Panties

By Greg Kearney

Indie Writers’ Deathmatch Runner-Up 2008

All my favourite panties, ruined. I pull one pair after another out of the washing machine. They’re streaked and spattered with blue dye. They’re rags now. Silk uselessness. It must have been Karl. He’s hated me from day one. He knows he can really get to me via my panties. If we didn’t need the rental income I’d throw all his shit onto the sidewalk.

You can wear mine, Mama says when I bring my ratty panties upstairs. I’m 240lbs, 41″ waist. Mama means well but she doesn’t really understand. I can’t just snake my way into any old pair of panties. I’m meticulous when I cross dress. I have very high panty standards.

Karl will get his. When I’m feeling vengeful there is really nothing I won’t do to undo my foe.

I need to call Louise. But Mama is on the phone. Mama has a new beau. A younger man. He’s 66, she’s 68. She met him at her till at Walmart. He’s ex-military. He was over for lunch on Sunday. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a bacteriologist. He asked me if that involved inspecting dirt. I said yes, sort of. He seemed impressed. He has a glass eye. Mama really likes him. She likes commanding, haunted men.

Karl’s rusty Fifth Avenue pulls into the driveway. I watch him through the kitchen window. He gets out with groceries. Soon he’ll be frying up some pungent, unlikely pig part for supper. The stench will drift and settle in our living room. But that’s okay. That’s fine. Pig tongue stench is incidental, at this point.

****

Louise is outraged to hear about my panty tragedy. She says it’s a hate crime. She gives me five new pairs of panties and throws in a gorgeous Cleopatra wig, on the house.

Louise is my girlfriend of six years. She owns and runs The Closet, a clothing store that serves the transvestite and cross-dressing communities. She, herself, is a big woman – 6’1, 180lbs – so most of her own clothing comes from The Closet.

I love Louise very much. Her long arms, huge hands, her plush physique hinting at itself through her countless, dramatic caphtans – she reminds me of a vast, gliding bird from dinosaur times. Beautiful.

Our sex has never been very inspired. Louise is into “transcendent encounters”, which typically involve the two of us spooning in bed while she sings something softly, by Joan Armatrading. Then I go to the bathroom and beat off in my panties.

I’ve tried to spice things up. Dirty talk, strap-ons. Once I told Louise to say “fuck me!” while we were fucking. Louise said it all cautious, almost in the form of a question: “uh, fuck me? Fuck me.” She sounded like she was ordering in a French restaurant and wasn’t entirely sure if “fuck me” was an entrée or an appetizer. Finally, Louise said that sex games were disingenuous. And that was that.

She does let me dress up though. But then she’ll say things like, “behold, woman!” which is empowering, I guess, but not very sexy, or even accurate. I’m not a woman. I don’t want to be a woman. I don’t have a female alter ego. I just like to dress up. I’m pretty simple. I like a good barbeque. I drink Export.

But Louise is just great. Besides clothes, she makes pretty little fans out of this porous sort of paper. She paints detailed, surreal images all over them. A naked lady diving into a pot of stew. Blue roses with serpent stems.

She gave one to Mama awhile ago. Mama said it was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen, and wasn’t there so much ugliness in the world. Then Mama started crying and lamenting the plight of my auntie Helen, who went to Puerto Vallarta in 1986 and awoke one night in her hotel room to find the concierge trying to do her up the ass. Auntie Helen has never been the same.

I remember how Louise listened so patiently as Mama rambled on. I’m not a patient person. I sigh theatrically if I get stuck behind an elderly person on the sidewalk. Then I’ll feel so guilty, I’ll empty my wallet into a homeless person’s lap. Even if they don’t ask.

I try on the wig in Louise’s big, gilded showroom mirror. I look like a middle-aged man in a wig. Louise says I evoke a 40s movie goddess. I roll my eyes. I don’t know how to accept compliments.

I have to work on that. That, and patience. But how do you work on such things? Find some expensive shaman to give you a healing enema?

I’m a scientist through and through. I can only go about things deductively. I have no imagination. Louise once asked me what my wildest dream was. I told her about this dream I once had where the fridge was in the living room.

****

Saul called me ‘his lady’ today, Mama says in between coughing fits. She looks so happy. He wants to take her dancing at Spurs, the western bar. But she worries that she’ll look foolish, with her oxygen tank.

