At the bathhouse, I smile at a man in the changing area. I’ve come out of the sauna to get a cup of water. He’s sitting on a small white towel, on the bench next to the fan. We start to talk.
He’s sixty-two. He tells me that he has found love recently. ‘It came into my life, just like that,’ he says. He asks me about my love life, whether I am with a partner or not.
I tell him, but what I say isn’t quite the truth: ‘Yes, I’m with someone,’ and then he asks me how long for, and I say, ‘Ten years.’ I feel my eyes roving to the left as I say it, and I wonder what that indicates.
‘That’s a long time,’ he says. He glances briefly at my penis. But his eyes contain a mere curiosity, as if we were in the street and he were looking at my watch or my shoes. ‘Tell me,’ he says. ‘Is it still love, or just going through the motions?’
I’d normally tell someone asking this to mind their own business. But I see a genuine interest in his manner, and I realise he might be doing research for his own relationship, his new love – planning to prepare for the problems that might occur in a relationship after a decade.
I feel a compulsion to tell the truth. ‘I’m not really in a relationship,’ I say. ‘There’s someone, but not really. No.’
‘No. I’m used to saying that I am. In here. It’s a habit. A reflex. Sometimes, you know.’
‘Oh. Yes. Yes. I can see why you told me you were,’ he says. He understands, just like that! ‘I’m an older man. You’re a young man. What are you? Thirty-five? Forty?’
I nod. He’s in the region.
‘Yes, I understand. I can see your reasons. In a place like this. Sometimes, you don’t want the attention. You needn’t have worried, though. I’m not here for—well. I told you. I’ve found love.’ He crosses his legs, looks at his knees then uncrosses them. There’s a scar on his taut stomach. ‘I still like a steam every now and again, though. And no-one bothers me in here.’ He sighs. ‘No. No-one bothers me. And now, that’s okay.’
He stands up, and smiles, but it’s a polite smile, stripping his expression of its earlier openness. ‘So no hard feelings,’ he says.
But. His eyes look wounded.
He fills a plastic cup with water, and I look at his body. He’s fit. His body is lean; his ass is defined and porcelain-like. Chop off his head and he could be my age. He’s looked after himself. I feel myself becoming aroused. And I wonder if there’s any way I can start again with him.
© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.