Nicky Nicky Nine Doors

It started with Nicky Nicky Nine Doors—if I had to say. A finger on the bell, a quick sprint on light feet, and then stifled laughter: a man holding a newspaper, dumbfounded, or maybe a woman in curlers standing on an empty stoop.

Who passed down the ritual? Hard to know. An older brother, most likely. On the verge of puberty and feeling distracted by the pull of girls. Bored one afternoon and a flash from his own history, a reminder of some boy-code ancient and mischievous that deeds don’t die but move on to the next generation to be played out, acted, the bell rung.

Yet it lasted only so long before Benny dug a heel into the soft grass of a green lawn, tearing at the turf, and said he was bored of the game. The suburbs confined us—those winding streets curling like neat brooks weaving black water from house to house but never getting anywhere. We knew each other’s homes because they were built like our own. Boredom came easily. We knew what was around every corner and at the end of each cul-de-sac.

For years, each week, Benny would come up with something new, and George, Hank, and me would go along.

In September, three weeks before my fifteenth birthday, Benny came to us and said he had a new idea. He tossed a pebble in his hand while grinning.

We followed him out of the neighborhood, beyond the manicured lawns and hot white driveways. We cut across open fields in mid-development, new suburbs under construction, the half-finished houses standing like skeletons of grazing beasts, backhoes shepherding them through the night.

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