“Why are we outside? It’s cold. The rain’s soaked through my jacket.”
“What are you talking about, Stephen? The sun’s shining. It’s ninety degrees.”
My jacket is normally the color of olives, but it’s darker now, saturated.
My mother’s hair flies in the wind. “Go help your brother build a sand castle.”
Her boyfriend puts an arm around her. He’s shirtless; a thatch of chest hair sits like mildew on his pasty skin.
“God, the surf is gorgeous,” he says. “Put some lotion on the back of my neck, honey?”
My teeth threaten to shatter against each another as I shiver, clutching myself. I have no hat. Rain pounds our driveway.
“We should check on Danny,” Earl says. “Make sure the little pisser’s okay.”
I’m ten years old. I look from one adult to the other. The rain screams against the aluminum siding. Mom rubs Tropicana into Earl’s back.
“We’re at home!” I screech. “There’s no surf!”
“Then why aren’t you at school, Stephen?”
“Because,” Earl mocks.
“Why?” Mom demands.
The wind and rain and four angry eyes bearing down on me stop my breath.
“We aren’t at the beach,” I say. “It’s freezing out.”
“Why are you wrapped up in that coat?” Mom asks. “You must be dying; it’s a hundred degrees!”
They grow, or I shrink, or both.
I look up into Earl’s nostrils, into the grotesque hair protruding from his nose; I can’t look away.
Certainty runs down my leg like urine.
“Don’t be an ass,” my mother says. “It’s a beautiful day. Where’s your swimsuit? You forgot it, didn’t you? I told you not to forget.”
I begin to cry, but my eyes make no water.
“Brat,” Earl spits. “Better leave or there’ll be a scene. Danny!” He turns to me. “Your brother’s going to be pissed, Stephen; he loves the beach. You’re making us leave.”
Milky spittle springs from Earl’s mouth, beaten down by the rain before it can hit me.
“I don’t have a brother!” I scream it as loud as I can, but my voice breaks.
My mother shakes me.
“Look at me!”
I look at her as she yells. Her tonsils were never removed like mine; they are malignant red. She shakes me again. Her teeth are yellow, tobacco-stained. I no longer hear anything.
It’s cold, not hot.
It’s raining, not sunny.
My temples pulse. I feel my heartbeat in my ears, unbearable pressure at the base of my skull.
My mother drops me. I fall in a heap and look up. She and Earl are glowering.
Suddenly, I hear the surf pounding the shore. A young boy appears. He’s my brother. He towers over me.
My pupils swell. I can’t make them constrict; all the light in the world floods them.
The last thing I see is their faces, all three completely dry.
I feel rain on my skin.
And then there is nothing.