A Short Story by Nicholas Trandahl
It was late April.
I was in bed in the middle of the day … again. The lace curtains of my bedroom window were drawn. However, their feeble density did little to hold back the luminescent tide of afternoon sunshine. The deluge of light seeped hotly into my bedroom and it filled up the space within the four walls, spilling across the floor and across my thin deteriorated form that was discarded diagonally across the rumpled expanse of my queen-sized bed.
I sensed the light through my weary eyelids; I felt the heat on my gaunt features. A pair of pink lace panties were balled up in my weak fist and I held them near my face, letting the faint aroma of my ex-fiancée drift into my nose. My mouth salivated.
When we had still been together, we had been so in love, so enamored with one another. When Ivy was in Boston, presumably fucking the guy that she was to leave me for soon after, I took my favorite pair of her panties out of our shared underwear and sock drawer. I stuffed them into my pillowcase so that I could smell her in an intimate way when I missed her alone in bed at night.
In truth, the panties smelled like clean laundry more than anything else, but they gave my imagination a glimpse into the parts of Ivy that it was their clandestine duty to conceal. If I tried very hard and I let my overactive imagination play around a little bit, I truly believed that I could still smell her in them. It was very faint but I could swear that it was there.
She was there.
When Ivy eventually left me and our home for Mr. Boston, I remembered with an unhealthy and contrasting blend of melancholy and relief that I still had that special pair of her lace panties stowed away in my pillow. I didn’t let her in on my perverted secret. I didn’t throw the panties in Ivy’s face like she deserved when she so callously let me know that she didn’t love me anymore and that she had found someone else. I kept them.
I suppose that I kept Ivy’s panties so that I could touch them, smell them and taste them, and in doing so I could touch her again, in a way. I kept them so that I could remember her. That was the initial reason for having them around. As I let my senses wander about the rosy fabric, I was reminded of Ivy’s pale nude form, small breasted and thin with her head of very short, brown hair. I remembered her crystalline blue eyes and that smile of hers that could always make me lose my breath.
Those lustful and passionate, and admittedly sad, initial reasons for hanging onto Ivy’s panties eventually shifted into something resembling more of a mindless addiction. It became more like muscle memory to touch and handle them. I couldn’t enter my bedroom or lie down to go to sleep without first touching them.
And so as I was draped across my bed that afternoon in a flood of uncomfortable sunlight, I drank deeply of the scent that I probably imagined inhabited those pink panties. My eyes were closed. With a sigh, I let my arm fall to the side. My cold fingers loosened and the balled-up underwear tumbled slowly and silently from my palm and onto the orange bedspread and the white unwashed sheets.
“Ivy,” I wheezed into the bright emptiness of my bedroom. “Ivy,” I repeated a moment later. “You fucking suck.”
My eyes eased partially open. They beheld the lace curtains that were doing a piss-poor job of holding the light back. My face fell to the side and I looked at the pink panties laying on the tips of my outstretched fingers.
“Charlie, I don’t get why you guys moved to Franklin County. If it was for Ivy … well, she’s gone now. You should seriously come back home.”
It was early evening, and I had finally developed the ambition to slide from my bed and into my bathroom to take a shower. That’s, of course, when Marie, my older sister, chose to call. Inconvenience was a trait that heavily-polluted the river of Oake blood that flowed within the veins of our family tree.
Standing there in the threshold of my small bathroom, towel gripped around my narrow waist, I scratched the longer reddish-brown hair that crowned my head. I looked absently down to the phone that was resting on the bathroom counter. Marie was on speaker, and I could almost feel her penetrating gaze awaiting some sort of feeble response from me. I followed up the head scratch with a chin scratch in the nest of short, red whiskers that I was lazily cultivating there.
In response to my sister, I simply made a noncommittal noise.
“Listen,” started Marie, “you can write books here in the Berkshires as well as you can in Appleham. And you won’t be so separated from everyone.”
“Yeah. Well, I think I’d rather stay here.”
A pause. “That’s dumb.”
I snorted humorlessly through my nose. “How are my nieces?”
“Fine,” she answered shortly. And then, “They miss their uncle.”
“John’s there, isn’t he?”
“They miss their other uncle, Charlie. The one that paints and writes stories with them. They miss you.”
