Shortlisted in the Exeter Writer’s competition, 2012
He rotates my body round in the morning light.
‘Eighty,’ he says. ‘Eighty.’
I peer down. Some of the wheals are still blotches of pink, others have hatched tiny pus-filled eggs on my skin.
‘You're having a really bad reaction,’ Simon says.
There is a sharp tug of pleasure as his fingers probe. I’ve always enjoyed objective scrutiny, someone drawing me, someone cutting my hair. Right now I could be pinned under a microscope at his biology lab.
‘Mosquitoes love me,’ I say.
‘Hmm,’ he replies. ‘You know, only the females bite. They have this long, thin proboscis and they wait until they fill up completely. Even if you cut the nerve to their abdomen they keep sucking until they burst. It helps them lay eggs. They tend to like smells – isn’t your period on at the moment?’ He’s seen the pads in the bathroom, a surprising bleed after all these months.
‘Yes, but – Simon… -’
Perhaps this isn’t the right time to ask my husband to be more romantic. He’s already pacing away down the hall of our holiday apartment, a white towel precisely origamied around his waist. As my custom, I find the faint disc of skin at the back of his crown. It’ll be camouflaged for years to come, so that any woman looking into his face will only see the thick-fringed hair, the still-bright hazel eyes. Bastard.
‘I have bites – terrible bites….’ I tell the landlord, raking my arms.
Carlo’s been sawing something. He’s wearing orange shorts and the grey hair on his swollen chest has caught some sawdust. Smiling, he spreads his fingers to the hills of Cilento behind him as if I’m trying to blame him for nature’s pests.
‘I have net, five euro,’ he tells me. ‘I have Jungle - it’s the best.’
I notice the permanent nets on his windows and doors. He disappears and comes back holding a net in one hand and repellent in the other.
‘How much for the Jungle?’ I ask.
I shake my head, Simon would hate me to pay for something we could get for less than ten pounds at home. I know him too well, I think, as I cradle the net in my arms back to our room; a slightly grubby bridal veil.
We’re staying in the holiday ‘village’ Santa Maria, two hours drive south of Naples. It has six white stone studios built round a swimming pool, palm trees, tropical flowers, steep banks covered in rosemary and lavender and the Tyrrhenian sea glistening in the distance. It’s nearly perfect.
But after handing over the rest of the cash for our fortnight stay, we watched Carlo disappear into one of the rooms across the pool.
‘We wanted privacy, we’re normally very busy people,’ I cringed later at his door. We’d agreed not to even look at anything resembling work; no research papers, no notes for poems…
‘No worry, I will not disturb you. There will be quiet,’ Carlo told me. No one else had booked he said, in early September.
I’m scratching so much sometimes I bleed, disappearing into the bedroom and driving myself into a further frenzy of itching.
‘Marion, stop,’ Simon calls out.
‘I can’t believe I’m helping these bitches breed,’ I shout, falling onto the bed.
On the ceiling is the hook holding our mosquito net. There are two other hooks further along by the window. I imagine freckled English women, hanging like human salamis, tautly bound in gauze, heads dangling, their brows twisting as they try to scratch themselves. My fingers twitch for pen and paper, to make a poem. Instead I place my hands under the small of my back to stop their restless scurrying.
Since the bites we haven’t had sex. Perhaps the moist Braille of my skin repels. It’s reasonable to expect that after so many years, we can express our lack of appetite at times. But it always feels better to be the one pushing the hand away.