Partly because he was scandalized every time his classmates' stories mentioned the genitals; partly because he had become extremely self-conscious, to the point where he locked the bathroom door to wash his hands; partly because, every time he saw an even moderately uncovered breast on a magazine, he poured a light sweat; partly because he had excused himself from P.E., and specifically he refused to change his clothes; partly because lately they found their copy of "Histoire d'O" misplaced every night; partly because his bed, and especially the pillow (on one side only) was often stained; partly because he had become irritable; partly because he had stopped seeing his elementary school girlfriend; partly because not only he didn't allow himself to be tickled, but he had these hysterical reactions and stayed angry afterwards; but most of all because they were ashamed of being ashamed, the Jones's, mother and father, decided to vacation on a little island exclusively patronized by nudists: the two of them, their little daughter and their thirteen-year old wank-exhausted firstborn son, Augustine.
The little boat was rolling and pitching, and everyone was slouching out on the bridge, enjoying a pleasant breeze. Everyone? No: Augustine was sitting alone in the torrid mess hall, on a mock-leather chair in front of the silent TV, playing the images of a documentary on the Geneva particle accelerator, complete with a scientist's fat face unraveling the mysteries of physics. He (Augustine, not the scientist) was holding a can of soda, wearing T-shirt and trunks. Everything would've been going just fine, if only his mother hadn't come inside to encourage him.
«Augustine, why are you sitting inside, in this foul air? Everyone's outside, come along, it's nice and windy...» and so on. Incidentally, it was really nice outside. «Is there any reason why you don't want to come out?»
Augustine craved fresh air and sunshine: a physical need.
«I was watching this documentary...»
«But you can watch all the documentaries you want when we're back home: now we're on vacation, we came here to be well... besides, I think you already saw this one.»
«No,» Augustine lied. «This is part two.» And he kept staring at the silent screen. His mother believed him and left without further disturbance.
But Daddy, who had sent her in the first place, came inside himself, with a totally different approach:
«Quit behaving like a baby. Come outside with everyone else.»
«Now!» he confirmed with a nasty look and a quiver in his moustache.
Augustine rose reluctantly and, hanging his head, walked outside before his father: he sat in the shade.
«Come sit in the sunlight!»
«But, I'll get sunburnt...»
«Stop it, now! Over here!»
Augustine plodded to the plastic bench where his mother was already spreading sunscreen on Nancy, his collaborationist little sister. As soon as he sat, he emitted a frown so exclamatory that his father did not refrain from ordering him not to "pout each and every time you're told something." Augustine's face unwound into a less marked, but much more heartfelt, annoyance.
Treading water on water the boat arrived after sundown in that part of the island which hosted the naturist colony. Only the occasional islander was seen walking around, and the Jones's managed to take possession of the hamlet they had rented. There was no electricity or running water on the island, and this disturbed Augustine a lot he was insensitive both to the inner exaltation which their parents derived from it, and to the playful interest of the brat. His parents, who were also tired from the trip, were getting pretty well pissed off at their son, and when he started whining that the light from the oil lamp was hurting his eyes, he received a rather excessive reaction. And he better be happy, or he would ruin mommy's and daddy's vacation, which was really important to them, added his mother; with the effect of sending Augustine to bed with a nice sense of guilt not counting his frenzy at the thought of seeing, tomorrow at the beach, a lot of people, and especially women, NAKED WOMEN!
For the last two months, since when his parents had proposed (as if anyone could dare object) the destination for their holidays, Augustine lived in orgasm and fear: really seeing naked women! lots of them! 360 degrees around! tall short blondes brunettes and all like those he had glimpsed in Playboy! but at the same time, oh!, being seen naked, clumsy and pimply he, in his insufficient and unforeseeable virility, in his think glasses and flask-shaped body! But, most of all, his expectations were spoiled by the presence of his family, within which his sexuality, he thought, had to be repressed at any cost. The sadism which turned him into a Tantalus, he thought, was his forebears' vengeance, for he had scorned their loving care and from an innocent angel he had become a horrible pervert; this, still he thought. All the more so, because he couldn't refrain not tonight! from jerking off, even if he was sharing a room with his little sister: he only hoped she was fast asleep...
