: Cross Keys :

an excerpt by Brian Henry


There were three of us then in the neighborhood. A new subdivision with five houses when I moved into it a few months into fifth grade. The other two were brothers, Victor and Ricky, who lived across the street one house over. Theirs was closer to the entrance, my house was the last. The pavement stopped about a hundred feet past my house, then gravel, then woods, all on a gradual downhill. We eyed the slope for sleds, which none of us owned, or needed, that year. But we built a ramp with cinderblocks and plywood we secured from construction sites, would remake whatever the workmen tore down.

My house was brick, theirs white. The other houses were gray, tan, and blue. A pattern that would replicate itself a few dozen times over the following year. We’d bet each other—comics, sparklers, packs of Spree—what color a house would be. Whenever I thought I had figured out the system, the developers would do something like placing two blue houses across the street from each other. But I usually won—why Victor and Ricky kept the stakes low.

Because we were the first, we owned the neighborhood. Every boy who moved in after us would have to go through the three of us. Even if they were a year or two older than Victor, who was three months older than me and a year older than Ricky. Unless they were in high school, then they just ignored us. Sometimes, for short periods—a month at most—we would allow a fourth into the fold, but the normal state of things was the three of us, always returned to the three of us. The fourth eventually fell away, or we squeezed him out, suddenly tired of him.