Adapted from the Novel
Do You Have a Marriageable Mother?
Bebe and I had prayed for changes. I feared they were in the works.
My name is Ryan Hogue. My buddy is Bebe Whatcom. We are both widowers, new to our status, and lost.
After losing our loved ones, we feared what could happen next to two 50-year-old men who’d been mostly emotionally bottle-fed as adults. All the support we had was each other, so we’d decided to meet and talk our way out of our emotional foxholes—an intimate dinner, just the three of us: me, Bebe, and Janet, my wife’s ghost.
We dined at Twain’s, the new restaurant atop Abernathy’s former library, a place with a dignity of architecture and a sentimental attachment for the locals.
Management had taken care to create a family atmosphere and preserve some of the towns history, so Bebe and I volunteered to help restore another of the old rooms.
We dusted books and worked through a donation of antique wallpaper catalogues, cleaning and adding labels. Volunteering with the bookshelves beat going home to empty houses.
This room, this time, might be the place. Bebe’s waiting for his ideal woman to walk up his driveway and throw herself at him. One, Delia, already had—or so he hoped. Time would tell. My new significant other might walk through this door at any moment and discover me dusting one of Shakespeare’s works. I’d look sensitive. Literate. Conversation would ensue…
“Wake up, beaker-butt.” Janet interrupted by reminding me I was a chemist, not Steinbeck.
We took a break when the waiter delivered free dessert: Ryan’s Widow-maker Rhubarb Pie and Bebe’s Defibrillator Butterscotch Pudding. Fame. Our moment. I’d been promised a copy of the dessert menu suitable for framing.
I offered an opinion. “Women scare us beyond reason.”
“Scare isn’t the right word, but I admit we’re not ready to deal with them. We were paralyzed when Shirley threatened to shoot us us with Waldo.”
I blew the dust from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. “Have you called Delia?”
“I’m waiting for the right time. Back at you—have you taken your tee-shirt for a test drive?”
I’d been inspired to create a tee-shirt that read, Do you Have a Marriageable Mother? Well, he had me; I’d chickened out when I thought about going public. “I will when the time is right.”
“And when you do, I’ll ride along.” Janet. Too bad Bebe couldn’t hear her.
“Are we going to keep running?” Bebe was serious. We had to surface sometime.Insight was gaining ground. “My daughter owns me. I need to do something dramatic. Or silly. Or dangerous. The only way to win is to play with her head, but the only way to do that is to let her abuse it herself.”
“Are you going spacey on me again? Remember your audience, and simplify when you’re talking about women. Ya hear me?”
I spoke slowly and distinctly. “Our heads have claims staked by our neighbors, my daughter, your sisters-in-law, and God knows who else in or out of a skirt. We need to regain command.”
“As if you have a choice.” Janet.
Three-way conversations are the pits if one of the participants is invisible to the other two and unheard by one.
Bebe offered a gender stereotype. “If you advise a woman of something, she’ll think you’re lying.”
Bebe wiped off a collection of James Thurber stories. “We need to drop hints but look like we’re hiding something.”
“You guys are far too dense to play in Michelle’s league.” Janet with an advisory on our collective cranial thickness.
“I could hide a box of your chocolates in my shorts drawer.”
“Too obvious. Michelle will know you’re off her diet, but she can’t admit she poked around in your shorts drawer.”
Shorts—the answer! So obvious. We could serve notice we were funk-free. I was nuts but didn’t care. I placed Pygmalion on the shelf. “Shorts. Our answer is shorts.”
Bebe spooned some pudding. “Briefs or boxers? Do you want shorts to match the tee-shirt? Will you wear them on the outside? Will your slogan fit across your cheeks?”
Janet giggled, low and snarky.
I took a slice of pie. “Wrong gender, good sir. I meant lingerie.”
“Lingerie? You don’t have the right build. Ya hear me?”
“Not for me—lingerie for the woman I haven’t met yet and for my snoopy daughter to uncover.”
“Give me a minute. What are you saying?”
“What would happen if my daughter Michelle found a sexy nightgown in my closet?”
Bebe raised Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. “She’d make an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
“As she should.” Janet laughed with an implied harrumph!
