerry and I lay down together in that drifty somnolent state, a mint-green light bounced off the walls around us. Or maybe I’m thinking of the walls in the cloakroom, not the nap room of the nursery school where Jerry and I slept together, where Mrs. Wei made sure our pants were zipped up.
Walking out of school one day, my mother asked what I had behind my back. I dropped my head, looked down at my shoes, thin red straps buckled across my foot. Nothing, I lied. She asked again. I couldn’t hide the large leaf of iceberg lettuce that I’d been given to feed the parrot.
We don’t take things that don’t belong to us. And we don’t lie about it, either. Mom tried to be serious while imparting her moral lesson. But she looked more curious than anything: Lettuce?
I admired the leaf one last time. Shaped like a big claw, patterned with a pale celadon whorl, it reminded me of Jerry’s ear cast in that minty morning light. It seemed a pity for the parrot to eat it. Mom walked me back inside, where I apologized to the bewildered Mrs. Wei. Outside again, we saw Jerry getting into his father’s car. Look, my mother said, pointing at Jerry’s father. He’s talking on a phone. The first car phone we’d ever seen.
Jerry came to my birthday party that spring. Late May in Lynchburg, peonies blooming in our yard. Our side porch crowded with five-year-olds, bolstered up at card tables. Pink paper napkins, bobby socks, smock dresses. Before the cake was served, my father put on a magic show. He passed rubber balls between his knees, swallowed coins that reemerged from his navel. Silk scarves vanished inside an egg that he cracked into a glass, the yolk runny and real.
Before the finale, he asked for a volunteer. Jerry stood up. If you don’t mind, Dad said, I’m going to poke a hole in your head. Just a small one. Jerry shrugged and laughed, said, OK. So Dad punched an icepick into the top of Jerry’s head till it disappeared in all that short prickly hair. Dad then produced a pitcher of milk and a funnel.
When he had poured all the milk into Jerry’s head, Dad asked Jerry to bend his left elbow and called for another volunteer. A girl came forward. Dad told her to pump Jerry’s right arm. Up and down. That’s it. Dad held the pitcher under Jerry’s bent elbow, and said what he often said before a trick’s final reveal: Watch closely now, because the closer you watch, the less you’re going to see.
As the girl pumped, milk flowed out of Jerry’s elbow, filling the pitcher back up.
After the cake, parents began arriving to collect their kids. Dad had known Jerry’s father since high school. Welcoming him onto our porch, Dad offered him one of the cocktails he was serving the other parents who stood around chatting as their kids got tangled in streamers and lapped up last bites of cake.
Jerry Sr. was undone, so they tell me. He cast disparaging glances, shook his disapproving head: the very idea of imbibing the devil’s juice—in front of children! He whisked his son away from our den of iniquity. But it was too late. Little Jerry already had a little hole in his head where sin could pour right in.