Alexis Bowe: The Proof Is in the Panties
Fiona’s tiny little body comes waddling toward me as I sit on the couch, flipping through channels on the TV. When she stops at my feet, she begins making throaty hacking noises.
I kneel down beside her and run my hand over the thin velvety mane of her back. “What’s wrong?” I ask, stroking her fur as she continues to cough and hack.
And then finally, she begins to regurgitate, and spits out something pink and lacy that I have to pull from the back of her throat. When she finally coughs up the tiny thong, I stare at it sitting on the floor amongst the chunky bile.
It’s the type of thong I would never wear. Lace irritates my sensitive bikini area, so I only wear cotton, and I’ve never liked pink. It’s the type of thong you wear when you’re trying to look sexy. It’s the type of thong you wear for a man.
Fiona nudges her wet nose against my thigh, which is still level to her, as I kneel over these panties that are mocking me now. She lets out a low sympathetic whimper as if to say, “I’m sorry you had to find out this way.”
“Come on,” I tell her, rising back to my feet and walking to the kitchen. She trots behind me, sitting down on the tile floor as I take out a Dentastix from the box we keep on top of the fridge. She gnaws gratefully on it when I give it to her.
I look back into the living room, back at the vomited up pair of panties, and I feel numb. When could this have happened? It had to have been one of the nights I worked late at the restaurant this week. He brought her, whoever the fuck she is, into my apartment. Into my bed. He fucked her where we sleep. Where he fucks me.
I don’t want to try and imagine what this girl looks like, but my brain is unstoppable now. She’s probably prettier than me. After all, why would he go behind my back to fuck someone who’s less attractive than I am? Of course she’s prettier.
She’s probably got a big ass and a tiny stomach. Perky breasts and tiny little mosquito bite nipples that are somehow always hard. The kind of nipples that porn stars have. In my mind, she’s tan with dark features. The complete opposite of my pale blonde self.
I bet she’s good at applying makeup, too. I bet her eyeliner doesn’t smudge when he’s fucking her, even when they do it doggy style, and her face is buried in the pillow on which I lay my head down at night. She probably lets him cum on her face. A girl who wears panties like that always lets the guy cum on her face.
And I bet she’s never too tired or too stressed, or just not in the mood. I bet she’s ready whenever, waiting patiently by her cell phone for his text. Come over. And when she gets it, she puts on her lacy pink panties, and does her hair and her makeup, and comes to my apartment to fuck my boyfriend in my bed.
She knows about me too. She has to. A single guy wouldn’t have a hair straightener sitting on his bathroom counter, or Minnetonka boots sitting by his front door, or a framed photo of me and my sister sitting on the desk in his room. And even if he was smart enough to hide all of these traces of me and then put them back exactly where they were before I got home, he couldn’t mask the smell of the Japanese cherry blossom wallflower that I’d gotten from Bath & Body Works or the faint scent of J’adore that lingers in the air after I spritz it on every morning.
No, she knows about me. She knows and she came here and fucked him anyways.
I glance down at Fiona, who’s almost finished up her Dentastix, and realize that she was here during it. He brought that bitch around my baby.
She looks up at me with those big brown eyes, and I can’t help but feel like she ate the panties on purpose, or as if she intended to throw them up in front of me, to inform me of what went on here when I wasn’t around.
I kneel down again and nuzzle my head against hers, giving her a kiss on her slightly pudgy scrunched-up face. “Oh Fi,” I say, keeping her head close to mine. “What are we gonna do now?”
I pace around the apartment until he arrives home, leaving the panties exactly where Fiona threw them up, right in front of the couch. I want to see the look on his face when he realizes what they are. I want to see the look on his face when he realizes that I know.
When I hear his keys jiggling in the lock of the front door, Fiona and I both perk up. She waddles over to the door, wagging her little stub of a tail and barking her squeaky bark at him.
“Relax,” he says to her. She hovers around his ankles as he closes the door. “Rachel, can you please control your dog?”