“The sexier the silk, the better.”
Great ideas begin with a whisper of desperation.
Bebe snorted pudding out his nose. “I just pictured my sisters-in-law spotting a nightie through my window.”
An eagerness I had not felt since Janet’s passing assaulted me. “Lingerie for the women we have not yet met. We’re insane.”
“I agree with the insanity plea.” Janet—permanently present, always clear with her opinion.
I finished my pie and reached for more. An old lady slapped my hand.
I’d never shopped for women’s intimates. “Can I order off the net?”
“That’s my hero. Do the dirty from hiding.” Janet implied cowardice.
The old lady patted her lips before helping me. “You could, but you are halfway home and lost.”
Some answers aren’t helpful. I was forced to beg. “Then show me the way.”
She jabbed her berry-stained fork at me. “Shop in person at noon in the base camp of the enemy, and the whole town will know what you did by dinner.”
I still don’t know what to do. “Fine theory, milady. Where do we shop?”
The old woman finished her pie and answered when she was ready. “Mona’s at the mall.”
Bebe and I looked at each other as we had in the counseling session not long ago. We held our silent vote, and I verbalized our agreement. “Tomorrow at the mall? A team of two?”
Monsoon Mona’s Intimates—a formidable name that should drive any man with common sense to find somewhere else to suffer. My mission to end my misery overruled my instinct to run.
I joined Bebe shortly before noon Wednesday in front of the mall window at Mona’s. Three lingerie-clad manikins posed for us in attitudes reflecting their daily routines: reading the Wall Street Journal in her executive chair, cooking dinner from a recipe card in French, and exercising on a treadmill—all wearing jewelry and high heels. A fan-generated breeze added a semblance of seductive life.
Is this how others live? I don’t know and don’t want to ask.
This is stupid, shopping with my buddy to buy sexy bedwear for women we haven’t met yet. Who designed the display window, a fourteen-year-old with a hormone imbalance? These babes are calling in the fleet, not waiting for Daddy to come home after a hard day rolling cigars. Again, is this a real world? How do I find out?
We were a sorry pair to be seen shopping anywhere, let alone a lingerie store. Bebe had attempted suicide a few days ago and looked as though he’d succeeded. He had unpredictable cycles, high and low. He needed someone to match buttons and buttonholes when he got dressed. I saw my reflection from the window—a face as pale as a mime in whiteface. We were present to impress women with our desire to move forward.
Move forward. Move on. I’d been hearing that for months from people who had no idea. What should I do? If I take no steps nothing bad can happen—nothing good, either. So, I should climb out of my emotional foxholes and look around. I might if Bebe does. Maybe. We have different paths, but the same emotion—fear. After losing loved ones, what worse could happen now? Plenty. Step carefully.
“Easy-does-it, honey. I won’t leave you alone.” Solace from Janet went straight to my heart. My tear ducts were overworked, dry. Good news.
Bebe needed a shave. “Our grandmas’ cookbooks advised women they should greet their men in heels and pearls. Valerie served my dinner once in a see-through negligee.”
Janet did, too. How could I have forgotten?
“Another block of memory lost to stress—and one of my favorites. Poor baby.” Janet sounded sort of sincere.
I brought my head back to Bebe and the displays. “The middle babe is reading her recipe card in French. Do you see the opened gift box by the treadmill?”
Bebe cocked his head. “Which do you mean—the stiletto heels or the whip poking out?”
“Could the heels and whip be a present for her mother-in-law?”
“The ideal present for your mother-in-law is two bungee cords and a blindfold. Ya hear me?”
I’ve spent too much of my life in the lab and not enough in the locker room.
I felt awkward and I wasn’t even in the store yet. “I’d subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, but there aren’t any cartoons.”
Bebe offered sincere appraisals. “That financial honey is my wet dream. Hell, all of them are natural and innocent. Valerie warned me never to trust a woman with skinny ankles.”
“I have skinny ankles, and you have three days until the Abernathy Ball.” Janet followed me everywhere. Embarrassing.
Bebe ogled the lady on the treadmill. “I see something you don’t.”
I edged closer to the treadmill. “I’m not so sure. I see all I want.”
