I’m writing this down, here on the floor in what passes for my bedroom. It’s more like a closet. I’m telling you this so you can think things over. I may hand this to you in Biology. If I don’t, you won’t know I chickened out. I’ll have to live with that.
Here goes: if you meet me by the train tracks off Kirby Road next Thursday after school, I’ll take you there. But when we cross into the thicket, you may doubt yourself. There’s no trail. The thorns will prick your calves. I saw a bobcat once. It dashed into the woods when it saw your cousin. Who wouldn’t? Your cousin is huge. Is he ever going out for football?
The entrance is only three-quarters of a mile through the brush, but it can seem much farther. Your heart will race. Mine did the first time. In the end it’s not as daunting as you’d think. The air is cool in there. It smells musty, like my mamaw’s cellar. You remember it?
When I brought your cousin, he followed me at some distance. He was huffing and puffing. I kept thinking that he would turn back, but he made a joke about enjoying the view. Still, you need not worry about him. We never so much as touched hands, not even after we drank rum and tried his vaping pen. He kept saying that he wanted to wait, that he was only a sophomore.
Nobody else knows this, but I’ve been going there about once a week since Dax left Momma. That was six months ago. The trailer makes me gloomy, especially when payday comes and she blows half on lottery tickets. She starts cursing about all manner of things. The propane bill. Joe Biden. The Mustang that Dax refurbished. After a while, I tell her I need air. When I get to that place, even when I’m not alone, the silence envelops me. It slips over my shoulders like a soft blanket.
As we hike, you’ll think that I want to hear you talk, that you must entertain me. You’ll think that you should be funny or smart or some rare combination of the two, that any boy who may have come before you met those standards. You’ll think that if you say something foolish, I’ll change my mind, turn around and text my girlfriends how it went sideways. These notions only will complicate things for you, make you tongue-tied.
Just after the entrance, you’ll hear the sloshing of murky water. As long as it hasn’t rained, it should only be ankle-deep. You’ll have to keep your shoes on. We’ll duck our heads and crawl for a stretch. Then we’ll cross some jagged rocks before we reach the drier ground. In the alcove, the stalactites will descend like falling swords.
As long as we’re there well before supper, the bats will be asleep. I’ll put my finger to your lips and ask you to pretend they’re not there. And if, when I ask you to turn off the flashlight and you object, I’ll politely ask again.
After it’s over, if I cry, you won’t know why, so please don’t ask me. The truth is, I may not know. In that place, there are things none of us understands.