I stand next to the panties with my arms crossed over my chest. I don’t say a word.
“Rach?” He looks up at me now, confusion knitting his eyebrows together.
I feel a pang of grief, cold and rock hard inside my chest, as his eyes meet mine. I decided in those forty-two minutes between Fiona throwing up the panties and Nick arriving home, that this was the final straw. I was going to break up with him. I was so confident in my decision, so ready to go off on him the moment he walked in the door. But now, standing in front of him, with those green eyes I’d come to know so well over the past two years staring back at me, all I can think about is how we’ll never get to go on that trip to Denver he promised me when I told him that I’d never seen a mountain in real-life before.
I stare back at him, my lips pressed into a tight line, watching as his eyes linger down to my feet where the panties lay. They go wide with recognition, then dart away nervously.
“So?” I say to him.
He begins sliding his shoes off, keeping his head down, avoiding my gaze. I stare at his profile, at that angular jaw, prickly with a five o’clock shadow.
When he looks up at me, it’s only momentarily. “What?” he says, already defensive.
I scoff. “You tell me.”
His eyes dance over to the panties again. “Did Fiona eat a pair of your underwear or something? I’ve told you that you need to train that dog better. She’s always getting into shit and barking at me every time I come into the room.”
Fiona stands at his ankles, still wagging her tail, her pointy little ears perked up.
“She barks at you because she doesn’t like you, and she doesn’t like you because you’re an asshole to us,” I remark.
He hangs his keys on the hook near the door and slips out of his leather jacket, tossing it over the arm of the couch.
“How am I an asshole to you?” he asks, and I can’t tell if he truly doesn’t know or if he’s just buying time.
“Gee,” I say. “How are you an asshole to me? Should we start with the yelling or the gaslighting?” I put a finger up in the air, my eyes lighting up theatrically. “Oh I know! Let’s start with the cheating.” I re-cross my arms and narrow my eyes at him.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he says to me, darting his eyes away again.
“Those panties are not mine,” I say. “So if they’re not mine, then who the fuck’s are they?”
His hands go up in exasperation. “How should I know? They’re not mine.”
“And yet they’re here in our apartment. So if they don’t belong to either of us, then how did they end up here? I’m not stupid, Nick. Just save us both some time and admit it already!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He is resilient. That’s okay, though. I expected him to be.
This isn’t the first time I’ve accused him of cheating. I’ve had suspicions before. Little inklings that nagged at me each time he set his phone face down on the table, or didn’t text back when I came home to an empty apartment after work and messaged him to ask where he was. Whenever I confronted him about these suspicions, he’d always find a way to turn it on me. To make me feel like I was crazy to doubt his faithfulness.
I knew that today would be no different. I knew his first instinct would be to lie. But the difference between today and all those other days, is that today I have proof.
He walks past me into the kitchen and grabs a PBR out of the fridge, popping the tab open loudly. Fiona trots over to the space between him and I. She looks at me, then back to him, as if letting me know that she’s still got her eye on him for me.
“You are such a fucking liar,” I snap. “I have proof that you cheated laying right here on the floor next to me, and you’re gonna stick with your I don’t know bullshit? It’s over. You’re caught. Just admit it already!”
He takes a long sip from his beer can before responding. When he sets it down, he’s got this smug, condescending look in his eyes, and it makes me wonder if part of him enjoys these fights we have. If maybe somewhere deep down, he gets off on manipulating me into believing that I’m crazy. If he likes having that power over me.
“I’m not gonna admit to something that I didn’t do,” he says. We stare across the counter at each other in a stalemate.
I feel my nails begin to dig into my palms and realize that I’ve balled my hands into fists at my sides. It’s bad enough that he made a fool out of me by cheating on me in the apartment that I let him move into, and in the bed that I allowed him to sleep in. It’s bad enough that all our friends are probably going to take his side, even though he’s the one who cheated, because they were his friends first, so there’s a level of loyalty to him that they must abide by. It’s bad enough that I didn’t listen to my gut that first time, nine months into the relationship, when I thought he was acting suspicious.