“I’m looking at a double-window reflection, and I see Michelle spying on us.”
Our plan is working, but not quite how I wanted. But Michelle’s learning I have a mind of my own.
“What a surprise—Michelle knows about our shopping trip. You’ve answered the question about whether we have to go in the store.”
“And when you go in, honey, know that I’m beside you no matter how stupid you get.” Janet.
Damn. Michelle outside and Janet inside. Is there a back door?
I led the way into the boutique as if I wanted to be there. The manikins inside were dressed the same as in the window, but without heads, arms, or legs.
One face stood out among the shoppers: Laura, a widow from the counseling session, examined a rhinestone-covered halter top. Her red hair complemented flashing earrings and a multicolored tiara. She dressed in basic black, befitting her status as a widow. Her dress extended from five inches above her knees to the middle of her bosom. A gold belt added contrast to her waist. She shopped with someone who appeared to be a daughter, a subdued version of her mother.
Laura wriggled to Bebe and hugged him. “Hi, Bebe. Remember me? I’m Laura.”
Bebe backed away. “Hi.”
A salesgirl hurried our way, her bosom bouncing over her top. I recognized her from the food court as Sandi, the blonde who’d inspired my Marriageable Mother shirt.
Sandi and Laura utilized the same dress code—abundant flesh. Sandi wore one of Michelle’s Don’t Feed My Daddy buttons and one that read, Make Love Tonight.
“You’re outnumbered one-to-two, honey. Sandi’s had a lifetime of practice and you guys don’t know the rules.” Janet telling me what I already knew.
Thank God for a shave and a haircut. The lady might not recognize me from the food court. Twain’s would be another matter.
Laura released Bebe, giving him space.
Sandi jerked her arms in excitement. “Oh boy, you’re here. Welcome.”
We’re here? Who? Us?
Bebe opened negotiations with his normal candor. “I’d like the phone number of the mademoiselle in the window with the French cookbook.”
Sandi smiled. “That is a manikin, sir, but I can arrange for home delivery.”
Her answer came so matter-of-factly, she shut down Bebe’s bluster.
Men don’t shop for entertainment, we enter stores to buy things. Our salesgirl has already sized up the two of us, older men without wedding rings, and declared victory over her rent payment. If Bebe orders a manikin and a blow-up doll, she’ll have both delivered tonight.
No other men graced the shop, except for the drag queen, a man around thirty who was smoothing an opaque gown against his cheek. Heels, lavender body suit, pearls, and a wig completed his wardrobe.
Bebe nodded in his direction. “Want to make a new friend?”
“I hope he’s taken, but I see a way to spook Michelle.”
Bebe eyed the drag queen. “I can guess what you’re thinking, and you’re on your own. Ya hear me?”
“I hear ya, Bebe. I’m not sure he does.” Janet, not quite getting my drift.
I’m listening. I’M LISTENING. I’m trying to build a new life. I have to bottom out somewhere. I do.
Sandi hadn’t lost her focus. “Gentlemen, in addition to the manikin, what are you looking for?”
I tore my gaze from the garter belt display. “I have a question.”
Sandi lifted an electronic device, possibly an order pad. “Go ahead. I’m here to help.”
I know you are, Sandi. So’s the man from the government. What the hell, ask her.
“Did you know we were coming?”
Sandi waved her device. “Other than three verbal reports on your recent conversations in Twain’s and one photo in a text message, I am flabbergasted by your visit. Stunned, really.”
We’d been outflanked, but I refused to allow our situation to dissuade me from extracting whatever gossip she’d divulge. “What else did you hear?”
She grinned at Bebe. “I heard that guys who talk into pepper shakers need practice before they call a live woman.”
Bebe and I had role-played calling women for dates from the restaurant using salt and pepper shakers for phones. It was a damned good thing we weren’t running for office.
Bebe rolled his eyes. “We’re hopeless. Send me the manikin.”
“You are days late to worry about looking foolish.” Janet, our public relations advisor.
“I ask again, sirs—tell me what you’re looking for. We have dainty undies, see-through bras, G-strings, dressing gowns, nylons, garter belts, edible panties, and lots of other goodies.”
