Alexander had seen the man many times now, in the cute trinket shops along the strip, on the blood-streaked pier, on the packed boardwalk and on occasion he’d even seen him on the strand. Each time they encountered one another it was like a dance without the grand and superfluous gestures, just nuance; no words were exchanged (which would’ve ruined the entire effect), only passing over the shoulder glances. The man would pretend not to see him, pretend to be caught up in some activity and Alexander would watch the other curiously then slowly turn away, occasionally peeping over his shoulder in order to catch the man looking after him. He felt a sense of power having the stranger watching him and he could think of nothing more beautiful than the other’s downcast eyes whenever he was revealed.
Having lived a very sheltered life Alexander did not explore the tension between them, he knew only that he would miss his silent companion when the summer was over and he would have to return home. He wondered absently if the man was also on vacation or if he lived in the area. The sea, he thought would be such a lonely place in the winter, the town itself being only a veneer. When stripped to its underpinnings would there be anything left? He wondered a good deal about the man on the boardwalk; he tried to assign him a name, a family, a career, for all the faces the other bore he could not seem to settle on anything. He was too polished to be a fisherman or a common laborer and too dignified to own one of the garish shops on the strip. Surely he was no school teacher for his teachers had never regarded him in the same manner. Though he supposed it could have to do with the meticulous care his mother took in choosing his instructors. He’d never been allowed to attend public school and his mother was much too pampered to do what she could hire others to do. It was just as well for he saw so much of her that he found the company of others to be a refreshing change of pace. His whole existence had been artistically bound in a box, from the outside it was ornate, beautiful but on the inside it was a very plain claustrophobic room. He supposed she worried so because he’d been a sickly child and because it gave her something to do while his father was away with the secretary.
He was sixteen now not exactly a boy but not yet a man. He’d never been allowed outside unchaperoned. If only he could have a few hours to himself, a few moments to enjoy his youth before it slipped away altogether. For days he tried to concoct a plan of escape and then suddenly the opportunity arose without his meddling. His mom was going off to spend some time with her sister and because she absolutely despised the boorish woman and went only out of obligation Alexander was able to convince her to let him stay home. Not long after she departed he went to his room, telling the house servants that he wanted to take a nap. He changed out of the childish clothing his mother usually bought for him and put on the most normal attire he could find, which was a souvenir t-shirt and a pair of long shorts he’d bought off a house boy. When he was dressed he opened his window and for several moments he looked out, debating. Was it a mistake?
He couldn’t think like that right now, he’d miss this rare opportunity. He leaped out onto the branch of a nearby tree and just barely managed to catch on. He clung desperately to the tree’s heavy arm and then slowly, very deliberately he pulled himself up flattening himself against the broad filament for a moment so he might catch his breath. He thought simultaneously that he’d made a horrible mistake and that this was the most exciting moment in his young life. He could imagine his mother discovering him gone, her pinched expression, her shrill voice, her fragile arms firmly crossed. How furious she’d be over his disobedience! She hated nothing more then when things didn’t go her way and this thought pleased him.
Alexander had no reason to worry he’d run into his mother for his aunt lived farther inland. When out Alexander looked into all the shops his mother had forbidden him to look into, he bought so much candy that he got sick, swam in his underwear and played video games in the local arcades until he’d all but exhausted his allowance. He was so busy relishing in his new freedom that when night came she came so quickly he didn’t even notice her wrath-like hands upon him.
His mind raced if he came home now his mother would be angry, she’d punish him and take away what he loved most about these vacations, swimming and shaved ice. He couldn’t go home not until he enjoyed these things one last time and so he went down to the crowded boardwalk and bought himself a cup of green-apple and walked along noting that at night the crowds were very different. Loud, hormone-saturated teenagers, flush-faced drunkards with greasy hair, sailors in full uniform lewdly gesticulating at attractive girls, gnarled fishermen that smelt of salt air and fish and he ate in silence. This crowd was more diverse than the morning crowd which had mostly consisted of families, the fisherman were on the piers or in their boats, the teenagers were mostly at the beach and more well-behaved with their parents around, and the drunks were in hiding, recovering no doubt from the night before. Alexander had to admit this crowd was a bit frightening, the darkness distorted everything and everyone, and he thought of those poor miserable freaks locked up in cages at carnivals. The carnivals that his mom sometimes took him too, simply because she liked to look down her nose at others and he suddenly felt that everyone was both horrible and beautiful, depending on the light.
Out of nowhere Alexander felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and he swung around so fast he dropped his cup of shaved ice or what remained of it.
“I’m sorry…” The man said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you…” Alexander had hoped he’d run into the stranger and here he was standing in front of him, beautiful even obscured by the yellow hue of street lamps. “Are you here alone?” The man asked after a thoughtful observation of their surroundings. His voice was far more weary than Alexander had expected it and on closer inspection he saw that the man had creasing in the corners of his eyes. The lines he found charming, they were etchings of a man who’d felt something, who’d lived, not at all all like the blank sunburned faces he always saw at the beach but not quite like the leather-faced fishermen on the pier who worked their knots endlessly. “Its dangerous here at night alone…come lets get you into a cab…” The man said hoisting a guitar case onto his back. So he was a musician of some sort? Had he just gotten back from a party?
“You’re a musician?” Alexander asked swinging his arms and following alongside the man, who was much taller than he’d seemed at a distance.
“You could say that…though some would beg to differ…” The stranger responded smiling down at the boy, his smile looked pained.
“Aren’t you any good?” The teen asked and though the man continued to smile he looked up into murky sky.
“I suppose I used to be…but it’s a different generation…the wrong venue…the atmosphere is very important you know?” The man asked looking at the boy again.
“I guess…” Alexander agreed shrugging, his mom had always insisted that there was a time and place for everything. “What sort of music do you play?” Alexander asked watching the man.
“The Blues mostly…I suppose the fisherman are my biggest fans…and some of the old drunks…but the tourists find my music depressing…” He said laughing a queer humorless laugh.
“Where do you play? Can I come and see you?” Alexander asked and the man laughed again, an irony weighing down the sound like the shackled leg of an inmate.
“Of course…I play here…everyday for tips…” The man answered.
“What’s your regular job then?” Alexander asked slowing his pace.
“I have no other job…” The stranger said and the boy thought long and hard before phrasing his next question. “Well where do you live?” He thought maybe it was rude to pry, his mother at least insisted that it was one his more unattractive traits.
“I live here…” The man answered motioning around to encompass the area.
“In one of beach houses?” The teen insisted for surely the man could not mean to say he slept outside, he must’ve had a house somewhere nearby, close to the ocean perhaps for he could make out a few from the boardwalk
“No I am afraid it’s not as romantic as that…” The man’s words washed over him like the ocean itself, dragging his body deep into the undercurrent and he suddenly remembered that he’d never seen the man without that heavy shadow on his back. The guitar had always been there, so much a part of the man that it had bled into the background or perhaps it was the boy’s own imagination that had forced him into denial. Suddenly the stranger felt miles away as though the sea itself stretched between them. He knew nothing of the man’s struggles, nothing about passion and burden or the threads that bound them inextricably together. The silent flirtations may have also been the treachery of his own mind but Alexander dare not inquire as the man flagged down a taxi; he would keep that delusion secreted away in his heart.
This short story was inspired by Death in Venice instead of having an older man infatuated with an adolescent boy I decided to have an adolescent boy infatuated with an older man. The “relationship” is in the boy’s head. The meeting is real but the musician only means to return the boy home.