Shirtless Lad

It’s too hot.

“I can’t take this heat,” Anthony thinks. Meeting his friends in the park after work is turning out to be an error on his part. Business-appropriate shirt, trousers and shoes are all well and good in his air-conditioned building, but it’s not suitable for the direct sunlight in this corner of the park

“A few cans, you’ll be grand!” his friends all say.

A few cans, that’s what tempted Anthony to stay around after work in the first place. He thought that “a few cans” among adults means pints and a beer garden. Yet, here are his friends, in the park with a bag of cans, as if they were teenagers getting away with underage drinking in a field. Anthony tries to relax in spite of the heat. It’s like he’s caught in a spotlight of sunshine and the intensity is growing. He feels sweat beginning to form, a thin layer of perspiration all over him, a liquid exo-skin, sweat flowing from the top of his head and through his armpits, all topped by a distinct condition of swamp-crotch.

It’s too hot.

Perspiration is creating a seal around Anthony’s body. His powder-blue polyester shirt is soaked through. He’s conscious of the expanding sweat-patches that are obvious to see now. It would be far better for his skin, Anthony thinks, to be allowed to perspire freely. Could he take his shirt off? Would that be inappropriate? He looks around and sees that, across the green, a group of young lads are having a kickabout. One of the group is taking a break for a drink of water, appearing to struggle with the heat the same way that Anthony is struggling. Only this young lad doesn’t suffer it. He doesn’t wait. His arms retreat in through the sleeves of his t-shirt and in a swift motion, he reaches up the neckline and stretches the shirt out and over his head. He is a Shirtless Lad now and he looks so much more relaxed than Anthony can imagine feeling in this heat.

As he rejoins the kickabout, Anthony wonders if this Shirtless Lad is aware of the public area he currently occupies. Co-occupies, more to the point. There are young couples, families, small children and all other animals of the park. As Anthony looks around, there are other Shirtless Lads. Another group of teenagers playing football at the opposite end of the park, all of them are Shirtless Lads. Across the way on a park bench, there are Shirtless Lads, playing music on their phones and drinking cans of cider. It seems that wherever there’s a group of lads, there’s a Shirtless Lad.

Shirtless Lad… Not man, but lad, and certainly not lady, either. Anthony ponders this seemingly trite detail until it takes on greater importance. No one had ever said it. No one had to say the exact words. A lifetime of tut-tutting or head shaking or eye rolls when a Shirtless Lad appeared were enough. Society finds a way to tell you that being topless in public is indecent. People can be whatever amount of naked they want to be at home or in magazines or on the internet, but shame on you if you just flaunt your body about in public.

Still, Anthony wants to take his shirt off because it seems like a practical way to deal with the heat. But the more he thinks about it, he realises that he’s not confident enough. Sitting as he is now, his belly feels like it’s hanging down over his belt buckle and if he hunches over at all, Anthony sees the folds of flesh folding over on his front. That’s what a cushy desk job has gotten him: fat folds. Society definitely does not want to see those. Really, Anthony envies the confidence of youth, those Shirtless Lads and their freedom from caring what people think in this wonderful sunshine. It’s not for him.

Anthony undoes the top button and shakes the shirt out with a grip on the collar, but that’s all. The light breeze rolling through the park now is cooling the damp sweat on his polyester shirt. It’s enough to get him back home, Anthony reckons. He’ll run a cold bath and lie in that instead. A nice, cold shower, even. That would solve it. In fact, there’s only one thing for this heat:

“It’d want to-”

Anthony stops himself, not wanting to finish that sentence. Shirtless Lads might be indecent, Anthony reckons, but if you complain about good weather in Ireland, you’re an arsehole. Worse still if you’re wishing for rain. He thinks about it some more.

“It would want to rain, though…” Anthony says and his friends all groan. Anthony is a total arsehole.