Marion sat on the edge of her freshly made bed. Spring cleaning was a tiresome job and she was happy to rest for a moment and survey her handiwork. The carpet was vacuumed, the curtains pressed and her pillows fluffed to perfection. Even the statue of Virgin Mary looked pleased, sitting serenely on the dusted nightstand next to a carefully placed box of Kleenex.
Marion was not a woman of excess, although, perhaps she over-sampled chocolates and pound cake, hiding the evidence under flowy, loose-fitting attire. Her wardrobe was not overburdened with too many sweaters or pants. She had one pair of smart black heels which doubled for a party or a funeral, one pair of comfortable everyday loafers and her gardening boots which were kept in the front closet.
If an article of clothing grew worn, she replaced it. If an item hung untouched, she donated it. No wasted space or loose ends.
Today, inventory had been taken and any unworthy offenders discarded; not only clothing but broken jewelry, disused makeup, the expired jar of strawberry preserves in the back of the cupboard. She had even recycled the home and garden magazines she read before bedtime. Everything had been turned over and turned out…except that one dresser drawer.
Marion’s eyes fell on the innocent oak cabinet with its shiny brass handles. She bit her lip and closed her eyes. It was time to air out faded hopes along with winter’s cobwebs.
Pushing her ample figure off the bed, she went to the bureau and slowly opened the top drawer. Neatly laid rows of lace panties, sexy bras, stockings and teddies stared disappointedly back at her. The once luxurious satin lingerie seemed sad and limp and neglected. Rhinestones blinked in the lamplight like tiny eyes awaking from slumber.
Marion felt a pang of guilt. She had locked up these birds of paradise and put a cover on their cage. The seductive negligees had been meant for so much more…but not here, not with Marion. They were only faded, wrinkled fancies. It was time to create space, to remove what didn’t serve and make room for new endeavors.
Marion was excellent at organizing and letting go of material clutter, but disposing of burdensome emotional debris was another matter. She had spent most of her life encompassed by the vicious jealousy of her identical twin sister, Rose. Looks were their only commonality; the girls were born just six minutes apart yet their personalities were separated by lightyears.
As a child, Rose had been healthy and calm and pink with pleasure; Marion had colic, was easily over-stimulated and suffered from allergies. She cried and fussed and drove her parents, along with everyone else, to utter distraction. As a result, the vague, inauspicious sense of “Universe versus Marion” loomed over her formative years like an ill-fated cloud. She responded in kind by fortifying her defenses with spiky mannerisms and abrasive behaviors.
Rose matured into an easy-going, friendly, sincere woman while Marion had a prickly, uneven temperament that seemed to grow with each passing year. She had fiery moods, was opinionated and quick to judge. Marion was a porcupine with an armor of quills which she threw indiscriminately at enemies and friends alike…because sometimes she couldn’t tell the difference.
Rose had found love early, married Richard Fairfield, and settled down to a nice domestic life in the suburbs of Connecticut. She was a doting mother to her firstborn Henry, his younger brother Brian and his two younger sisters, Elizabeth and Ashley.
In the beginning, marriage, children, and a loving family had all been part of Marion’s plan. But as Fate would have it, Marion did not get her wish. This outcome was a mix of bad luck coupled with her ever growing officious nature. She simply “put people off.”
Marion had stayed with her parents in their small brick house on tree-lined Highland Avenue for forty years. As they aged, she cared for them in a duteous, respectful way as each year of her youth trickled by. When they passed, Marion remained, like a dusty chandelier, permanently attached and permanently suspended in time.
She continued on into middle age, working at the library, tending her gardens, going to church and systematically bossing around anyone within her reach. People thought that this was Marion, that this was what she wanted. No one suspected her infinite loneliness, as that was guarded by her solid wall of odious mannerisms.
People tolerated Marion’s company as a gesture of sympathy rather than friendship…except for Harold Ferguson, Marion’s next-door neighbor and tax accountant. He was a nervous, shy and awkward man who braved Marion’s slings and arrows in exchange for the occasional cup of coffee, a meal or casual conversation. Harold, also a soldier on the battlefield of loneliness, was more frightened of a solitary TV dinner than Marion’s stinging barbs.
Marion’s curvaceous figure was not missed on Harold. He liked the way her cheeks flushed when she was gardening and the soft curls of brown hair that clung to the side of her face in damp ringlets. Once he was shocked (and thrilled!) to glimpse the top of purple lace panties peeping over the back of her ordinary black slacks.
But Marion had no interest in Harold, barring a discount on her tax-prep bill or an offhand conversation over the garden wall. She found him rather dull, yet fostered the arbitrary friendship because there were not many others willing to extend their company. And of course, she needed someone to collect her mail and water her flowers if she was away from home.
Marion’s life was ordered, organized and empty. She was healthy and comfortable and did her best to ignore that desolate aching spot inside her heart.
