The Brotherhood of the Travelling Shorts
By Jeff Baker
Stephen and Roy spent the summer on the beach, in a rented bungalow that dated back to the 1940s. They spent their evenings together but when Roy holed himself up with his computer for “my daily telecommute,” Stephen wandered out to walk along the beach, slowly with his cane, checking out the guys in their beach bodies, the hunk doing somersaults, the guys tanning. Stephen sighed and imagined that they were all staring at the 20-something with the bad leg. “Withered,” some people called it. At least he could get around. And at least he’d found Roy.
He sighed and looked up the beach. There was a lopsided, one-story building near a large rock formation; maybe he could grab a snack there. It didn’t look crowded. Stephen didn’t like crowds. He gave a backward glance at the guy doing somersaults and then walked determinedly up the beach.
The sign on the building was cracked and worn away, but there were lights in the windows and an OPEN sign in one of them. Stephen pushed open the door and found himself in a well-lit jumble of glass cases, surfboards, and beachwear with snack foods in a cooler. Stephen looked around. He sniffed the air; the room smelled more like the sea than the beach did.
Nobody else seemed to be there.
“Hullo,” Stephen said. “Um, anybody here?”
“Just a minute! I’m coming, I’m coming!” The voice was deep and Stephen looked around again and then saw a man in a Hawaiian shirt and glasses with a bald head surrounded by a frizz of white hair. He was rushing towards the counter that had a cash register on it and was only about four feet tall.
“Gotta hire somebody or at least lock up when I have to use the…ah! Can I interest you in a surfboard?”
Stephen tried not to grin, and thumped his cane. “I doubt I’m the surfboarding type.”
“Never can tell!” the man said. “I was a champion surer back in the day!” He grinned broadly. “Then I got married and my wife said she’d kill me if I ever got on a board again. And said then she’d divorce me!”
They both laughed.
“So, I got this place, and we’ve been living happily ever after. Oh, I’m Mr. Bertanzetti. You’re not living happily ever after I see.”
“Uh, yeah, well most of the time, but…” Stephen began.
Behind the counter, Mr. Bertanzetti eyed him up and down.
“I have just the thing.” He ducked behind the counter. Stephen imagined he’d been sitting on a tall stool. A moment later, he walked from behind the counter and handed Stephen what looked like a flowered handkerchief. “Try these on.”
Stephen examined what he’d been handed; a pair of flowered silken shorts. Bright yellow flowers, hint of green or red stems with a black background
“John Marvel himself used to wear those when he took his board out,” Bertanzetti said pointing at a picture on the wall of a young, muscular, tanned man holding a surfboard. “Try them on!”
Stephen stared at the shorts and wrinkled his nose.
“They’ve been washed. Try them on.” Mr. Bertanzetti gestured at a door labeled Dressing Room, half-obscured by some boxes. Stephen shrugged and walked over to the dressing room, looking up at the railing in front of the stairway leading to the upper floor and another door.
The dressing room was about the size of a handicapped men’s room stall. Stephen sat down, worked his way out of his jeans and tried on the shorts. They were comfortable, a nice fit. He tried to guess how old they were; there was no label. He stood up, bracing himself against a wall and looked in the full-length mirror on the back of the door.
Staring back at him, wearing the shorts and his shirt was a tall, muscular, figure. Tanned, blond hair, nice teeth. Stephen closed his eyes and shook his head. He opened them again and touched the mirror. The hunk had reached out a hand; it was definitely his reflection. He pulled up the front of his shirt. Washboard abs. He flexed his leg muscles; both legs worked. He grabbed his cane and pants and shoes and walked out of the dressing room.
Mr. Bertanzetti looked up from the counter where he was reading a magazine.
“You can leave the cane and pants here,” he said. “Pick ‘em up later.”
Stephen managed a “thanks” and left the cane propped against a wall, the pants on top of it. Then he walked out towards the beach.
The sun was bright and warm, the breeze was cool and Stephen ran through the surf, laughing. When he reached the crowd of people he’d seen before he let out a whoop and did a handstand. The people on the beach all applauded. He took a bow and then posed like a bodybuilder, with a mock-serious look on his face. They were looking at him, some with admiration, some with envy. He recognized one of the people at the edge of the small crowd that had gathered around. Roy, standing there, scanning the crowd. Stephen grinned and made his way over to Roy.
“Looking for someone?” Stephen asked, in the voice of a tanned, buff surfer guy.
“Yeah,” Roy said.
“Maybe it’s me.” Stephen said grinning.
Roy glanced at him. “I don’t think so,” he said. Then he walked off.
He didn’t recognize me, Stephen thought. My husband didn’t recognize me. Because I’m not me. He tugged at the shorts, then he grinned again as he turned and walked back to the little shop on the beach.
It took Stephen longer to walk back from the shop to the house, but he was in no hurry. He paused, planted his cane in the sand and took a deep breath of the sea air. The paper bag had the snacks he’d bought after he’d returned the shorts to Mr. Bertanzetti and put on his own clothes. He figured if Roy had been taking a break, he could use a snack.
Stephen looked up. Roy was sitting on the low stone wall in front of their house.
“Hey!” Stephen said, as he headed up the path to the house. He held up the bag. “I got us some munchies.”
Roy grinned and kissed him.
“You’re the only snack I need!”