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Adriana's Underwear (A Short Story)


Author derivative image. Source: Nicolas Solerieu on Upsplash


Adriana’s family occupied a two-story wood frame house across the lane and just far enough away that we needed binoculars to peer into their windows.


By the time the Martinelli’s only daughter had reached fifteen and my brother and I eleven and nine, we enjoyed spying on Adriana each night, backlit against her shade-less bedroom window, especially when she undressed. It was our best-kept secret that we knew this girl more intimately than anyone might have imagined, in a visual sense if not yet in the full-blown biblical sense of the word.


Our mother and Mrs. Martinelli were good friends, that is, as good friends as women can be. They shared a ritual afternoon coffee together at one or the other of the identical chrome and Arborite-covered tables in each other’s kitchen. These afternoon rites usually included jelly donuts arranged symmetrically on a plate. They would utter a short prayer for slimness or maybe a more risque wish sotto voce, then insert a lacquered fingertip into the centre hole before discussing whatever it was that mothers discussed over dunked donuts. They scooped the last, sweet, gooey mouthfuls from their cups with teaspoons.


Sometimes Father Di Domenico of Saint Agatha’s would join them and what they talked about then was anyone’s guess. Father D had a reputation with the ladies. There was speculation about his relationship with Sister Magdalena, our elementary school principal, and wild rumours about goings-on over at the rectory. Whenever Dad found out that his wife and Mrs. Martinelli had entertained Father D, his reaction was always, “What the hell does that finocchio want this time?” Being thought of as homosexual was the perfect cover, we thought.


Mom always replied, “He’s helping us to become better Catholics. You could use a bit more religion yourself,” to which Dad would roll his eyes. “Froccio!” he’d mutter. It was understood that Italian men attended church only to please their wives or mothers and many would have agreed with Mussolini when he pointed out that “the history of the saints is mostly the history of insane people.”


My brother Danny leaked to the neighbourhood that our family was related to Canadian hockey legend Gordie Howe, although how this could have been was never questioned or explained. Danny proved over and over again that if a story goes unchallenged long enough, no matter how absurd, it will become true by virtue of its longevity. The aura of greatness that the lie imparted gave him an invisible edge in the endless street hockey games that went on year-round in our block.


The regulation hard rubber puck used in ice hockey was replaced with a much abused tennis ball that turned into an armoured projectile after becoming waterlogged and frozen solid in winter. Needless to say, we played without helmets, facemasks, or any other protective gear. The great Gordie had lost his front teeth this way and wore falsies for the camera. It was a condition to which every Canadian boy aspired.


Sadly, I proved a failure at street hockey and every other game from hopscotch to card playing, unlike my brother who even at age eleven excelled at competitive sports and was a genius at Poker, which he and Dad played obsessively together for pennies. I was always the last kid drafted when the neighbourhood took sides for an ad hoc ballgame in the parking lot of the union hall or on the baseball diamond over at Woodland Park. If it was street hockey, then I was stuck in goal, a convenient channel for the discharging of pent-up small-boy angst and a target for frozen tennis balls.


My attraction to books and a serious lack of aptitude for more manly pursuits was reflected in our father’s attitude toward his two sons and how he expressed it. My brother’s sports prowess was proclaimed to relatives and friends at the same time that his lackluster academic achievements were glossed over, ignoring the fact that Danny had been held back a grade, while I was promoted forward one year, with the consequence that we now shared the same classroom.


Dad’s tolerance for me hinged on his respect for and fear of Mom, since he´d long ago convinced himself that I was an effeminate “Mama’s Boy” and would therefore never be good at anything worthy of praise or deserving his affection. Worse, like a foster child that’s been taken in under duress, I didn’t resemble my father in any discernable way. The connection to family then was only through our mother. It was a ticking time bomb in our parents’ marriage but I wouldn’t know that until it was already too late.


