On Thursdays, I invite my favourite writers to share the inspirations behind their work. Here’s one from short story writer Catherine McNamara.
‘Pelt’, first published in Pretext magazine, is the title story of the collection Pelt and Other Stories (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2013).
Rolfe triggers it. In the way that is the way of all men. In his case a type of athletic bragging ruined by the self-defeat he hangs his hat on. I feel a plock and, with his surprised, involuntary retreat my waters come splashing out, gay and heralding, whereby he bounds back to inspect the folds of his manhood.
My abroni baby will come this day. I roll onto my back and raise my knees in sweet excitement, the baby nestling down even though her head is plugged within my pelvis. Soon after Rolfe is agitating with a towel, peering cautiously at my dark opening. No action there, I laugh. He looks perplexed. Despite his thirty-nine years Rolfe is unfamiliar with the mulch of his own body. A fever sends him into studied ecstasy. The tumble worm in his butt, whose head and long wrinkled body I inch into the light, is repellent and edifying.
At the apex of this growth curve I suspect I place myself. This is the man who continues to daub his hands on my sheeny back and breasts. He told me that in Ethiopia, his last posting, they call girls like me ‘slaves’ because of our broad noses and skin a shadow cannot cross.
This is Rolfe’s first child. His wife Karina was barren. I have led Rolfe to believe that this is my first although I had two others before. They are at the village and I send them money. The midwife will no doubt perceive all of this.
I’ve always been a collector of scenes and people. I don’t really do it consciously, but I know I have an image bank stored in my head. I’ll consider it story material when some aspect of a character or a situation really begins to niggle and I’ll sit down and start when I think I have a good first sentence to go.
With ‘Pelt’ I knew that my female character would be sassy and pregnant, she was built like a woman we lived with for a while. I partnered her with a guy I remembered who had come to our house one time in Ghana. He was German and came to our gate and said he had grown up in our house and could he come in and have a look. This guy stood on the veranda and showed me where there used to be a monkey cage. Then he walked off down the street. There is nothing about the monkey cage in the story but I had this guy’s gait as he walked – a little stiff, big German hair – when I made Rolfe. The other character, Rolfe’s wife, just popped in although her string calf muscles are those of my then partner’s ex. You know how these things seep in!
I think the story is a strong river that travels swiftly collecting everything the mind throws into it. The theft of the car headlights – that happened to us; and the sensation of being an eight-months-pregnant whale in a seedy downtown swimming pool in Accra – that has happened to me! I remember the last scene of this story which involves a pan of boiling oil in the kitchen was written in a frenzy in a train going to Florence with a couple eating salami sandwiches staring at me.
Read the full story in Pelt and Other Stories.