On the cover of Swimmers’ World was a swimming guy’s face obscured by splashes. On Swimming Monthly a coach in a rose garden. The smell of cigars stuffed the air at Rich’s News, and beneath it, a note of stale trading-card gum. On the wall, a sign said No Reading. Rich, if it was Rich, unpacked cigars behind the counter, ignoring me. My monthly or so spot-check of swimming magazines consisted of a practiced skimming: contents, capsules, photos. The cover of Poolside had a blond diver toweling off. If Rich took my skimming as reading and called me out, it would be easy to say I’d been looking for something, and if Rich said, For what? Rich wouldn’t.
Next to me, a guy was working. He was pulling magazines off the rack, tearing off their covers, and throwing the magazines and the covers into two piles on the floor. I’d gotten through Swimming Monthly and had just picked up Poolside. The guy said, Poolside, right on. You’re a swimmer?
I’d never seen him before. One of the things about coming to Rich’s was that nobody who knew me went there. Being at Rich’s was like being nowhere. I said, I’m not.
He said, You look like you could be.
I didn’t look like anything—my jeans and my raincoat and my flannel and my henley. I said, I’m not.
He said, Right on.
I said, Are you?
He laughed. He touched a bead on a cord around his neck. He had skaterish hair and he was older than me, my brother’s age, maybe. He said, Not me. He said, Sorry to interrupt your reading. He smiled like he knew me.
I said, I’m not reading.
He laughed. He said, That sign’s just there for the guys who come in to read porn. He made quotes with his fingers when he said read.
The back wall was all magazines in plastic with their titles popping out above blank sheets of paper. A few men stood in front of them. Should someone who didn’t know me be talking to me about pornos? Should he be talking like he knew me and making quotes with his fingers? The men at the back wall shouldn’t, it seemed, be doing what they were doing in public—scoping pornos behind plastic, hard-ons squirming in their pants.
My finger marked Poolside’s centerfold. The guy was still standing right there, as if he had something else to say to me. I turned the pages as fast as I could, barely looking, defeating my purpose. Goggled eyes, ripped abs, smashed boobs flashed by. Swimmers stroked down lanes and water splashed up and hid their faces. The guy ripped off a cover and tossed it in a pile. Any minute he could ask me what I was looking for.
Sara Jaffe is a fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her short fiction and criticism have appeared in publications including Fence, BOMB, NOON, Paul Revere’s Horse, matchbook, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She coedited The Art of Touring (Yeti, 2009), an anthology of writing and visual art by musicians drawing on her experience as guitarist for post-punk band Erase Errata.