She asks me what she should call Saul. I say she should call Saul ‘Saul.’ She says maybe she should call Saul ‘her man.’ I say that if she calls him ‘her man’, she’ll sound like a 20 year old Black woman. Mama laughs. Mama coughs and coughs and coughs.

I could go into his apartment and pour water on his DVD player. I could piss on his mattress – he’ll think it’s his cat. I could confront him face-to-face. With a big knife.

Just as I’m contemplating ways of making him suffer, a knock on our side door. It’s him. Smiling, holding a box of something.

Ho, Mrs. Dennis, he says. My sister made a whole big bunch of (A long German word I’ve never heard and can’t spell) so I give some to you. You will like it.

Mama opens the box. I peer around her. Sticky buns of some sort, with beige gunk drizzled all over them.

Don’t those look yummy, Mama says. Thank you. What are they called again?

He says the long German word again.

Well, Karl, I’m sure we’ll just gobble them right up. We both love sweet things.

Good thing, he says. And hello there to you, he says to me.

I nod. His subterfuge is so transparent. Mama thanks him again as he backs away, smiling and waving.

Wasn’t that nice of Karl, Mama says. She brings one to her mouth.

Don’t eat it! I scream. Who knows what it’s laced with.

That’s just silly, Mama says. This isn’t some spy novel. They’re sticky buns!

Nice. You’re on his team. Really nice.

What team? You mean, for curling? Did you sign me up for curling? You know I can’t curl anymore.

Mama’s pie-faced bafflement. Her dyed red head. I storm down the stairs and pound on Karl’s door. He answers, cradling his ratty cat, still smiling.

Ho! You eat them up already?

No. I need to speak with you.

Sure. Just let me put my Malta down.

He drops the cat, which makes a short shriek as it lands, like it’s in great pain.

Have you been tampering with my laundry?

Tampering? I – you know I don’t like your wash machine. I go to that one around the corner.

No. I mean – did you touch my laundry?

He cocks his head.

What? No. I been at work since 5 this morning.

That is true. He has been gone all day. I never thought of that. But! He might’ve snuck back to destroy my panties. It’s possible.

Well, I have a load of laundry – of very special, private laundry – that has been ruined with blue dye. My mother can’t go down stairs, so she didn’t do it. I can only deduce that –

How did they get ruined?

Like I said. Blue dye.

That’s not good. I once took a suit to dry cleaners and it come back and it smell like shit. Do your laundry smell like shit?

No.

You want me to have look at wash machine?

No. Just. Never mind. Thank you.

Okay then, Gary. You like the (endless, cacophonous German word), I get you a recipe.

I go back upstairs. Storm past Mama. Ooh, you almost knocked me into the coffee maker, she says.

I don’t know why I continue to live in this horrible house. I make 70 grand a year. I’ve always maintained that I’m here to tend to my ailing mother. But that’s not true. I don’t especially like Mama, and I mostly just let her flounder. Once every few months I change her bed sheets for her.

I call Louise again. She’s breathless when she enters.

Why are you out of breath?

I was dancing.

I don’t hear any music.

So?

I love Louise. But she is unbearable and I hate talking to her.

I don’t think it was Karl.

Who destroyed your intimate apparel?

It wasn’t Karl. It couldn’t be Mama. That means that someone –

You. Oh, lovelight. You destroyed your own intimate apparel, and you’ve blocked it out. You’re in so much pain.

I am not. I did not.

Yes, you did. Lovelight.

Stop calling me lovelight. You went to community college, for Christ’s sake. I’m very happy. Very, very happy!

All your rage would dissipate if you would just identify and name your female side.

We’ve been through this. It’s not relevant.

Oh, love. What about “Portia”? Let’s call you Portia. Or Joni. Or –

I hang up on Louise. I did not wreck my own panties and then suppress the memory. I’m not that kind of person. I do not have a spooky, prismatic personality. No. If I wrecked my panties, I’d remember it.

I sit on the edge of my bed. Run my fingers through the white fake fur throw. I am not going to pass out.

It must be Mama’s new boyfriend. Mama is enacting a vendetta through her new boyfriend. Sending him downstairs to fuck with my panties.

I’ll have to watch her like a hawk, ’round the clock. I may have to take a sabbatical from the lab. Maybe I should hide her oxygen tank. Let her gasp and bob for a bit. Then she’ll know precisely how it feels, to be deprived of something essential like air. Or panties.

Greg Kearney’s last book was the acclaimed Mommy Daddy Baby. His next book, from which this story is taken, is called Pretty, and will be happening soon.

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