I paused then. And I swallowed a sudden lump that had abruptly manifested in my throat. I was so damn emotional at that point in my life, likely because of Ivy leaving me. I was vulnerable and sensitive. And, to be completely honest, I missed my nieces and the rest of my family.
“How’s Tim?” I asked after a couple steadying breaths, referring to her husband, my conservative brother-in-law. I’d had a dream about Tim a couple nights before. He and I were loading mason jars of apple brandy into the back of an old truck for some unknown reason. It seemed as though we were working at a moonshine still in the Appalachian wilds. It was a good dream, a peaceful dream. I’d thought about writing a short story about it.
“He’s fine,” my older sister answered. I could picture her flaring her nostrils at me in frustration at my deflecting inquiry. Finally, seeing no forthcoming conversational fruits from me, Marie sighed and said, “Well, I’m going to let you go, Charlie. Give Mom and Dad a call soon. Your situation with Ivy has gotten everyone out here worried about you. Don’t let us all worry too much, okay?”
“Fine, Marie. Bye.”
I turned ended the call, leaned out of the bathroom, and tossed the phone into my bedroom across the hall. The device landed on my bed, bounced once, and was then still. I let the towel drop from my waist and I turned on the shower, as hot as I could bear. When I stepped into the alarmingly hot spray of water, I simply stood there with my head hanging, my back to the blast of hot water. I attempted to let the shower wash away my loneliness, my regrets, and my self-pity.
It didn’t work.
My emotions still felt like shit when I got out of the shower. I dried myself off, brushed my teeth, and strode shamelessly naked into my bedroom. It’s not as though there was someone to see my nudity, was there?
It was almost eight at night, but I didn’t get into a pair of pajama pants. Instead, I picked a pair of my slim, well-worn jeans from a drawer, and I put on some black socks and a soft grey t-shirt. It was an outfit that a person would put on in the morning for a casual day at home or if they were doing something on the weekend. It was not an outfit for dusk on a weekday. I ran my fingers through my damp hair and sighed heavily before I feebly lifted my paperback copy of Capote’s collected stories from the cluttered nightstand next to my bed.
Turning to leave my bedroom, I faced the open doorway that would take me out into the hallway of my little home. At one end of the hall was my living room and kitchen and at the other end, between my bedroom and the bathroom, was the closed door that belonged to my writing office. That door had been pretty much closed continuously ever since Ivy left.
With her departure, my muses had largely fallen silent. Or maybe it was just my ambition that had fallen silent. In that case, my frustrated muses would be crying out, screaming for me to return to my craft and utilize the poignant and delicate emotions that I was feeling in order to forge some marvelous literature. Whatever may have been the true state of my muses, the door to my writing office remained sealed. There were no short stories forthcoming, no poems. The work I did in that office paid my rent and bills, but when Ivy had left, so did that ambition. My parents back west had been sending me some money to help me survive.
I stood there, contemplating going out to my living room to read, but instead I slowly turned back around and fell onto my side on the bed. I propped myself up on an elbow and opened Capote’s stories. I started reading “One Christmas” in the dim light that spilled into my room from the hallway.
On the blurry edge of my vision I noticed Ivy’s balled-up pair of pink, lacy panties. They were like a holy relic left behind by a goddess, some sort of forbidden domestic detritus. I noticed them, set my book down, and then I sighed. My fingers inched out towards them again, ever so slowly.
It was about eleven at night, and I was still fully-dressed. I was also still laying in my bed, eyes closed but awake. Capote’s short stories rested, closed and useless, on my bedspread near me. Ivy’s panties were loosely held in my ineffectual grip. Strangely and quite abruptly, I was overcome with a strong desire for a drink, and that desire quickly narrowed down into a need for blackberry brandy. My mouth watered from something other than Ivy’s abandoned underwear. I had fond memories of blackberry brandy from the over-saturated colors of my early twenties. The nostalgia of the drink sounded appealing and so did the blessed intoxication that it promised.
