Men Like Them (Marks Park, Sydney, 1988) by Kathleen Latham
It’s the local man’s idea to walk to the Bondi Beach bluffs. More privacy, he says with a twitching smirk of nerves
Scott follows wordlessly in his wake, their footfalls out of sync on the pressed dirt path. His thoughts are stuck on David, continents away. David in his cable knit sweater. David on the night he drove Scott to the airport, more excited for Scott’s adventure than he was. David, oblivious to things unsaid.
The Bondi Beach man leads Scott to a sandstone ledge, cloud-grey ocean bleeding into the distance, jagged teeth of sea-wet rock below. Scott imagines David beside him, head thrown back, arms spread wide, crowing into the wind. Instead, the local man shuffles his feet and loose stones hurtle into nothing.
Behind them, scraggly shrubs tremble in the wind. The man’s fingers flex, white starfish in the dusk.
For a moment, Scott feels sorry for the man. He recognizes the battle raging in his chest—that pull of desire, tug of shame. How sometimes the two are indistinguishable, like the surf and the wind, blending and blurring until they become something nonsensical, like the scuffling, sniggering noises Scott imagines he hears in the growing dark, as though the bushes that hide them mock them for having to hide. Men like them. Hiding, always.
He’s about to reach for the man, to tell him he understands, when a voice calls out, Caught us a good one, eh? And the once-nervous man spits, Took you long enough as a raggedy gang of men clambers through the bushes, laughing at Scott’s surprise, a familiar hatred in their seabird eyes. In their curled lips and fists and the pipes they carry.
Even in his terror, Scott feels a ridiculous need to explain himself, to prove he’s flesh and blood and spirit, just like them, but the men inch closer and grow wilder—the man beside him egging them on as if it were sport, as if it were fun, as if Scott were a loose pebble and they were the shoe.
And then he’s fighting and alone and David isn’t there, only an unspeakable fury, fists flying, boots kicking. Wait! he screams. Listen! But they are lost in their frenzy.
A punch lands. His feet slip. The cliff lets go.
And the seabirds wheel and the sky is grey and the earth comes much too soon.
Kathleen Latham is a short story writer and poet who lives outside of Boston, MA. Twice nominated for Best Small Fictions and a third-place winner of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, her stories have appeared in such places as Reflex Fiction, Fictive Dream, and The Masters Review. She can be found online at @lathamwithapen and at KathleenLatham.com.