FLASHBACK BY KEVIN ESSER
The following short story by American writer Kevin Esser was published in the thirteenth issue, October 1982, pp. 17-19, of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, published by Spartacus in Amsterdam.
The drawing accompanying the original story, the cover and the photos are all from the same issue of Pan.
“Get the water out and you can see better,” I advise. “Believe me. I wouldn’t lie.”
And so the young dude with the red headband wipes his eyes of the windy tears. “Yeah. You’re right, man. But then you know that.”
A German Shepherd lopes by like a tornado on a leash, dragging sunburnt boy oh-so-bright in yellow and blue and flame red, feathery hair singing in the musical breeze. Musical. Tunes floating to Olympus on furry wings. Stopping at our balcony to say hello and goodby.
“Look at that sky.”
My roommate nods. “Nice, man. You're right.”
Goose bumps and motorcycles eating at dreams just beneath the surface. Then vanishing as the breeze tears away a piece of sun and coats the balcony and campus and bicycles in milky way of shimmering yellow ... too hot.
Bob Dylan pumps out a Tom Thumb Blue with raisin-coated windpipe of almonds and alfalfa. Smell and taste the jingle-jangle rain and bourbon cutting like broken beer bottles through brain tissue….
The young dude in red headband squints and licks his lips of all demons and sun gods ... lurking. Looks up. Clouds exploding in puffs of smoke. Sun polishing the blue chrome of heaven. Don’t look up. Too dangerous. Might forget where you are. Much too risky. Look down.
Tennis rackets scraping the sky and, Christ, I remember what’s happening now. Dogs screwing and, man, you know it’s spring! And boys in sweaty shorts, sun-tanned legs, freckled shoulders peeling under laser sun. Balls thumping on red clay, kicking up dust. Mêlée of soccer…. Nimble lads in emerald-green, ruby, lemon — white knee socks — hair flopping, damp behind the ears — sweet whiff of sweat. Primal whoops in schoolyards, tearing up grass with dirty sneakers ... and wait. Cold spray of showers teasing lathered bellies, hips, pale thighs. Swirl of suds. Glance down, brother, then up. Towels sliding in slow anticipation, tucked here, draped there, slipping away down young brown legs. Standing in pool of tepid water, dripping, feeling the eyes from behind. A jiggle of flesh, still wet, pink, then turn away. Hurry …
“It is hot, though,” I sigh.
And, yeah, that’s right, too. Hot. Skin the colour of rouge on whore’s cheek. But you know that’s not right. He said so, didn’t he?
He glances around. “Now here’s the solution.”
“To everything.” Brushing back hair and grimacing as the sitar wails. “Eat. Always eat. And play. Have fun. And when you see something you like, smile.”
“Sounds very simple.”
“But it’s not, you know. No one ever does it. It’s much too complex, really, for the average chump.”
So watch the languid princes with honey curls, strutting, snug denim cut-offs frayed above the knees. Procession of beauty too rich for use ... Romeos with codpieces bulging. I watch, tastefully, eyes darting behind sunglasses in discreet lust. Every little bit helps. Smile at slender brown cupid in lime T-shirt cut away below the nipples, loose white gym shorts stained in back with dagger of sweat — sway of hips, tilt of head, finger exploring satin belly ... It can’t be. Tell me it ain’t so ... as he bends over, keeping knees stiff, to tie a shoe. Then a sly glance over the shoulder, lips moist, hinting at smiles and whispered lies. Daylight. Moonbeams. Dawn. Some dew ... some don’t.
… don’t give in. Never.
“You’re wrong, chum,” I conclude.
“Sure you’re wrong. This is all wrong! And that’s what’s wrong. It’s so hard. I can hardly breathe sometimes. Like now. I’m all confused. Inside of a brick. Struggling. And no one sees. And if they did, I wouldn’t even know.”
Kites flapping in circles. Walking. People always walking. And shouting, and braying the same tune as yesterday and yesterday and yes, today. The music plays, but you’ve heard it. Last summer. And it’s half a lifetime old. Way down. Twinkle, baby, twinkle.
“You are in trouble, then.”
“Sure, baby, I’m in trouble. And that’s all that keeps me going. Because my troubles are mine, and you can’t have ’em.”
“Maybe they’re not just yours, my friend.”
Do a handstand, and walk five steps to the right. Or left. Now bend over and quack….
“Who can tell,” I wonder.
“Maybe I can.”
White shorts. Blue shorts. White T-shirt. Blue striped. Smile. Don’t you dare. Or do you?
“I doubt it. But I don’t really. And that’s my trouble.”
“I’m not really here. Or if I am, I shouldn’t be. Or I should, but I don’t want to be. Is that fair?”
