There’s a grate in the curb on the sidewalk across the street from my house.
When I was younger, I was sort of afraid of the grate. It’s sort of a rusty brown iron color and underneath it, there’s a lot of black. Just an opening, and it drops out of sight fast, swallows the light, like your closet at night. You can see down for a little way, then the light stops going down, and you can’t see anything anymore. Just the slimy walls where the water trickles into the hole, and it falls and echoes and makes all sorts of weird, scary noises. It’s like hearing a rock fall into a deep, wet well, except nothing ever hits the bottom of the well. There’s never a splash when the rock finds the water pooled down there, in the dark, and cool.
So anyway, the light never goes all the way down. You can’t see it playing on the wavy, shiny-black water. You can hear drips of water somewhere, but you can’t see them ripple on the surface of whatever’s at the bottom of the pit under the grate. I think maybe the light’s afraid to go down there. Afraid to show you what’s hidden down there. Afraid to show you what’s lurking, waiting, watching, hoping. Hoping you’ll get too close. Stick something down there. Poke a stick in, maybe, or reach for your ball that rolled in. It’s down there, but you can’t see it. The light won’t go in there.
When I was seven, me and Jason Crawton were playing this game in the street, just being kids, passing time on after school or something. And he kicked this ball, and it rolled toward the grate. It was funny, ’cause the ball, see, the ball was too big to fit down the grate. It got stuck, wedged between the concrete of the curb and the iron or steel or whatever the grate’s made of, and just … stayed there. I chased after the ball, and would have grabbed it, really, but then … well, I think the ball moved a little. You know what I mean? How sometimes when you run, things are all jouncy and bouncy and jiggling and stuff, ’cause you’re running and all, but you can still see what’s going on? I was getting close to the grate, you know — I didn’t know something hid there then, I didn’t know the light wouldn’t go down there — and when I got pretty close and started to reach for the ball, it sorta moved. Just a shift, really, not a big, noticeable move. Just sort of a skid, like something scooted the ball a little to make room. Make room for maybe grabbing a hand reaching for the ball.
Something like that, maybe. I don’t know for sure, but I am sure I saw the ball move, just a little.
And, you know how when something is creeping you out but you’re not really, really scared — just kinda spooked a little — all the little hairs on your body stand up and do funny, ticklish things and you get goosebumps all over? You know that feeling, sorta like someone ran ice down your back or maybe touched you real light in a sensitive spot on your skin, that sensitive spot that’s never in the same place twice, that makes you get all weak and trance-y and stuff? You know that sensation I’m talking about?
Well, I got that sensation. I got it real good, and all the hairs stood up all over me and my skin broke into goosebumps and my insides went all soft and jittery. I stood there watching the ball, just a few feet away from it, and waited for it to move again. I waited, and watched, and waited, until finally Jason yelled at me, telling me to hurry up, get the ball, what the heck, that kinda stuff.