The morning, anyway, started out just fine. He got up in a wonderful sunshine, the air was fresh and clean, you just had to smile and stretch joyously. Rubbing his sticky and barely blackened eyes, he looked out of the window and he saw a wobbly butt. Panic. No way I'm going out. When his mother entered the room, she found him seated jelly-like on the bed, with his underwear on. But, what was most dreadful, she came in naked. Augustine was horrified. Her whitish skin, her wide pelvis, her flabby and completely unglamorous flesh made her fur even more monstrous, although he could not avert his eyes from it. As in the most classic of horror movies, she chirped with a totally relaxed voice:
«Shall we go to the beach?»
He was going to faint, never mind the beach.
Behind his mother, sis appeared, angel-like, un-turgid, still untouched by Augustine's agitation. She was slightly flushed, sure, but because of laughter and of the boat trip's sunshine. Nancy remembered how funny it had been when uncle Joe had forgotten to lock the bathroom door and when she had walked in he had started to go ooh ooh and to cover himself "right there" (tee-hee), and he had grumbled for a whole week as if it was her fault that she hadn't knocked; or when the boys in school acted silly and lowered their pants when the substitute teacher turned around to write on the blackboard. For her, the body was one (with some allowance for social customs); to Augustine, the crotch was an object of sacred folly, a divine mystery.
«I'm coming later, with Dad.» was the first thing he managed to say to get them out of his sight.
«Dad's been gone for half an hour.»
«Oh...» Augustine's voice quivered; he knew he had to get up, but he just lacked the energy to let go of the bed.
«Come on, let's go!»
Shaking completely, rrrred from head to toe, Augustine heaved himself up, but he kept his body askance. He was unable to full-frontal the nude bodies of two women. He felt a strong desire for epilepsy, to escape into the fetal position, which would have buried the object of his shame down, down among the folds of fat too many Twinkies gave him. But he couldn't.
«Come on!» his mother insisted, mercilessly. He trembled. Until his sister, as candid and pure as a jar of sow's milk, offered the following hypothesis:
«Mum, but is Augustine embarrassed or something?»
A certain disappointment for her son's weakness colored the mother's face. «You go ahead, dear.» she said to Nancy in a confidential tone. Augustine felt like a piece of shit, a pitiful cripple, inferior even to his own nine-year-old sister. He sat back on the bed, while the little one bouncy-skipped away lightly, enjoying the freedom which to him was like walking a tightrope without a harness to stop you from falling. His mother sat beside him: he bowed his head, and couldn't help staring once again at the bush she grew between her legs. This time, however, she noticed. She said his name, but for him it was much easier to stay like that than to raise his head and look at her in the face. She put her naked and sweaty arm around his shoulder, but she noticed that he didn't stop shivering: in fact, he trembled even more, as if she was the one who scared him. This convinced her that she had to take a more conciliatory stance.
«All right, Augustine. Let's put it this way: now I'm going down to the beach with Dad and Nancy, and when you "feel like it" you can come along... it's getting very hot, and I think you won't pass on a good swim in the clean water, right?» she added, just to make clear who was the smart one there. «In any case, Dad took down the sandwiches, so if you want to have lunch you'll have to come. See you... soon!» she ended raising from the bed, and walking confidently and naked to the nearby beach: from which, Augustine realized just then, came the happy sound of juvenile ruckus.
Augustine went to look out of the window. A young German couple walked by, he tall and lanky, she plump. They halloed Augustine with a wide gesture and a big friendly smile. He retreated quickly from the window sill, hoping that they hadn't noticed he was watching them, and thought they had just imagined him. He sat back on the bed, wondering how the adults could do it: literally, how did they do it. He went back to the window.
Three more virginal-looking maidens, we might say they were around nineteen, were walking from the beach to a house up the hill. Right in front of the Jones's there was a well, and they started pulling water from it and splashing around, playing with the pail, pouring water over each other to wash the salt from their hair, jumping about because it was cold. Augustine, unseen this time, squatted down and pulled the curtain, leaving only the smallest aperture to look through, just like he did when they showed a breast on TV and he covered his glasses with his hand, leaving just a tiny crack between his fingers. But, this was in 3D. Being alone, he allowed himself to give a physiological consequence to his confusion and to fumble somewhat. Every time Venus's down appeared, a new jolt stiffened his spout and his breathing... but Dad in moustache and sunglasses and nothing more was coming over to scold him and he hadn't noticed and when he heard him at the door he wouldn't have had the time to hide the puny hillock which disfigured his wide-elastic-band underwear, so in a moment of sheer terror he threw himself on the bed and he did this time shrink into a fetal position and silently implored mercy oh mercy for all his horrible sins.
