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.
5 thoughts on “Bathhouse”
A different direction from ‘The Shopkeeper’.
You paint an excellent picture…….. looking forward to next week.
Thanks for commenting, Terry. I hope you guys have a good evening. Until next week…
This is a great story, Barry. Quite complete in such a few words. I get a sense of the bath house setting without you having to describe the surroundings. I particularly like ‘He’s in the region’ — the idea of not divulging too much and ‘Stripping his expression of its former openness’. Then — the pivotal bit: His eyes look wounded. I wondered whether you could do more with this. Rather than the speaker wondering whether he could ‘start again’ with this guy — maybe something more that implies that the 62 year-old isn’t telling the truth either — so both men actually don’t have lovers . . . For me, the thought of starting all over again kind of cheapened it a bit . . . I’d rather the idea that both men were lonely — do more with that . . .
Thanks for your feedback J. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind. What you’re describing, though, is a completely different story.
I’m thinking of working this piece into a longer story. For that, I might try taking it out of the present tense.
And for the longer piece, I’m not sure about using the word ‘bathhouse’ in the body of the story. It’s enough to have it in the title. Perhaps it doesn’t even need to be there! Take it away altogether, and let the reader decide where the action’s taking place.
What do you think?
I’d keep the title. But then I think you conjure up the atmosphere without needing to say more.