In Italy we were together every afternoon. I liked this even when he dominated me, said this is the way we look around a museum, we tend to have a nap at this time, and get on the bed and let me see you touching yourself. What else could I do? I couldn’t speak Italian, I didn’t know what foods were the correct ones to order.
In Italy I was really beautiful, more beautiful than him. At a restaurant, on my last night there, I wore a dress that made him feel good about himself. It was a wrap dress, bright and revealing. I knew it made him feel good about himself because when I put it on he told me. I reminded myself of my mother in Italy, wanting the holiday, capitulating to a man and of course being really beautiful.
In Italy, when I was there, he didn’t have anywhere else to go, his other girlfriend was still in London so we could just be together. In the sun we had orange drinks. He looked down his glasses at some serious work he had spread out on the cafe’s table and I wrote in a notebook about him and what he was doing.
I’m not always like this. I don’t usually just take it this way. But I did with him, and especially in Italy. I only went there because he invited me. On the other hand, he had taken himself off to Italy for the whole summer and would have done so whether I was involved or not.
In the mornings in Italy he studied and I went to sit in a hot park. I felt calm there. It was fragrant and there were massive statues of mermaids pulling each other’s hair. I wrote in my notebook, ‘Could it be that him being openly in love with another person means that I have to confront the fact that even though we love each other he is separate to me? Everybody I love is. Everybody is.’ Basic and yet there I was, I hadn’t learnt it. I couldn’t abide it. I can’t.
Before he went to Italy, one night when we first started sleeping together I told him to hide his face under the cover while I tried on various outfits. One was a white blouse and a tight wool pencil skirt. When he came out from under the duvet I pulled up the skirt so he could eat me out while I sipped a beer. It wasn’t like Italy then, I was in charge.
After he came back I left him.
Months later I meet him in the park wearing my big, new coat. He says, You did definitely break up with me though. It wasn’t mutual.
I stand up and ask him if he thinks my coat looks masculine. I put one foot in its boot on top of a rock. Of course it’s autumn now and we are in London.
He says, I wouldn’t say it was masculine. It’s confident. It doesn’t conform to the shape of your body. It holds its own.
I sit down on the bench again.
I can’t believe you’ve let yourself be dominated by a coat.
I laugh, Me of all people, hey?
When it is time for us to go I walk in a diagonal line across the grass, imagining how my big grey coat looks to him now as it gets further away. I come home with the word ‘keep’ in my mouth. I get into bed still dressed for outside. I want to keep him, I said. Sean, I want to keep you like a child wants an animal and like a person wants another person to love them alone – not separate.
Catherine Madden is from Birkenhead and lives in London. She writes fiction and poetry. She is a founding co-editor of art and literary zine, The Grapevine. Her work has been published in such places as 3:AM Magazine, Oh Comely Magazine, and with the Papaya Press. You can read more of her writing at Catherinemadden.org, and find her on instagram at @homeiswheretheshampoois