Shopping and Lies by Kathryn White


Monday February 9, 2009



Right now, my biggest problem is underpants. This is despite the fact that just a week ago, I eloped with fiancée of five years and no one, except for Samuel (who is now, of course, my husband,) and my dad (who funded the whole thing,) knows about it and they all think that our real wedding is going to be this huge, elaborate ceremony that my mother-in-law (who thinks that she is my soon-to-be mother-in-law,) is organising and will take place on Saturday, which is not only Valentine’s Day, but it will be my birthday as well. Anyway, despite the obvious problem of having to either a, reveal that Samuel and I went and got married without her knowing about it and causing Ursula considerable hurt and upset, or b, go through with an elaborate ceremony that neither of us asked for or wanted, right here and now, my biggest problem is underpants.

Or, to be a bit more specific about it, my biggest problem is underpants that are completely the wrong style, not to mention the wrong size.

This morning, I was feeling a bit lousy, which I suppose is normal when you’re not only a liar, but you’re a liar who has just told the whopper of the year to the majority of your family and most of your friends (no, no, I’m not already married, I’m not getting married until next week,) and you also happen to be pregnant and have just gone for your billionth fitting for the maternity wedding dress of the year that your mother-in-law is buying for you and not only do you not want it, but you’ve just discovered that it does not fit and it will have to be altered again, and so I decided to treat myself to a brand new bra and a matching pair of knickers. I found the perfect pair almost straight away and was secretly feeling rather triumphant that I found them all on my own and that the bra was a perfect fit, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about any kind of interference from that rather smug looking woman who works behind the counter at L’duds, who always reminds me of Mrs Slocombe from TVs Are You Being Served. Her name, at least according the little piece of gold plated plastic that she has pinned to her apron is Florence but I bet that her name is really Shirl, Marj or Beryl. (I don’t think that there is anything wrong with those names by the way. I just think that it is silly for people to be embarrassed about them and to want to call themselves something else, as if pretending to be named Florence magically makes them a better person.)

After I had selected my new bra and discovered that it was a perfect fit, I went back and selected a pair of matching knickers. It is always really bad form to take the matching knickers off the little rack first, because no matter how innocent that your intentions may be, anyone who sees you walking toward the change rooms with a bra and the matching knickers will always immediately to the conclusion that not only are you going to try the knickers on as well, but you’ll probably have a jolly good time in the change room rubbing them against your genitals which they will also immediately assume to be infected with the most terrible, contagious disease that the world has ever seen. (In fact, the disease they will assume that you have will one so terrible that none of the medical journals will even talk about it.) And, then, they will think that you will want to put those undies back on the shelf so that some unsuspecting person will come along and buy them.

It does not matter who you are, or where you live, there will always be some uppity person who will immediately jump to this conclusion and you can almost always guarantee that this person will have a very loud voice and that they will be quite happy to share their accusations (no matter how unfounded this all really is,) with all of the other people who are inside the shop. And then you’ll be so annoyed and disgusted by it all that you’ll just turn around and leave, and this person making all of the accusations will take it as a sign of guilt and will remember it even six months later, when they see you in another place entirely and will start raving on about it again, as if it all makes them oh-so-perfect and self-righteous. (Actually, this has only ever happened to me once. And the owner/manager at L’duds was extremely embarrassed and apologetic about it all and not only did she have the rude customer removed by security, but she gave me a gift voucher as well as a means of apology. When I saw the nasty woman again, six months later, she was taken away by the police, who quietly explained to me that she was just some attention seeker who often accused ordinary citizens of doing disgusting things as they went about their daily business.) Fortunately, today the only bit of awkwardness I have experienced during my trip to L’duds occurred just before I walked inside. I saw Ursula and one of her friends walking along Unley Road and I quickly ducked behind a tree and waited for them to walk past, so that I didn’t have to stop and chat about the wedding ceremony for the next five hours, or, worse still, have my mother-in-law and her friend tag along with me while I looked at undies and listen as they criticised all of my choices.

So, anyway, as I was saying, after trying on my bra, I went back to the rack where I had found it and selected the matching knickers. For a moment or two, I dithered over whether or not to buy the g-string as well as the briefs, but I decided against it as pregnancy and g-strings really do not go together well, in my opinion. Plus the briefs looked really pretty and so what if they were almost fifteen dollars more than the g-string? I wanted them. Happily, I took the bra and knickers to the counter, where I waited for Florence to ring up my purchase.

‘Just these today, Darl?’