The social stagnation that I had been imposing on myself since Ivy left me was suddenly beaten temporarily back into the closet of my skull at the lilac-colored prospect of guzzling a traveler-sized bottle of the flavored liquor all on my own. I wouldn’t have to share it with any other soul, and most noticeably I wouldn’t have to share the rim of the bottle of brandy with Ivy and those soft, pink lips of hers that were so damn kissable. I had a sudden vision then of her attractive mouth and I licked my thin lips. I wanted to kiss her and I was disgusted at myself for that.
I staggered stiffly out of bed. My bedroom window informed me that it was fiercely dark outside, and the darkness of the spring night looked cold. So I went to my closet and put on a dark blue zip-up hooded sweatshirt. I zipped it all of the way up and grabbed my car keys, wallet and my phone. When I went outside I discovered that it was warmer than I had anticipated. I had grown used to the cold of early spring. That’s when Ivy left and that post-winter chill saturated my body and soul. She had stained me with the climate that she had chosen as the landscape for her exit from my life. As I marched to my silver-colored sedan, I unzipped the hoodie that I wore.
I made the short, uneventful drive through dark and slumbering Appleham to one of the two or three local bars, and as my car pulled into the drive-thru that was bathed in the orange-tinted, buzzing wash of an electric streetlight, I discovered that the drive-thru window was garnished with a noticeable cardboard sign. The sign stated in the bold black strokes of a permanent marker that the bar was short-staffed and that customers needed to go inside for purchases. I idled there in the drive-thru for a moment, sighing as I contemplated heading to a different bar with a hopefully-open drive-thru. I really didn’t feel like walking into one of these loud, smoky establishments at such a late hour. That was when the unsavory human loam of a diminutive rural community was stirring in an alcohol-emboldened fervor.
“Damn it,” I hissed quietly over the music that faintly danced at a low volume within my car. A idled there a little longer and then cursed again, at my situation and at my newfound social anxiety. I had recently discovered that I spoke almost exclusively in profanity when I was by myself.
A moment later I pulled the car back out in front of the bar and parked it in a vacant spot on the street. I left the car unlocked and the keys in the ignition because I’d be fast. I still didn’t really trust a soul, but I was pretty sure that the universe wouldn’t have time to spite me by having someone break into my car. I made my way into the smoky, loud din of the establishment and I went straight to the bar counter, avoiding contact and gazes of those that may have been granting me their bloodshot attentions. I didn’t come here for any sort of conversation. I came for booze and booze alone, my goddess for the night.
The red-cheeked and obviously overwhelmed bartender was familiar to me. Most folks in Appleham were familiar to one another. She was taller than me. Sweat beaded her brow, and her wavy hair was pulled into a bun on the back of her head. Her blouse was cut low, and I could see the tops of her breasts jiggling as she marched swiftly over to me. This bartender had always had nice tits. But other than her bust, she didn’t seem to have aged well. Ample amounts of smoking and hard-living hadn’t done her skin or hoarse voice any favors.
“Hi, Josie,” I said when she reached me.
“What do you need?” she asked distractedly.
The fact that Josie hadn’t called me by name or even smiled at me wasn’t lost to my hypersensitive, anxiety-ridden state. At first I thought that maybe she didn’t recognize me, but then I remembered that she had been a local acquaintance of Ivy’s when we had moved to Appleham. She knew me; she knew local writer Charles Oake was. Apparently I had thus been mistakenly branded as a villain by Josie because I wasn’t a good enough man to keep Ivy here with me. To Josie, I was at fault for Ivy cheating on me and moving to Boston. I was instantly furious and equally depressed.
These were all assumptions of course. Maybe she was just having a bad night.
“Uh,” I began, still somewhat taken aback and flustered by Josie’s callous greeting, before I continued, “I need a bottle of blackberry brandy. A small bottle if you’ve got it.”
Josie let out a short exasperated noise and asked irritably, “Fine. What brand?”
“I don’t really give a shit,” I returned with as much venom and loathing as I thought was acceptable in a weak attempt to put Josie in her place. But I chickened out immediately after my response and I smiled like an idiot, blushing and trying to make a feeble joke out of my abrasive reply. Again, she didn’t return the smile, acknowledge my rudeness, nor even the haphazard jest that I’d attempted to glue onto the rear of my statement. What a bitch.
