This story came out of a writing exercise I took part in as a member of the online writers' collective, The Fiction Forge. The exercise was to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by a photo of 1950s body builders standing on the beach. While working on it, I also watched Pumping Iron. This documentary helped me consider and access the nuanced personalities of the boys.
Katrin Gibb received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She has work published in or forthcoming in Confrontation, Hobart, Water~Stone Review, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2015 Neil Shepard Prize and is a rotating editor at The Forge Literary Magazine.
Permalink: The Boys of Company Sea
They were the Boys of Company Sea because they were stacked and built and chiseled and tanned and they posed and sometimes they'd even swim. They were Gavin and Ansel and Dirk and Brendan and Claus. Gavin had brown hair, and Ansel was blonde. Dirk had chest hair sculpted into a rugged V, and Brendan and Claus had clean crew cuts. They all wore speedos and had rippling pecks, bulging biceps, horseshoe calves, and rounded, toned glutes. They'd stand in a row—Gavin doing a front lat spread, Ansel in a double bicep pose, Dirk gripping his wrist to show off his side chest, and Brendan and Claus flexing their abs.
In the middle of the day, the girls would come down the beach in their sherbets and pastels, two-tone flats, string bikinis, and matching scrunchies. When they'd get within ear shot, they'd lean over, put their hands on their round, smooth knees and call—“Boys of Company Sea!”
The boys would chase them in slow motion sprints, grabbing their hands, pulling them close, and lifting them into the air. There'd be Frisbee and volleyball and games of tag, and when it would get dark, they’d sit around bonfires and lounge and cuddle and kiss, whisper and wink, and gossip of late-night apartment rendezvous.
Before long, the last day of summer was upon them, and Ansel and Tina were announcing that they were getting married. There were screams and high fives and strings of bikinis being snapped until they chased each other across the sand to Rick's Beach Shack and Tiki Bungalow. Rick's was packed with sunbaked beachers and Tiki torches and pineapple drinks and indoor palm trees.
Ansel leaned against the bar holding Tina's hips from behind as she projected her high-pitched, mousy squeak to her girlfriends a few feet a way—“It will be a church wedding, of course, at least 200 guests, because we have to invite everyone, pink dresses for all of you,” she said, reaching out and trilling her fingers. “And a beautiful, big, white dress.”
This was the only part Ansel had thought about—the big, white dress. He figured it would have to be big to hide the bump. Ansel could feel his lips cracking as he smiled wide, a pained stretch of an expression. He'd be marrying Tina. He still hadn't got used to the idea. He didn't know if he wanted to. And a baby, he thought. Ansel kept trying to smile as he wiped sweat from his brow.
Gavin watched from the other end of the bar. He pounded back a shot, slammed the counter with his empty glass, and demanded another. But even as the bartender poured, he didn't release the glass. He squeezed it, as hard as he could, as he looked at the girls standing around Ansel.
Hadn't it always been him, he thought. Hadn't he been the first one to see the girls? To date one? Hadn't he been the one they all stood around? One of the girls looked at Gavin, and he waved to her, but she held up a finger, one single finger, telling him to wait. Him? When had he become second to Ansel? When!
Dirk was doing “the series.” This was the set routine of poses he did when a woman asked about his muscles. He'd go through them, watching her lips wrap around her straw as she took in his biceps bulging, his pecks twitching, his legs tensing and releasing.
“You want to get out of here?” The woman said in a sultry voice.
Dirk pretended he couldn't hear. He just kept going through the series, refusing to look at her, refusing to tilt his head down to listen. He couldn't acknowledge her. He couldn't go back to her place and let her find out what he wasn't capable of. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been capable. But he couldn't stop doing the series either. This was all he had, the series, and watching T.V. late at night, holding the phone in his hand, thinking of dialing the number when those erectile dysfunction commercials came on. He hadn't made the call yet. He just couldn't. He kept hoping it would get better on its own.
Brendan could hear someone pounding on the door. He'd only been in the bathroom a few minutes though. Oh, who was he kidding, he thought, dropping his head into his hands. He'd been in here, sobbing, for at least an hour.
He always thought Ansel would make a move. Hadn't Ansel always asked him to rub bronzer on his back? Didn't Ansel always compliment his glutes? Every day, their hands “accidentally” touched. Brendan was sitting on half of a roll of toilet paper that he'd placed on top of the toilet seat, not wanting his speedo or thighs to touch the disgusting thing, and he pulled a piece dangling off the end to blow his nose.
Claus was looking at the menu and reading the name of each drink slowly. Da-qui-ri. Marg-a-rit-a. Co-l-da. He wondered why there weren't any protein shakes.
“What will you have?” The bartender asked.
“You’re the bartender?”
When Claus continued staring at him blankly, the bartender nodded, gave him the up-and-down, and asked, “What's your deal?”
Claus looked from one of his arms to the other, lifted them, and flexed his biceps in a curl. “My whole life, I've wanted twenty-inch biceps. That was all I could think about for years, and this summer, I trained harder than ever before. I did barbell curls, incline dumbbell curls, hammer curls, preacher curls. I was curling morning and night. I was dreaming of curls. I was even curling in the shower. And then, a couple days ago, I did it.” Claus's voice faded out as he brought his arms down and looked back at the menu.
“Thanks,” Claus said, not looking up. But what now, he wanted to say. What would he do now?
by Katrin Gibb