I love Aunt Belle . She is always interested in me but she doesn't want me to do anything special. She just likes to watch me play. She says I make her smile. I can be playing and I'll look up and see her, happy that I'm happy.

This morning, I thought Mom was going to take me to the beach and suddenly she said, Belle's taking you. I wanted to feel sorry, and I think I did a little bit, but not very much, because I knew that a day at the beach with Belle would be better than a day with Mom. I felt sad to think this, but its true.

Mom at the beach would sit for a few minutes, then stand up and walk around her towel, the way the parrot in the Wild Things pet store which is chained to its perch is always walking sideways the length of the chain. She would twist her head in every direction, like the parrot. She has a look on her face like she's about to scream, from boredom, I guess. She would call me every second: John, come here. John, what's the matter with you? John, fix your hair, its standing up on end. Or, worse, she would look away and think of something else, and not even know I'm there. I feel like she's angry at me all the time, but when I ask her, she says no. Why would I be angry at you? You haven't done anything. Then, after a half hour at the beach, mom would say, OK, John. We've been to the beach, like your father wanted. Let's go now.

I know that its maybe his fault she would have been angry. Because he said he'd take us to the beach, and then he didn't come. That happens a lot. Its like he doesn't want to spend any time with us. So maybe mom misses him and is angry when we're alone.

I can't tell her that I'm glad when dad doesn't come. I know my dad loves me and I admire him and want to be like him. But when he's around, its like he's still in the army, and then so am I. John, don't slouch like that, you'll get a rounded back. Hold your shoulders up. Throw your chest out. Let's see how far you can run--race me to that jetty and back. Let me show you how to do push-ups. Here, throw me this ball. John, you throw like a girl, let me show you how to throw overhand. Lets arm-wrestle. John, let me give you a word of advice: never let the other guy know how much it hurts. John, be a man. Men don't cry. Only girls cry. I thought I had a boy, not a weak little girl.

I'd rather be alone with mom.

Being with Aunt Belle is even better. Because then we can stay a long time. And I don't have to worry about Aunt Belle, because she's never unhappy.

At the beach today, we meet three interesting people. The grown-up is Terry Lazare , who Belle says is a big professor at Brooklyn College. He teaches very complicated stuff, which Belle and then Mr. Lazare tries to explain, but which I don't understand. He is a brown man with a black and gray mustache. Aunt Belle works with him at the college and he is very nice to her. He says, Your aunt is very smart and she does good work.

He is with his daughter, Samantha and his niece, Lina . Samantha is four. She is a very serious little girl with black bangs. She wants to understand everything. I like Samantha. She comes over and watches me playing with Junior in the water and she says, What is he? I tell her all about Junior the allosaurus and she says, Can I have him? I say no and she bites her lip and her eyes get very full like she is about to cry. She makes me think, everyone is probably always saying no to you. Aren't they? I see how Lina isn't interested in her, and how her dad talks to Belle and to Lina all the time and not her. I say, You can't keep him, but you can play with him the rest of today, as long as you give him back. And she is very happy. She sits in the water and keeps dipping him in and out, making up a story about Junior and a big shark. I lie down in the waves and I pretend to be the shark, jumping up and trying to grab Junior. Samantha is laughing so hard she's about to fall over and I think, You're happy now. If its so easy, how come everyone doesn't do it all the time?

Lina is very pretty, with her dark curly hair and freckles. She doesn't have breasts yet, not like the girls in my class who last year were suddenly saluting the flag with their hand on their shoulder instead of over their heart. When she does, she'll be one of the most beautiful girls in school. I saw her sometimes in the yard last year, but I never met her until now. Lina knows how pretty she is, too. She follows me around the beach, wanting me to talk to her. She's perfectly nice and friendly, but I know she would like us to ditch Samantha, and I won't.

Every little while, I look up the beach to Belle, and she always notices me and gives me a wave and a big smile.

Maybe the professor likes my aunt a little too much. For an important man, he's not a snob, like most of these people are. He talked to me a while as if I was a grown-up. Even though I couldn't understand a lot of what he was saying, I thought he was trying the best he could, and not putting on airs or saying, Young man, you wouldn't understand. And no-one could blame him for liking Aunt Belle or thinking she's very pretty. Especially in that bathing suit.

Belle is old, almost thirty, but sometimes, when she smiles, she looks like a much younger girl and then I feel funny. I think, I would like to marry someone just like Belle. I read a book in which a man goes into a sort of a pod that stops him from aging; he just sleeps until a little girl has grown up, so he can marry her. And I had a daydream in which Belle does the same, so I can be her husband. Its kind of sick, but I'm not related to Belle. She is an aunt by marriage, not by blood, so its not as bad as if she was related.

Two years ago, I wrote a composition at school about her. The assigment was to write about someone in our family. First, we were supposed to describe what they look like, then what they do, then make some more remarks about them. I wrote, sometimes I wish Aunt Belle was my mother, because she's so nice to me. I was younger then, and not yet thinking about marrying Belle. I was stupid to write it, because I forgot that dad likes to read over my homework. He saw that and he did that thing where his eyebrows go up and his forehead wrinkles. I was afraid he would be angry at me but it was more like he was mad at mom. Which made me feel really bad, like I got her in trouble for not being a good enough mom. Then he must have gone and showed it to her, because she came to me a few days later and said, Did you really write that you wished Belle was your mother? I said, yes, I'm sorry mom, I don't mean it. But she started to cry. Her face didn't move, it was like stone but big tears were coming out of her eyes and her shoulders were shaking. I hugged her and said, mom, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. And she put her arms around me and said, John, John its not your fault. I too am sorry, but how can I explain to you? You couldn't understand.

I was crying too. For a moment I thought, with her arms around me, I love you more than Belle. But then she held me away from her, and looked in my eyes. She had stopped crying and for a little while she was just looking at me, then she said, Please stop crying, John. Your father might see, and what then?

John in 1970