~This story previously appeared in Analecta 24 (1998).
Ed bought Vera another pair of thong panties. He took them home to her after work. Vera politely opened the pink sack stenciled with fake lace and removed the tissue paper. She unfolded it and tore the taped end.
"Thong panties,” she said, wadding up what there was of the underwear. “How nice." She stuffed them back into the bag.
"Don’t you like the spots?" he asked.
"They're right colorful."
"Well. What about the stripes?"
"They're right vertical," she said.
Ed could tell she didn’t like them.
"Well, aren't you going to model them for me?" he asked.
"Ed, you know I have a yeast infection."
"Oh, I forgot," he said.
Ed hadn't really forgotten. He was hoping a gift of lingerie would stir her up a bit. God knows something had to. It’d been so long since they’d had sex for one reason or another, he wasn’t sure he would remember how. He’d thought a trip to the lingerie shop might be just the thing.
Ed had spent nearly a whole hour in the lingerie store wandering between the maze of panty trees and panty pools trying to find something that might work. He’d studied the steel arms of the racks where each pair hung by its own hanger and realized that these panties not only came with their own hanger, but with the highest price tags, too. So he'd begun fishing in the overstuffed bins where the cost was a little less. Here, clear plastic flexi-glass separated the layers of panties into a panty dessert trifle: lace panties, then crotchless panties, then the truly edible layer. Ed spent most of the hour looking at them, rubbing them between his fingers and checking the price tags. When no one was looking, he even licked one pair of the edible ones.
The saleslady had offered her sales pitch when she spotted him examining a pair for longer than two seconds: "Those have just the right hint of coverage but nothing is really left to the imagination… that lace doesn't cause itching… those are guaranteed to stay in place even during the act… and those have no fat and only 50 grams of sugar, should you decide to really eat them." She had something to say about each kind. She certainly knows her panties, Ed thought.
Ed had vowed not to buy thongs again because that's what he'd bought Vera the last time, and they still wore their tags. They hadn’t worked like he’d hoped.
“They’ll feel like a constant wedgie in my crack,” she had said. How she could know this without ever trying them on Ed’d wondered. To him, it was just proof she had lost all interest in sex.
Still, he kept finding himself drawn to the pictures above the prices on the thong panty tags. There was no question about it, after looking at all the other panties including the French cut, the hip huggers, even the crotchless ones, thongs were his favorite. He liked the way the thongs separated the ass into halves. He liked the rounded, firm look of the tan buns, especially when they were slightly bent over. Not that he thought Vera would look like the pictures when she wore them or anything. Vera wasn't fat, but she wasn't skinny, either. And she did have that cellulite. He just liked thong panties. Nothing wrong with that he thought.
"These'll be fine," he said lifting up two pair. From one hand dangled a pair of black and gold spotted panties. The other hand held a black-and-white zebra-striped pair.
"Into animal prints, sir?" the sales lady asked as she folded them into two neat squares.
"Well, I am something of a deer hunter," he'd replied, and then wondered if he'd sounded cocky. He stopped and looked at the lingerie lady. She had hair so blond it was almost white, gathered into a high ponytail and curled into little ringlets. He looked closer; he thought it might be a hair piece like the ones on display by the fitting room. Deep lines ran on her forehead and behind her false eyelashes, looking more like the result of too much tanning bed than age. Her black satin jumpsuit was skin tight and Ed let himself watch her walk around to the register. She must have looked good in her younger days, he thought. No doubt about it.
"Will that be all?" she asked. Ed looked at her mouth. He was surprised he hadn't noticed her lips before. They were the largest, reddest lips he had ever seen on a white woman.
"Yep, that'll do it," he said.
She curled those large lips up into a smile and mentioned the massage oil on special by the bras. "Five different flavors to choose from: vanilla, cinnamon, strawberry, chocolate, and—my favorite—tequila. For you, I'll make a special. Buy one, get one free."
Ed was tempted. The look on the woman's face made him want to try the tequila, but he'd already spent two hours worth of pay.
“Weren't you in here a week or so ago?" she asked.
“My wife’s birthday,” he lied.
“Well, she’s a lucky woman. A lot of men don’t even remember their wife’s birthday. She liked the thongs so much you’re back, huh?” Ed thought about lying some more. He couldn’t tell the truth—that Vera hadn’t even put the damn things on—so he pretended to be so interested in the calendar by the register that he didn’t hear her. It was a great calendar so it wasn’t hard to do.
“Here you are,” she said, handing him the pink sack. “I wrapped them in tissue paper for you real nice. Hope,” and she paused for a second, licking her ruby red lips, “you enjoy them. Come back real soon.” Ed hoped so, too. He thought about the way the lady’s purply-pink tongue licked her lips nice and slow. He wasn't sure if it the lick was on purpose—she could have had some leftover salt from the sack of pretzel twists he’d seen open by the register—but he let himself decide it was aimed at him. That’s why she said come back real soon.
