Short Fiction Contest-winning story #14: “The Red Underwear,” by Ellis J. Biderson

March 15th, 2007

 

.

.

New Short Fiction Award

     We value creative writing and wish to encourage writers of short fiction to pursue their goal of being published. Jerry Jazz Musician would like to provide another step in the career of an aspiring writer. Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.

     Ellis J. Biderson is the fourteenth recipient of the Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on March 15, 2007.

.

.

 

*

.

.

 

THE RED UNDERWEAR

by

Ellis J. Biderson

.

______

.

 

  ….. I have a problem, Father.

  ….. No, no “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” and the rest. Not this time.

  …..    And that’s it, really: I’m here again, in confession with you, as I have been for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve sinned.

  …..   Yes, of course, Father, I understand about confession. Penance, really, because that’s a sacrament, that’s how a person gets forgiveness of sins. There is absolution by a priest, but you – I, because I am sitting here now – have to have true sorrow and confess your sins, and do something about your behavior. You really have to mean it, not just want a pass for what you’ve done – and may do again, unless you’re genuine in your confession and really want to change.

  …..   I’ve thought about it – confession and penance. I know none of this is just a ritual; in fact, I know that none of what I believe or think or feel or do is simply a ceremony, that it all has to do with Christ. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have become a nun. Confession and penance are things we do that were begun by Christ so that we could impart grace to our souls. After we do so sincerely, this sacrament passes to you, who provides absolution. It’s not very different from a court. I am not only the plaintiff and the defendant, but my own witness, and you are the judge.

  …..   Considering all that, and I definitely have, that means that I must truly be sorry for anything I did, and that you must be sure that I am, because with grace granted, I am delivered from the guilt of sin and, if it is a mortal sin, from eternal punishment.

  …..So I do understand.

  …..What has bothered me is not that I am not sorry for a sin, or that I am concerned that you will not accept my confession. We have known each other, what, almost twenty years now? You know that I am forthright and sincere, and we trust one another.

  …..  Let me start with the key point: the red underwear. If I hadn’t been thinking about it for so long, been so comfortable with it for all this time, I’m not sure I could even say the words. In fact, I’m wearing them now, a red brassiere and red panties. With lace trim on the bra.

  …..    What I believe deeply is that I have not sinned, but that, somehow, wearing red lacy underwear, even if it is nylon, not silk, is not quite something I should be doing. Though not a sin. Otherwise, I would not have bought it anonymously.

  …..  How did I do that? You know that big shopping mall just off the Grand Street exit on the highway? I figured that Saturday was a big day for shoppers, kids out of school and all that, and there would be a lot of people there. So, the Monday before, I checked the ads in the Sunday paper, saw that Jensen’s was having a sale on lingerie, decided what I wanted, and was there around eleven in the morning on Saturday. The city bus stops at the edge of their parking lot. Dressed in plain clothes, of course, civvies as Anna calls them, casual pants and a sweatshirt, like I wear when I am cleaning the yard around our home. Walked in, right to the women’s underwear department, not even enough time for the woman there to give me “Can I help you?” and picked up the red underwear. “Knew just what you wanted?” she said, and I did. Paid quickly, and I was out of there.

  …..It’s bright and shiny. But not as sleek as silk. I thought nylon all along, but, when I first walked in, saw the silk stuff in the department store, admired it, liked its look and feel, but I thought – and what would I know? what could I know? – that red silk would be what a woman kept by some international financier would wear, and I didn’t want to be that, I just wanted to be a woman.

  …..  And I felt just fine about it. There is a difference, Father, between being a nun and being a woman who is a nun. I have become more convinced that, to serve Christ as fully as I want to, I must not hold back any part of my being, my self. To give eighty per cent is not enough; to serve Christ as a nun and ignore who and what I am, including my being female, would be to hold back a part of who God made me from serving Christ. You do see that, don’t you?

  …..   I didn’t want to use my name in the store, not even just Maria, so I paid cash. My father had given it to me without asking what it was for. He talks about my being in the highest calling, how proud he is of me. He knows that money and earthly pleasures aren’t part of that, but he’s always willing to give me a few dollars, even fifty-five, like this time. Thinks he’s giving it to me so that I can have a few comforts to help me do God’s work better, and that the church doesn’t provide enough.

