by Mark Salamon
Shakespir edition | © 2016 Mark Salamon
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental.
The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
It was obvious they were put there for her to find. Standing naked, drops of water fell from wisps of her hair, making muffled plops on the carpet, like the sound of a tick-tock clock buried under the floorboards. Her fingers were still entwined in the curly brass handles of her antique bureau as she looked down at a big dollop of red against the whites and tans of her normal underwear, like a plume of blood in milky water. She didn’t like the word, panties (what else could you call these things?) evoking as it did juvenile lasciviousness and hedonism. Panties were something kids tore off each other during that bacchanal they call spring break. She’d read about what goes on at those things and it made her fall to her knees in gratitude that she had a son and not a daughter. It was easier to block out what the boys did. There was some vague evolutionary excuse at work there.
Monica Perillo didn’t wear panties. She wore underwear.
She poked them, the way you’d poke something with a stick to see if it was dead. It was like touching nothing. They had the resilience of whipped cream. She slid her finger into the silky gash and hooked them, lifting them out. She held them up to dangle in shame. They were so red they looked neon, like they could be tied to the end of a stick and used to light the way to hell.
As they hung in judgment, a tag magically dropped. It did a dainty twist on an invisible line, revealing the store of origin. Figures, it was one of those mysterious places she was always quick to walk past at the mall. What was the point of leaving the tag on? To prove they hadn’t been worn?
She let them drop and smothered them, pushing them to the bottom, beneath her own (the kind normal people wear).
One thing she knew for certain; her husband didn’t put them there.
She turned and looked at their bed. It seemed different now. They’d picked it out together, just a week before they were married, in the dewy spring of their journey together. You’re all I’ll ever need, he’d said as he bounced on the showroom model, making her both embarrassed and unbearably happy. Just you, me, and this bed.
She leaned back against the dresser and folded her arms over her chest. Who was it that had twisted in her sheets? Maybe it was Cheryl, the gold digger. She was one of those proud sluts, always ready with a smirk and an innuendo. She enjoyed nothing more than embarrassing Monica with shocking sex talk. What could be more embarrassing than this? She’d told her that time, on her third glass of chardonnay, about the middle-of-the-night tricks she claimed to have learned in the Orient, revealing her character on two fronts. That was enough to trump a PhD with stretch marks, easy. Wait though—Cheryl had moved, so it couldn’t be her. She’s in California now, where her skills are probably considered high art.
Who else? She was rather enjoying this game. Maybe it’s Ms. Belgrade, from down the street. Doubtful. He’d never go for hips so wide she had to turn sideways to get though a turnstile. They had that cute babysitter for a while. Annie? Anna? Two years ago now, goodness. Right size, and gorgeous, with a figure that seemed like it couldn’t possibly belong to someone so young. No, Annie—or Anna—clearly disliked her husband; she never wanted him to drive her home, leaving it up to her, which meant listening to twenty minutes of teenage confessions and fending off questions of confused sexual identity. Oh—that reminded her—Annie/Anna probably still had a key to the house that she should get back. Her husband was always on her about how many copies were floating around—babysitters, contractors, various relatives—telling her that some day she’d come home to an empty house. “Because we’ve been robed, not because I’ve left you,” he’d said when she turned to him with what must have looked like hope.
Okay, back to who. And why.
The why wasn’t so hard; to break them up, of course. Whoever it was wanted the whole life, which probably looked good from the outside. Big house, handsome enough and youngish husband with lots of money—good luck getting him to part with it though. Someone was probably doing the math in their head right now, having set their timeline in motion. Step one, get rid of the wife, in the most efficient way possible.
The scenario played out in her mind; an affair, over the course of months. Maybe longer. There was that time, almost a year ago, when he seemed to switch into some kind of happy mode, like he’d taken a youth pill. Maybe it was then. So it must be someone younger. Well, duh.
She probably nags him. When are you going to leave her? Anxious to move things along—this harlot—and she’d finally taken matters into her own hands by leaving this obvious marker, pulled straight out of one of those obscene books they now call romance novels. She’d bought one once, lured in by the clever cover, and found it so lewd and disgusting she only finished it to find out what happened to the step-son, who never figured back in the story, packed as it was with twisty, multi-mixed smut.
She should be happy, she reminded herself. Her husband was disgusting. She’d imagined a divorce from the time of their honeymoon, when the sex was so bad she thought she’d been tricked, having expected it to match what her friends always bragged about. The only thing that turned out to be true was the knocked-up-the-first-time part.
Wasted years. She humphed as she remembered the research grant she turned down at his insistence, submitting to complete domestication. And now look.
Her disgust turned a slow trick and became hate. She’d never given herself full permission to hate, though it was always right there, yearning to live free and open. Now it found easy footing and much to feast on: the sour and slightly fetid smell that never left him, even right out of the shower, his obvious leering—waitresses, the maid, her own sister even—his loud brash manners that made everyone cringe. Hard to believe she once found all that appealing. He’s his own man, she remembers thinking, like that was a good thing.