Florence sneers as she snatches up my bra. She finds the price ticket and waves it beneath one of those funny little scanner things that reads the barcode. The little scanner thing does not read the barcode properly on Florence’s first attempt, so she waves it back and forth several times, as though she thinks that the ticket is a silly piece of junk and it needs to be humiliated and taught a lesson.

‘Yes, thank you,’ I say, because my Auntie Julie always taught me that it was important to be polite to people, regardless of how rude they and uptight they may be. Of course, these days Auntie Julie is in jail for a crime that I would rather not talk about, so I am not sure how much of her philosophies that I should take on, but still, being nice to people does not seem like a bad idea.

‘Got a special on wash bags,’ Florence says, nodding toward a little counter display that is filled with those little bags that you are supposed to put your bras and undies in to before putting them in the washing machine. So far, I’ve bought about five of these bags, all with the intention of using them and saving myself a bit of time, but I always end up finding myself with some concerns about putting my bras and undies in the washing machine at all, and opt to hand wash them instead. I have never even contemplated using them for Samuel’s underpants either, as he always opts to buy sensible cotton briefs and they always seem to be quite hardy and they always go all right in the washing machine anyway.

‘I’m right for wash bags.’ I offer Florence another smile. Inside my handbag, I can feel my phone vibrate. It’s probably Ursula, wondering if it really was me that she saw walking inside L’duds a few moments ago, and no doubt she will want to consult me on some trivial matter about the upcoming wedding ceremony that I really do not care about. So far this week, I’ve had to make all kinds of important decisions over the phone, like whether it was acceptable for us to have off-white serviettes at the reception, as the company were unable to provide cream ones and was there any chance that I could please ignore and overlook Richard’s recent refusal to shave, as Ursula knew that he was only really doing it to upset her and she was sure that he would be clean shaven again Saturday morning.

‘We’ve got a new line of men’s underwear in as well. Novelty boxer shorts.’

Florence nods toward a male mannequin who is naked, apart from pair of satin boxer shorts that has a big, fluffy pink thing attached to the front. I seriously cannot imagine Samuel buying, let alone wearing, anything so tacky so I just smile politely.

‘Look at this.’ Chortling away, Florence reaches toward the mannequin. ‘You just squeeze this pair of rubber balls here and …’

I watch as, predictably, the pink fluffy part of the boxer shorts rises into the air. Florence laughs, as though this is the funniest thing ever.

‘You reckon that your fiancé would like one of those, Miss Carter?’

Husband, not fiancé, I think, correcting Florence in my head. And my name is Ms Carter, not Miss Carter thank you very much.

And frankly, the equipment that Samuel already has is better than some tacky rude joke anyway. Still, I smile politely and say, ‘Not today.’

‘Oh well …’ Florence sighs, as if she is bitterly disappointed with me, and my complete lack of impulse purchasing. ‘Now,’ she says as she scans the ticket for my knickers. ‘For hygiene reasons we do not offer returns or refunds on briefs.’

She offers me a hard stare. And it is just then that it crosses my mind that maybe, just maybe she thought that horrid woman from months ago was telling the truth about me after all and that I really do have a fetish for spreading germs via lingerie shops. This calls for a major saving of face, so I offer Florence my best smile.

‘I’d be more surprised if you did,’ I say, trying to keep my voice all light and innocent. ‘I can’t imagine why anyone would try and return a pair of underpants that they have already worn to your store. That would just be grotty, wouldn’t it?’

A sighing Florence rings up my purchase and takes her time packing it inside a little decorative box and a bag. This takes a while, as she accidently knocks over a pile of knickers that were sitting on her counter in the process.

It is not only until after I get home and open my purchases that I discover something important. Florence has packed the wrong undies. Inside my bag, along with my bra is a pair of size sixteen silk bloomers. Great. Looks like I am not going to get a return on them. Florence and that other women who got arrested months ago probably both think that I have run through the house with the undies on my head or something equally ridiculous by now, anyway.

I guess that I will have to keep the bloomers and wait until I turn about fifty and then they might be of use to me.

Downstairs, the phone is ringing. I let it the answering machine pick it up and smile when I hear Ursula’s voice.

‘Abigail, Darling, call me back. You would not believe the terrible service that I got at L’duds today, you know that boutique at Hyde Park where all those young people go to buy racy underwear. The old, bogan biddy who works there and who likes to pretend that her name is something posh like Fleur, or Florence, gave me a horrible, stern lecture on how her store does not give refunds, and then she had the nerve to package and give me the wrong pair of underpants. What on earth am I going to do with these completely unsuitable, racy, size ten knickers …’

I think this may be one problem that my mother-in-law and I can help each other with.


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