Trigger warning: This short story contains episodes of graphic sexual violence.
Gray tiles, some already chipped, all with greenish stains. Large sinks, rarely cleaned. Showerheads, large and too high to be reached.
Push the button. Wait for the water to get warm. Jump inside and quickly wash. Make sure that no one else sees too much. At that age it’s scary to be seen. What if the others have more hair or bigger things down there? Just don’t be seen.
Scary age. You grow into it and you when you think back you can’t see when you got into it. Maybe it was that first PE lesson after the summer; the one with the new teacher that said that we are soon men and will start to smell and all have to shower.
I was always one of the first. We all rushed in there, quick in, quick out. Not be seen.
Only Peter, he waited. Waited until we were all done. Waited until we all left the shower, some already the changing room. Then he hushed inside with his towel around his waist, went to the shower to the far left, the one where the light was broken and that smelled the worst. The one where the floor was always sticky.
He was quick, usually. One time he went in and we saw around the corner that he went into the water even before it was warm. His back to us, his front to the wall.
That day we went to check. Someone was fast and grabbed his towel. There were six of us, maybe eight. We didn’t mean to hurt or scare. We just wanted, needed to know his secret. Boys are like that.
Before the summer, before we were smelly men that had to shower, Peter wasn’t that shy. He didn’t mind changing with us. Before the summer he was always with the cool ones, with Jacob and his crew. Not after the summer. After the summer he was alone, in the shower, and after the fifth or sixth time that he was alone in the shower we went and we took his towel and he screamed that was should go away but we sprayed shampoo at him and someone turned the water cold and someone pulled his hands away from his crotch.
Just gray flesh.
Nothing else down there; just gray, wrinkly flesh with a small hole and a small crown of dark, curly hair.
We screamed and he cried and we left and he stayed in there for long after we all had left the changing room.
There were rumors, of course, and some laughed. But of us, of those that saw him, no one laughed.
Jacob was the one that laughed the most. Sitting at the back of the class with his three musketeers, he laughed a lot. He hadn’t been there. Had he been there, I was sure, he wouldn’t have laughed.
Peter came back a week later, smaller than before and thinner too. There was a break when I saw him enter an empty room. I followed him. I wanted to apologize, but he hushed away when I came closer.
“Leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. We didn’t know.”
He stopped at the other end of the room, his eyes at my face.
“Why did you take the towel?”
“I didn’t take the towel.”
“I know it was you.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“I saw you.”
“It wasn’t me, I swear.”
“Is that true?”
“Yes, it’s true.”
“It wasn’t me!”
“It really wasn’t me!”
He came closer, the thin arms raised.
“Okay,” I said. “But it wasn’t me.”
He came running, but I was out the door and ran faster than him.
My heart beat fast for the rest of the day. Even at the bus stop, at 3pm, it was still beating too fast.
That’s when Jacob came. Jacob and the musketeers. Two from the left, two from the right.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
“I heard what you did.”
Three musketeers around me. Only Jacob grinned.
“You were the one that took the towel.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“It really wasn’t me.”
“Sad,” Jacob said. “I thought you were cool.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“I think so.”
The bus approached.
“No courage, eh?”
Jacob turned. The three followed. One of the musketeers brushed an elbow in my side.
“I would have done it!” I shouted. “I just didn’t get the chance!”
The bus stopped. I got on.
They stayed outside. They watched as the bus drove away.
There was a bitter taste in my mouth, a bitter, metallic taste.
The next day Jacob found me during lunch. Two musketeers at each of my sides, one opposite me, next to Jacob.
“So,” he said. “You’re a real man?”
I laughed and looked to my side. None of them laughed. I shrunk two sizes.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Cool,” Jacob said. “I thought you were a pussy.”
“Definitely not,” I said.
“You mean, not like Peter?”
Jacob smiled. He got up and the three followed.
“Good,” he said.
Then he left.
For days I felt nervous; felt watched.
Sometimes, in class, I felt eyeballs burning through my clothes. When I turned no one was looking at me.
No matter if in breaks or in class, they ignored me the way they had always done. Even Peter did.
My paranoia faded.
Autumn rushed past, so did winter with barely any snow. Spring was nice, but far too cold.
Then summer came. Exams. Then the break.
Two friends and I went swimming at the outdoor pool. I wanted to shower first; they wanted to hit the water straight away.
I was alone in the shower; finished quickly. Not quick enough.
Voices I knew.
“Oh,” said Jacob. “How convenient.”
“Hi,” I said.
I squeezed past Jacob. A musketeer stood in my way.
“We were looking for you,” said the musketeer.
“It’s true,” said Jacob.
“Well, we asked who should be next.”
“Next for what?”
“And somebody said your name.”
A musketeer locked the changing room door.
“My name for what?”
“Well,” Jacob said. “You think you’re a man. But we think you’re just a pussy.”
I took a step back.
“I’m not a pussy.”
They stepped further into the shower room. Jacob slid his hand in his pocket.
“Are you sure?”
My eyes flicked to the locked windows. The wall behind me came closer.
“Definitely,” I said.
Jacob pulled his hand out of his pocket.
“Definitely?” he asked.
Something shiny was between his fingers.
“You mean, not like Peter?”
His smile turned into a grin.
I screamed, then a musketeer jumped on top of me.
Someone held my mouth and pushed a knife against my throat.
Another held my arms.
Jacob watched while the third pulled my trunks down. I tried to kick them away, but their bodies were fell heavy on my legs. My body kept twisting and turning; biting and clawing and kicking – but they had me pinned and the knife pushed harder against my throat.
“Stop struggling,” said the one with the knife against my throat. “Else we make a second cut here.”
I struggled harder when I felt the cold against my groin.
Cold turned to hot turned to pain.
The world got blurry, then quiet, then black.
When I woke up my head was light. There were voices all around me. Someone pressed on my arms and it hurt; another was pulling something from my hands; a third was pressing cold pain between my legs.
People in red and white; some others with naked chests standing behind them.
“My god,” said one of them. “Why would he do that to himself?”
Something cold slipped out of my hand.
“I think some kid did the same thing last year,” said another voice.
The scar had healed by the end of summer.
Sensitive gray skin.
Nothing else down there. Just wrinkly pink and gray skin and a crown of curly blond hair.
Not enough evidence, they said.
That summer, after the PE lessons, two were waiting in the changing room.
When the others were gone he went inside and turned left. I went inside and turned right.