Karl Harshbarger

The Face of Her Lavender Panties

Casey’s date let out a shriek when she saw the crowd of people spilling out around the sidewalk cafes on Seventeenth Street.  An actual shriek.  Really loud.

“Hey, you know, it’s Saturday night,” Casey said taking her hand and pulling her into the crowd.

“Oh, wow!”

They followed right behind some other college guys who were following right behind a car with a load of girls.  The girls’ car couldn’t go any faster because of all the people walking in the middle of the street, so the guys started pounding on the trunk of the car.  One of the girls leaned out her window and shouted, “Now you stop that!”

The guys laughed and, what do you know? Casey’s date shrieked, really loud again.

The guys stopped pounding on the trunk of the car, and they all turned to look at her.

“Well, hi, there,” one of them said.

“And who are you?” said another.

“This way,” said Casey steering his date toward the sidewalk and the apartment building where he lived.

“But, doll, don’t leave us now!” called one of the guys.

“Baby!” called another.

“Wow!” Casey’s date said looking at the building.  “Here?  You actually live here?  Right, right here on Seventeenth?”

“I do.”

“Right, right, right, right here?”

“Right, right, right here.”

Casey put the key in the lock, and the door opened.

“See?”

He stepped halfway in.

“Well . . . ,” she said, not coming in yet.  Those guys out on the street were still watching her.

“Come on!” Said Casey giving her a pull.

She almost tripped on the little step at the door and shrieked again.  She was really loud when she shrieked.  It was all a bit unbelievable.

“Shhh!” said Casey closing the door behind her.

She held her finger up to her mouth.  “Shhh!” she said.  “Shhh!”

Now that they were inside out of the air Casey sure smelled alcohol on her breath.  So she’d been drinking already.  That is, before he picked her up.  Which wasn’t such a bad thing.  Not at all.

“This way.”  Casey indicated she was to go up the stairs ahead of him.

But instead, she got up on her tiptoes and leaned in close to Casey so that she could whisper into his ear.  Now he could really smell her breath.   She’d damn well been drinking.

“Your name is Casey, right?  Casey.  Not John or Harry or Edward or something?

“No, no.  ‘Casey.’”

“Casey, you’re not going to take me up there to your room and show me your etchings, are you?”

She let out another of her shrieks.  My God, she could be loud.

“Shhh!  Shhh!”  She held her finger up to her lips and pretended to address people who weren’t there.  “Shhh!  Shhh!”

“Come on.”  Again Casey indicated she was to proceed him up the stairs.

“Out of my way,” she said pushing imaginary people back and, at last, starting up the stairs.  “Just out of my way, there.”

Casey followed behind her.  She was dressed in a kind of cowgirl outfit, a white, fringed blouse and fringed blue jeans and pointed western boots.  The jeans were really tight and following up the stairs from behind Casey had a good look at how her ass shifted from one side to the other.

Yeah, thought Casey.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Because there wasn’t a whole lot of doubt about what was going to happen next.

Except after two flights of stairs she stopped.

“Hey, I live on the top floor,” said Casey passing her and going up to the next half-landing.  “Come on,” he said down to her.

Thank God, she started up again.  He unlocked his door and watched her coming the rest of the way up.  Because he was above her, he could look down the neck of her fringed blouse and see the beginnings of her breasts.

“This is where you live?” she said when she got beside him.

Again he could smell the alcohol on her breath.

“Sure is.”

He pointed to the two nameplates beside the door.  One of them had his name on it.

“And this other guy?  Arthur?  Who’s this Arthur?”  She put the finger on the other nameplate.

“That’s Arthur Harrington.  He shares the apartment with me.  But he’s in Philadelphia this weekend.”

“Arthur?  Arthur?  You got a roommate with the name of Arthur?”

“Yes.”

“Arthur!”

She shrieked again.

“Shhh!” said Casey.

“Shhh!  Shhh!  Shhh!”  She held her finger up to her mouth and aimed herself at imaginary people around her.

“He’s in Philadelphia this weekend.”  Casey wanted to make sure she got this point.  “He left yesterday, and he won’t be back until Sunday evening.”

She looked up at Casey.  For the first time, he noticed she had blue eyes.

“Casey – that is your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, my name is Casey.”

“Casey, Casey, Casey.  You’ve got to promise me.  See, Casey, you’re not like most boys, Casey.  You’re a nice boy.  A really, really, nice boy, a nice, nice boy, and you’re studying law or medicine or engineering . . . .”

She stopped.  She seemed to have lost the train of her thought.

Then she started up again.  “You’re a nice boy, Casey.  Do you know that?  You are really a nice, nice boy.”

Casey indicated again that she was to enter his apartment.

“In?” she said.

“In,” said Casey.

“To your apartment?”

“To my apartment.”

Thank God, she went in.  But she didn’t even wait for Casey to close the door.  She went right down the hallway and turned into the first room.  Casey followed her.

“This your room?”

“No, this is Arthur’s room.”

She pulled a large book off the bookshelf, put it down on Arthur’s bed, opened it up and read the title:  “‘Iridology:  A Complete Guide to Diagnosing Through the Iris and to Related Forms of Treatment.'”

