Near the end of the summer after fifth grade, my mother received a call from Mrs. Raab. Her son, Eddie, was a friend of mine who lived across town. Turned out Mrs. Raab was worried that Eddie hadn’t enough friends nearby to play with and asked if he could come over to our house for a while. My mother said of course, and an hour later the wiry boy stood upon our stoop, using two fingers to brush his blonde hair from in front of his eyes.
Of all my friends, Eddie knew more than any of us about sex. He wore boxers before the rest of us. He had hair under his arms. And he was vulgar. While in line at school, he talked about pads and lips and Jamie Hickle—who he had a crush on—and about which girls he could tell stuffed their bras. He was the first person I ever heard use the word twat. He had an older sister, Brianne, who all of us wanted to do things to. What things? None of us knew exactly, but she was an eighth-grader with actual breasts and blonde hair down to her backside. Things were to be done. Eddie, in fact, was the only one of us who knew what things were. I figured he had obtained this sage knowledge from his sister. After all, I had no sisters, just one older brother who hardly acknowledged my existence anymore, and what better mentor on the subject than a fully developed sister who was almost in high school?
I was surprised to learn this wasn’t the case when he brought up the topic of his father’s magazine collection. I was even more surprised when he came over that day with two copies rolled up and stuck into one of the back pockets of his jeans, covered with his t-shirt.
Shortly after he arrived, we made the strategic decision to go up to the attic to rummage. I pulled the string that hung from the ceiling, and the hatch lowered. Eddie helped me unfold the wooden ladder and lower it to the floor. He went up first. The rolled magazines angled out from his pocket like a bobcat’s tail and jounced as he climbed the rungs. In front of my face on the red, rolled-up cover, a blonde woman sat open-mouthed and touched the insides of her thighs with her fingertips.
Long and cavernous, the attic was a wooden trove that glowed orange when the sunlight shone in. The scent of the exposed framing was pleasant, like the pages of an old book. I often liked to putter up there on my own, but it became unbearably hot, even in the cooler months. That day, however, we had decided the reward outweighed the rub. Eddie and I cleared a spot and sat down on the floor behind a velvet-upholstered trunk, just in case my mother decided to come up and check on us. Eddie then set the magazines on the floor side-by-side, Penthouse on the left and Playboy on the right. Dust settled on our skin and mixed with our sweat. Eddie opened the Penthouse to a full-page spread: the platinum blonde-haired woman, the same one from the cover, was naked and bent over a desk in a detective’s office. One naked man in a deerstalker stood in front of her face, and she held him with both hands. A second hatted man stood behind her with one hand on the small of her back and the other on his own hip. An inset near the bottom of the page featured a close-up of the behind-man about to penetrate the woman, and Eddie exhaled a low, crooning sort of whistle. I wiped a bead of dusty sweat from the outer corner of my eye and wondered how anyone could think that kind of thing would be pleasant. And then I remembered something from several years earlier, from when I was very young—something I didn’t quite understand, but it made my stomach drop.
He turned the page. Both men were inside of the woman, all the way in, one at each end.
Eddie then pulled up the edge of the insulation between two planks in the unfinished floor and slid the magazines underneath. He met my eyes with an expression of bona fide goodwill. Then he smiled warmly and said I could hold onto them for a while.
Later in the afternoon, we sat side-by-side on the couch and watched television and ate Fruit Roll-Ups until his mother came for him. During a commercial an attractive woman appeared on-screen, and Eddie and I glanced at one other. Eddie curled the sides of his mouth upward as he chewed and chewed and drew more and more of the fruit snack into his mouth.
And I clenched. Things, I thought.