«You still here, Augustine?» said his father, unaware of the whole issue but very annoyed that his son hadn't yet showed up and was still wearing his briefs. The blood had drained from the "porous tissue" (this is how it was called by the "Encyclopaedia of Sexual Life For Children 10 to 14" which Mr. Jones had been proud to present to his son a few birthdays ago, without knowing that he would have only looked at the pictures, alone, at night, in his room) and had gathered onto Augustine's face, with such intensity that his pimples had become indistinguishable. Notwithstanding all that, the poor preteen pretended to have fallen back asleep.
«Listen...» his father began, but he was scared by Augustine's reaction: he was making a sound between a moan and a growl, shivering. He did not dare to apply the good ol' school of tough, and proposed a compromise.
«Look, if you come to the beach you don't have to be naked: you can also wear your bathing suit, there's not a rule against it. I mean, anyway, we brought a bathing suit for everyone, in case there are jellyfish around... you know...» he tried a half-hearted smirk «if a jellyfish touches you right there... heh, heh.»
Augustine looked up with a smile, relieved of the enormous boulder. He stood up full of good resolutions, and he didn't even mind changing in front of his father, who was looking at him all proud of his negotiator's abilities. They walked outside at a brisk pace. Augustine didn't even notice, when they arrived under the tree which acted as a naturalistic sun-shade for the Jones's and another two or three human gatherings, the relieved look his parents exchanged.
It was hot, and it was nearly lunchtime. All you had to do was stare right at the sea to avoid noticing all the naked women who walked about; there were few of them, anyway: because of the great heat, they mostly stayed in the eucalypti's shade. Happily, under the foliage, in the semi-darkness, unseen because of the blinding whiteness of silicon, Augustine ate a sandwich, chewing it in the manner most appropriate to its texture and not, as he usually did in public, trying to move his jaws in the least clumsy of ways. Thus he wasn't clumsy in the least, and he swallowed correctly.
But after lunch, that is after the sandwich and the lukewarm apricot, Nancy decided to leave the family's square feet to rejoin some kids more of less her age with whom she had been playing when she'd come to eat. This posited the issue of "other youngsters" to Augustine, in all its scary relevance: he would have to venture outside, alone, in the scorching heat, under that yellow spotlight in the sky. He was not like his sister: he couldn't just take an initiative under the loving gaze of his mom and dad; who, instead, were really concerned about this, having read those books about adolescents and their needs which some jerk had written after having been repressed as a teenager.
He could see them perfectly well, although he hoped that his parents hadn't noticed them. Some boys were playing a kind of non-competitive volleyball in a group also comprising girls: the boys were beautiful, tall, slender, from a noble family, or, in any case, so much at ease that that's what they looked like. He was not like them, he was an ugly and sinful worm, he was scared. His parents, being it "good for him", nudged him out of the nest.
«So, Augustine, are you going to stay here?»
Not daring to understand, he looked at them with a question mark painted on his face.
«Don't you feel like playing volleyball?»
He didn't have many more opportunities to avoid an answer.
«Augustine...» his mother worried.
He didn't dare to jump without a parachute...
«So? Say something!» his father urged.
Augustine wished he were a Mongoloid, he wanted to be patted on the head: this is why he kept staring silently like an idiot.
«Shit, what's your problem?! Holy fucking damn! What the hell is the problem with you!» Daddy blurted, shedding his University degree and his years as a serious professional. «What are you, an imbecile? You want to spoil everybody's vacation? Will you tell me what your problem is, will you? You're really pissing me off you know! Jeeezus Fucking Christ!»
Augustine didn't see her with his eyes but with his heart: the radical-chic lady in a Ralph Lauren scarf but strictly bare-breasted and with diamond-studded earrings, walking by and thinking to herself: "Ah, these people from the suburbs, they come here and they have a family crisis because their son is afraid of going in the nude... Wonder what kind of education they gave him. If this were Martha's Vineyard one might think they're nouveaux riches, but here, now really, not even that... if they could just avoid yelling..." and he thought she's right, she's right, and he said:
«Dad, please, at least don't yell so loud.»
«Right!! Now hear this! You are the one who's embarrassing me, you are the one who cannot be comfortable with your own body: now, you better...»
«Please, Jimmy...» his wife tried to soothe him, as she was also starting to feel the stares around them.
«No way! I'm not ashamed, understand? If I were, I would've stayed home!»