  …..He didn’t ask, and I knew that he wouldn’t. I mean, I’m thirty-eight now, been a nun for what seems like forever – and that’s good, I’m not complaining – and Dad would never doubt my goodness. That’s his word: goodness. I sometimes think he sees a halo around my head.

  …..  Anyway, it was $58.37, including tax, but I had a few dollars to add to what he gave me.

  ….. I have so much time to think, by myself. My room isn’t a cloister, not the fourteenth century in some cold stone building in Europe, all dark. I have time after prayers and work, and sometimes during work, when I think not about me, but about God’s will.

  …..  Yes, of course, I know I am a tool of God’s will, but I am also a result of it. And I know God gave us all free will, and that heaven or hell at the end will result from our exercising that. But then, I think, God had to have known how I was going to exercise my free will, or God wouldn’t be God, would he, omniscient and all that. So, am I wrong to think that my becoming a nun was known by God, from God’s omnipotent, omnipresent will? And if that’s right, then the red underwear are no surprise to our Father.

  …..    Yes, I know what blasphemy is, and I also know that my brain was given to me by God, and I know that I have to use that. And I know what others, outside the Church, have said, that, because God pushed the first domino in an infinite row, knowing they would all topple, there really is no sin. I know, I know, that’s not true, there’s personal responsibility, too. But late at night, particularly, my faith takes away any distress, although I know that I will never understand the mind and will of God.

  ….. It’s not that what I think are doubts, but thoughts. But it still hurts.

  …..    No, it doesn’t mean I’ve made a choice God would definitely approve of, but, on the other hand, I don’t know why He wouldn’t. I read, and I think; I don’t sit on my bed in exotic – or erotic – poses, having fantasies that would make Hugh Hefner smile. In fact, just the opposite: by being a woman, I see myself as whole, as more of a human being, not some object of convenience and subservience from the mind and pages of a Hefner. I feel – what’s that popular culture term? – empowered.

  …..     Sometimes, I sit on the chair in my room, wearing just the underwear. Not in a sexy position, not a temptress in some fantasy. No, just a woman who feels – knows – she is a woman, that she hasn’t given up her whole identity to serve God, even if my soul is with Him.

  ….. All that talk of a personal relationship with God. That’s too much bumper-sticker language, full of pride. If I really want a personal relationship with God, I should be a person, Maria, who is not genderless.

  …..     I know how I feel, but others just see the black uniform, react to it more than to me, and I realize that police and firefighters – and nuns – are seen as police and firefighters – and nuns – more than they are John and Bill – and Maria. I am a nun, no different from other nuns, but still a different person, and that is so interesting, because, even though it is the habit that does it, or the less formal working clothes, I see that others view nuns as being basically the same inside.

  …..  I have thought that this is the only safe way I can be a woman.

  ….. I know that we are all one in God, but there still is a we in that, and lots of Is in the we. I don’t think it’s wrong to be an individual, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or be immoral. It’s not like I’ve gotten a tattoo. It’s just my red underwear.

  …..  I’ve looked at other nuns, my sisters, wondering if they wear red or pink or chartreuse or plain white, but frilly, underwear. I don’t ask them, not because I am embarrassed, but because, as with me, privacy, solitude with God as the only one else to know, is very important, essential.

  …..   It has nothing to do with my breasts and my body. (Can you believe I am actually saying these words to you, telling you this? But it is because we have known each other for so long, and, of course, because the red underwear makes me feel more fully me, adding some confidence.) No one knows except God. And now you.

  …..    I mean, underwear is a part of life. Not something terrible, like rape or war. And wearing red underwear isn’t a bad thing.

  …..   Still, wearing lacy red underwear, why, I’m sure that doesn’t seem right to other people. What about you – how do you feel? Father? James? Oh, I’d recognize your soft snoring anywhere, after all of those long days at the children’s center, you sleeping in the van on the way back. I’ll let you rest.

  ….. But God heard me. Didn’t He?

.

 

_______

.

.

Short Fiction Contest Details

.

.

.

 

 

 

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. The first volume of this poetry is now published.

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .

Poetry

"Sister" by Warren Goodson
"Shit's About To Go Down" -- a poem by Aurora M. Lewis

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #139

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
This bassist played with (among others) Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole (pictured), Dexter Gordon, James Taylor and Rickie Lee Jones, and was one of the earliest modern jazz tuba soloists. He also turned down offers to join both Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Who is he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive