Why Do Guys Look at Porn?
Stephen Thomas

The father in black boots and old plaid comes in from outside.

"It's time," he says.

The boy gets up and follows his father to the hall. His packed bag is beside the door.
Father: "Toothbrush?"

The boy nods without looking up.

They pick up the girls at Jackie's house and the girls climb into the back seat.

The whole way there the girls giggle and whisper to each other. The boy feels embarrassed to be up front, in the same category as his father. What could be cool about being a man? All that coarse beard grit—how could they not be insensible to the subtler emotions?

When they arrive, the girls thank the father politely for the ride and step out of the van. The boy head-down-grabs his bag from the back, and turns, but the girls have already run ahead, and the boy realizes they've separated from him on purpose.

The boy is quietly devastated. He wouldn't have even come if they hadn't convinced him, is the thing.
He walks to the barn. He approaches a large group of people. When he gets there though, the 'group' is just a bunch of individuals, each of whom intimidate in their own idiosyncratic way. The boy doesn't know how to join a conversation, and he doesn't know how to start one, and so he stands a few feet away from the group that seems least likely to notice him.

Programmed activities. The boy tags along, head down, participating minimally and hopefully without doing the things too weirdly. He is chosen, maybe because he's small, to sit in the middle of a huge repurposed parachute, while the others grip the sides of it and all at once jerk up, throwing him into the air.

The jerking is uncoordinated and uneven though, and the boy is thrown sideways and lands on his tailbone on the ground.

There are distracted apologies; the boy tries to retreat.

An hour later, in the woods, a counselor points out species of trees and lichen and birds and tells the group their scientific names. The boy feels bored. When the counselor takes a "business break" to pee behind a tree, the boy walks off.

He wanders through the forest alone. Free of the didactic horseshit and the pressures of being around other people, his mood lifts and his mind is relaxed enough to form new associations between the information in the books he's read and the data he's receiving from his senses.

He notices leaves on the ground. He sees two beetles copulating on a log. He finds an apple tree and fills his backpack with apples.

At night, in his tent, the boy is reading with a flashlight.

He hears a noise.

He unzips the tent flaps and looks out at Jackie and Tori, crouching in the damp grass in their oversized T-shirts, their faces large and lit with conspiracy.

"Whatcha doing?" says Jackie.

The boy is about to answer when without warning Jackie lifts the bottom of her T-shirt up to her forehead, displaying her bra and everything—ostensibly, apparently, to wipe her brow, though the evaluating look on her face when she drops her shirt telegraphs her purpose.

Without warning then Tori mimics the gesture, raising her shirt and displaying her lumpy belly to the boy. Tori does it more quickly, with less assurance, but when she lowers her shirt she looks defiant and proud.

"We're bored," says Jackie, babyishly.

"There's nothing to do here," says Tori, mimicking Jackie's tone.

"We're gonna make a fire," says Jackie.

Jackie turns and runs off, and Tori follows. The boy doesn't know whether they want him but he follows anyway, leaving his tent open and his flashlight on.

Down to the river, to the campfire. The fire's been abandoned but a couple embers are still glowing in the pit.

They build the fire up. Jackie produces a bag of marshmallows. Soon they're all deep into gossip like they are at lunch behind the big stones at school. The boy listens—he's always the one who listens—to their camp adventures: how they unscrewed the lids of the salt shakers, how Tori was yelled at by a parent for something she totally didn't do, how a black kid from a different school tried to flirt with Jackie.

The fire dies down and the girls get quiet.

"Say it," says Jackie.

Tori looks at Jackie; turns to the boy.

"Abe," says Tori. "Why do guys look at porn?"

The boy feels drums in his chest. He's looked at porn but he's never kissed anyone. Tori in gym assembly with her shoe touching his last week had said very quietly, "Abe, are you straight?" and he hadn't known what she meant. A pretty girl in the grade above him had sat beside him on the bus one day and he'd 'fantasized' about her by imagining her blond braids coming alive like snakes and spreading throughout the bus like lava.

Before he can answer, Jackie says "Come on," and runs off. Tori runs after her, and the boy runs after them both.

The girls are running and laughing and screaming. Tori turns and says "Catch me Abe!" and their laughter redoubles.

The boy chases Tori. She looks back at him. Her blond hair, blowing wildly in the night wind, covers half her face, is in her mouth and eyes.

The boy catches her up, she seems to let him, and he grips her waist and she shivers and shakes and shrieks and slips easily from him and runs away, back up the hill.

The boy looks up and sees the figure of Jackie at the top of the hill. She's holding something. She throws it at him.

It lands at his feet.

It's an apple. His apple. She's stolen the apples from his tent. Tori joins Jackie at the top of the hill and they run off together, laughing at the boy and throwing his apples everywhere, at the trees.

Stephen Thomas lives in Toronto.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Thiago Fonseca.

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