Half of the beach, at this point, was staring at them. The three now looked more ridiculous than ever, and more than ever they seemed not people, but three naked and graceless bodies, waving and angry: more than ever, their genitals, at least, should have been covered, as their restless souls should not have disturbed the peace and harmony which reigned on the islet. Their place was amongst the neurotic trunk-wearing crowds of Daytona Beach. Augustine realized this, albeit unclearly, as he realized the far more terrifying fact that his position, at this point, had been so compromised that he had better give up any effort to socialize, at least for today. Being naked was not even the problem: wearing his bathing suit was even worse, now that it was obvious why he was wearing them, having it been broadcast to the world by the above scene. Daddy put on sunscreen and rose, offended by the pusillanimous middle-classness of his wife and son, to bathe in proud nakedness, as if it were anything to boast about.
Left alone to wallow in sighs, Augustine and his mom sat in the shade for a long while, watching people going in and out of the water, and the children who tumbled about in the fine sand, under their parents' complacent eyes. The volleyball match had turned into a general swim. As the beach faced West, Augustine, without having to detach himself from the family's Lebensraum, agreed to lie down in the sun with mommy, still wearing his trunks, and lying strictly on his belly. With his faced turned towards the rest of the world, he saw nothing but slanted butts, and mammary organs, and genitalia, and was afraid his would inflate and thus make it impossible for him to leave without walking on all fours to avoid people seeing that his sick mind blah blah. He was so afraid that it happened, so he started although shrunk by neurosis to move his pelvis slightly to obtain at least a more comfortable, painless position. Mother understood, and she talked about this and that, so he forgot the whirlpool of perturbations: when it was time to go home, he only shivered a little bit.
Don't you be afraid. The Devil and the Weakness hadn't yet completely conquered Augustine Jones and his family. More than anything, the power of habit was stronger. We couldn't really expect, Mom told Dad that night in bed, everything to go straight since day one; you'll see that tomorrow...
In fact, the following morning Augustine managed to get up and walk to the beach without being struck by vertigo. He made an effort and sat quiet and well-behaved at the family's camp. He hoped, poor thing, that this would be enough. Even if Destiny hadn't come to drag events forward (and him into Hades), someone would have pushed him. He had the following plan: once Nancy's friends came, he would have followed them and asked, in sweet submission, if he could play with them, since he had noticed that their group included some little boys too. He thought he'd made it when they accepted him, notwithstanding Nancy's obvious annoyance.
The game consisted of making a track for marbles and then using it to play. You surely know that the canonical method to make one is to have one person drag another by the feet so that the other's backside digs a track in the sand. Since Augustine was the oldest he had to drag, and this made him stand out in the little group.
«Hey, you,» said one of the puny-peckered brats as he was pulling the youngest girl here and there, carefully keeping her feet together lest he saw something and yet dropping his gaze down there at times, just like that, "carelessly", in case something accidentally showed. «Like, why are you wearing trunks?»
Yup, a rather natural question, after all.
«Uuuuhhhh...» Augustine stuttered.
«Because he's embarassed!» peeped the damn sisterlet, who, because of her familiarity, lacked even that slight reverence towards his post-puberal status, which all the others felt although he kept contradicting it with his jellyness.
«NO!!» Augustine screamed hysterically. Everyone stared in silence. «It's because.... Because I'm older.» The matter was dropped. They played marbles for a while.
Now the catastrophe.
And if you, at your age, have never wished as hard to be instantly swallowed by quicksand, start worrying now.
Drawn by the gaiety of marble-play, two or three fifteen-year-olds came around, from the group which had enjoyed volleying the ball the day before.
Augustine broke into a cold sweat.
They asked if they could play too.
At the end of this round, they were answered, and they waited patiently, killing time by watching the players.
Augustine's inside screamed I don't exist I don't exist.
Since the other teenagers were nice and sociable, educated in boy-scout ethics, they started socializing, and asked Augustine what his name was.
He groaned « ...Hgstn...»
« (they're making fun of me!) AU-GU-STINE!!!» he yelled, to make them understand he wasn't an underling, he would have taken care of them if they didn't stay in their place: he looked at them with hatred, his face distorted. They were slightly perplexed, and didn't know what to say for a while. Any regular fifteen-year-old, at this point, would have left him to his madness, but not them, they were particularly saintly, and they tried again.
«Do you like Bruce Springsteen?»
«(why are they persecuting me, I know I'm wearing trunks) Ah well, you know, I don't really listen to that kind of music. (Hah! there you go, eat this)»
«Ah, OK.» and they dropped the subject.
