BY DON HERALD
Copyright is held by the author.
I RARELY check out her lingerie drawer. I can’t remember the last time. Over our years together, checking out the contents of her underwear and socks drawer was one of those ‘rules’ a couple puts into place. Rarely spoken — “My undies and socks drawer is off limits” — it just is. And, quite frankly, despite years of intimacy, I still feel a bit uncomfortable poking around in the top drawer of her dresser.
But here I am — picking through her panties, warm wool socks and bras of all colours and designs.
“Next time you come back, bring me some panties, would you? Open back hospital gowns with my bare ass hanging out — remarkable as it is, mind you — anyway, I need some damn panties to wear. Since they’re keeping me for a couple of days, two or three should do it. OK?”
She smiles with just a touch of the mischief-maker in it. She knows I’ll be uncomfortable, embarrassed even. But it makes for an even better ask if she doesn’t point it out. Especially here in a hospital room she’s sharing with three other women. Of course, they’re pretending not to listen, but they sure are. And each of them has a hard time hiding the enjoyment they’re having at my expense.
“OK,” I answer in a whisper. But sound carries in a room like this, so I may as well have shouted it. “Any particular colour you want?” Muffled laughter from the other beds. A wide smile from her bed. She’s enjoying this far too much.
I gather up my backpack, offer a quick, dry kiss on her cheek and scramble with a modicum of dignity for the exit. Just as I reach the door, she says, “Oh, honey. A couple of bras too. Maybe the black lace one with the cups that push me up and out. You know the one.” She laughs a bit too loud. “There’s a cute Resident here I think would appreciate it.” Out in the hall, I hear all four women laughing. I resist the urge to go back into the room and remind her that she’s not 40 anymore when that black push-up bra would really mean something.
I decide I’ll have her panties and bras in a small white bag that I’ll casually slip onto her bedside table. At least that’s the plan now, but I know all four of them will be waiting for my return with her undies, especially the black bra. I can only imagine how my wife will play it up. I wonder how the Resident will react when he sees black lace under her light blue hospital gown.
At the back of the drawer, buried under several bulky pairs of her favourite Merino socks, I discover two rolled-up tubes of off-white paper pages. Held together with a thick purple elastic — like the kind that comes occasionally wrapped around a parcel of letters. Each tube, about the length of a rolled-up newspaper, has many sheets in it. And a small box, wrapped in old newspaper using lots of clear sticky tape. She’s always used newspaper and gobs of tape for wrapping stuff. She was doing it when I first met her as a junior in high school. She still does it now, years later.
I’m curious. Why would she’d keep all this hidden away in her undies drawer? Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Perhaps it’s not hidden in the way I mean. Perhaps it’s all here for safekeeping. Maybe. But I’m leaning more toward “hidden” as in “deliberately keep it out of sight from my husband” hidden.
I step back and sit on her side of the bed, shoving back two of her pillows to make space. Disturbed, the pillows release the scent of her — Dune by Dior — citrus, vanilla, jasmine and sandalwood. She’s worn it since the early 90s — her signature perfume, expensive but one of the very few extravagances she permits herself. I let her scent wrap unseen around me. Memories.
I remove the elastic on the nearest tube. Dozens of pencil and charcoal drawings unfold slowly in my hands. Her pencil and charcoal sketches. Always that, never any colour. Each of her sketches is signed and dated – this one: JAS, June 8/63. Some include a note above the date — picnic Niagara Falls. I slowly turn each page. Our life together reveals itself in her perfect sketches. She always has her sketch pad with her or nearby. Most folks use a camera to capture memories or scenes that interest them. My wife uses a spiral-bound sketch pad — always the Strathmore 400 series. No object is too small or large for her pencil. But she is fascinated with the human body, especially hands and the face, eyes, and mouth.
She is an accomplished artist. But a private one. None of her exquisite work has shown in a gallery. Never will. She shares her work with family, close friends, important other people in her life. I expect her surgeon will get a drawing of his face or maybe his hands. Perhaps even his Resident, if he reacts well to the peak of black lace under that gown.
June 8/63 — picnic Niagara Falls. Us having a picnic on a grassy knoll with the Canadian side Falls in the background — a memory, every detail still fresh in my mind.
We drove there in my grandfather’s ’54 Chev Bel Air. He’d died in May of that year and left me his beloved car. He’d take me on road trips when I was younger. We had many good times in that machine. Now that it was mine, the Falls road trip would be the first on my own. I’d saved up enough to pay for the gas and maybe a souvenir from the shops that line Clifton Hill. She brought lunch, a blanket and of course, her Strathmore and pencils.
Back then, she used cheap pencils with soft lead. 2 Bs, if I remember correctly. But like anything else in life, once she became more settled and had more resources to devote to her hobby, the graphite pencils from Staedtler or Faber-Castell became her drawing instruments of choice.
She’d never been to the Falls, so there was lots to see. She’d made egg salad sandwiches on brown bread — my favourite — with carrot sticks and old cheddar slices. I think her mother made a thermos of green tea and two large chocolate layer cake pieces, especially for the trip.
“I want a souvenir before we go,” she says. “Something that helps me always fall in love with this place again and again.” She waves her hand in a slow 360 in the air.
“Then we’re off to Clifton Hill,” I say.
She visits every tourist trap shop on the street, searching for something to remember her visit, our picnic, the wet trip to the Falls itself on the Maid of the Mist.
She finds the perfect souvenir. A small snow globe type item. Only this is unique. Somehow, the makers made it so that when shaken, the globe snowflakes only appear to be cascading over the Falls itself in a beautiful flow of sparkling colours.
“I love it,” she gushes. “Don’t you love it too?”
“Yeah, that’s the best snow globe I’ve ever seen. A great souvenir of our visit to the Falls.” I buy it for her, and I’m rewarded with a tight, full-body hug and a deep, damp kiss.
“I’ll keep this forever,” she promises.
We drive home in the Bel Air, feeling like royalty. She sits in the middle of the front seat, left hand on my thigh, sometimes slowly sliding a bit here, a bit there, as only teen lovers can do.
Before I drop her at home, we spend an hour or so at our favourite make-out spot in the lane of an abandoned farm near our old high school. We’ve been here many times before, but always in my father’s ratty Toyota Corolla. But on this day, I had my own car — the ’54 Chev Bel Air with a huge rear seat. Need I say more?
The second tube of sketches is more recent, my wife’s skills as an artist clearly on display in every drawing. There’s a surprise waiting for me.
Many of these drawings are of me. Since she is always sketching life around her, I never paid much attention to her drawing while I was working, watching TV, reading a book or feeding the animals in the barn. There were drawings — she called them “studies” — of my hands, my face, cheeks, lips. All rendered in fine detail. I was stunned by the beauty of her work. It took a long time to work my way through her second tube of sketches. Taken together, these two tubes of illustrations was like experiencing a “Best Of . . .” collection of memorable moments in our life together.
I decide to open the small box wrapped in newspaper and sticky tape. Inside, carefully nestled in amongst the small Styrofoam beads, is her snow globe.
I lift it out and hold it carefully in my hands. I gently shake it left, then right and watch the sparkly snow pieces flow over the edge of the Falls — again and again.
I put her snow globe back into the box.
I will take it to her this evening. Along with the panties and one white bra. Not the black lacey one with push-up cups.
I’m substituting black lace for sparkly snow pieces.
The snow globe.
Our picnic at Niagara Falls.
Our road trip in the ’54 Chev.
A deserted farm lane near Ancaster High.
Let’s see what those three other women in East 4-702 think of that story.