That night as they were getting ready for bed, Ed watched Vera. For seven years, she'd stayed in the bathroom ten minutes longer than he did. Suddenly, he was curious what she did. Rather than going right to bed, he plopped himself down on the lid of the toilet to watch. She didn't seem to notice. She dabbed her fake fingernails into the blue jar of white cold cream and smeared it on her face. Once. Twice. It took three dips before she had her face completely covered. Next, she removed a white washcloth from beneath the sink and wet it under the running faucet. Steam floated up and fogged a spot on the mirror in the shape of an egg. Without flinching, she began to wipe away the thick white substance from her face with the rag dipped in the scalding water. She didn’t flinch at the burn that Ed thought she had to feel. The real Vera, freckled, and two shades paler, emerged. She noticed him watching her.
"What're you doing?"
"Why are you watching me?"
"You are. You’re staring."
"No, I was just thinking. That's all. I'm tired.” He stretched his arms and yawned as if that would take the suspicious look off her face. “I better turn in before I fall asleep on the commode and drown." Ed wished then that he hadn’t watched. He’d rather have gone to bed and let his mind imagine what she did. Or maybe he could have gone to bed and imagined what the lingerie lady did before bed. He liked that idea better.
"Ed, are you okay?" Vera asked.
"Fine," he said unfolding his lanky legs out from underneath him. He’d been sitting Indian style on the lid.
"Before you turn in, would you bring me a couple of ice cubes?" she asked as she began to attack her teeth with a toothbrush. She rammed her toothbrush back farther in her mouth than Ed thought was possible. He stared, watching it go in and out, deeper and deeper. No wonder she used to be so good at blow jobs he thought.
"Ice cubes?" he asked.
"Two," she said through a mouth full of toothpaste.
She spit out the white bubbly Colgate. "They close up my pores and invigorate my skin."
Ed wondered if they only worked on her face.
He opened the left side of the large white icebox and pulled out a tray. He gripped the cold plastic between his hands and twisted out the ice cubes onto the almond laminate. He stuffed one in his mouth, set two aside, and raked the others onto the linoleum.
He tasted the icy cold with his tongue. He liked the sharp, stinging feeling that spread through his mouth.
“Ed, are you coming?” Vera called.
Doesn’t look like much chance of that tonight, he thought, dragging his feet over the rust colored shag carpet that lead to the bathroom.
“Where’s the ice?’ Vera asked.
Ed smiled and opened his mouth. It was between his teeth. He’d decided maybe Vera just needed to be jump started, like his Ford when it hadn’t been cranked in a while.
“Ed Norman!” Vera wheezed as though her asthma was kicking in. “Just put ’em on the counter.”
“Can’t,” Ed said raising his eyebrows up and down and up and down until Vera scolded him.
“Ed, I told you I’m not interested tonight.”
“No, you told me,” and he paused to spit some extra water out so he didn’t sound like he was gargling, “you had an infection. I, however, do not.” He grinned wider, the melted ice running down his chin and filling up the cleft in the center. “How bad do you want this anyway? Make you a deal.”
Vera rolled her eyes. “Not that bad. I’ll go get my own.”
“You can’t. I melted the rest of the tray.”
“Ed, you didn’t.” Vera looked slightly surprised.
“I did,” he said shrugging his shoulders. “Guess, you’ll have to bargain.”
She tightened her lips. “I suppose I don’t have much choice, huh?” She put her face as close to the mirror as she could without bumping it and fingered a tiny red pimple, squeezing it between her fingernails. Ed watched as white stuff spurted out.
“S’pose not,” he said. “Not if you want this ice anyway.” She wasn’t playing along like he’d hoped. Vera looked back in the mirror.
“All right, just give me the ice and let me finish my face. I’ll be there in a minute and take care of you.” Ed was excited. It had been a long time since Vera had performed oral sex for him. He laid the ice on the edge of the ceramic sink. It slid down to the bottom and lodged in the drain next to a rust stain. He walked to Vera’s chest of drawers and pulled out the spotted thong panties. They were satiny smooth. He bit off the little plastic thread that connected the price tag to the panties with one shake of his head. He laid the thong panties on the bed and unbuckled his belt and removed his Wranglers, sliding the Hanes briefs down with them. He stepped one leg, and then the other, into the spotted thongs and pulled them up.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
I wrote “Thong Panties” as part of my Master’s thesis at UAB. I wish I could explain what inspired me, but the genesis of this—as with most of my stories—remains a mystery. About the only thing I can figure, sans employing a psychoanalyst, is that it has something to do with the following details: My mother managed a lingerie department in a local retail store for a while when I was in junior high, and then when I was in high school, she and I worked in a boutique store that sold kitchenware. Next door was Fredericks of Hollywood. Mother continued to work there for many years and for my parents’ 50th anniversary gifts, my sisters and I shopped there. We bought Dad a pair of leopard-spotted, male thongs, that when he opened in front of us, the grandkids, and half the restaurant, he promptly placed on top of his head. We all hooted except for Mother. “Ooohhww, James,”—her standard refrain by now—was all she said. Besides, she’d already begun unwrapping her gift.
ABOUT WENDY REED
Wendy Reed is the recipient of numerous awards for her work in public media, including two Emmys. She has received fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Seaside Institute, and Oregon State University. She has co-edited Circling Faith and All Out of Faith with Jennifer Horne and her most recent publication An Accidental Memoir: How I Killed Someone and Other Stories has been hailed as everything from “brave” to “genre-bending.”