Avik floated in the pool. A gentle monster with secret coils of energy. Unfurled, they could light a flame in the water.

The water stirred when he saw Kaustav. Jump in, he called, floating to the edge. The sparse hair on his body was wet and asleep, his shoulders shiny, the rest a mangled brown dream.

Crazy, Kaustav laughed. Another time.

Avik’s body spoke an old tongue. The muscles glistened a smile, his flabby stomach laughing. His hair-encrusted nipples winked a grin.

No trunks, Kaustav said. Have underwear, na?

Avik knifed through the water slowly. Come on.

No fucking way!

Go on. Sunetra’s voice startled Kaustav. She had stepped into the backyard. The boy’s new playpen.

Avik didn’t seem to notice her. Just chuck your pants and jump in.

The hell I will. I don’t swim.

What is this, the Pacific? Avik clung to the edge and splashed water at him. Now your pants are wet so hang them out and jump in.

Kaustav looked around. Sunetra had returned inside. He unbuttoned his shirt, hung it over a cane chair near the grill, kicked off his shoes. Avik had gone back to the middle of the pool. Kaustav took off his pants. They were a slim fit, and he could only pull them out in reverse. He felt the strong need to straighten them. Inside out, they looked obscene against the chair, as if they had been ripped out. But he couldn’t stand there in his boxers. What if Sunetra walked out again? She didn’t know what he wanted.

He slipped into the water. Avik floated towards him. Man, you’re so stiff, just chill, no?

Kaustav wanted to punch him but the water made jokes of all slaps and punches. Avik was such a dumb animal. His large body was a cloudy afterthought in the pool. Droopy, treacherous eyes. Kaustav saw the mole next to his lips move with the smile and felt delirious. It felt like forever since he had seen Avik naked and the water made everything surreal.

Man, did you dig this yourself? Kaustav asked.

Almost, Avik said. I poked the labourers all summer.

There was something crushing about Avik, the nakedness felt like a hug. It was big and brawny and wanted to wrap you up and eat you. It was like a tree that you could climb and from which you could hang. The boy who had flown from Calcutta and held him here in San Diego, giving him a life even though Kaustav lived on the other end of the continent. This was his anchor, this house and this body that had gone flabby in its mid-thirties but had retained each mole and scar as quiet eyes.

Kaustav tried to poke his tummy, but the water pissed at his attempt. His fingers wouldn’t fly. Dude, you’ve become fat. He touched Avik’s half-awake shoulder, felt the softness of the flab on the side of his neck. He wanted to pull his cheeks.

Ah, what the hell, you make money you make fat, Avik said. You wouldn’t know.

Screw you.

What’s with her today? Avik looked up.

Kaustav turned. Sunetra was there, her body elfish in deep navy board shorts. Odd colours shot through Kaustav’s mind. He had never seen so much of her.

You guys, Kaustav said. Such backyard glam and me soaking in my boxers.

Sunetra looked blind without her glasses. She rarely used her contacts. She smiled, looking a little lost, and slid into the water.

Avik got away, slicing the water in broad strokes. Kaustav’s mind lost its shape. It swung between sadness and upheaval. Avik’s muscles looked grim. But Sunetra melted into the water, a lizard fairy. She was like a young girl even though she was Avik’s and Kaustav’s age. Her body, afloat next to Kaustav, was much like his own, small and light, sometimes hard to see.

She looked at him. I think it’s just weird that you never learned swimming.

Oh, you know, Kaustav laughed, the trainer dunked my head in the pool when I was five. I never recovered from that shock.

She wiped water from her eyes. I’ve told you that’s a pathetic story.

There was something unnerving about her, something steely, a magnet for your eyes.

Avik had turned away when he saw her slide into the pool. That’s how married couples were. He was on the far end. He wanted to show what a big pool he’d carved in the backyard of his new house. Bloody show-off.

They were both good swimmers, regular surfers in La Jolla Shores. Kaustav was a clod wobbling through the water in his boxers.

Sunetra laughed at him. Under the water, she was a pale snake. Her skin looked soft and her bones, green and brittle. You can keep your feet up, she said. I’ll show you how.

I’m unteachable, Kaustav said. Rubbish, she said.

You’re light, you’ll learn easily.

Light like her? Her shoulders were shapely and articulate, the collarbones awake like those of a gawky teenager. But there was finesse in her movement, the surety of a body that knew the world.

Avik was a hardy, intense swimmer, doing laps across the pool, unaware of their presence.

Hold on to the edge, Sunetra said. Here, like this.

She held on to the edge of the pool and her body sang underwater, billowing, steely strength in her little-girl legs. Kaustav hung on to the edge, tried to float. His weight pulled him down.

Sunetra smiled at him. She was slippery with promise, diving under his body, pushing him up so that he could float, stretch out his legs like a skeleton in a museum. But she couldn’t get him to float. Even if she slipped a hand under his stomach, her palms splayed out on his waterlogged skin, he would still lose the fight against gravity.

Let it loose, she said. You’re holding on too tight. She floated closer. She touched the back of his neck, pushed it gently. Let your body relax.

Kaustav tried to suck the weight off his body. He felt all his sensations dwelling on the spot at the top of his back where Sunetra held him, trying to steer his body to weightlessness.

Gosh, she said. You’re nervous.

Avik was going up the steps. Kaustav looked at his back, the broad shoulders, the strong arms that could lift Kaustav easily, thicker now, but still smelling of childhood. He would not look back. Kaustav could not look away from the roasted brown skin, the tight, sad muscles. He felt dizzy with love.

Try again? Sunetra’s voice floated next to him. Should I hold you?

Another time, Kaustav said. I’m beat, let me go and change.

Sure. Sunetra moved away.

Kaustav climbed out of the pool. Avik was wrapping himself in a bathrobe. Kaustav came up to him.

Hey, he said. Why did you get out? I thought we were going to swim for a bit.

Nah, not today, Avik said. We have dinner guests. They’ll be here by seven-thirty.

Oh no! Kaustav rolled his eyes.

Excerpted with permission from The Remains of the Body, Saikat Majumdar, Penguin India.