Steamed open

He pushed the door open and the conversation inside ceased, he became an interruption.  He pulled the door closed behind him and sat down, his swimming shorts squeltching against the marble.  Opposite him was a large, smoothly bronzed man, and along the stone bench was the middle-aged woman, her legs stretched out in front of her.

After several seconds’ silence, she resumed.

“So I only come here on Tuesdays and Thursdays usually because it’s much quieter,” she told her original company.  “At the weekend there are so many children.”

She spoke in clipped, Slavic tones.  The man nodded his agreement, not caring one way or the other, not appearing hugely keen on having the conversation at all.

“So many children,” she confirmed, her distaste of children clear enough.  “But now it is nice and quiet.”

The man nodded.

It wasn’t THAT quiet, the younger man thought.  He’d been on weekend evenings when it had been quieter than this.

“Do you work every day?” she asked the man

“No, I don’t work,” he said in softly spoken Welsh tones, wanting to leave it at that.  But he soon realised that she wouldn’t.  She would pepper him with questions for as long as he sat there, or twitter away to anyone who’d listen.

“Oh.”

“Took early retirement last year at 50,” he conceded.  The man did not look 50 years of age.  Bronzed, smooth – was it possible to reach fifty and still be so hairless? the younger man wondered.  He must wax.  Muscular too, the peak of physical fitness, early retirement at 50, financially secure.  The younger man opposite him steamed enviously.

“The army?” she guessed, almost childishly, “or a builder?  Down in the mines?”  She was enjoying herself, flattering him with macho professions.

“Steelworks,” he said.  “They were laying lots of people off you know, youngsters coming through.  I volunteered because I had a private pension.

“Oh, perhaps one day some easy job will come up?”

“No, I don’t want to work.  Moving abroad soon.”

“Oh yes?  To where?  To Spain?” she guessed at random, wanting to get something right.

“Bulgaria.”

“Bulgaria?”

The unexpected country halted the flow of her questions.

“I am from Russia originally and so we don’t trust the former.. you know,” she trailed off.  “We think they will look to cheat us or..”

Both men smiled at her loyalty and old-fashioned caution.  The younger man thought of breaking his silence by saying something comparable about being an Englishman in Wales, but didn’t.

“You are going to buy a house there?” she asked, apparently recovered.

“Bought one.”

“Oh, so you and your wife will settle there now, yes?”

He smiled and mumbled about a new life, never qualifying who the ‘we’ was supposed to refer to.  The younger man wondered at this clean-cut man’s sexuality for a second, the rough and tumble of steel worker life.  For all his size and obvious strength, there was a coy softness about him.  Men who looked like this usually had booming voices that travelled effortlessly, natural mannerisms which could fill a stage.

“That’s enough in here for me, I think,” he said.  He stood up and, looking mildly harassed, left the steam room.

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