Casey stood behind her looking at her ass.

“‘Iridology!'”

“He’s a med student,” said Casey.

“A med student!”

She walked out of the room leaving the book on the bed and Casey followed her down the hallway to the next room, his room.

“You hang out here?”

She was already going through the things on his desk.

“What’s this?”

She held up his manuscript.

“That’s my senior thesis.”

She read out the title.  “‘An Examination into Certain Contradictions in the Writings of Emmanuel Kant.'”  She had trouble in saying all the words correctly.  “So who’s this Kant guy?”

“A philosopher.  A German philosopher.  He lived some time ago.”

“And this?  Your father?”

She was looking at the picture on the wall.

“That’s my major professor, Dr. Albright.  He’s the one I’m primarily writing my senior thesis for.”

She had leaned in close to the photograph.

“‘For Casey.  With all the best.  Tom Albright.’  He wrote that to you?”

“Yes.  It was a gift for my last birthday.”

“That’s nice.  That’s because you’re a nice boy, Casey.  You are.  You know that, Casey.  You are a nice, nice boy.”

And she was out of his room.  Casey followed her down the hall.

“Your bathroom?” she said, not going in.

“The bathroom.”

She also didn’t go into his bedroom at the end of the hall.

“You and Arthur share this bed?”

“No, no, not at all.  He uses the bed in his room.”

“You got a bedroom and Arthur doesn’t?”

“His room is bigger than mine.  And he’s got a bed in there.  We made that agreement at the beginning of the year.”

“Yeah?  Well, you got the better deal.  Pretty smart of you, Casey.  You got two rooms, and he’s got only one.”

She stepped across the hallway into the living room, sat down in the nearest chair and – a good sign – began to pull off her cowboy boots.

“Hey,” she said, waving one of the boots at the windows, “right on Seventeenth.”

Without asking Casey or anything like that she hopped over and opened one of the windows.  The noise from all the people out there poured in.

Hello!” she shouted out.

My God, she had a really loud voice.

Hello, you all!” she shouted again, now holding up her one cowboy boot.

Some guys on the street noticed her.  They waved.  One of them whistled.

Help!  Help!  He’s trying to murder me!”

She was leaning further and further out the window, and suddenly it came to Casey that she was just drunk enough that she might fall.

He got his arms around her waist and pulled.  And, yeah, she fell back onto him, her hair all around his head.

“Whoopsie!” she said letting herself go limp so that Casey’s hands slipped up under her armpits.  She turned her face toward him, and he bent down toward her lips.

But, damn! She tightened her whole body and pitched forward.

“Oh, no!  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, Casey!   No, no, no!”

She twisted away from Casey’s arms, straightened herself up and wagged her finger.  “Oh, no, no, no, no, no.”

She hopped around pulling off the other boot.

Casey went over and closed the window, shutting out most of the sound from the street, and when he turned around saw that she’d gone over to the door which led out onto the balcony.

“What’s this door for?”

“That?”

He came over to where she was and started to turn the key in the lock of the door.

“Just one moment,” she said.  “Just you wait one moment.  You just let me do that.”

She took Casey’s hand away from the key and then put her own hand there.

“So which way do I turn?”

“To the left.”

“Right, left?  Left, right?”

“That way.”  Casey showed her with his hand.

“That way.”

She turned the key, the door opened, and she stepped out onto the balcony.

“Oh, my God, Casey.  Oh, my God.”

That’s how everyone reacted when they saw the view for the first time.  Especially at night.  Because from here you could see down to the river and then the way the city was built up on the other side.  All those lights stretching out.”

“It’s so beautiful,” she said putting her hands on the railing.  “It’s, like, you could almost reach out and touch it.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Casey went into the kitchen and got the bottle of wine he’d bought earlier in the day from the refrigerator and took the two special wine glasses off the shelf.  When he got back to the balcony, she was still standing with her hands on the railing.

“I’ve brought us a little something,” he said.

“Casey, you are so, so lucky.  I hope you know how lucky you are.  To have a balcony like this.”

“Some wine?”

She glanced over at the table where he had placed the bottle of wine and the two wine glasses.

“Oh, sure.”

Then she went back to looking out at the view.

Casey poured both glasses of wine and held one out to her.

“And it’s so quiet back here,” she said.  “You wouldn’t even know Seventeenth Street is here.”

“Yeah,” said Casey, pushing her glass toward her.

“I wish I had a place like this.”

“Here,” said Casey.

Finally, she took it.

“To your health,” he said.

“To your health.”

As Casey took a sip, he watched her drink her whole glass down.

“Nice,” she said and put her glass back on the table.

Seeing her do that, drink the whole glass down, Casey did the same.

“Casey, do you ever wish that life could come to a stop?”  She had put her hands back on the railing and was looking out.  “That it would just stop where it is and not go on? ”

Casey could feel the warmth of the wine he had just drunk spreading in his stomach.  “More?” he said.

He tipped the wine bottle, refilled both their glasses and held her glass out to her.