But for him to stand here and lie to my face, to try to keep me from leaving him, so that he can continue to cheat on me, to manipulate me, is just too much.
“Stop fucking lying to me!” My voice thunderously roars throughout the apartment. A frightened whimper escapes Fiona’s throat, and she looks up at me with wide eyes.
“Jesus Christ,” Nick says, slamming his beer down on the counter. “Do you hear yourself? You sound psychotic.”
My arms begin shaking and I feel my throat begin to constrict. Do not cry, I silently order myself. Not now. Not in front of him.
“What’s psychotic is the fact that you lie so much that I actually think you believe the things you say sometimes. Lying comes more naturally to you than honesty does.”
He rolls his eyes at me and lets out a snicker. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s like you tell yourself these things about me, and you trick yourself into believing them, even though they aren’t true. Those are probably your panties, but you want so badly to be able to be right for once that you’ve made yourself believe they’re someone else’s.”
I know they aren’t mine, but I can’t help but think back to all the pairs of panties I’ve ever owned, all the trips to Victoria’s Secret I’ve ever taken. Maybe I bought them and forgot about them. Maybe I bought them and just never wore them, because the lace irritated my skin.
I will not let him do this to me again.
“They’re not mine and you aren’t going to trick me into thinking that they are.” Good, I tell myself. Stand your ground.
“Whatever. You can keep on telling yourself that I cheated, but that’s not gonna make it true. It’s only gonna drive you even more crazy.”
I knew he’d lie at first, but I thought by now he’d come around. I have physical evidence of his infidelity after all. How much longer can he really deny it?
“If you’re not cheating, then show me your phone.”
“I’m not going to show you my phone just to prove myself to you. I respect your privacy, so respect mine.”
I pull my cell phone out of the back pocket of my jeans and hold it up to him. “Here,” I say. “Go ahead and look through it. Unlike you, I have nothing to hide.”
He shakes his head. Darts his eyes away. Takes a sip of his beer.
“I’m not going to look through your phone, Rach. I don’t need to. I trust you.”
“Well I don’t trust you.”
“Well that’s not my fucking fault.”
We both stare at each other now, waiting for someone to crack. That someone is usually me. It’s easier to listen to Nick when he tells me that he doesn’t want anyone but me, and that I’m being paranoid, than it is to listen to my gut when it tells me he’s full of shit. It’s easier to pretend that everything is fine, than to accept the fact that it isn’t.
But I can’t pretend that everything is fine anymore. Not with these panties lying on the ground next to me.
“Get out,” I say.
“What?” he demands.
“Get out!” I shout, so loud that the words scratch my throat. “Grab what you need for tonight and get the fuck out of my apartment. We’ll figure out a time for you to come back for the rest of your things, but right now you need to go.”
He chuckles wryly at me. “Babe, calm down. You’re getting worked up over nothing. Why don’t you have a beer with me and we’ll work this all out, okay?”
“No,” I remark. “I don’t want a beer and I don’t want to work anything out. What I want is for you to leave. Now.”
I’ve never taken it this far before. I’ve screamed and yelled and cried and threatened, but I’ve always fallen through at the end. I’ve always allowed myself to think about all of the good things about Nick—the dimple he gets in his right cheek when he smiles really big, those lazy Sunday mornings when he makes us breakfast and we eat it in bed together naked, how he always makes sure that I bring a snack with me when he knows I’m working a long shift at the restaurant. I start to think of all the good things and it makes the bad things seem less real. But despite how much Nick may or may not love me, one thing I know for sure now, is that he’s cheated on me. He did a very bad thing, and no amount of big dimpled smiles or breakfasts in bed can erase that.
“You can’t just kick me out,” he says, growing angry now. “I live here too!”
“Is your name on the lease?” I retort, and my mouth can’t help but curl up into a smirk after I say this, because I have the power now and, damn, does it feel good.
