Xplainer's Blog

April 13, 2010

French knickers

It was the January sales in Paris and I was on my way out shopping with my French boyfriend.

Didier had actually asked me if he could take me out shopping to buy me a pair of ‘sexy’ knickers and I seized the opportunity immediately.  Not only do I like nice underwear, but this was the first time since I’d met him, three years before, that he’d proposed shopping for clothes together.

“Come on cherie,” said Didier as we climbed up the metro steps at the ‘Opera’. He was smiling widely–as if he were enjoying the role of ‘sugar daddy’ despite the fact that this would be the first time he had bought me an item of clothing.

He was pushing me to play ‘material girl’ but I kept myself calm and focussed. Despite the light atmosphere, the role-play could suddenly turn nasty if boundaries weren’t navigated with care. I didn’t want to look like I really wanted him to spend any money on me…

His unpredictable mood turns prevented me from committing, and it was this lack of commitment that kept him drinking he said.

So I focussed on the task at hand, and tried to imagine what sort of knickers would make me feel ‘sexy’.  Nothing uncomfortable, I thought, or scratchy. Nothing cheap basically–I was going for style.

We climbed the wide staircase up to the lingerie department. It was packed and we could hardly see three metres in front of us. Thronging, purposeful women, and the odd man out, seemed to be totally at home in the confusion.

Focus, I told myself. A false move now and the whole spree could dissolve before any worthwhile investment had been made.

It was hard for us to get our bearings. Everything seemed to be located by label rather than purpose; bras, pants, chemises all mixed up at different counters. Then there were huge flat trays of last-of-lines –goods with price tags really slashed in the sale. But I knew from experience not to try to find a bra in one of these ‘sales skips’—you never find the right size—knickers were possible—so I started to rummage.

From the corner of my eye I could sense that Didier was getting stressed. His thin patience was running out along with the oxygen supply within the store.  I could smell whiffs of people’s lunch still lingering on their breath as they pressed past me.

Areas where the most desirable stuff was on sale were naturally the most hellish spots, but I managed to push my way through to an advantageous position.  I started examining a pair of elegant, grey, silk knickers.

“Look!” said Didier. His eyes signalled to a dummy’s torso wearing the kind of thing I had made a mental note to avoid. ‘Tarty’ red knickers made entirely of scratchy-when-worn lace and serving, in my opinion, no purpose at all except to put on for ten minutes of foreplay.

“No Didier,” I said adamantly, “that isn’t what I had in mind,”

“Oh come on cherie,” he quipped, “something sexy, with a hole.”

He was still smiling.

“Oh for goodness sake, I want something classy,” I said. “Elegant.”

I could see him whiten. It was the heat, the crowds, the idea that once again we didn’t quite have the same thing in mind.

Didier wanted to get out. He’d started to lose me amongst the wracks of underwear. Or I’d lost him by going about my business. But I was intent on purchasing something worthwhile from the occasion.

Then I saw them: a pair of classy all-lace black knickers in a snug-fitting cami -style. I picked up two sizes—they don’t look good if they’re too tight— and searched for Didier.

His grey face looked like it needed a beer. “Let me just try these on,” I soothed. I could see that he was about to back out and I wanted to keep him to his word. This would be the last time we’d hit the shops together–the way things were going anyhow.

His face fell on seeing the knickers.

“They’ll look sexy on,” I reassured as I went off to find a free fitting room.

One size fit great and I came out triumphant. Didier whipped them out of my hand.

“We’ll buy them,” he said.

“Wait,” I urged, “I’ll see how much they cost.”

“Come awn,” he said impatiently. His English had slipped into the American accent he reserved for moments when he was particularly inspired or pissed off.

Didier stood in the queue at the check-out for a good ten minutes and when his turn finally came he grimly handed the knickers over.

I could see what blood remained in his face drain out as I heard the girl say 175 euro. To give him credit, he hardly flinched as he reached for his credit card and then, plastic bag clutched to his chest he set out doggedly for the exit with me running behind him like some kind of criminal.

I’d pulled it off – we had something to show for the trip, but I knew that Didier had to get a drink down him, and quick.

I took the bag from him and pulled out the knickers to admire them, noticing with horror that he’d taken the wrong size.

Clicking into smooth operator, or calculatrice mode as Didier would have put it, I smiled in appreciation of the purchase and went with him into a bar.

I’d have to change them and change them now and but I knew that Didier shouldn’t know about it.

He ordered a beer while I stoically sipped a tea — I still had business to do—and then excused myself and left him happily there, antisocial but drinking.

Back to the store I went, navigating the crowds again until I got to the section where I’d last seen the knickers. Relief flickered deep within me when I saw that this last pair in my size still hadn’t been sold.

Then out I came out – all be dammed – with the pair of knickers I wanted – and they gave me pleasure for a long time until eventually I was forced to put them in the bucket due to a hole in a strategic place. Rather like the hole Didier had wished I’d bought them with in the first place I thought acidly.

I decided on that ‘knickers-day’ to go for it. To go for what I wanted, for my fix not his. To stop worrying about what he wanted, when his next drink would be coming, navigating his mood swings.

I decided that my whims, perhaps frivolous, but not dangerous, were just as important. Every day was not going to be a philosophical self-examination of whether I’d behaved in the right way with Didier – been patient, tolerant of his quirks. Didier, the veteran “who would stop drinking if I stayed with him forever.”

Who would take the risk?

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