Ash Rehn (Stockholm University, Sweden)
Along George Street the lunchtime throng of bodies heaves in all directions. Anonymous bodies alive and hungry, distracting Benny as he punches in his guests’ arrival confirmation.
“Room 907. Ninth floor.”
“Anything else you need for your stay? Maps? Tours? No?”
“Well have a pleasant stay.”
Keep smiling until they wander away.
Benny catches a glimpse of himself in the glass wall. Smoke and mirrors. There hasn’t been a pause between guests all morning. How does he do it? It’s acting, baby, pure acting. Puppet face. Give him a job, he talks. Pull the strings, he smiles. Sure it isn’t Disneyland but it’s still acting. Back in those days, when the 19 year old acrobat playing Peter Pan sprained an ankle, Benny played a convincing substitute, despite being ten years older than the boy star. Appearances can be deceptive. Another twenty years on and it’s lipodystrophy, not age, that limits his roles now.
During the afternoon lull he knocks off, puts his suit in for dry-cleaning and heads to the gym. Back and shoulders day. While pumping out his sets he spies a young stud staring at him. Boys appear positively frightened by what he likes to call his ‘buff but ravaged’ look. Credit goes not only to the training but a chorus line of combination therapies. Oh stare and idolise if you must. Yes I am a living legend.
And so after the hard work comes the reward. The usual trolls are here in the steam room, three or four he sees regularly but never on the gym floor. A pretty young guy with a skinny waist and huge thighs stands in the corner. He can’t be more than nineteen or twenty. Holds himself like a dancer, probably in town for one of the shows. At the beginning of his career. When the door stays closed long enough, the steam builds up and thickens. The boy won’t sit down. He’s worried about catching something from the benches or perhaps he just wants the attention.
Sometimes things happen here. Does the kid want action? The prospect settles in the mist, trolls holding fast.
The young guy and Benny exchange glances. It’s a performance, a ritual Benny is happy to watch but that is all. He steps out of the steam and is in the showers only moments before the kid joins him. Conscious of his costume of popping veins and jowly features, Benny wonders about the younger man’s fascination. But curiosity is not enough to grant a private audience. When Benny’s bus arrives the kid is too slow and is left looking vainly up and down the street as the bus pulls away.
At home he turns on the screen and opens a cask of merlot. The comforting slash of alcohol in a glass is like an epilogue to his day. No one to explain to, no survival stories to tell. Tonight he plans an evening with friends. And for the cost of a 42-inch flat screen and a monthly subscription to vintage porn, here they are. Mark Wrangler (Jimmy), Brad Hunter (Felix) and so many others: his friends. And some of them were his friends. He partied with them and fucked with them. Never did porn himself of course. Good Catholic boy.
He rolls himself a smoke and loosens his jeans. Gone, every single one of them. He is the last to remain.
A living legend.
The boy from the steam-room doesn’t know this life and he never will. He is of a time when the only struggles are acts of rebellion against rubber. These guys were just having fun, making history.
The kids of today can have their bareback, their fantasies of breaking taboos or whatever it is they think they are doing. It’s all been done before for real.
Benny pours himself another glass. He imagines this body, this testament to his life, being gradually pickled and preserved in the fruity elixir he sips in the company of his friends. He wishes they were all still here but, as they are not, this is the next best thing.
Ash is interested the way we make sense of our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and others. He works professionally as an online counsellor and therapist and is currently exploring his interest in narrative therapeutic practices through masters studies in Stockholm, Sweden. He has an MA in Creative Writing from UTS and has won a number of awards for his short stories. More of his writing can be found at his website.