Since these youngsters were exceedingly friendly, although Augustine had been absolutely loathsome, they invited him to a party on the beach cum-bonfire-and-guitar for the same evening: even our hero, in his madness, realized that they were inviting him out of habit. He grunted non-committally, just to make it clear that if they were saying that to make fun of him, he wouldn't have played their game, since he did not feel in the least inferior to them. Phoosh! And you know what, he would even renounce their company. He stood up and left.
«What's wrong with him?» Sue asked Bobby.
«Never mind him, he's my brother.» Nancy interjected. «He's a jerk.»
So Augustine got what he was asking for, to be considered an idiot. Now all it took was to convince Mom and Dad.
Who, in our character's intentions, were supposed to know zit of that invitation, lest they sent him. But: Nancy, lazily prodded by Mom who ignored the trouble that might stem from it, told them about her day, insisting with malicious candor on her brother's fuck-ups, and also mentioning the invitation for the evening.
Dad was wearing just a shirt and was reading a crime paperback.
Mom a flowered coverall and was underlining some women's studies essay.
Nancy was scratching her thigh; comics.
The island was an oasis of peace.
So in the deafening, horrendous silence of the night, Augustine heard their exhortation booming in his ears, as if his were a family of ventriloquists: "Go ouuuuut.... Minnnnngle....." and he was all tension and cold sweat and his trunks were itching and he wanted to scream no no I'm not going but Mom said nothing and Dad neither so maybe they had forgotten and he didn't want to go to the party-cum-guitar he knew no songs and he sang off-key and he wasn't cool and he was ashamed of showing his prick and he was a turd among the tomatoes and he was short and full of pimples and he preferred "commercial" music which OK was a sham but did he have to pretend he liked something else just to be appreciated by those idiots because they'd never appreciate him anyway and in any case he didn't care one bit because he HATED THEM!!!!! Desire to destroy something, deathwish. This psychic struggle was consuming him so much that when his mother asked him
«Aren't you going to that party?»
all he could answer was
«I have nothing to wear.»
So the usual complaints started and wailing, the works, how come you're so repressed, "we haven't brought you up like this," which got more and more victimist and just do it for us, with the nervousness and lack of comprehension which is typical of holidays, after you've had to swallow shit at the office for eleven months and now the boss isn't there (Jimmy was an architect) and all frustrations and power-anxiety are poured onto the family, so fuck Marx and Montessori and the NPR you're going to do what Father tells you or else, while in March you're sending your little girl to a "corporeal expression" evening class taught by the local feminist chapter. Augustine didn't want to listen to all this so he went out, saying that he was going at the party, without the slightest intention of really going there, forced into lying by the others' weaknesses. Satan grins and scores one point.
Once outside, however, in the full, barely star-studded darkness, Augustine was alone. And like the moth, the loneliest insect, goes to the lamp to keep her company be it in pain, his feet took him to the beach whence came the singing. He was wearing trunks, and a T-shirt to boot: and if Dostoevsky's hero, having reached the bottom of the pit, finds catharsis only at the point of death because of the author's need for pathos, inside Augustine the ranks of angels and demons were getting ready: they knew, they who inhabit the innermost layers of the mind, that a decisive battle was about to begin.
Anyway: he was walking towards the beach, since he was alone and he didn't have to look at ease for the benefit of his family. He got a bit lost, but eventually he arrived. Everyone was there, singing merrily. He walked up to the group, and having forgotten how important it was that he made friends with them, and that they liked him, he didn't have to care too much about the proper pronunciation of his name, which accordingly came out perfectly understandable and not strangled by an inferior-quality artificial diction: and when they asked him how come he had such a strange name he didn't even think they were making fun of him, and answered dunno. And he didn't mind admitting that he didn't know the songs, he would only sing the refrain after two or three times, and even if he got it wrong, it wasn't an audition, it's just for company, right? Augustine did not understand all of the jokes, he didn't know one single song, he had oily skin and at one time he even gave a rude answer to someone, it's quite unclear why, but he didn't worry that his position would have been compromised forever just because everybody was supporting this other one, someone else managed to change the subject; and sure, this was also thanks to all those nice kids, who were used to being all together, not just forced to be, who all had their problems obviously but all in all were at least a little positive, and even if he wasn't considered the Don Giovanni of the group that didn't really matter much; Augustine even discovered, during one of the countless fragmentations of discourse, a number of common interests, as well as a similarly graceless physique, in another boy; and luckily all the girls were a bit aloof or he would have fallen in love that night with all the confidence problems which whatever, everyone was wearing shorts anyway, so he didn't get noticed for his clothes, and to sum it all up he just forgot having a camera pointed at him, constantly checking that he was happy and loved and had fun, so he could let himself live from inside. And he did. God wins Glory be to Him Amen. Beelzebub throws down his hat and tramples it. For now.