Even Mom herself seemed perplexed by the quite obvious differences between my older brother and me which became more marked as we grew, perhaps secretly fearing that while the one offspring did somehow resemble Gordie Howe, especially after losing his front teeth, the other was more like Father D, if not openly finocchio, nonetheless playing for the wrong team. There just wasn’t anything familiar about my brother and me. Danny was tall for his age and well built, with sandy hair and blue eyes. I was stunted and thin, with dark eyes, black hair, and a swarthy complexion.


One day Mrs. Martinelli arrived for their afternoon coffee klatch carrying a cardboard banana box filled with Adriana’s cast-off items of clothing that she intended to drop off at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Mom couldn’t help pawing her way through everything in the box and, not having a daughter of her own to pet and preen, revelled in the cute cotton sun dresses and silk blouses that her friend’s daughter had outgrown and discarded now that she was past puberty and resembled a woman more than a little girl. When Mrs. Martinelli left, she forgot her banana box, which Mom placed conveniently near the kitchen door, expecting it to be retrieved next day.


That night, after the house lights were dimmed and the family retired to bed, instead of staring sleeplessly at the ceiling while the others snored in a chorus that could be detected clear across the street, I descended the stairs to the kitchen for a glass of milk and what was left of the butter cookies. Switching on the light, I spied a cardboard box parked at the door.


I unfolded each item of clothing and held a pair of soft, silken panties and a smooth pink camisole to my face, inhaling their clean, faintly almond aroma that I afterwards always associated with Adriana and her naked image in our binoculars. Shedding my pyjamas, I donned the camisole and panties, then replaced my PJ’s over top. They felt so oddly sensual, as if Adriana herself had enfolded me in her smooth arms and thighs.


I switched off the ceiling light and hurried upstairs to the bedroom I shared with Danny who still lay snoring in the upper bunk. Not even a nuclear detonation could have awakened him. I listened for a moment to our father’s bass tones issuing from the room across the hall, then crawled beneath the warm covers and fell into a deep and restful sleep.


Afterwards, I hid these purloined treasures behind a removable slat in the pine wainscoting that was known only to me, and retrieved them whenever I felt depressed after being rebuked by our parents for some real or imagined transgression of the family code or bullied by my brother for not being more like him. At those times, I would sneak upstairs to slip into the camisole and panties until, over time, their almond fragrance changed to the sour odour of old wood which is what almost everything in our household smelled like.


One day Mom announced that she and our father would be stepping out the following evening and that Adriana was coming over to babysit my brother and me. Danny received the news with an impish grin splashed across his broad face. Later in bed, he described to me in minute detail just what it was he planned to do with the babysitter once our parents had disappeared out the door. We retrieved the binoculars from the wooden toy box and stealthily crept toward the window.


Danny was, to say the least, precocious for his age and had an almost photographic recollection of anything he’d ever seen or heard that might be considered in poor taste or even pornographic. In these matters, he was the best-informed eleven-year-old in the entire neighbourhood. Other boys looked to him for guidance and inspiration. Under my brother’s mattress he kept several Playboy magazines he’d swiped from our father who, in his turn, kept the most recent issue tucked away in the bottom of his dresser drawer under his socks, as if Mom wouldn’t think to look under a pile of stockings that she herself laundered to find that month’s centerfold.


To our surprise and shock, Adriana turned out to be an experienced and capable babysitter, humouring us with her sharp comebacks then ordering us to bed in a no-nonsense sergeant-major voice. Danny turned out to be all smoke and no fire, obediently delivering himself upstairs where he immediately nodded off, oblivious to the notion that a pretty fifteen-year-old girl was watching television and munching potato chips downstairs, the same girl we’d spied innumerable times prancing naked about her bedroom.


