“Picasso said once that he who created a thing is forced to make it ugly. In the effort to create the intensity and the struggle to create this intensity, the result always produces a certain ugliness, those who follow can make of this thing a beautiful thing because they know what they are doing, the thing having already been invented, but the inventor because he does not know what he is going to invent inevitably the thing he makes must have its ugliness.”
Gertrude Stein, Picasso
He liked the way the locker room felt after everyone left. Still, available, his, if only for a brief moment before the bell rang and he went to his next class. He had no reason to be there. PE was not a requirement for Seniors, and he hadn’t stripped down to his underwear for over a year. He didn’t miss it, the smeared embarrassment of knowing he was foreign to this particular place. He acted strangely. To look or not to look, all the other questions that rode the crest of a self-consciousness that waved and ebbed over him like hot water, then cold. Others picked up his reticence. And whether they knew it or not, understood it or not, he was their boy. Completely theirs, labeled queer for not looking away quickly enough, lingering just that second beyond the normal, and the guy caught it. Caught it and spread it.
Jordan Simmons would not be welcome in the locker room again, unless he was alone.
It didn’t help that he was gay. He guessed, gay. That was the term, after all, for guys who wanted to sleep with guys. Jordan liked girls well enough; most of them were sweet in the way his grandmother was sweet: she would never cause harm, always look the other way, and stand up for him no matter what. But that sweetness never made it any farther than friendship. Jordan couldn’t deliver the goods, and in high school, girls were somewhat interested in the goods. He thought they were pure, but one night after the Sophomore Spring Dance, all decked out in the fifties, Jordan discovered that girls his age wanted to fight him off. They wanted to push guys away and have them come back, eager young sperm, not taking no for an answer long enough for the cycle to change and the defenses to fall.
Jordan had no fight in him. But he liked the locker room. There he could soak up the leftovers of the quest for honor and glory that could only be bought with sweat. At this he was only a ringside seat-holder. He would sit and smell, hoping no one would see him.
He would’ve been content with that stolen sniff if he hadn’t gone to crap during the basketball game. Passing through the side-gym door, stomach in full rumble, he ran to the stall and stooped beneath the wire grating covering the window. There, his head between his knees, he heard the players in the adjoining room.
“So I tell her, don’t come over here unless you wanna get fucked.”
“Yeah. So I do her ’cause she showed up and had these dripping panties. I mean they were drippin’ and not stoppin’.”
They passed into the gym, and Jordan came up with a plan. He would draw the locker room, stealing into it from the bathroom after security came to do his rounds. He would sit in that stall, his backpack before him, the one still out sitting with Sarah, and then spend hours transfiguring the blue dented lockers and clay-colored cement into the high arches that moved to and from the shower, a tiled room lined with sharp spigots spraying needles of cold water. He would draw the low shadows that hung in corners, he would draw this space and commune.
He could. That is his gift.
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