The Castrati

In summertime I love to take long walks around my neighbourhood. The heat and the humidity of the air — for I live in a very sweltering town, caught, as some prehistoric fly in amber, between the slow-moving river and the salt sea — draw passion from everyone, and stifle all the little apartments, so all the windows are open to catch the faintest breezes, their curtains blowing slightly back and forth. The heat does not bother me, because I have lived in this town for so long all its ways are known to me.

Early evening is the best time. The air is soft and caressing, and the breezes blow more regularly, and all the windows round about are dimly lit by small lamps. People lose all sense of propriety at this time; with the lighting of the lamps, the outside world disappears, and all inhibitions are lost. It is a very common sight to see two lovers through the diaphonous shadow of a gauzy curtain, twined together, lips and hands busy, busy. The couple right next to me — their names are Peter and Monette — are very noisy lovers; it is many a night I have lost to sleep listening to their performances. She is a singer, with a low, throaty voice, and the sleep I lose gracefully, gratefully. Their noise will awaken other lovers, for the walls in our apartment house are paper thin, and so a duet will grow as other performers enter in, until it is a regular symphonic orchestra of love.

As I said, though, early evening is the time for walking. Through the curtains I can see, without intruding, the dance of love, the battles, the quiet domesticity, and it is in watching these little tableaux that I feel most nearly a man again, when the ghost of desire passes across me, and runs his insubstantial hand along my back.