And then, when the dregs of middle age seemed bleak and endless, a flicker of hope named Charlie Winslow arrived on scene. She had met him in a cooking class at the community center. He had accidently banged shut the oven door and deflated her perfectly rising chocolate soufflé.
Marion, of course, had been furious and responded in her usual offensive tone. But there was something kind and gentle and calmly assertive in Charlie’s manner that had disarmed her. He wasn’t afraid of approaching a fire beathing dragon and had easily found the chip in her scaly armor.
Suddenly, they were chatting amiably. Numbers were exchanged, dinner plans made and Marion had found herself hoping that maybe she would finally have a chance at a little romance. At forty-seven, Marion was still a virgin.
After three dates, Marion went to the mall and picked out a raspberry-colored corset negligee that showed off her ample cleavage. Unlike other less confident women of her size, Marion was not ashamed of her plump figure. She thought her curves absolutely sumptuous and was nervous but eager for Charlie to see her in this racy ensemble.
When the evening of their next date arrived, Marion had cooked a superb smoked ham shoulder with roasted vegetables and chocolate soufflé for dessert. She lit candles, put on soft music and made sure the sexy lingerie hung ready in her closet...just in case.
Charlie had been due to arrive at 6:00pm. Marion peeked out the curtains, watching for the headlights on his shiny black Buick to bounce into view.
At 6:20pm she thought he might be running late. At 6:45pm she started to worry. At 7:00pm, Marion phoned his cell but there was no answer. She waited at the dining room table, watching the candles melt down to stubs in their polished brass holders.
Charlie never showed that night, or ever again. Marion had tried for a whole week to get in touch but he never returned her calls. She even drove by his house and rang the bell but his car was not in the driveway and no one ever answered his door. She assumed he simply lost interest or maybe he was married. The raspberry corset was eventually folded and laid to rest in her dresser drawer.
Marion often found herself staring at the clean cotton sheets which spread untouched over an empty bedside that never had an occupant. Loneliness is a disease, starting out small but quickly infecting the vast realms of one’s being. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how busy your schedule is; there is a cavern-like hollowness to your house when you return at days end and the only thing to greet you is a lamp, switched on by an automatic timer.
All of Marion’s hopes and dreams were in that drawer with the raspberry-colored lingerie; her hopes for a chance at companionship, excitement, romance.
Sometimes she pulled out the satin garment and put it on, feeling the sensual material against her curves, looking at herself in the mirror by the soft glow of her bedside lamp. It made her feel exhilarated and sexy. It made her feel special and wanted.
Over the passing months, Marion had returned to the store in the mall, pretending that Charlie had come back and she was buying something special for their reunion. Her secret drawer not only contained the raspberry corset but lavender panties, sherbet-colored teddies and black push up bras that had more rhinestones than Nashville. Sometimes, fantasy is all a person has to fill the void.
Tonight, Marion decided the fairytale she had played out in her mind for so long was a delusion, a cancer. It was time to relinquish it, send it packing like all the other useless items she had cleared away.
Marion began to take each delicate undergarment from the drawer, placing it reverently on the bed. She started slowly, wistfully inspecting each colorful piece, feeling the hope and desire sliding through her hands in satin and silk and lace.
Tucked in the back corner was a lavender sachet, which had left behind a rather stale and sickly odor. Marion extracted the decaying cushion and threw into the bin. It made a satisfying “thump” and she suddenly felt invigorated in her mission.
Thongs, corsets and garters were pulled from sleeping coffins, their dead remains flung behind her, the carpet now a graveyard of lifeless, satin shapes; but these seductive ghosts would no longer rise to haunt her.
Marion smiled as she turned to look at the mess. Her bedroom looked more like the deserted dressing room of a burlesque dancer. She was relieved to cleanse the space that taunted her with deceitful dreams.
That drawer would be just perfect for her new flower press and scrapbooks! She was very much looking forward to the first blossoms on her rosebushes so she could test her new hobby and preserve her gorgeous blooms.
It felt like a weight she had carried was lifting, allowing her to move and wriggle and change direction. And then, she saw the raspberry-colored corset with ample push up cups covered in rhinestones.
The garment looked as lustrous to Marion as it had when she spotted it on the display mannequin in Lucille’s Specialty Store. The tag read, “Limited Edition - Corset Collection. Size: Large. Color: Raspberry. Sale Price:
She could still see the clerk’s raised eyebrow, shocked that a middle-aged woman in sensible shoes had found her way into the shop. Marion had felt like an old museum artifact, decaying behind glass. She imagined a small, instructive placard erected beside her, labelled with the caption, “Human Female. Middle Aged. Sexually Extinct.”
Despite the cashier’s smug face, Marion left the store smiling, her purchase tucked into a small pink bag with innocent peaks of white tissue paper providing cover for her guilty acquisition; of course, it was one of many that would come to fill the upper drawer in her little oak dresser.
So much hope had rested on this intimate, evocative ensemble. As a forty-seven-year-old virgin, Marion wanted to get off the endangered species list and participate in all the activities of a thriving genetic pool. Instead, here she was discarding these delicate dreams with the rest of her useless household clutter.