Because poor Mom and Pop Jones, not on purpose, but with their very presence caused Augustine a tremendous anxiety. There he was, in his own world, fitting in at least as a human being, and guess what, they decide to come pick him up because it's late! A) Appearing all of a sudden, and scaring him; B) Making him look like a little boy; C) Starting the paranoid train of thoughts referred to above. He resisted for a few moments, the time to say "Well, I'll be seeing y'all" and to answer no I can't to an invitation to stay longer: as soon as he turned his back, his legs started to quaver and he thought that after all it was better to leave because it was boring and he was probably being a nuisance to the others anyway or at best completely indifferent, and so on. All fucked up, back to square one.
In fact, square two. Because the guy he had chatted with somewhat longer came round the morning after around eight, and Augustine welcomed him happily. Well, happily is maybe a little too much: but since that relieved him from the duty of dealing with the dark forest of intrafamilial conflict, he was glad he came by. A terrible game of tug-of-war was in the works regarding the day's clothing, and Augustine told himself, when he was notified that Joseph had arrived, that he would have worn exactly the same clothes as he, no more no less. Joseph was naked. Watching him walking towards him, with his glasses and his red-spotted, whitish body, looking slightly lost, was like looking into a mirror: he was just about to scorn him, but Joseph happened to propose to him precisely his favorite game (executing hydrographic micro-interventions on the rivulets which flowed right behind the beach's dunes), so he loved him, he appreciated him for his courage and his confidence; he took off his briefs and he followed him out with pride, barely waving goodbye to his family. Mom and Dad nodded a "See? Sooner or later..." to each other.
The next scene has Augustine squatting over a stream with Joseph, picking up pebbles to make a dam. Both their ding-dongs are hanging limp. Augustine looks at Joseph's. Joseph looks at Augustine's. Both slowly rise as high as possible. Together they laugh about it.
«Listen,» Augustine said, «don't you get embarrassed going about naked?»
«A little, but then you get used to it. Everyone's in the nude anyway.»
«But, what if...» said Augustine, pointing at their thingies which had reached a perfectly horizontal position.
«I have a foolproof method: as soon as you notice, just think about your mother. It'll go away in no time.»
«Yes, but I can't do it, I can't think about what I want to think about: if I think of that, I start thinking about what I'm not supposed to think, and it always ends up...»
«Ah well, another way is to go into the water.»
«Yes, but before you get there...»
Augustine made an expressive gesture, like that of a standard-bearing penguin.
«Ah, no big deal, it happens to all the guys anyway.»
Being suddenly integrated in the male oikoùmeme relieved Augustine to the max. They kept deviating the streamlets until, around noon, they had zigzagged them so much that the dams and canals yielded to the forces of nature, which restored their original course as they started towards Joseph's house to get something to eat.
«But are your parents there?» Augustine asked while they were slouching the footpath.
«My mother, I think she'll be getting up around this time.»
«This time?? And how about your father?»
«My father stayed home.»
«But... where's your mother then?»
«What do you mean where is she, she's here!»
«So where's your father?»
«Home in New York, I don't live here, you know.»
«Ah, so your father didn't come. You're alone with your mom, then?»
«No, Frank's there too.»
«Ah, is that a friend of yours?»
«So why wasn't he there last night?» Augustine asked, without stopping to ask himself whether he was bothering his friend with all the questions.
«I dunno, maybe he went to a party with my mom.»
Augustine was more and more confused.
«But, I mean, is he a friend of yours or...»
«Well, whatever, he's also my friend, but he came with my mother.»
Augustine wondered, how can you be friends with your parents' friends.
«Ah! So he's a friend of your parents!»
«Well, he's a friend of my mother's.»
«Isn't that the same thing?»
«No.» said Joseph. And after a moment: «Excuse me, but do your parents live together?»
«Well, they're married.»
«Yeah, OK, but do they live together?»
«Uh, sure, they live together... oh! You mean your parents are 'divorced'?»
Augustine looked at Joseph with curiosity. What a funny thing, he thought, having two families, twice the birthday presents, twice the vacations... this is what he'd always heard about the children of divorced parents.
«Lucky you,» he said.
«Well, you know, not really,» Joseph answered. But in the meanwhile they had arrived.
