by Catherine McNamara
It was to be their last hike together. They had decided their relationship was over and they were in the kitchen preparing their rucksacks. Family members had been informed that a separation process had begun. Eileen had spoken to two girlfriends about her new lover Leonard, and Eric had started gathering funds to climb in the Himalayas.
Because there had been no children the house was quiet and tidy, even more so because Eric had been sleeping in a nearby hotel. His blue zippered sports bag lay emptied of dirty washing on the laundry floor and the washing machine churned around.
“Do you mind if we wait for this to finish so I can hang it out?” Eric said.
“Of course,” said Eileen. “You’re right, I hadn’t thought of that.”
So much had been voiced, launched across rooms, accused and muddied. Eric had discovered Eileen sitting upon a man’s undone trousers on a garden bench behind the house, her summer dress about her waist. Eric had run up, pushing the bench over onto the concrete path, so that their bodies sprawled and cried out and he was not sure whom his kicks and pummels reached.
The day after he had felt unmanly and childish. The bruised lover had followed Eileen up the path, resting his hand on her shoulder as she rang the doorbell and pleaded to be let inside.
Now Eileen poured a nut mix into two small containers and fastened the lids. She pulled down his old thermos and placed a pair of energy bars on the bench. They would be hiking along a trail that wove in and out of a dramatic waterfall and dropped down into a translucent gorge. Once, many years back, Eileen had been bitten by a snake that lunged out of the leaves. Eric had sliced open the wound and sucked and spat out the venom, carrying her frightened body up the trail to a waiting ambulance and a group of onlookers.
That morning, in bed, Eileen had reluctantly answered her new lover’s intermittent questions about her marriage. Leonard was an older man for whom women left their sturdy husbands, to whom they gave oceans of love. He attracted women who cherished his isolation and distance, his warm hands through their hair and an irreverent roughness. They would batter themselves against his rocky shores.
Leonard had listened to Eileen speaking and remained curious. Several times he had feigned love, but he had never, never reached that blind plateau.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and was semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. Catherine lives in Italy.