He deadpans me, a muscle in his jaw twitching, as he grits his teeth together behind closed lips. He shakes his head gently, saying nothing.
“No, it’s not,” I answer for him. “So give me your key and get the fuck out. Go stay with your other girlfriend.”
His grip tightens around his can of beer, denting the aluminum. With a sudden jerk of his arm, he heaves it into the sink. It lands with a loud clash, amber colored beer fizzing out, making both Fiona and I jump.
“Fine,” he says, his voice oozing with venom. “I’ll leave. But when you wake up tomorrow and realize what a huge mistake you’ve made, don’t come crawling back to me.”
“Believe me, I won’t,” I remark. I knit my arms together over my chest, and follow him into the bedroom, watching as he packs his clothes, toothbrush, deodorant, and phone charger all into the duffle bag he usually takes to the gym. Fiona trots along beside me, never leaving my side.
When he’s done, I follow him back out into the living room. He slips his jacket and shoes back on and slings his gym bag over his shoulder. I watch as he takes his key ring off the hook by the door and begins fumbling with it. As I watch him struggle to remove that little gold key, I think back to the day when I gave it to him. We’d been together for a year at that point. The lease on his apartment was coming to an end, so I told him he could come over and I’d help him look for a new apartment. Only when he got there, I said that I’d already found one that would be perfect for him.
“It’s this really great one-bedroom in Wicker Park, right off of Milwaukee Avenue. It’s walking distance from the Blue Line, and best of all, it’s really close to me,” I told him.
“Wow, really?” he replied, his eyes lighting up. “That’s great! Should we call to go look at it?”
It was then that I smiled and pulled the key that I’d gone to the machine at 7-Eleven to make a copy of that morning out of my pocket and handed it to him. “You’re actually already here,” I said.
Now, he takes that key and throws it onto the carpeted floor in front of him. He turns around, about to leave.
“I think you’re forgetting something,” I say just before his hand reaches the doorknob.
He stops and lets out an exaggerated sigh before turning around to face me. “What?” he demands.
I glance down to the panties that lay at my feet.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asks. I don’t laugh. I’m not kidding. He scoffs. “Fuck you. Those aren’t mine. Your dog is the one who puked them up, so you can clean them up yourself.”
I’m boiling over on the inside. My body has a mind of its own, and it doesn’t think twice before reaching down for the panties and flinging them in his direction as he turns back around. When they land with a splat on the back of his leather jacket then fall to his feet, I can practically see the smoke fuming out of his ears.
I wait for him to react, but he just stands there with clenched fists and tensed shoulders. And then he leaves. The door slams behind him, making me flinch. And then silence.
I feel a tickle on my ankle and look down to find Fiona nuzzling her head against me. I smile and scoop her up into my arms, kissing the crown of her silky head.
We walk into the kitchen and I grab two black garbage bags from underneath the sink, then walk into the bedroom and set Fiona down on the bed where she circles around before finding a comfy spot to curl up into a ball on. She watches with wide brown eyes as I open the drawers of the dresser, and begin putting everything that belongs to Nick into the garbage bag I’m holding.
All of the overpriced t-shirts from brands like Obey and Supreme and Thrasher. The countless pairs of plaid boxers and Nike briefs. All the rolled up pairs of socks. The many pairs of jeans and basketball shorts and track pants.
When the first bag is full, I move to the closet and begin filling the second one with all of the shirts and jackets of his that are hanging in it. I toss the half-empty tub of protein powder that he left sitting on the floor near the bed in there, too. Then I move into the living room and dump all of his videogames inside. I’ll figure out how to unplug the PlayStation later.
I top it off with the pair of panties that I grab off of the living room floor, then tie both bags shut and set them by the front door. I pour baking soda on the vomit, and go back into the bedroom, plopping down on the bed next to Fiona. As I lay back on my elbows, glancing around my bedroom, an odd sense of serenity washes over me.
“Oh Fi,” I say, stroking that spot behind her ear that she loves. “What are we gonna do now?”