The house was chalked white, surrounded by greenery, like many others. The only thing, maybe, was that compared to other vacation homes it was a little less shabby, more cared for, the colors were more contrasted, the sky looked bluer, the plants a little less typical. Through the shiny wooden door, the two boys walked into a living room, an absolute mess and with a stuffy, smoky air. A rustle was heard from one of the rooms to the right.
«Frank, is that you?» a female hoarseness sounded.
«No, it's me, Mom,» Joseph called.
«Ah, Josh.» A woman in a nightgown appeared, a little shaky, a forty-year-old who had gone from childhood to decadence without ever reaching maturity. She had henna-reddish hair and blackened eyes, and she held up his head with her right hand on the nape of her neck, while with the other she was holding a cigarette and scratching her hip. «Is that a friend of yours?»
«Name's Augustine.» Joseph announced curtly, with a bizarre mix of apprehension and annoyance. «Is there anything to eat?»
«Hmmm...» the woman said, and she walked down a narrow passage, which apparently did not lead to the kitchen, as Joseph had to repeat the question. «Look in the fridge,» she answered, and she knocked on a closed door. The door did not open, so she slammed her butt onto the sofa near which the boys were standing, holding their peaches. «What did you say your name was? Ah, Augustine. Beautiful name. Very... spiritual. [A pause, the boys kept silent.] It's really hot. [pause] with my low blood pressure and all I can barely stand...» She looked up at the two boys looking down at her, one of them impatient, the other intrigued. «OK then, apparently my conversation does not interest you. Take care.» She got up and went back to her room.
«Was I rude to her or something?» Augustine asked after the door had closed.
«Never mind, she does that to feel younger.» Joseph said impatiently.
Augustine wondered what that woman had done to be so despised by her own child.
They finished their fruit and they played a complex board game, which Joseph explained and Augustine willingly learned. The mother came out after a while with Frank, a big guy who called bye bye to the boys with a mellow, high-pitched voice, wearing a towel around his waist like a miniskirt. As soon as they were gone, the conversation could drift back towards forbidden subjects. Almost immediately Joseph, as if boasting of it, mentioned that Frank had some porn magazines in his room.
«And you found them?» Augustine asked with some hypocrisy.
«Noooo... I mean, they're not, like, hidden.»
Augustine was shocked by the oxymoron: unhidden porn?
«And your mother, doesn't she say anything?»
«What can she say, he doesn't give a damn anyway.» Augustine thought that this was a strange friendship, with a lady, a mother, being subdued by a younger man. Then he was enlightened.
«But is he... your mother's new husband?»
«Nooo...» Joseph disappointed him. «He's gay!»
Whatdahell?? Augustine would have screamed, hadn't it been for the complete coolness with which the other had expressed such concept.
«There's nothing wrong with it, you know, it's normal.»
Augustine felt somewhat inferior: he didn't want to sound too conservative or intolerant or anything, since they had taught him to be completely progressive in theory, although they kept him well at bay from all the most-respected alternative lifestyles. Since his earliest childhood he had it in his very blood that oh saintly is the struggle for everybody's right to be, even for those for whom you can't help but show your disgust. It was one step above the "they can do what they want but not near my home": it was "they can do what they want even near my home but if I had my way I'd send them somewhere else".
«I think I'm a little gay too,» Joseph went on to say.
There you are, Augustine thought. Theory is all right, but when you actually find yourself face to face with one... and then... he was so young... "gay"? at 13? Then it's really a genetic condition? Augustine was starting to feel uneasy, especially as he was afraid that his unease was visible.
«Do you want to look at Frank's mags?»
Boom! So easy, huh? "Do you want to..." HEY! Calm down! The consultation of "that type of" magazines implies numerous sacral issues! But Augustine's eyes, although the mild scandal had made him blush, were sparkling and luminous at the thought. His lips tensed into a restrained and excited smile. The answer was affirmative.
They lay on Frank's bed, smelling like a male. From the bedside table, Joseph took a pack of mags with unmistakable titles. Religiously, they opened one of them, starting on page one.
After a while, Augustine protested, although his voice was slightly choked by emotion:
«But they're all men!»
«Yeah, sure, but you've got a hard-on.»
Augustine checked: it was true.
«So, does that mean I'm 'gay'?» he asked in trepidation.
«Not necessarily,» Joseph said.
«So, what does it mean?»
«That you like it a little.»
«Yeah... you're right... I do... like it... a little...»
