(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“First Love, Last Rites” is told by an unnamed narrator who lives with his girlfriend in a quayside apartment in England. Both are seventeen or eighteen years of age. It is early summer, and the lovers, filled with youthful passion, make love regularly on a mattress-covered table in front of a big, open window. Once, while they are lying on the table, the narrator becomes aware of clawing sounds behind the wall; shortly afterward, Sissel also hears the noise.

Sissel’s ten-year-old brother, Adrian, comes to visit them. The narrator becomes acquainted with Sissel’s father, and together they plan to catch eels in the river and sell them live in London. The narrator and Sissel’s father spend two months making eel traps and placing them in the river.

The narrator and Sissel continue to lie on the mattress-covered table, talking and making love. Sissel develops foot rot, the smell mingling with the smells of mud and seaweed coming in through the window. The narrator hears the creature in the wall and imagines it is his own creature in Sissel’s body—one of feathers, claws, and gills. Sissel hears the creature also, and her lover thinks the scratching sound that grows out of their lovemaking is part of her fantasy also.

By mid-July, the lovers touch less, no longer enjoying their room. Adrian comes to visit them every day and wants to fight with Sissel as in former days. He is sincerely disgusted when the lovers touch. No breeze comes through the window—only heat, flies, and odors of dead jellyfish. The food tastes like the river, and the floor is covered with greasy sand. Sissel’s foot rot spreads to the other foot and contributes to the stench in the room. Every night the couple...

(The entire section is 706 words.)