Summer 2015 — THE POTOMAC

The Secrets Drawer

  Epiphany Ferrell

He felt like a sneak in his own house, opening his wife's top drawer and rummaging through her things. In the ten years they had lived together in this house, he had never opened this drawer. People had told him, though, that women kept things, kept secrets, in their top drawers, in their lingerie drawers.

His wife was the sort of woman who kept an organized closet. Her business suits occupied one area of the walk-in, the shirts arranged by color and season, the pants on special hangers, the skirts on other special hangers. Even her bras had special hangers. Her shoes were hooked by their heels on a rack, and her boots and gym shoes were in cubicles. This was the wife he knew: capable, strong.

Her top drawer was messy. There was no organization at all, everything was thrown in a jumble. It looked almost as if someone had gone through it already. He looked over his shoulder as he pulled the drawer open further, expecting to see her silhouette in the doorway, the sardonic look on her face. He couldn't do this with his back to the door. He pulled the drawer all the way out and set it on the bed. That seemed wrong. The gaping hole in her dresser stared at him and he couldn't stand that either. He inserted the drawer back in its hole. Maybe he should make himself more at home, he thought. He went to her vanity table, her old-fashioned affectation with its mirrors and lights and delicate chair. He brought the chair to the drawer, and perched on it like a great black-garbed vulture and dove his hands into the drawer.

His hands met soft, silky, filmy, lacey. Baffled, he pulled out two handfuls and tossed them onto the bed. Black lace, red satin, purple silky, sheer teal, opaque pale pink. He sorted through them gingerly. A thong, pink, edged in black lace. Such a little bit of material. He picked up another bit of black lace between his middle finger and his thumb, holding it out away from him, staring, uncomprehending. He found long gloves. He found stockings topped in bowties. He found a slippery bit of leopard print with so many black silky ties he wasn't sure it was meant to be worn. Under all the silkiness he found leather and latex, some of it held together by silver chains.

His wife didn't wear these things.

His wife wore normal cotton panties! She wore panty hose that pulled up to her waist in mock suntan or navy or black. He looked back into the drawer, wondering what else he'd missed. A few more pieces of lace lay on the bottom, and a small black lacquered box with a scarlet Chinese symbol. He was only looking, he had a right, he told himself. He opened the box. Two small silver balls nestled within red velvet. The balls jingled slightly as his hand trembled. What was this even?

The light from the carefully organized closet cast his shadow on the wall behind him. He stood at the foot of the bed, staring at the pile of silken colors and beyond it at the severe closet. He didn't know the woman who'd worn these pretty things. He knew a woman with sensible panties and serviceable bras. For whom did she wear these pretty things, and where? With a sob, he scooped up a handful of material and pressed it to his face. A faint smell of perfume lingered there, a perfume his wife sometimes but rarely wore. He inhaled deeply. Who was this woman? They'd been married 10 years and never in all that time had she ever worn anything like this. For him. Who was this woman? Why did she have this drawer of secrets? He savored the feel of the materials against his skin, the silky, the satiny, the lacey. He put his hand inside a silvery-blue bit of sheer and admired the color against his hand. What would it feel like to touch his wife while she wore this, he wondered — her soft thighs in bowtie-topped stockings, her tummy beneath this wine-colored bit of satin.

He rubbed his arms with the silky material, washing himself in it. He pulled off his shirt the better to feel her silks against his skin. So soft. He dropped his pants, he climbed on the bed and surrounded himself with a mound of softness. What would it be like to see her in these bits of material? Ten years and he didn't know. He pulled on a pair of the panties that looked like tiny shorts. They were sheer navy. He looked for something navy to accompany, but his hand found a shiny bit of white that looked like a shirt. He put it on, putting his arm through a cut-out on the side before he found the armhole. It was tight across his shoulders and short on his torso. He was sure on his wife it would skim her belly button. He stroked the material, imagined her in it. He unrolled a bit of fishnet as he drew it up his leg, a stocking. He stroked his leg through it. Who was this woman? Ten years.

He heard a sound in the hallway. Oh God! She was home! Frantically he threw some of the pretty things in the open drawer. He heard the floorboard creak at the top of the stairs, saw the shadow in the doorway. He drew the materials to him to cover himself, looked up, his face flush.

His brother-in-law stared at him, open-mouthed. "I just," he said, choking on a sob.

"Lee," his brother-in-law said, cleared his throat, tried again. "I thought you'd be ready. Let me drive you to the funeral home, buddy. I think maybe you should change your clothes."

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