I blushed as I asked her the question. Her wide-eyed, innocent expression made it worse. For her a question asked many times before. But for me, a new experience.
“Where will I get a nightdress?”
Then, to cap my male embarrassment with stupidity, I added with an air of jocularity, “Not for myself of course. It’s for my wife.”
Mentally kicking myself, I took the escalator to the first floor. Each clickety click of the ride I was haunted by the salesgirl’s humourless look. “She must have thought I was some sort of nut” I mumbled to myself. In a sort of reflex action I looked around to see if anyone had heard my self-criticism. With a sigh of relief I saw that they hadn’t.
In that frame of mind I stood at the top of those moving stairs. All around were garments for the gentler sex to weaken the stronger sex. Women staff were everywhere. There wasn’t a male in sight. I began to feel like a mouse in a cat’s home. My male ego cringed before foundation garments, lace panties and other unmentionables. Glancing right, left, and to the rear I could see no-one I knew. So, collecting the shattered remnants of my confidence so carefully built up[ over the past few days, I propelled myself through the lingerie department. I came to a standstill at my destination amidst the nightdresses and pyjamas.
There I stood in my charcoal blue suit, brownish hat and flushed cheeks. With the background of multi-coloured nighties I felt even more self-conscious and conspicuous.
“O horrors,” I thought, “What if I meet somebody I know?” Just then, one of the saleswomen approached me. She was a tall, slim, dark haired woman in her early thirties. Her pleasant smile, plus her charming, friendly and business-like manner put me more at ease. Mentally I said “Thank goodness” for she did not have that slinky walk which I had associated with this department.
“Can I help you? Are you a salesman?”
“Well, no” I managed to smile. I wished I was one but added, “I’d like to look at some nightdresses. I want to buy a Christmas present for my wife.”
She asked me the amount I was willing to pay. I told her an amount. To be honest, I felt that the estimate was quite generous, especially as there didn’t seem to be anything to the garments. When the saleslady told me that the prices went up to fifty or sixty dollars (and dearer elsewhere) I nearly hiccupped. In one breath I was revealed as a skinflint. Still, necks can be stretched but dollars can’t. So my estimate stuck.
Then began a new phase in my ordeal. I was walked up and down aisles where these dainty items hung. There were long ones, short ones, lace ones and plain ones. The woman pulled them from out of draws, from under the counter and from behind curtains. I was shown specials, discontinued lines and the most up-to-date fashions. My mind reeled under the impact. Picturing my wife in some of them sent me from suppressed laughter to embarrassed delight.
Suddenly the saleslady was called away for a few moments. There I was left holding three or four different shapes, sizes and colours of night attire. Boy, was I feeling queer. If anyone had appeared who I knew I think I would have dropped the lot and run. Silliest thing of all was that I didn’t know my wife’s size. Wanting it to be a surprise I hadn’t asked her, and I sire wouldn’t ask anyone else. But I remembered hearing her say that she had lost weight. She boasted that now she could get into some S.W. dresses. So, when asked I had knowingly said, “S.W. please.”
Then the colour had to be chosen. From memory I began to recall the various colours of my wife’s nighties. For this I was acclaimed as a rare male. “My husband wouldn’t have a clue what I wore” the woman said. “Some husbands must be blind” I thought. “Still, that’s their business.” The more I lingered over the nighties, the more I was lost in the land of indecision. Short or long? Blue, red, green or what? Close the eyes and pick? Hardly. O well, a decision has to be reached. Here goes.
“I’ll take … that shorties one there. Yes, that’s right. The apricot coloured one with the white lace in front.” With bold decision my mind found peace. My shoulders straightened. My confidence came creeping back.
Swapping cash for the parcel I said as a parting shot, “Sure hope my wife likes it!” With a twinkle in her eyes the saleslady assured me that my wife would be overjoyed. I felt ten feet tall as I walked away.
Going down the stairs, as the escalator only went up, I began seeing myself as one who had just conquered some untamed territory. I was the hero of the lingerie ‘jungle.’ I could hardly wait for Christmas. At our place this is always a time of delight. But as our children woke us up in the wee small hours of the morning I became torn between delight and despair. What would she say? Would she really like it? Would it fir? Did the colour suit her?
As she unwrapped the small parcel my questions were joined by her “What is it?” Her eyes widened with surprise and delight and perhaps a little unbelief as she took it out and unfolded it. Even before I received a big hug and a soft “Thank you” I knew the ordeal had been worth it.
Unfortunately, it was too small. So it had to be changed. Did I ride the escalator once more? Did I brave the stares of the women and mingle nonchalantly amongst the lingerie? Did I boldly say, “A bigger size please”? Not on your life! My wife did that. I stood on guard at the base of the stairs.
This was perhaps my earliest foray into writing many, many years ago.
©Ray Hawkins Oct. 22 2016.