At the end of the day everyone stopped. They stopped screwing around behind their partners’ backs. They stopped leaving them for other men and women. They stopped picking up STDs and going nuts. They stopped pretending they were speaking to Carine or Geoff from work. They stopped saying they couldn’t have sex that night because they had eaten something weird or had a twinge in the back. They stopped meeting by the fountain in Piazza Navona and paying for dinners in cash. They stopped dreaming of men’s genitals or the slow drag of a tongue. Or the diverse planes of skin from neck to breast, from breast to belly, and further down. They stopped stroking cocks in the shower, tossing sperm against the tiles and standing there emptied, water still hitting their backs. Or reading with two fingers resting in moist clefts, saying they were nearly ready to turn out the light. They stopped placing phones face down on the kitchen counter, and watching tonguing teens at bus stops, and feeling a smooth rupturing through sex scenes in films. They stopped feeling like gluttons, like animals after a kill, blood on their faces, wet with gore, a roaring.
They stopped. It was all over. It was quiet.
Some days, they released memories out of pens into a grassy field, with light drifts on the mountains beyond. And these memories would gambol, they would fall to their knees and inhale true scents, they would fall on their backs and look at the sky, rubbing spines and shoulders in the dirt, feeling this friction.
Then these memories would hear a distant whistle, an arrow on the wind, and would trail back across the grasses, passing one by one through the large wooden gate, sealed by a large metal bolt, sliding across and falling into place with a clunking metal sound.
These memories were peaceful at last, corralled in these pens, and men and women would look into the unblinking faces of their lifelong partners, the men and women they were bound to, and see freedom.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write and ended up in West Africa co-running a bar. Love Stories for Hectic People won Best Short Story Collection in the Saboteur Awards 2021. The Cartography of Others was finalist in the People’s Book Prize. Website: catherinemcnamarawriter.com | Twitter: @catinitaly | Instagram: @catinitaly