Alice Benson discovered writing as a passion in the third act of her life and spends much of her time in pursuit of metaphors. Alice works in a human services field; previously she spent over thirteen years working with a domestic violence program. Her published works have appeared in a variety of publications and her first novel, Her Life is Showing, is set in a domestic violence shelter and was published in January 2014, by Black Rose Writing.
A Gift (Not of the Magi)
Amy eyed the box. It was the right size for a scarf or maybe a purse. Holding her breath, she lifted the cover to find pink silk and black lace. Picking up a pair of panties, she dangled them between two fingers like a dead animal. Crotch-less, she noticed. Some styles really are classic and timeless. Hope completely throttled, she thought of her last birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day and the array of push-up bras, fishnet stockings, and garter belts cluttering a drawer on her side of the dresser.
“This seems more like a gift for you than for me.”
“For both of us, I guess.” Paul leaned in as if for a kiss. “You always seemed to like them before.”
Amy ducked away from Paul and her sigh blew the panties sideways. “I was amused the first time, and, to be fair, we did have some fun that night.” Amy felt her cheeks warm with sexy memories. “But I was way less amused the second time, and on Valentine’s Day, I told you I was tired of this shit.”
Paul stood quickly as if to escape this conversation. “Are you hungry? I made your favorite. Fried chicken.”
“Fried is your favorite. I like baked.”
“Whoops, well, I knew one of us liked it.” He laughed a little, stopping when he looked at her.
Amy sat at the dining room table while Paul placed chicken, potatoes, and coleslaw in front of her. The chicken was on a platter, not in a big red bucket, so he was making an effort. She supposed she should be grateful, but she wasn’t.
“Want a beer?” He twisted off a cap.
“No thanks. You like beer. I like wine.” She shoved back her chair and went to the kitchen to pour a glass.
They ate in strained silence until Paul spoke. “I’m sorry. I know I buy you sexy stuff all the time.”
Amy’s irritation waned with Paul’s words. At least he was willing to apologize. Her last boyfriend acted like he never did anything wrong, ever. Paul was much nicer.
“I’m not sure what you want, so I guess I’ve sort of focused on what I like,” Paul said.
Nicer, but apparently an idiot. Amy’s exasperation came flooding back. “Sort of? If that’s sort of, I’d hate to see you focus on yourself with purpose.” She glared at him. “You’re not sure what I want? Maybe try listening to me. Earrings, a sweater, gloves, or any other fucking thing in the world besides pornographic underwear.”
“I said I’m sorry.” He rolled his eyes, just a little.
“You’re always sorry, but so what?” Amy drained her glass. “You know this boyish charm shit is getting old. We’re not sixteen. I’d like to be in an actual adult relationship.”
“You can’t get more adult than the underwear I bought you.” Paul winked.
Amy was sorry her glass was empty. She’d always wanted to throw wine in someone’s face, and this felt like the perfect opportunity. “You’re not listening to me. I told you all of this before, too many times, but you haven’t changed a thing.” She stood up. “And I’m pretty sure you never will.”
Amy grabbed her gift and stalked to the bedroom. She hurled the box into a corner and threw herself facedown on the bed. What a jerk. If gifts were the only issue, she could overlook them. But they weren’t. Golf every weekend, no matter what she wanted to do, five or six beers after work with the guys, falling asleep in front of the television which was turned to sports twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes she felt like they’d been together forever, seventy-six years old, not twenty-six.
Amy rolled on her back to stare at the ceiling. Cracks and peeling paint formed the vague outline of a St. Bernard, reminding her that Paul loved dogs and was kind to animals. He did have some good qualities. Of course, he did. She considered them reluctantly. He wasn’t a Republican, he always offered to help the elderly neighbors, and when he noticed she was there, he was nice to her. He usually remembered special occasions, even if he bought selfish gifts. Plus, he was pretty damn good in bed. But was that enough? She hated to give up; it felt too much like failure, but Amy was tired of competing for his attention.
She got off the bed and picked up the panties. Holding them against her body, she looked in the mirror, considering. Should she just put them on? Some rousing make-up sex might end up being fun.
Amy turned from side to side, picturing herself in the crotchless silk, imagining being in bed with Paul, remembering how much fun they had. The longer she reflected, thinking about their lovemaking, the more she realized she had no desire to have sex with Paul, not tonight, maybe not ever. She didn’t want to go there. Her thoughts moved to their future together, and she wasn’t surprised to find she didn’t want to go there either. After a few minutes, she wiped tears from her cheeks, moved away from the mirror and put on her flannel nightgown, a fleece bathrobe, and down slippers. The presents were just a symptom. Paul should be capable of learning, of change. He could listen. He could make a fucking effort. But Amy realized he wasn’t going to. Not now, not ever. She was tired of waiting; it was over.
Amy picked up her birthday gift and a pair of scissors and didn’t stop cutting until the panties were in tiny pink and black bits that she took into the living room where Paul was watching golf on television. She stood in front of him and tossed the shredded underwear into the air like confetti. The pieces landed on Paul’s shoulders.
“Happy birthday to me.” Amy cinched her robe more tightly and went to bed.