Premiere issue Autumn 2002

The Bra, the Blonde and the Boxer Shorts

About the author

Dan McClenaghan is a jazz journalist and hospital cook who has published short stories – mostly involving Ruth and Ellis and friends – in various small press magazines. He is currently at work on a novel about cryogenics, resurrection and xenotransplantation.

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A power outage in the wee hours knocked al the clocks out. They came back on, blinking midnight, and they stayed that way as time slipped on. Consequently, the alarm didn't go off, and Ellis Leahy slept right through his normal five a.m. wake-up. The phone call was what rousted him, by proxy.

His wife Ruth answered it — an inaccurate hand on the end of a groggy arm clattering the receiver off the plastic stand, then retrieving it from the floor, bringing it back to a puffy cheek and mumbling, "Hullo," as she rolled over to check the time.

A woman's voice, strung tight on the edge of panic, said, "Is Ellis there?Move question mark; break into two sentences. This is Mona at the cafe."

Ruth looked at the lump in the bed next to her, at the flashing numbers on the alarm clock over the crest of his shoulder, and she said to the girl, "He'll be there in fifteen minutes."

She hung up, poked Ellis in a rib, said, "Get up; you're late for work." Ellis lifted his head, looked at the clock, groaned, then sagged back down and wormed his face beneath his pillow. So

Ruth — the director of family finance, a woman with an intimate knowledge of how much they needed his paycheck — curled her legs up and placed her feet in the small of her husband's back and kicked. He flew off the mattress, collidied with the wall, bounced back away from it and hit the floor four feet from from the bed with a dead thump, like a two hundred and ten pound sand bag. The lamp jiggled; the alarm clock rattled an inch closer to the edge of the nightstand; and Ellis tugged his blanket down and wrapped himself and tried to go back to sleep, but thought better of that plan when Ruth growled, "Get your lazy ass up; don't make me get out of this bed."

He got up, staggered to the bathroom, peed out a quart of last night's beer, climbed into his pants, did a hanger-sliding search for a white shirt and couldn't find one.

Through the blankets she'd pulled over her head, Ruth said, "Try the dryer."

He did, delete "and"found one, and pulled it on. In his half-awake state he failed to notice the black brassiere that clung, by an obstinate charge of static electricity, to the middle of his wrinkled white shirt's back.

"Is that supposed to be an omelet?" Ellis asked Mona Diaz when he arrived at the cafe. The chunky little waitress had taken the grill in his absence, and was doing a jittery but passable job.

"Yes it is," Mona hissed, scooping some fried potatoes onto the plate with the egg item in question.

"It's shaped kinda funny," Ellis observed.

Mona spun and slid the plate onto the shelf of the service window, rang the counter bell and called out, "ORDER UP, JO-GIRL!" before turning her attention back to the tardy cook. "Your head," she said, "will be shaped kinda funny after I punch it a few times."

"You sound just like my wife," Ellis grinned.

Mona untied her apron and threw it at him and said, "Get to work, shitbird."

"I guess that's why I love you so," he replied.

Mona snorted at this and clipped out of the kitchen to grab her ticket book so she could help with the breakfast rush. As she pushed out the swinging door, fellow waitress Johanna (Jo-Girl) motioned her over to the dining room side of the service window.

"Look at dumb ass," Johanna said, nodding into the kitchen. Ellis was dropping a short stack on the grill, his back to the waitresses. His bra — lacy and black — was stretched out on a vertical along his spine, slightly twisted, like Mona's omelet; and all the tension that had built up in the girl who had taken over the unfamiliar and frazzling chore of grill cooking that morning blew away with her sudden outburst of laughter.

"What the hell?" Ellis asked over his shoulder, "is so God damned funny out there?" as his short stack, under the influence of baking powder and high heat, swelled like three individual living entities on the grill.

Later, when the dining room was full, and Ellis had all his tickets off the wheel, Johanna asked him to come out and run the coffee pot around for refills. He did, and the waitresses nodded at the bra on his back to all the regular patrons, causing an uplifting of the mood in the Loma Alta Cafe.

Ellis continued on without a clue, going into a flirtation mode with a short middle-aged blonde woman on table three who he thought — from the big bright twinkle-eyed smile she'd flashed his way — was coming on to him.

Grins all around evolved into giggles; but Ellis, enchanted by the cleavage (the woman wore the same brand of bra that Ellis wore on his back) was oblivious. He bulldozed ahead with his line of banal patter, eyes drinking in the glorious lift and conjoinment.

broke next sentence off into own graph Until Ruth showed up...

After Ellis had left for work, Ruth had gone to the dryer for her favorite bra, the one that made her breasts look perky and (she firmly believed) took ten years off her figure. She'd rumaged in the mish-mash of tumbled clothes and come up empty handed; but Ellis' black socks clinging like snake skins to her blue blouse clued her in to its possible whereabouts.deleted second set of ellipses

So she drove to the cafe, stalked in out of the parking lot in her bathrobe, her hair in curlers, her breasts riding low. Ellis was now leaning on the blonde's table, treating her to a fatuously suave grin and a dirty joke about a well-endowed man, a nun, and a bowl of creamed corn. Ruth, with a scowl like thunder, stomped up behind him and tore his bra free.

"What the hell?" Ellis cried at the static sizzle, jumping away from his intended, flinching when he saw his wife.

"Get away from that hootchie and get your fat ass back in that kitchen," Ruth said throgh her clenched teeth.

Ellis backed off. The hootchie cringed; her blonde pageboy, under the influence of the residual static electricity in Ruth's black bra, lifted away from her head, snapping and crackling in an electrified Medusa storm, as the dangling lace hanging from Ruth's fist pointed back at the dancing hair in seeming defiance of gravity, sparks arcing back and forth.

Ruth — indeed, everyone in the cafe — drank in the phenomenon in a momentary awed silence that was broken by their collective explosion of laughter. But neither Ruth nor the blonde were amused; Ruth crumpled the black lace into a ball in her fist and glared the place to silence, as the blond stabbed her hands into her hot-wired hair and ran screaming out the door.

And back in the kitchen, Ellis peered through the service window. He still didn't know he'd worn an extra accessory to work, and he didn't have a clue as to how his wife could have known about his harmless little flirtation, or why she'd confronted that transgression brandishing a bra.

Or why — as she stood in the cafe's door, ranting at the runaway blonde — she was wearing a pair of his paisley-print boxer shorts on the back of her bathrobe, on the bulge of her left bun.

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