“One more time,” she thought, slipping out of her clothes and into the passionate nightwear. It still fit her in all the right places; it caressed her curves and pushed her breasts up just enough to display a well of cleavage.
But the butterflies were gone now. The excited fluttering in her chest that had once quickened her pulse and brought blood to her cheeks had disappeared like a sandcastle in the tide.
Marion sighed and began to unhook the delicate clasps. The sound of the doorbell made her jump. “Damn!” she muttered, throwing on her fuzzy bathrobe. Harold was due to arrive for a tax appointment at 7:00pm…but it was only 5:15pm!
“That brick,” thought Marion. “He always gets things mixed up!”
She stormed down the stairs in a flurry of annoyance, flinging open the front door with burning words of fury on her lips…but they choked in her throat. It wasn’t Harold. It was Charlie.
They sat with cups of tea between them, steaming and untouched. Marion offered biscuits, which Charlie politely declined.
“I wasn’t sure if you would let me in,” said Charlie quietly.
Marion bristled. “Well, you didn’t give me much of a choice! Besides, a decent person doesn’t leave a guest standing on their doorstep.” She gave an indignant sniff and stared over his head at the kitchen wall.
Charlie offered a wry smile and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I suppose a decent person doesn’t stand up their dinner date.” His soft eyes looked sadly across the table but Marion’s gaze was still fixed on the plaster.
“I’ll re-paint this room,” thought Marion. “I hate peach. I hate these sickly peach walls. New paint all around and bright new light fixtures too.”
“Marion,” whispered Charlie.
Marion shifted attention to her teacup. She dropped in a sugar cube, swirling it about with her spoon until a tiny tornado whirled inside the delicate china.
“It was six months ago,” she muttered. “Six months. What does it matter now?”
“It matters to me,” Charlie said with a small plea in his voice. “I hoped it might matter to you.”
The tea had cooled and Marion took a sip from her cup.
“Hope?” she thought. Marion had a drawer upstairs that had been bursting with hope; hope that had been slowly collected and worshipped for over half a year. Now, it was limp and useless and ready for the dust bin. She thought of the silken, sparkling, luxurious piles of hope on the floor upstairs, waiting for a trash bag. Tears welled up in her eyes. Pulling her robe tight, she met Charlie’s gaze.
“Why?” It was half a question, half a sob.
Charlie leaned forward in his chair. “Do you remember me talking about Abigail?”
Charlie nodded. He took a sip of his tea and placed the cup back in the saucer. His hands were shaking and a little bit spilled over the side. “She died.”
Marion breathed in sharply.
“She died the same day I was supposed to be here with you.”
Charlie paused and looked across the table at Marion. She was sitting quite still, her hands gently cradling her teacup. He noticed her nails were painted the palest shade of pink.
“Abigail and her husband David had been out all-day visiting pre-school options for their son, Luke,” continued Charlie. “They hit a patch of black ice and went off the road. David died instantly. My sister…”
Charlie sat back in his chair and sighed. “My sister was on life support for months. She’s gone now. The doctors couldn’t do anymore and I had to make the decision to…well, she’s gone now.”
Charlie looked up at the ceiling, mist blurring his eyes.
Marion reached across the table and placed her hands over Charlie’s. They were cold and she wanted to warm him, wrap him in blankets, bring him more tea and kiss his face. Instead, she sat there in silence with her hands over his. When he finally looked at her again, he saw that she was crying too.
Marion and Charlie sat together until the light in the kitchen faded from afternoon to dusk. Finally, Marion stood up, flicked on the lights and went to the phone. She dialed Harold, told him she was sick and not to come. Sandwiches were made, wine poured and a quiet meal enjoyed.
Marion smiled as she looked at Charlie over the top of fresh candlesticks, flickering in their brass holders.
“There now, we had our dinner date after all. You were just a little late.”
“Marion,” said Charlie. “There’s something else. It’s about Abigail’s son Luke. He’s mine now.”
Marion’s eyes widened. “Oh Charlie,” she whispered.
Charlie ran his hands through his hair which gave him a wild, desperate look.
“I’m sure you would never be interested in a man my age who’s responsible for a small child. I just…”
Charlie shook his head and fixed his eyes on Marion’s expectant face. “I just wanted to let you know I had every intention of coming to dinner that night and I had hoped we were embarking on a new adventure.”
Marion’s heart was a bird, fluttering madly against the walls of its’ cage. She breathed in deeply and then…there was a small “pop!” A glittering rhinestone burst through the opening of her robe and skittered across the table, landing by Charlie’s plate.
Marion flushed at Charlie’s shocked face and quickly tightened her robe.
“You know Charlie,” she began, standing up to clear the plates and snatch the rogue rhinestone from the placemat. “I really hate the color of this kitchen. I need a change and I was thinking about a nice shade of raspberry.”