While I was waiting for Josie to return with my brandy, I absently let me eyes drift over the congregation of folks that were gathered in the bar on a Wednesday night. There were so many. What in the hell were these people doing here in the middle of the week? A better and more compassionate person would have probably pitied them or something, but in my over-emotional state I was almost angered at them. Or maybe it was simply that I was angered at myself for being here among them.
When bitchy, buxom Josie returned with my traveler of blackberry brandy and told me the price as she put it in a brown paper bag, I paid her and told her to keep the few dollars of change. I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe it was sort of a lackluster attempt to seduce her out of loneliness. Nonetheless, it didn’t work, and she didn’t thank me or even say one other word to me before moving on to some other drunkenly boisterous patron. I choked down my humiliation and anger, and then I ducked out of the establishment with my room-temperature bottle of blackberry-flavored spirits.
My depression, melancholy, and loneliness were seasoned then with frustration and anger as I drove speedily back to my little, empty house. And I’m more than willing to also admit that on that night my emotions were also stained with a slight dash of misogyny. Ivy had about forced me to do away with my tolerance of the female gender but Josie the bartender had slipped me over the edge. But, in that moment, I think that I still would have slept with Josie if she had offered. Solitude typically reeks of desperation.
I braked hard in my driveway, screeching my tires with a brief jolt, and I turned my car off before heading back inside my darkened home. Without taking my hoodie off, I turned on a lamp in my living room and then twisted the plastic lid off of the top of the bottle of brandy. After taking a long greedy swallow of the purplish-brown booze within, pleasuring my throat with an alcohol-induced burn, I began wandering aimlessly down the hallway. I tossed a brief glance into the bathroom, and then I placed a cold pale palm against the closed door of my writing office at the end of the hall. I could almost feel the quietness and the promise pulse from within. Come in, it said. Write. Write. Write.
The narrow rim of my newly-acquired bottle of blackberry brandy met my lips again as I stood there in front of my office door. I took another long and steady swallow. My mind was dizzy already from the alcohol that I was so swiftly drinking. I used to love having a drink when I would write at night. That was when I used to write at my most proficient, a stiff drink prying out my best words. But those were the days when I had what I believed that true love was an inspirational source.
“Not tonight,” I spoke to myself almost inaudibly. “No writing tonight.”
Using my palm that was resting against the flat, vertical surface of the office door, I pushed myself back from the closed portal and turned to look into my bedroom. My eyes found them instantly, before anything else. Ivy’s pink panties rested in a loose clump next to Capote’s short stories on the unmade surface of my bed. Instantly and without warning I felt my blood boil. My teeth clenched together spasmodically, my hollow whiskered cheeks nearly quivering with rage, and I lunged forward into my room. My talons closed around the panties and I viciously tore the underwear from my bed.
“God damn it,” I snarled. “Fucking bitch!”
I stormed heavily and quickly from my room and marched tempestuously down the hall to my kitchen, partially-drained bottle of blackberry brandy in one hand and the rumpled pair of my ex-fiancée’s unmentionables in the other. When I reached the empty sink, I slammed the panties down into the basin with as much fury and force as I could summon. The soft, ethereal thump that they made when they struck the bottom of the sink was intensely unsatisfying. I wished that the panties would have shattered into a million razor-sharp pieces that would mirror what Ivy did to my idealism, my writing, and my rosy perception of romance.
I took another long last guzzle of the liquor, enough to thoroughly push me over the edge into warmth and fuzziness of intoxication. The booze warmed my esophagus and lubricated my anger. I upended the bottle over the panties of pink lace that rested in the bottom of the sink, and I drained every last drop of the blackberry brandy over the underwear. The playful lace textures darkened, as if from blood, and when the bottle was empty I tossed it absently into the other side of the sink. The plastic bottle bounced around noisily until it came to a rest.
Stepping to the other side of the kitchen, I rifled through a little drawer that was loaded to the brim with various miscellanea, and after a while I slammed it shut after I’d located what I was looking for. With a book of matches in my fingers, I returned to the sink and to my brandy-soaked victim that awaited lonesomely within. A match was struck. I held it before me with a manic look plaguing the pallid features of my visage, and I said in an ominous tone that tolled with finality, “Farewell, Ivy.”
I dropped the match. It fizzled out in the wet folds of the panties.
My brow furrowed with confusion. I struck another match and dropped it. Again, the flame was extinguished.
