The Question of Those Panties

by Linda Allison

I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed back that day, the day you said you wanted to break it off, the day after she found my panties in your suitcase. What if I hadn’t protested? What if I hadn’t said, “Let’s talk about this”? What if I had told you I’d respect your decision? What if I had stood, given you a polite hug, and walked out of that restaurant we liked, the one with the good meatloaf? Would that have been the end of it? Would we have remained friendly in a distant kind of way, chatting occasionally on the phone, less and less over time?

You told me you feigned innocence when she produced the questionable panties, that you pretended to be offended. You told her they probably belonged to their son’s girlfriend who had stayed at the house while her apartment was being redone.

The next morning you called and suggested we meet for lunch.

The topic of those errant panties has come up just a few times in the years since. When it does, you tease that I probably slipped them into your suitcase.

And although you make a joke of it, I believe deep down you suspect it might be true.

But you’re wrong. I hadn’t even missed those panties. And if indeed a pair of panties had made their way into your suitcase, they wouldn’t have escaped your attention for long. A pair of white cotton bikinis nestled among the slacks you always fold perfectly along the crease or tucked next to the shirts you arrange so carefully they could have come straight from a gift box? Not a chance.

When the panty incident occasionally surfaces from my pool of memories, I idly wonder if maybe you allowed them to stow away. I don’t think it would have been deliberate. Or willful. But maybe subconsciously, maybe it was a subliminal plea for attention. Bound by obligation, trapped in an unsatisfying relationship, it was your attempt to tell your partner, a good stable woman with little talent for affection, “Hey, I’m attractive and desirable. Try harder.” And not yet seeing the inevitable, you panicked just a little, when confronted with a pair of panties.

We’ll never know what would have happened had I walked away that day. And we’ll never know how those panties got into your suitcase. But as I write this, listening to the soft rhythm of your sleeping breath, sitting next to you in the bed we’ve shared for years, in the home we built together, I don’t think it matters.