by Stef Smulders
Your legs were born for badminton. I could hardly take my eyes away from the spectacle of the muscles moving under your smooth brown skin as you dashed across the court.
We’re sitting on the large bed stuck between the walls of my tiny study room. I am slumped down against the hard wall, my back aching. You sit on the edge, bent forward, naked arms resting on your legs, their round forms accentuated by the thin summer trousers you wear. My balls are squeezed tight in my underpants, but I do not dare to move to create more space. My throat has run dry.
“We need to talk,” you said when you arrived, your shy smile not fooling me: your eyes cast a dark look. This is it, I thought, but I didn’t ask any further. And now we are both silent, knowing what is about to happen, not daring to confront the unavoidable.
I have put my hand on your back and move it down your spine, a caress in slow motion. At each of the discs, I hesitate before continuing. The hairs of your blue sweater tickle my fingertips. How many discs does the human spine have? Yes, no, yes, no… I say without speaking, like a lovesick child picking petals off a daisy.
The record on my player has arrived at Chicago’s current hit song. The window is ajar and children’s cries drown out the singer’s smooth tenor from time to time. If you leave me now, then what? Simple pop song lyrics never offer a solution.
The last time we met, we watched Bonnie and Clyde on the small black and white television in your study dorm. While you were concentrated on the action, I cast furtive glances at you, imagining the perfection and compactness of your young smooth body.
When I called you a few days later, asking if we could meet again, you didn’t hesitate. “Better not,” you said, “that would be a bit too much, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I replied, “of course you’re right,” drifting away in a sea of melancholy. You must have realized by then.
And now, a surprise visit. A fresh spring breeze floats into my room, a faint smell of lilies drifting along. The gentle flow caresses the papers on the desk. A white page dances a tentative pas de deux with the fragile lace curtain.
Your shapely brown hands are entwined, as if in love with each other. The nails of your long fingers are perfectly cut, the lunula white against the pink of the nail.
“Playing badminton is like dancing,” the university sports teacher had said at the beginning of the academic year, months ago, the large sports hall empty except for the few guys who had turned up for the first lesson. A smell of rubber and sweat mixed with the odor of a detergent. “Footwork is everything.”
Although my thin pale legs seemed less suited for the sport, you chose me as your playmate. And so we ran on the court with only the frail gauze-like net between us, smashing and clearing, shouting and laughing, groaning and swearing. The sweat dropped from your face and made your legs shine. Afterwards in the dressing room, I always glanced at your beautiful penis, hanging under a neat little bush of firm, curly black hair. Once I forgot my towel and you offered me yours, saying: “I only used this side, here…”. And so I dried my skinny frame with the side that was still wet from your body, imagining the impossible.
The record finishes and you start talking. As you speak, you hesitate at each word, as if trying to find a less painful way out. You keep looking at the floor and I admire the thick black waves of your hair, wanting to caress them, knowing I cannot.
My hand on your back has stopped at waist height on a plateau of hard muscles.
“I understand,” I answer, although I hardly listened to the words you said.
Your girlfriend expects you to return home for the holidays so we won’t be taking part in the men’s double badminton competition this time. Or ever again, I can’t help thinking.
You give me a glance and a wry smile before looking at the floor again. Or are you looking at your hands, those beautiful boy’s hands, that will never count the discs of my back, a white-hot breath whispering yes yes yes in my ear?
* * *
Stef Smulders is a Dutchman who moved to Italy in 2008 to start a bed-and-breakfast in the Oltrepo Pavese wine region south of Milan. In 2016 he published ‘Living in Italy: the Real Deal’, a collection of short stories about his life as an expat, http://italiaanse-toestanden.duepadroni.it/living-italy-expat/ Nowadays he specializes in humorous and autobiographical flash fiction and his stories have been published by a range of magazines.