She took her glass.

“Sometimes I have such silly thoughts.”

“Oh, no,” said Casey.  “I don’t think so.  I don’t think so at all.  I don’t think those are silly thoughts.”

“Yes, they are.  They’re silly.”

“No, they’re not.”

Again she drank the whole glass down.

Casey drank his whole glass down, too.

“Yeah,” he said, putting his glass on the table.

“Oh, wow!” she said sitting down at the table.

Casey moved up behind her.

But then he heard little sounds coming from her, little choking sounds.

My God!  She was crying.  Just like that.  Drinking wine one moment and crying the next.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear,” she said wiping along the bottom of her eyes with a finger.  “Casey, could you please get my purse?  I left it inside somewhere.”

He found the purse on the living room table not far from where she’d thrown her boots.  It was a really small purse, and pink, with a long silver chain.

“Thanks so much,” she said when he handed it to her.  She pulled out a tissue.

“Sorry, Casey.  I’m always spoiling the party.”

Casey sat down opposite her at the table.

“No, no, not at all.”

“It’s just that life isn’t always so pretty, is it?”

“No, no, it’s not always so pretty.”

“Although, Casey, you know, Casey, you have a very nice place here.  Very, very, very nice.  You’re lucky.  You know that?  Casey, do you know that?  Do you?  Do you really?  That you are a very, very, very, lucky person.  Very, very, very.”

She was slurring her words.

“More wine?”

Casey refilled both wine glasses and slid her glass toward her.  He took his own glass and downed it.

Then he noticed she was looking at him.  And he remembered that sometime before she was looking at him and that’s when he first realized she had blue eyes.  Strange, that thought.

“Casey, could I ask you something?  Really ask you something?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Why did you ask me out?”

“Why did I ask you out?”

“Yes.  I mean, let’s face it, Casey.  As they say, let’s face the facts.  I work in the business office at the University, Casey.  You know what I mean?  I took typing in high school.  So, why, Casey?”

“Why?  Well, because . . . .”

Suddenly she stood up.

“Oh, dear!”

She put her hands on her stomach.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!”

Casey took her glass of wine and stood up.

“More?” he said, holding the glass out to her.

She doubled over.

“Bathroom!” he heard her say.

She ran, still doubled over and still holding her stomach.  From out on the balcony, Casey could hear the bathroom door slam and then heaving and coughing noises.

When he didn’t hear the noises anymore he went inside and through the living room and knocked on the bathroom door.  When he still didn’t hear anything he opened the door.  There she was, bent over the toilet, her face almost in the bowl, the smell of vomit everywhere.

“Oh, God!” she said.  “Casey!”

She lifted her arm and Casey went to her, got himself under her arm, and lifted her up to her feet.  The smell was worse now, vomit mixed with alcohol.

“Help me, Casey.”

Casey braced himself against the smell and walked her out of the bathroom with him holding almost all her weight.

“This way,” he said, aiming her down the hallway.

“Oh, God.”

“Now,” said Casey, turning into his bedroom.  He held her with one arm and with the other turned the sheets back.

“Spoiling the party,” she said kneeling onto the bed, unbuttoning her blouse, shaking it off her shoulders, handing it to Casey as she fell on the bed.

Casey arranged the blouse over the back of a chair and looked at her.  She was lay on her back, her head on his pillow with her eyes closed.

“Are you all right?” he said

When she didn’t answer he said, “Hello?”  Then louder.  “Hello?”

No answer.

“Hello?” he said even louder.

Again, no answer.

He went around to the other side of the bed, sat down, and continued to look at her.  Now he could plainly see her bra, of course.  He didn’t have to try to look down her blouse.  It was one of those low-cut white things  If he wanted to all he had to do was reach out and lift the edges and expose the nipples.

“Hello?” he said.

Still, nothing.

Casey looked down the rest of her body.  She must have unzipped the zipper of her jeans just before she passed out because the lips of the zipper lay open and he could see the face of her lavender panties.

“Hello?”

No answer.

So, this was it.  Finally.  Now he could do anything he wanted.  Anything.  The two of them were alone.  Arthur was in Philadelphia.  No one would ever find out.

All you have to do is start, he told himself.

Do it, he said to himself.

Casey reached out with his hand.

Suddenly he felt his own stomach coming up.  He barely made it to the bathroom and barely got his head over the toilet bowl before he started to retch.

When he was done, when all that yellow stuff that was going to come out had come out, and when he had drunk some water and wiped his mouth with tissues, he went down the hallway, passing right by his bedroom door, not even looking in, crossed the living room and opened the door to the balcony.

He leaned his hands against the railing and looked out.

A beautiful view.

It really was a beautiful view.  Everyone said so.  The first time.  The first time they experienced it.  The way you could see all the way down to the river and then the swell of the city up on the other side.  You could almost reach out and touch it.

***

Karl Harshbarger is an American writer (living in Germany) and have had over 90 publications of my stories in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, The New England Review and The Prairie Schooner.  Two of my stories have been selected for the list of  “Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories and thirteen of my stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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