by Catherine McNamara
Max and Marzia were an astounding couple for over two decades. It was said that Marzia first made love to Max when he was a fifteen-year-old Latin student, tall for his age. But this was untrue. It was Max who seduced Marzia in a pine-panelled upstairs bedroom of a San Vito mountain lodge, over the Carnevale weekend. Max had been invited up by Marzia’s nephew, and Marzia had made a last-minute decision to drive up there to join her brother’s family.
Around this time, Marzia was divorced and had not had sex in seven or eight months, mainly because men’s genitals made her despair. Her ex-husband, a West African man, had a lengthy circumcised organ that she had grown used to and loved. However, in her home town in northern Italy, Marzia was painfully repelled by the body part otherwise decent men bobbed in her face. She worried she had developed an irrational prejudice, and that she remained governed by her ex-husband, a remorseless and alluring man who had saturated every avenue of her being.
Within the first hour of their intimacy Marzia discovered that the young instrument between Max’s thighs was an object she found beautiful and succulent. She enjoyed its scent and vigour, scarcely aware of the young man attached above. Max looked down upon Marzia’s golden hair and the exertions of her profile and saw a goddess, a Diana, a Hera.
The couple emerged from their first night together to a breathtaking meal of eggs and salmon and vodka and caviar recently brought back from Moscow by Marzia’s brother. Marzia and Max ate with great appetite and after the meal walked away from their previous lives as though they had emerged from cusps of skin. They skied together all day; Marzia accompanied Max back to his apartment. Within the week Max had moved into Marzia’s place over the river. They were now a sensual, intransigent unit.
Marzia had already experienced the discomfort of the town when she brought home a dark-skinned man with whom she had studied in Milan. But this man had found a job in a bar and become something of a mascot with his long coarse dreadlocks and printed shirts. In fact, when Marzia came to the bar to introduce Max to her ex-husband, people’s views that Marzia was fickle, exuberant and oversexed were confirmed. It was rumoured that Max and Marzia travelled through Vietnam and Cambodia on a motorbike. It was rumoured that Max stood by Marzia through a breast cancer scare. It was rumoured that he wanted children, but she could not, having contracted some infection from the black man. Marzia had been noticed staring at a baby.
However, it was Max’s wish that their lovemaking should produce no child. His young mind had a firm dislike of the tugged shirts and food frays of toddlers, having watched his mother produce an unexpected son in her late forties, and become exasperated and graceless. Max said that if Marzia fell pregnant he would have to leave her. He loved her — God he loved her! — but he couldn’t allow parenting to strangle this love. Early on, he even offered to have a vasectomy, but Marzia couldn’t bear the idea of his magnificent virility being extinguished.
Marzia continued to devour Max’s organ with its flood of fruit; Max was devout before the vaults of Marzia’s trim body. But there were many months when Marzia felt that the canal to her womb was the true path towards her being, and that Max had stolen the sustenance of that poor inverted sac. She would cry at those times, feeling toppled and her womanly purpose disputed.
Some twenty years passed and one restless humid summer, mid-August, Max left Marzia for a Venetian girl whose very wealthy parents owned an entire palazzo near the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Previously, Max and Marzia had been to Santorini, sunbathing and hiking, lovemaking and reading, as they did each year. In hindsight Marzia realised that one particular evening, sitting at arm’s length on an empty nudist beach listening to the wash and two girls chatting in Greek, Max had been framing his farewell to her.
Newly single, Marzia joined her brother’s family in San Vito for the second week of Ferragosto, staying in the pine-panelled bedroom where Max had first struggled with her tight jeans and lacy knickers. She was not sad. Her brother, who did business in Moscow, kept her plied with vodka and crude jokes. She watched her nephew dress and undress toddlers. She drank a lot, until the watching of small untrained human beings became hilarious, and her brother cupped her shaking shoulders, taking her outside for a chill walk where she cried and bawled at the sheer, vivid mountain.
In April, Max’s twins were born. By this time Marzia’s own fertility had long been squandered. And yet, despite the wide difference in years, it was Max who quickly grew plump with a crushed, worried face, and was often seen shouting at wailing children in the park. Marzia, while it remained unclear whether it was the yoga retreats or the seeds she was seen buying, or her renewed friendship with the West African ex-husband now running the bar, grew increasingly superb.
Catherine McNamara is an Australian author living in northern Italy after many years in Ghana. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, and her story Magaly Park received a Pushcart nomination. Her work has been shortlisted and anthologised widely in the U.K. and Europe.