Her eyes narrowed. Let the other woman win, whoever she was. Or think she’s won. The trollop will soon discover her mistake. Meantime, she’ll come out the real winner, with a lifetime of alimony, half his assets, maybe even the house. And at 31, she was young enough for something else.
She flopped on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. Maybe she’d go back to school. There were so many options now. Everywhere she looked were more delights. A warm tingle moved through her as she anticipated all the sympathy to come. She was the slighted woman, deserving of any balm to ease her suffering.
Had they looked up at this same ceiling, the tart and he?
She stretched out and had a lazy thought; she admired her husband for the first time since she could remember. He’d finally taken some initiative, however misguided, to acquire something other than more money. This took effort. He’d taken charge and risked it all. How long had she waited for that? Must be a hell of a woman.
Her mother called, summoned by maternal whispers. She was dying to tell her, in fact couldn’t wait to drop this giddy tragedy. But something held her back. She needed a strategy first—a plan—or her mother would bully in with her own, emboldened by confirmed prophecy.
When she got off the phone, her mind went to money. No more asking permission.
Plan. Get your head out of the clouds and focus, Monica.
She opened the dresser and dug down.
That’s it, take charge. You’re no weak woman. Root out the evil.
She tore the tag off with her teeth.
They felt so soft, like the liquid mercury she remembered playing with as a kid in chemistry class. Oxblood red. And light—barely there at all. Really, what’s the point?
Impulsively, she slipped them on. They felt like a naughty whisper. She stepped in front of the full-length mirror. Wow. So that’s why. She stared, mesmerized, and did a slow turn. They were… unholy.
She left them on. With a couple of hours before she needed to pick up little Jimmy, she went to the mall.
People were looking at her, she was sure of it. She went in one of the high-end stores she always balked at. Hypnotic, snake-charming music lured her toward a gauzy, soft-lit display of busty nymphs. “Have you ever been measured?” the sales lady asked, loud enough for radio.
“Most women get their size wrong.” Not a hint of conspiracy with this one.
She was offered wine and was soon in front of a dressing room mirror. The lift was amazing. She had no idea such technology existed. And the feel; not all strapped in, but caressed. Loved, even.
She left a bit tipsy, toting her candy-striped bag. She went to another store, was helped by another sales lady, and was soon in front of another mirror. Jeans this time, assured this was the style. She’ll need to start paying attention now, or grow old alone. They were tight and lifting, like a large, grabbing hand. They worked well with the new blouse, which had a short, narrow cut. She turned and looked over her shoulder. The red underwear—panties—peaked over the waistband of her jeans.
She left it all on. The pretty sales lady, whose bra seemed to fit quite well, got on her knees and cut off the tags. When did sales people become so beautiful? She felt a warm flush of embarrassment for thoughts that hadn’t even formed.
Now people noticed, there was no imagining it; the women even more than the men. It was like being in college all over again, when eyes attacked her like swarms of insects. She caught a glimpse of herself as she strode past the Apple store. Inside, bowed heads lifted, pulled from their prayers with mouths open and heads on mechanical pivot.
Wow, that’s me.
A hair flick resurfaced, also dormant since college.
She saw another store and was hungry for more treats. She froze just as she crossed the threshold. The store was the same oxblood red, as if the original ox had been slaughtered right there on the white and gold-threaded marble floor. And down the isle, she saw a mannequin wearing them, and nothing else—the exact same ones, pulled and tucked into a fully dimensional V, below a torqueing torso and navigational breasts.
She went to it, as if drawn, and arrived at eye level. A soft hand touched her shoulder, causing her to turn. It was another sales lady, so young and beautiful. But wait—
“Hello, Mrs. Perillo. It’s Anna.” The hand stayed on her shoulder. “I used to babysit little Jimmy.”
“Oh,” Monica said.
The hand slid to the middle of her back. “You remember, right?” Anna’s breath was tangy and warm and reminded Monica of strawberries.
“Yes. Hi, Anna. You’re—my goodness, you’re—I mean—you sure have—you’re all grown up.”
Anna smiled. “Yes, I all growsed up,” she teased. Monica felt Anna’s hand move lower, to that sensitive pocket at the bottom of her back. It rested against the bare skin between her short cut blouse and the tops of her stylish jeans.
“I never had the chance to thank you,” Anna said.
“For what?” Monica croaked. Her throat seemed to have clamped shut.
“Those talks in the car. Do you remember? When you’d drive me home? That was the only reason I babysat for you.”
Anna leaned in closer as her hand moved just under the waistband of Monica’s jeans, touching soft silk. “I see you found them,” she breathed into her ear.
“Whaa…” Monica felt her sex clench and smelled strawberries.
“I’m so glad.”