Ricky pushes open the blacked-out door and heads to the counter at the back of the room. Ed trails slowly behind him, pausing to look closely at the shrink-wrapped magazines and their pictures of men and women together. They look bestial, naked, sunburned, mouths open and showing teeth. The magazines Ricky has at home are not like this, magazines of women only, alone, their clothes caught while falling off them, or running naked through the surf at the beach, the surf covering that one exact spot. “He can’t be here . . .” says the man at the front counter, as if to stop them, pointing at Ed, and Ricky waves at him, winking and saying, “He’s with me.”
Ed sees a darkened doorway with a curtain to the left of the counter, some muffled music and noises emitting from it. Ricky and the clerk are occupied by each other, and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself by asking what is back there, so instead he walks slowly, hidden from view by the shelves, into the back and through the curtain.
His eyes adjust to the darkness. The room is huge. He hears a jangle of televisions on different channels played loud and close to each other: yells, music with fast beats, recorded breathing that sounds too heavy and too close. He smells sweat, old sweat, like a locker room, layered over with the stinging fragrance of soap. He walks down the four rows of doors, made of cheap pine and washed gray with primer, until he finds an open booth and stands in the doorway. A television plays mounted on a shelf to his right, a bench sits in front of him. The ceiling is open at the top, and when he looks up he can see squares of blue light, flickering in a grid along it, coming from the booths.
He sits down on the bench. The television’s brightness is a pressure on his eyes. A black bar rolls up the screen, signaling the beginning of a movie, and he watches as a convertible driven by a husky blond man fills the screen. The title appears: Pleasure Beach.
His brother steps into the doorway. For a moment Ed can’t tell what the expression is on his face, and then realizes it is fear.
“Don’t you ever come in here again,” Ricky says. He reaches down and pulls Ed from the booth by his arm. Ed does not resist. “Never, never, never. There’s nothing back there but ugly men, Eddie. No women are back there. Don’t fucking go back there.” Ricky walks quickly, head down, past the smiling clerk, dragging Ed from the store.
They don’t talk about it again. They return to normal, but sometimes when Ricky looks at him, Ed can feel it, the fear, like the heat of the sun on his skin. He knows what Ed also knows, that some day, when Ricky is not there, Ed will return.