A Flash Fiction by Ronald McGuire
I looked up from my book, then looked again after a pause, and that’s when I saw him walking down the sidewalk. I turned back to my book, hiding shame from some unknown witness.
Yes, I felt ashamed to want him. But it was more than that. I felt ashamed even to see him or, I suppose, to be caught looking at him.
His schedule had become irregular and tortuous, twisting me into knots as I tried to time my reading with his arrival. I often spent extra hours on the hard, stone steps that rose to my family’s brownstone, trying to focus and not focus on whatever book I pretended to read.
Yet there I sat, day after day, waiting.
He was not entirely handsome, yet somehow he appealed to my most entrenched desires. Not terribly tall, but tall enough. Not slender or slight, but built just so, somewhere between beautiful and frightening. Athletic, to be sure, but a bit grotesque with his cauliflower ears.
I imagined him walking to me, not by me. In my mind, he saw me as I saw him. Not in exactly the same way, given my condition, but in the moment. Seeing each other, his movement, my stillness.
That day, he did see me. He looked right at me.
He stopped where I sat atop the rampart of my family fortress. Perhaps I only imagined the rays of sunlight splashing around his shoulders, reflecting a black sheen off his glossy cropped hair. If I did, it was a sweet dream of a moment. If I did not, then it was a glorious thing to know.
His eyes were darker than I expected and, when he smiled, my inner world shattered. He looked up and said, “You’re Tommy’s little brother, right?”
I’d spent innumerable hours imagining our first conversation, playing out in my mind how it might happen, how I would impress and enthrall him with my genius, my erudite wit. When the time came, all I could say was, “Yeah, he’s my brother. He’s a jerk.”
I cringed at my utter failure, knew all my dreams had just been ruined, felt my soul caving into nothing, blood rushed to my face and I was about to bolt into the refuge of our castle until he said, “Yep, that’s Tommy alright,” a smile filled with knowing writ large across his face.
“So,” he went on, “watch ya doin?”
I held up my book, Moby Dick, for him to see.
“Oh, yeah, guess I shoulda known, book in ya hand an all,” and now he was blushing.
In that moment, everything changed, a little. The universe shifted to one direction just a fraction of an inch and I knew he was just like me. Nervous and hopeful and wanting.
“Where ya goin?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.
“I’m goin for a swim, down at L Street, wanna come with?”
“What,” I say to give my heart a chance to slow, “you got a membership down there?”
“Well yeah, my pops does. I wouldn’t be goin if I didn’t,” he tells me and I feel my face burn again.
“Cm’on,” he says, “I get to bring a pal anytime, whatdya say?”
Faced with the realization of a dream come true, I had to acknowledge one simple truth, “I don’t have no suit.”
“Don’t need one down L Street, it’s all fellas, everybody goes skinny.”
I set free my desire so it could crush my fear and said, with the casual effect of someone caught stealing, “Okay, sure.”
“Let’s go then buddy, the free sodas ain’t gonna last long so we gotta get a move on.”
He swept one arm out southward toward the water and I stood, leaving my book on the stoop, fluttering in the breeze. I stepped down and rejoiced to find that we were almost the same height, me just a tad shorter.
He threw his arm across my shoulders bringing heaven down upon me and we walked south together as he told me all about the L Street Swimming club and how we’ll have so much fun and the sodas are free and I am already there before we reach the next block.
It was early summer, and my life had just begun.
Ronald McGuire is a novelist, poet, scriptwriter and journalist. His work has appeared in Catalyst Magazine (Athens, GA), Flash Fiction Magazine (April 2, 2021), and on CNN.com. Ronald holds degrees in Comparative Literature and in Journalism from the University of Georgia. In previous lives he was a bartender, bookstore owner, and inventor.