A third time. I was angry now.
Eventually, I had used up the whole book of matches and the black-headed, bent-bodied, cardboard matches littered the bottom of the sink and rested upon the rosy vibrancy of Ivy’s mocking underwear like the corpses of a group of skinny arson victims. “What the fuck?” I finally growled in confusion.
Setting alcohol alight worked in movies, but it wouldn’t work for me that night. Of course I wouldn’t be able to light the liquor-soaked panties of my ex on fire in a satisfying roar of hot destruction. Of course I was yet again helpless, yet again useless and incapable and ineffectual. I now know, in retrospect, that the low-quality blackberry brandy had too low of a proof to ignite by flame, but at the time I was adamantly positive that the universe had it out for me. Physics mocked and teased me. The solidity of all things wavered and fluctuated before the brandy-induced cloud that my bloodshot eyes squinted through.
But it was too late to turn back. Ivy’s pair of lace panties, the relic of my past romance and the cursed artifact of a soured and poisoned love, were ruined for me. I could never touch them with the longing and poignancy that I had before. Only one of us would survive the night, the pink panties or Charles Oake. They had to be destroyed once and for all. And if they couldn’t be destroyed, then I would be.
In a rage I plunged my hand into the sink to grab the underwear, but I smacked my knuckles hard against the bowl of the sink with a dull metallic thud as I did so. With an obtuse ache in my fingers and an acute fury slashing my mind asunder, I snatched them out of the sink and stomped back to the little drawer of miscellanea where I’d previously retrieved my last book of matches. From within the drawer, I removed a large pair of scissors with plastic yellow-orange handles. I stepped over to the small trashcan I kept in my kitchen next to the refrigerator, and I held Ivy’s brandy-soaked underwear aloft over the yawning receptacle.
I started cutting.
I sliced up that sensual artifact that held such power over me. I sliced them to hell. Little chunks and ribbons of thin, elegant, pastel pink fabric fluttered down into the trash, drifting in descent like a celebratory rain. The panties became unrecognizable as the item that they were, and they grew smaller and smaller as more and more of the garment was snipped away to rain down into the shadowed depths of my trash.
Breathing heavy with exertion and the release of adrenaline, I was finally finished. I stood over the trash can, almost panting, and I gripped the scissors painfully in my hand. Below me, a damp confetti of rosy lace fabric was peppered in small loose bunches atop the brown paper bag that was already crumpled within the bottom of the receptacle.
My mocking idol was slain. The unholy relic was destroyed. I felt like an addict that had just flushed all of his pills down the toilet. And, though I was drunk on blackberry brandy, the air in my little home felt clearer. Still breathing heavily, I glanced over to the sink and I tossed the scissors in there alongside the empty plastic bottle. The racket that the colliding items produced was pure and crystalline, the first cacophonous sounds that a newborn baby hears upon being reincarnated back into a world that was unfamiliar but also instinctively familiar. A sighed at the noise with my eyes closed.
It was around midnight. I was mentally and emotionally cleansed. Ivy was gone and all traces of her were now ghosts. I knew that I would now be able to heal. Unprecedentedly, I was suddenly overcome with a desire to go home to the Berkshires and visit my family. Destroying the last clue of Ivy’s romantic crime against me had set me truly and gloriously free.
I staggered into the hallway that was only very dimly lit with the illumination of my living room lamp. I stood in the hall for a minute, looking down dizzily at the grey carpet. My eyes lifted then and looked forward, to the closed door of my writing office at the end of the hall. Even through my drunkenness and the distance between the me and the door, I could still hear the pulse of promise that whispered to me from within.
I sighed wearily, scratching the red stubble that salted my jaw. I can remember smiling then.
I was about to step forward when I became aware of a pattern of vibrations erupting in the back pocket of my jeans. My cell phone was always set to vibrate when I had a call. The sound of a ringing phone had begun to cause me anxiety, and so I always had it set to vibrate instead. I pulled the phone from my pocket and, without looking to see who was calling at that ungodly late hour, I sloppily pressed the ‘talk’ button.
“Yeah?” I stated.
“Charlie, it’s me,” spoke a quiet feminine voice. The words were as toxic and as beautiful as an acidic sunrise.