Edible panties? How many calories? Carbs? Good cholesterol? Bad?
“Come back to Abernathy, soldier.” Janet with my marching orders.
Sandi marched forward and offered me a pair of green panties with a matching bra. I stepped back, but she closed in on me with a sheer nightgown, which she draped from her chest to magnificent effect. I retreated again, and then found my voice, “I want something for a woman.”
“Are you sure?” Janet’s snicker had echoes. Had she brought friends?
The watching shoppers gawked at us. Sandi ignored them and pursued satisfying her rent check. “What size is she?”
If I knew who she was I might know her size, Also, I wouldn’t need to be here.
“I don’t know.” What could I say? I was drowning in an estrogen ocean.
I knew she was trying to elicit information by visual means, and since I couldn’t vocalize, I might be able to point and grunt. I had no idea what to buy, but Sandi was working diligently to separate me from my cash. “How old is she?”
Bebe answered for me. “He doesn’t know.”
She’s old enough to not want a man.
“What’s her hair color?”
I couldn’t answer questions about age, size, or hair color. I was insane to be there.
“Amen.” Janet. Why couldn’t she tell me what to say?
Bebe lifted a transparent nightgown off the rack and examined it against his six-five frame. The drag queen edged closer and did a bump and grind without moving his feet. “If you buy the big size, big boy, I’ll model for you.”
“I’ll consider your offer when I’m ready.”
Wow! Bebe is in command today!
Bebe’s new friend didn’t need much encouragement. “We haven’t met. My name is Whisper, Whisper Tumi.”
Bebe shook Whisper’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Whisper. I’m Bebe, and I’ll be sure to ask for your modeling help if I get a six-foot girlfriend.”
Whisper backed away trailing his fingers over Bebe’s hand as they parted. “When I see one, I’ll send her your way.”
Bebe held the same garment up to Laura, who threw her bosom forward. I hadn’t seen that much quivering, tanned gelatin gushing over the top of a dress, ever.
Laura had an opportunity in mind. “Bebe, a gown so lovely should be modeled in private. I volunteer.”
“I already have an offer.”
Sandi raised the stakes. “You don’t have to buy the merchandise to use the modeling room.”
Bebe went from a state of only slightly agitated to demonstrating how much a man can sweat. “Really?”
Sandi really wanted a sale. “We have rooms reserved for private showings. You can take as much time as you need.”
Laura would not be turned down. “Bebe, honey, help me decide whether I look better either in green or in nothing.” Laura’s daughter showed sudden interest in going toward the exit.
Bebe hunched his shoulders and spoke through the sweat. “Laura, honey, I can’t leave Ryan alone. We have some serious shopping to do. Ya hear me?”
Laura stood on her toes and rocked back on her heels. The action sent gelatinous ripples cascading from her dress top to her shoulder bones. “Ryan, you can come too.”
Don’t breathe. Don’t move, and no one will see my hard-on.
“She’s talking to you, my boyish hunk. Are you game?” Janet was so encouraging.
I pretended I hadn’t heard Laura’s offer. Or Janet.
“I didn’t know you were already friends. I’ll leave you alone.” Whisper spoke to all of us and left for another part of the store.
Bebe held the lingerie up to Laura’s daughter, a woman of around twenty years. She slid behind her mother. “Is that a no?”
The daughter took her mother’s arm and pulled her into the mall.
Sandi pointed to Bebe’s garment. “Do you like that one?”
“I’ll take two.” Bebe hadn’t looked at the price.
Sandi tried to teach someone who couldn’t learn. “You should choose one of these and one of something else. Most women wouldn’t want two of the same thing.”
I applied my view of the problem. “He’s buying on spec. He doesn’t know the woman he’s buying the gowns for, or even how many women are in his future. He’s preparing.”
Bebe had his perspective, not totally flawed. “It’s like getting in shape for the playoffs.”
Sandi labored to keep us happy. She had to educate men operating outside of their comfort levels and allay their fears of buying the wrong goods. An obvious layer of terror lurked under our bravado. Did she have an agenda to fix one of us up with her mother, aunt, or older sister? Picking a widower would be a safe bet.