“Not really,” he informs me. “You don’t have that right. Nobody does.”
But I see the barefoot scamp in faded jeans, holes at the knees. Too-tight zipper pulled up, not quite, leaving peephole of white. Fishing pole and baseball cap. Tramping through sun-mottled forest in afternoon cicada-rasping heat. And the tree accepts gentle little-boy splash of gold as he pauses, whistling, gazing down … lazy fish-flop in solitude, reflection of black curls, yellow curls, bending together, almost touching, watching, eyes blinking rapt in summer silent sun.
“How do you ride those things?”
No answer, of course.
But bicycles zoom, criss-crossed. Youngster with sun-pinkened nose, damp cheeks, stops suddenly, grasping handlebars, hops three steps before catching his balance. Stands straddling his bike, grinning and panting in sweaty puffs, jeans stretched to busting as he stoops to touch my shadow. . . . Crouching, splashing paint on the fence, golden arms speckled white, the boy glances around, tips back straw hat with nudge of his finger, smiles….
Remember the smile ... and the yellow sun that once exploded through the blackness of the balcony — I remember. Now dead. A bit of orange, too. Or is it red? When I paint my masterpiece. . . .
I turn. “Well?”
“Well, what is your problem?”
“What are my,” dog sniffing at a lamp post, “problems.”
“I like legs.”
“Lovely hairless young legs.”
“Not too strange.”
“I love to look at them.”
“When they’re moving. Or standing still. You know, it really doesn’t matter. But they’ve gotta be young. Slim.”
“Of course, man. Beauty. Eternal verities, and all that. That’s what keeps me going. And solar complexities. And football games. And days turning into evenings and nights without anybody noticing. Stars, moon, the whole thing. Very rhapsodic.”
Smell of young feet in year-old tennis shoes ... slippery … damp ... dirty toes wiggling free. Arrows point the way toward salvation. Remember.
“Shall we go inside?”
“Wind. Getting chilly.”
Si, si. Hot. Very, very good!
“Well, yeah, if you really want to.” Standing and watch your head.
I shrug. “It’s useless, man. I can feel it. I’m all knotted up inside. Little balls of thread going nowhere. Ravelled up. The sleave of care ... you see?”
“I don’t see why I should. Who cares, really? In the end, I mean. I could use a cherry pie. Or at least a piece. But I’m too lazy, you see? Can’t even buy food anymore. Too lazy. And too cheap. So what am I waiting for?”
“You’re great, man. Or should I call you ’Sigmund’? You need a little grey beard, you know? You’d be a smash. A sensation. Which reminds me, what am I doing here?”
“You’re living, babe.”
“Yeah, I suppose. You should know. But it really doesn’t matter. I’m living on a treadmill, that’s the thing….”
So think of the old swimming hole, sap! (I think, therefore I thwim.) Eager shedding of damp T-shirts, tattered blue jeans. Flash of sun on copper-slick limbs. Brown ripple of flesh beneath pale green water Legs flexing in languid rhythm. Glisten of knees breaking the surface. Sturdy boys sun-browned and grinning, stretching up arms — smooth beneath — to stroke the sky. Pants hanging in wrinkled defiance on ‘No Swimming’ sign as sleek pups revel. Let the water caress, son . . . velvet fingers, so warm ... and two boys, paddling lazily in place, glance down giggling through the shimmering play of water….
Blond boy floats on his back in sparkle of sunlight, eyes closed, water beaded on cocoa cheeks, feet gently treading, hears a giggle and opens his eyes ... glances down where his friend’s gaze leads him, past glisten of lean brown belly….
Slender lad in snug swimming trunks the colour of fresh blood — saunters away up the beach, kicking at sand with brown toes as I watch in sweaty charade of indifference — shoulders moving in lazy feline roll, stoops to grasp a shell, raven curls unruly in fickle breeze ..., a fine sparkle of sweat on his bare arms, bare legs, cooler now as evening shade deepens — shivers, hugs himself, looks around in slow dissolve, lips parted ... all breath stops ... and two boys, cousins, stand up after lounging in noon sun, brushing sand from their backsides, dark thighs powdered with dried salt ... stealing a downward glance, grinning, beginning to shiver in eager remembrance of young fingers teasing ... then a shy, boyish caress.
Enough! ‘I feel like my insides are stuffed with bread and sugar. All sticky and messed-up and nowhere to go. So futile. I keep getting knocked down and standing up and getting knocked down on my ass again. What happens if I don’t get up? That’s what really worries the hell out of me. What if I just don’t get up?”
Young lad ambles past in powder-blue splendour. Flying mane of spun gold. I get up.
And up ... Amen.