Lying sleepless in the bottom bunk, I soon detected the doorbell and, overwhelmed with curiosity, crawled like an Indian scout from my mattress to the top of the stairs, listening. I could just make out Adriana’s footsteps approaching the front door, then a hushed male voice coming from the hall. It seemed an eternity before I heard the door swing shut again and two sets of feet quietly padding up the carpeted stairs. I scrambled back into bed and drew the covers to my chin, pretending sleep. I could hear their whispers outside on the landing before our parents’ bedroom door clicked shut. Then I tiptoed out again to remove the loose plank from the wainscoting and retrieve the underwear and carried it back to bed.


Next day was Saturday and about as cold as any afternoon in December can get. The streets were slick with black ice. Danny came bounding upstairs to where I was ploughing a furrow through the extra math homework that Sister Cloretta had assigned our class simply because my brother couldn’t keep his mouth shut for two minutes before the Friday dismissal bell rang. Later, I would copy the figures to a separate sheet for Danny to scribble his own name at the top. A street hockey game was underway outside in the lane and they needed a goalie. It wasn’t a request. It was a direct order: “Grab your toque and get down there.”


We passed Dad and Uncle Tony slumped at the kitchen table staring down six empty cans of Molson’s. They stopped talking when they saw us, perhaps feeling guilty for being caught guzzling beer in the middle of an afternoon, especially on Saturday when Uncle Tony was usually needed at the delicatessen. He’d left Jimmy the Corpse in charge, a fellow who even in the best of times was untrustworthy and whose wife, Serafina, had recently passed away under mysterious circumstances. Adults were strange. You could never figure out what they might be thinking.


“Hey, Gordie” Uncle Tony called out, “How about them Red Wings, eh?” My brother was already through the door. I just turned and shrugged my shoulders as the two drunken men broke out laughing.


On the way out, we grabbed the weather-beaten hockey sticks that were kept in the mudroom outside the kitchen door. Their oak blades were reduced to slivers from repeated sweeping across the coarse pavement. In the back lane, Danny and his friends had set up two wooden saw horses borrowed from a construction site, each horse sheathed along its back and sides with cardboard and placed about fifty feet apart on the gravelled surface. They were dribbling a couple of frozen tennis balls back and forth with their sticks and trying out their slap shots. Whenever a car approached in the lane, the game ground to a halt while we dragged the improvised nets off to one side then back again. I took my usual position in goal.


After missing shot after shot and causing my brother, who was naturally on the opposing team, to cheer for his side at the same time hurling insults at me for being such a wimpy goaltender, I spied our father and Uncle Tony staggering out the kitchen door and through the backyard toward the lane and our game. Danny would allow me an occasional save, then show off to his friends how easily he could deek a goalie, notwithstanding the fact that our team might have fared equally well without anyone actually tending goal.


In the corner of my eye, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Adriana in her upstairs window, watching the proceedings in the lane. I felt the cling of her smooth silk camisole and panties, which I’d earlier donned under my own clothing. I returned her gaze as another frozen tennis ball sailed past my shoulder into the net.


Dad and Uncle Tony parked their beer cans along the top rail of our backyard fence then each snatched a hockey stick out of a boy’s hands, just as if they’d politely asked to participate although they hadn’t. It was a matter of size. The big boys were taking over. They started chasing the tennis ball-puck to and fro, down the lane then back again, laughing and gesticulating wildly to each other, kids once again.


Suddenly Dad stopped to face me, rooted to the spot and staring as if he were confronted with an enormous decision. I had never seen him so focused. The light in his pale eyes was suddenly the most frightening thing I had ever seen. He raised his stick for a shot.


Unable to move a muscle, I stared wordlessly at the rock-hard ball on its high-velocity collision course with my face. The impact was that of an express train, the same train I’d listened to night after night building up steam in the bedroom across the hall. The force of Dad’s slap shot threw me backward against the sawhorse that collapsed with its legs high in the air, just like a dead horse might do. A boy yelled out, “He shoots, he scores!”


My brother screamed, “Get up, ya wimp, he scored on ya”.





From the short story collection "Sex and the Single Virus," available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/732376

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