Now I knew why we sometimes attracted positive feminine attention. We’d been successfully married, proven worthy of future matrimony. The women we might meet just wanted a man who would love them. They didn’t need charm or a handsome car.
Sandi had been well trained—get the facts. “Buying on spec?”
I fondled a leather bra with buckskin fringes hanging down. A lady truck driver had distracted our crew by wearing something similar on our loading dock once. I offered Sandi an example. “A contractor who builds a house on spec doesn’t know who’s moving in.”
“Whoever moves in will not like rawhide.” Janet set me straight.
“Contractor? House?” Sandi looked like she needed a timeout. Her prospective clients babbled nonsense. Good thing she couldn’t hear Janet.
Bebe confirmed what I’d said. “That’s right, spec lingerie. We don’t know who’s going to fill these out.”
I added vital information. “Buy the right pieces and she will come.”
Bebe banged his forehead with the heel of his hand—acknowledging my play on words. We were retaking territory lost in the gender wars.
“Do you have anything on sale?” My question rewarded me with raised eyebrows from Bebe. “If you can buy sheets and learn women’s rules, I can ask for sales.”
Bebe had taken an informal lesson on how women shop from Turk, a local dry cleaner whose views on women bordered on the twelfth century. Bebe had promptly purchased several sets of sheets—a first-time sheet-shopper.
“We have the over-the-shoulder boulder holders on special. Those are bras we bought for our well-endowed clientele, but the market was smaller than we anticipated.” Sandi’s grin showed she knew how to play with words, too.
“What colors do they come in?”
The salesgirl looked out of step as she followed our conversation. “Red, black, and see-through.”
“I’ll take one of each. Make them the smallest you have.”
“Oh-my-gawd, you’re actually buying something.” Janet, surprised and possibly aghast.
Bebe expanded on my order. “That’s the spirit. Same for me. No sense in not covering the bases.”
An eighty-year-old woman examined a sheer pajama top. Was she shopping for a granddaughter, or for herself?
What the hell IS my problem? This is like shopping for a digital thermometer from a catalogue, where I have options of temperature ranges and display types—there are no bad choices. Mona’s offers selections of color and size. I can’t make a bad decision.
Clarification traveled unchanged from my brain to my tongue—a rare occurrence. “I can simplify what I want. Bring me a heavy blue silk nightgown with a matching dressing gown and slippers. Don’t forget pajamas.”
“Great idea, honey. Don’t forget to order for me, too.” Janet, again asking the impossible.
Sandi lit up like a runway. “Yes, sir. What size?”
I lost my brilliant streak. “Uhh, size?”
“Why not order to fit me, darling husband? You did finally learn my size, didn’t you?”
No, but I’ve wished a thousand times I had.
“Why not size the lot to fit the woman of your dreams?” Bebe’s advice was useless.
I answered as would an analytical chemist. “My best guess is that she will be older and therefore a size larger than you. While you’re sifting through the inventory, bring me the same items in green and red.”
Sandi closed her eyes. “Oh, happy day.” She started for the back of the store.
“Stop.” Bebe roared like an old gorilla.
“I want the same items, but in yellow, black, and pink. Ya hear me?”
“You still don’t know my size, do you, honeybunch?” Janet, with a poke, slightly less painful than a jab.
Sandi hugged her order device and our credit cards to her. “Allah be praised.”
I previewed a flash of a wet future. “Do you deliver?”
“Yes, we do.”
“In that case, I’ll give you my neighbor’s phone number, so you can get safe conduct to the porch. You better ask Bebe for the same.”
We paid our bills and attempted to leave with a dozen women gawkers blocking the exit. I noticed Don’t Feed My Daddy buttons in the crowd.
Michelle is lurking outside.
Bebe brought in a question from the blue. “Do we have enough of an inventory to trade?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have red, blue, and green, and I have yellow, pink, and black. We may discover that you or I will be better suited for ladies attracted to another color.”
“Stock a lingerie closet and she will come. If you don’t like what you catch, swap the bait?” I was beyond rationality.
Bebe held the door for me. “We could start a club for guys with lingerie.”
“Include Whisper.” Janet the Snark.