Watching the mags and sitting on the bed, things became quite languid, and Augustine and Joseph fell asleep, hugging the paper. Which was quite crumpled under them when they came to. Fortunately Augustine's multifunction digital watch informed them that only 90 minutes had elapsed. They decided to return to the beach.
Seeing him nude, bubbly, chatty, Augustine's parents squeezed hands in love. They were even happier when he didn't even look at them, and proceeded straight to the shore to build castles, with the sand crawling between his buttocks and titillating his rosebud: something which he did not fail to enjoy, although he didn't tell Joseph.
It was getting late and the Jones's were whacked, but they were afraid of interrupting this miracle. The sun was a giant yolk, and everyone was leaving. Only the two boys remained, with their respective, more or less regular, families.
Joseph's mother came by and asked if he was coming home. The boys exchanged a glance, then Augustine said:
«Why don't you come over for dinner?»
«OK,» mother and son answered. Having seen that a parent was with the two children, the Jones's deemed it acceptable to move over there as well. We might expect a short-circuit at this point, instead Augustine didn't give a damn about his parents, now, and he didn't care if they "had a chat" with the other woman, and he didn't care that everyone was naked, including Frank who was asocially reading a big paperback in the background. Everybody left.
A few evenings later, having each sunset witnessed similar scenes, Joseph asked Augustine to come along to a party. He said yes, and might Joseph come to his home to ask permission from his parents? Mr. and Mrs. Bill, however, having evaporated that healthy democratic enthusiasm derived from the discovery that their son was not a total dork, had gone back to normal mode, and started asking questions: where was the party, and who was going?
Joseph explained: «In some house up the hill, I'm not sure. We'd be going with my mother.»
The discovery that it was a "grown-ups' " party did not please Mom and Dad very much. However, they could not deny their permission lest they appear backward. So they went, Augustine slightly thrilled at the thought of the coming mysteries.
The party was in the garden of a luxurious villa, with a stereo system under the porch blaring rhythmic bass. Augustine was overwhelmed, not because of the music or of naked women (everyone was in evening clothes), but by the sheer quantity of cigarettes that he saw going around in the dim light, and by the shining of glasses. Joseph and he were instantly ignored by their temporary guardians, who disappeared in a whirlwind of people: they settled in a quiet corner, behind a bush, not far from one of the tables. A number of glasses were on it, and bottles with forbidden names, open packs of American cigarettes, steel lighters, all things associated with luxury. Joseph took hold of a glass, filled it with kahlua and handed it to his friend, who looked at him with sparkles in his eyes.
«What if your mother sees us?» asked the quivering one, but the other just shrugged, then he even took and lit a cigarette. Augustine's skull was tornadoing with thousands of exclamation marks. But he drank, and he also lit a cigarette, smiling in tense expectation.
Their excitement had become intolerable, after a quarter glass and a Marlboro each. Augustine felt his skin could not contain him any more, never mind his clothes. In the meanwhile, a part of his mind was desperately trying to think up something that would have dissipated the totally subordinate image that emanated from him. That's how he came up with:
«I have a cool idea. Let's strip to our briefs and let's go dancing in the middle.» Joseph laughed and nodded strongly, furiously galvanized as well. So, clapping their hands to obtain the minimum relaxation needed to undo zippers and buttons, they stripped to their underwear (boxer shorts for Joseph, the usual for Augustine) and they ran to the middle of the dance floor.
Many grownups were already tossing and sweating on the paved area which stood for a dance floor. When they saw the two torpedoes coming, they thought how marvelous that two young 'uns were so involved: it made partying, often an inertial affair, alive and real. Joseph and Augustine were laughing and throwing themselves around clumsily, but they looked like angels; and this especially to the considerable portion of bystanding queens. Joseph, having noticed the success of their initiative, with his face all flushed, started moving like a stripper and lowering his underwear; Augustine, having gone that far, could not stand back, could he? So they ended up jumping about in the nude. This thrilled the grownups, who, seeing themselves surpassed in playful daring by the two brats, could not but follow.
Music was beating slower than the heart, and Augustine, immersed in a naked crowd, hopping frenetically to forget embarrassment and cold and gracelessness, felt himself empty and then fill up again by a heat. He yelled, he waved his penis in his hand, in a savage frenzy of freedom, hugging Joseph and whomever came around.
He never told about the evening. And since then, at least until the age of twenty-four (when other things happened), he no more feared his own body, for the joy of his parents who however didn't know about the games he played with some of his classmates. The din of shyness had subsided in him.