(c) 2016, Ste McCabe
The second that Alex’s underpants drop down to his ankles, the rigidness of his everyday life is discarded along with the cheap cotton he kicks away. A pale, naked Buddha, he sits on a beach towel with his ankles tucked and genitals exposed. This is the same beach where he’d burned his fussy skin into hard red plastic just twelve days earlier, yet there is no way he can resist stripping off in the powerful heat again.
Egg on legs, Alex thinks as he glances at his protruding football belly, but he’s not ashamed of it like he is when he’s back in Liverpool. Nearly forty now, fella, he reasons, slightly detached, as if he were discussing an ageing celebrity in a magazine.
Alex’s ‘real’ life is poisoned with self-consciousness. Passive in almost every situation, he utters ‘sorry’ with an absurd regularity. If strangers spill drinks over Alex or step on his toes, he apologises to them. ‘Sorry! My fault. Sorry, sorry …’
The men’s nudist beach feels unreal; beautiful, yet clichéd, like an image from a rude European postcard. He absorbs the elements of the Spanish Island like a mindless seal bathing on a rock; the warm breeze on his neck, the violence of the waves, grown men splashing each other like simple toddlers. His basic senses work hard, forcing his hundred-mile-per-hour brain to finally take a back seat. No shame.
A short, elderly German woman startles Alex with a ‘Hallo!’ Totally naked, she stands casually with hands on saggy hips, her sparse white hair dancing in the breeze as if a helium balloon were mocking it.
Fighting a natural urge to hide his cock, Alex slips on a pair of plastic sunglasses and experiments with small-talk: ‘Hiya, chicken. I hope you’re feeling better today than I am. I feel rough, I’m tellin’ yer!’
The old German woman raises a cheeky white eyebrow, ‘Ah, you must have been visiting the man’s clubs last night. You boys!’ she laughs with mock disapproval. ‘I came here with my wife for some days, but everything’s for boys. Do you know if there are any bars for lesbians, perhaps? Even just a little place somewhere?’ She smells strongly of sun tan lotion, with a faint whiff of beer in the mix. Her rectangular-framed sunglasses seem ill-suited, giving her the look of a comic book alien.
Alex scours his brain for a women’s venue. After a small pause, he responds confidently: ‘I don’t think so, y’know. I’ve hardly seen any women. I just heard it’s a gay men’s paradise, which is why I’m here! Ha!’ He feels a tiny pulsation at the tip of his penis when he says the word ‘gay’, and a familiar feeling of guilt begins to rush. Not in front of the nice German lady, he orders. Surprisingly, it obeys.
If strangers attempt to make small talk with Alex at Liverpool bus stops, he panics and avoids eye contact, experiencing the kind of pressure that a performer feels when standing before a hostile audience. But here – chatting away to a naked stranger – he feels like he’s gulping in clean air after having a pillow held over his face.
‘Ay, ay, ay’, the German woman tuts, shaking her head. Alex’s heartbeat increases, thinking she’s noticed his cock-tinge, but with deep relief, he realises that she’s merely continuing the conversation. ‘My wife is so angry with me today. She won’t leave the hotel. “Go out and make yourself a gay boyfriend”, she said! Can you believe it? She wanted to make holidays in Lesbos, but I insisted we come here.’
A group of naked fifty-something Spanish men talk with animation behind her. A huge fly dances around her static, wispy hair; she swats it away and sighs again at her predicament, ‘Ay, ay, ay.’
Alex feels an almost euphoric calm. It’s as if the gorgeous weather, naked bodies and the friendliness of the German woman have all conspired to create ease; a synchronistic spell that’s been waiting for these three ingredients to mingle. He nods politely as she speaks, adding in the occasional ‘Aah’ or ‘Mmm’.
‘Perhaps me and my wife could join you for a cocktail tonight?’ the German woman asks. ‘You wouldn’t leave two old lesbians all alone in this man’s place, would you? Oh, I’ve never seen so many men. Such a disappointment,’ she complains, shaking her head again, ‘ay, ay, ay.’
Alex instantly abandons his plans for an early night, seizing the opportunity for genuine friendship. ‘I’ve got room for a mojito tonight hen, sounds like a great idea. I’ll be on the pull though, be warned!’ Speaking his unfiltered truth – living truly in the moment – feels like an ironic pretension for Alex, as if he’s not being loyal to his ‘real’, false, self.
They arrange to meet at Sparkles Showbar at 6pm. The German woman waves Alex goodbye, mumbles cheerily to herself, and limps away towards the kiosk-bar at the far end of the beach. She’s a bit bonkers, Alex thinks, but she’s lovely. Imagine if my Mum had been like her.
The first cool breeze of the day surprises him. His mood changes. The German woman has blended in with the mass of tiny bodies scattered around the distant kiosk. Slowly, Alex feels himself begin to disappear, just like the German woman has.
Alex spends the evening packing his pale British beach clothes back into his suitcase. He drinks tea with powdered milk whilst quietly preparing for his morning flight.
As Alex listens to the excitable screams of new holiday arrivals to the hotel, he buries his head underneath his pillow and imagines the scene between the German woman and her wife when he didn’t show up. ‘Oh, these terrible boys!’ He wraps a familiar bleakness all around himself like a heavy, wet blanket.
Partly for the German woman, but mostly for himself, he whispers, ‘Sorry’.
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Ste McCabe is a musician, tarot reader and new fiction writer. He lives in Scotland with his husband, two cats and a needy whippet.
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