Catullus was a short man with a trimmed beard. I remembered Miss Graves telling us how all Romans were short. He barely noticed me when he came in. His toga fell to the floor and I saw, for the first time, an erect penis. Catullus was gagging for it. He grabbed Lesbia, forced her onto the couch and forced his way in. With four long brutal thrusts he was finished; as he withdrew I saw semen spill out onto the couch.
‘And you puella pulchra’ he said, taking my chin between the thumb and index finger of his right hand. ‘You want to understand my poetry? You want to understand how I love Lesbia and hate her for going with girls and taunting me? You’ve been with her. Now you get fucked by me, virgin!’
He threw me onto the couch, and climbed on top of me, forcing my legs apart. I felt my pulse race at the idea of losing my virginity to a man who was a real animal. I looked at his penis, big and hard and throbbing, the foreskin right back, the exposed tip an angry mauve. I thought of an acorn, an acorn sat on top of a massive oak that was going right inside me.
Catullus pushed a finger inside me.
‘You’re wet already, you loose bitch.’
‘I’m a whore ‘ I gasped, ‘call me a whore.’
‘You’re a lesbian whore, playing with my girlfriend. I hate you as much as I hate her.
He pushed his way inside me and I let out a squeal of pain. But the pain soon died away as he began to thrust. Long and hard. I hooked my legs over his shoulders as someone had told me girls do to get a really deep penetration.
Catullus moved in and out half a dozen times, each time harder than the last and the last with brutality as I came and the ceiling shattered into fragments and I lay in the sun, pressing my eyes shut and kaleidoscopes of colour danced before me.
He withdrew and, ignoring me, got up and went to write in a scroll.
Lesbia came over to me and began to kiss and stroke me. I began to cry.
‘It’s supposed to be beautiful the first time!’ I sobbed and buried my face in her lovely breasts.
‘But it was lovely. It’s nice when he’s angry and is rough with me. There’s no man in Verona who can fuck like Catullus. And I should know!’
She smiled and looked in the direction of her lover who pretended not to notice.
I dried my eyes and began to dress. After a while Catullus turned round and handed me a scroll.
‘Go now’ he said. ‘I need to make love to Lesbia again.’
The slave girl was called and she showed me out into the hot late afternoon of Verona. I walked out of the house and skipped down the street. I said to myself ‘I am a woman I am a woman.’
People looked at me in puzzlement again. Three patrician women stood on a corner chatting. I approached them. They had to share my joy.
‘Ego femina sum’ I said and then shouted ‘EGO FEMINA SUM!’ and ran off down the street ducking in and out of the hawkers. I made my way to the Forum and sat in the sun trying to capture in my memory the events of the last six hours that had changed me from an uncertain schoolgirl into a woman. I took out the parchment that Catullus had given me and began to read.
‘Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’’
Then I fell asleep.
When I woke up it had gone dark. I switched on the angle poise lamp on my desk and looked at the clock. It was half past nine. I panicked and began to write my essay. My mind was no longer blank. I had a head brimming with ideas.
A week later Miss Graves handed back the marked homework. My exercise book she kept back. At the end of the lesson she said
‘Catherine, could I have a word please?’
I approached uncertainly. Miss Graves smiled and handed me the book.
‘That was a brilliant essay. I’ve given it A++. It’s quite astonishing for a girl of your age to show such a mature understanding of the erotic tensions at the heart of Catullus’ poetry, almost as if you’d had a personal encounter with him. I know it’s none of my business but I’d love to know how you gained that understanding.’
‘I’d love to tell you Miss’ I answered ‘but you’d never believe me.’
Translation of the poem (Carmine 85 by Gaius Valerius Catullus c84BC – c54BC
‘I love and I hate. Why do I do this you perhaps ask.
I don’t know but I feel it and am tormented.’
Translation by Eve Ray 2012