It was common knowledge he had a wife. They married young, fresh out of university. Maybe there was some grand job offer that struck like lightning. Blood in the water, even.
I was familiar with him. When we met, he seemed taller than one would think from afar. Something about posture and composure, I think. He stretched out his arm as if we were business partners, and he wanted to sign off on a venture I had wordlessly propositioned. From the beginning, right then, he was the sort of man you surrounded with mirrors in a palace in your head. Every angle would be scrutinised but not now, not in public. Let’s wait until the curtains are drawn and the mirrors only reflect contortions of his body, from tip to tail.
The first time we made love, he confessed he liked roleplaying. Pretending to be an animal in the sack. It was strange at first, his nostrils flaring as a lone bull’s in the pasture but, when I closed my eyes, all I pictured was a ceiling unfolding for the skies, for the stars.
Ursa Major and Minor.
Perseus winding itself around my body.
He fanned a plume of brightly coloured feathers: reds, greens, a pale white so pristine. One feather retreated from somewhere unknown. Silver, the colour of ore found deep underground. I had had sex two weeks before then but the memory of it completely cleansed from memory.
I found myself rolling awake in the middle of the night, half-conscious, deleting the number of an asshole that only texted me when he wanted an ass to slap and naked pictures to beg for.
‘Come here,’ the married man said, tugging at the sheet, exposing my legs.
I inched toward him. What was I meant to say?
He held me briefly. ‘I should go.’
When we are children, our parents pass on stories. Sometimes we hear about the time we were born, how the labour was herculean, and the little cord was almost wrapped right round our little bulbous head. But sometimes we uncover a story wholly unknown. This is not about you, the cover might read, in an invisible sort of squid ink. I remember talking animals, wholesome little children, so-called morals of the story weaved in to steer us. To navigate us, because is there anything more terrifying than a lost child?
It was almost déjà-vu. A story my parents had passed on for a moral they had conjured up.
I was asleep, dreaming for the third time that week of falling from the rocky cliffside in some European country, somewhere humid and sticky, when his phone call stirred me. ‘I’m coming over?’ he said, framing it as a question. Almost.
I saw his wife’s image flick up when I was scrolling through the usual drivel – there she was, wearing a low-cut dress, photographed alone. The article’s writer had dug out a similar snapshot of her from the 90s, a similar dress, a similar vagueness in her eyes as if there was something missing from the façade. The interviewer avoided addressing rumours – is it true your husband is stepping out on you? I was briefly impressed. There had been tabloid spreads about her husband seen with his arm around another man – handsome, a stranger to the world, thankfully not me.
All they wanted to do was destroy her.
I was not helping.
At the door, he planted an open-mouthed kiss on my lips and called me irresistible. Remember how relatives would sometimes confess to wanting to eat you all up?
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf.
He texted me on his way suggesting he would cook for me – he would bring the ingredients, even joked he would bring a frying pan and all the utensils if it turned out all I did was order takeout and use the microwave. It was weird, his subtle apprehension of me. He adored me, true, but he would notice one little thing – that I always ordered a California burrito when I was depressed – and began to assume he knew my moods completely.
With one hand resting on the kitchen bench – ‘Careful,’ I warned him, like I was subtly becoming my mother, ‘the stove’s hot’ – he fiddled with a few things. First, the music. No, I don’t want to listen to this fucking song. Except instead he only sighed, wiping his brow. He had barely spoken since he sprayed the pan with oil.
‘I started worrying about you,’ he began, cutting himself off.
I glanced down at the wrong moment – there was a message from a friend, wondering if I was free that weekend – but he was staring right at me, disgruntled, suddenly the wrong version of the bull.
‘You didn’t respond when I called you last night.’ His hand inched closer to the stovetop. ‘I’ve missed you.’
I waited for something like puppy-dog eyes. Instead, he turned away, stirring the contents of the pan with the oversized metal spoon. He was frying two eggs. He liked them firm and told me the story of when he was chewing on an egg and bacon sandwich, slimy marigold spit-up blemished the clean shirt he was wearing.
I paused, asked him who had prepared the egg.
He almost slipped up and said, Oh, my wife did. You know, the woman I regularly have affairs on. But you don’t mind.
‘I answered now,’ I said, before glancing down to reply to my friend. I should have winked or smirked at him, or something. Leant forward for a kiss. Poked out my tongue.
‘Tell me about the first time you were in love, with anything.’
Now we were lounging in bed, my head resting on his chest. I made little shapes in traces between the hairs on his chest. First, circles, then rectangles, oblongs. Sometimes I started to spell words, doubtful he would notice or recognise. What did I think I was doing, hexing him? Hexing myself.
‘First anything? Stories about what? Blankets and pet rocks and such? They aren’t magnificent or interesting,’ he replied. It was as if he were speaking from across the room. ‘And you won’t want to know about the first time I fell in love with sex.’
‘Tell me anything then.’ I wanted to continue, or you’ll bore me to death, but who could say if the joke would land.
‘I was so helplessly in love with a woman, all through my studies in college. I wanted to nab her attention, get her to change her mind about me. But she didn’t want marriage, she thought it pointless to be born a woman and deemed a future wife by all these hopeless men.
‘But I saw right through her. This veneer of hers. “No,” she said, “I still won’t marry you. You’re just a man too, despite all you say.” I knew asking her was not enough, despite the glances we shared, and how she longed for a certain sort of husband without outright stating it. So, I appeared on her doorstep, saturated from the downpour, helpless little bird of a thing. I told her there was no life worth living if she was not in it. Couldn’t she realise that?’
The backs of my ears were burning up. I buried one of them against his chest, ignoring it.
I thought of his wife, sitting at home alone, sculling a glass of chardonnay.
I suppose she would burn the internet if she could, for reporting yet again some suspected extramarital affair with vague details that would sound too familiar to me. There he goes, arriving at my address, because he couldn’t lose the paparazzi.
‘Was she happy?’
I shouldn’t have asked.
‘Look at her,’ he said. His breath crackled on the back of my neck. ‘Does she look unhappy to you?’
After that, he stopped replying to me, mostly. I would receive a text message here and there – I’ve been busy, sorry – but for the most part, it was clear he’d moved right on.
There are always stories. Shameful ones, mostly, when a person is sitting in the doctor’s office at the clinic, awaiting results, and they’re told they contracted syphilis from a sexual partner. And sure, you think, he used a condom when he penetrated me, but there was no condom when you gave him oral because he said he loved it so very much.
And you bowed to him like a god.
And you were horny too.
The doctor writes out the prescription. I shouldn’t be ashamed of this – I take these meds and I’ll be in the clear, surely? It isn’t like he could’ve ever impregnated me.
All that to be ignored and left with something unwanted and you just know she’s sitting there when he doesn’t come home at night, sculling chardonnay, thunder tearing through the fabric of time.
There is nothing shameful about getting tested for STIs. Don’t let other people leave a mess in your life.
For more information: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/staying-healthy/sexual-health/sti
For sexual health and HIV services in Queensland: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/clinical-practice/guidelines-procedures/sex-health/services/find-service
Author: Keeley Young writes queer literature, fantasy fiction, poetry (sometimes), and emotion-focused work that he hopes makes people feel heard and seen, even just a little. You might be familiar with his work with ScratchThat from last year, where he wrote about cuddling with robots, communing with a dead gay lover, and summoning demons.
Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work as a structural editor when she finishes her Masters of Editing and Publishing, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.
Editors: Kelly Rouzbehi and Rory Hawkins