The International Literary Quarterly

February 2010


Rose Ausländer
Charles Bernstein
Amy Bloom
Jean Boase-Beier
Carmen Bugan
Moira Burgess
Larry Butler
James Byrne
Jim Carruth
Neil Charleton
Ronald Christ
A.C. Clarke
David Dawnay
Patricia Delmar
Des Dillon
Anne Donovan
Gerrie Fellows
Cheryl Follon
Ronald Frame
Hazel Frew
Rodge Glass
David Goldie
Jane Goldman
Martin Goodman
Siobhan Harvey
Beatriz Hausner
Kusay Hussein
A.B. Jackson
Kapka Kassabova
Velimir Khlebnikov
David Kinloch
Micaela Lewitt
Zhimin Li
Gerry Loose
James McGonigal
Gerry McGrath
Donal McLaughlin
Kate McLoughlin
Andrea McNicoll
Willy Maley
Peter Manson
Laura Marney
Ernst Meister
Lina Meruane
Edwin Morgan
Ewan Morrison
Laura Muetzelfeldt
Hom Paribag
Mario Petrucci
Clare Pollard
Sheila Puri
Claire Quigley
Elizabeth Reeder
Alan Riach
Dilys Rose
Suhayl Saadi
Sue Reid Sexton
Bina Shah
Yasir Shah
Jim Stewart
Zoë Strachan
Chiew-Siah Tei
Valerie Thornton
Anthony Vivis
Marshall Walker
Zoë Wicomb
Xu Xi

40 Glasgow Voices

Volta: A Multilingual Anthology
(One poem: 82 languages)

Issue 10 Guest Artist:
John Hoyland RA

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Hollis Clayson
Sarah Churchwell
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Beatriz Hausner
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Underwear by Andrea_McNicoll  


Up until last week, I thought my wife was a prude. I’ve never seen her naked - not properly, not in the light of day. I’ve seen all her limbs, of course, and a few other bits here and there, but never the whole picture. Once, after her sister’s wedding, I had to undress her – she was really drunk - but even then she had half woken up when I got to her underwear and had groaned, all stroppy, pushing me away. She always locks the bathroom door to take a bath. Her swimming costumes are chunky and old-fashioned: they make her look fatter than she really is. I’ve never known anyone flit so quickly from the changing room into the pool, hands folded in front of her, eyes staring down at her feet. She’s fine once she’s in the water though and swims better – even faster - than me.

Her underwear is dull. She always chooses the same style: white or black bras and sensible knickers from shops like Marks and Spencer’s. Not that I get to see her in her undies, really, except for an occasional glimpse through the half-opened bedroom door. In the early days, I used to try surprising her; I’d creep into the room and come up from behind to take her in my arms while she was dressing but it just upset her. Then we’d both end up apologising. But her underwear does nothing for her. Sometimes I feel like gathering it all up and burning it. Or stuffing it in the bin. I’d love to see her going without a bra; her nipples showing through a blouse or tee-shirt. When there’s a quiet spell at work I think about things like that. I daydream about her: she’s wandering about the house, standing in the kitchen, cooking, bending over the washing machine, climbing into the bath. She’s stark naked, massaging my feet. But there’s no chance of that with my wife.

It means, you see, that sex has to be carefully planned. On the couch is out of the question because, even with the curtains closed, the streetlights shine through the living room window. Sex outdoors, unless it’s night and the skies are overcast (which did happen once in the early days when we were on holiday in the highlands), is unlikely. A small chink of light through the bedroom curtains, any suggestion that the outline of her naked body might be visible puts her off, sends her plunging back down under the quilt, snuggling up to me for a cuddle, making out she’s too sleepy for anything else. It has to be blackout blinds pulled and lights out before she’ll take off her dressing gown and get under the covers: she’s very strict about the order. I sometimes make jokes about air raids. But when we’re wrapped in darkness and her mood is right, we can really get going. Me: my mood is always right. But she says it’s like she has to forget herself in the dark, become another person first.

She doesn’t mind me wandering around naked though. I leave the bathroom door wide open and she comes in and sits on the toilet seat, talks away to me, even scrubs my back sometimes. It’s just her own body she can’t bear being seen. What’s that all about? She’s got a great figure and a lovely face; I see other men looking at her all the time. What’s she got to hide? I’ve asked her time and time again and she just smiles, turns her head away and says, I don’t know; I just don’t like my body.

Anyway, last week I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was her birthday. I wanted to get her something special, something sexy, something that would let her know once and for all how horny she makes me feel. I went into one of those classy lingerie shops in the Merchant City, the ones she always pulls me past, shaking her head, laughing, saying no. I went right in (not the first time, mind you), had a good nose round. Saw a sweet pair of red cotton pyjamas that she would have liked but no, I thought, time for a change. She just needs encouragement. So I looked around at the bras and knickers, the matching sets. There were all different colours and shapes and I must admit, the knickers slit down the gusset were really tempting, but I resisted. In the end it was a toss up between a purple and a red set - quite tasteful, I thought, nothing too wild. I went for the red in the end because she loves red. I’d looked at her old stuff to find out what size to get. She’s a D cup, by the way, which a lot of women would be proud to show off. The bra was called ‘Gypsy’. The red cups were quite small, considering, woven out of lace, and the label showed the picture of a dark-haired model with a fantastic cleavage. I could imagine my wife with it on; she’d look great. The panties were thongs: a tiny triangle of lace, one strap to go round the hips, one to go up the back, diamante butterfly on the front. I was getting hot just imagining how she would look with them on. It would work, I thought, smiling to myself  as I took them to the counter to be gift wrapped; once she tried them on and saw how beautiful she looked she would realise there was nothing to hide. Not from me, who loved her and wanted her and fancied her more than any other woman in the whole of Glasgow – or the world for that matter.

So, on the morning of her birthday I got up first and made her some toast and coffee. I even set the table in the lounge, by the bay window. She came down after me, dressed in my old blue dressing gown. She looks so small when she’s wrapped up in that big old dressing gown. I gave her the present. I’m good with presents usually; I don’t just buy anything. And I’m not one of those husbands who buys the same favourite perfume over and over again. I really think about what my wife might like to receive. Last year I gave her a piano; I’d hunted high and low round the Barras, the west end auctions and Clydeside Antiques before I found the right one. It was art deco – a Waldemar Berlin – in walnut. I had it tuned, bought a stool and everything. She was really touched. She was always telling me how her mum played the piano when she was little. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin - my wife likes all that. Me, I prefer the Artic Monkeys. Anyway, her mum was supposedly really talented and would practice for hours every evening. Her dad used to look after her and her sister while their mum practised. He would cook their meals, iron their clothes and put them to bed. Then her mum started performing with the Scottish National Orchestra. Sometimes she would be away on tour for a few nights. She could have been a world famous pianist if things had worked out differently.  But once my wife’s dad left, her mum had stopped playing altogether. Vowed never to touch the keys again, my wife said. In the end she had sold the piano to a neighbour down the street. I can still remember the day they came to take it away, my wife said, and the struggle they had getting it through the doors. As for me, I used to wonder if her dad left because he was sick of doing all the housework while her mum played the piano. My wife said no, it wasn’t like that. She hardly mentions her dad, lost touch with him completely when he left. I don’t like asking too many questions.

Anyway, I thought there was a chance I might have hit another winner with the bra and panties. She picked up the parcel, shook it and pressed it, trying to guess what it was. She started to pick at the wrapping paper, slowly, carefully; it was nice paper – pink with little red rosebuds. When she saw the picture on the box she looked at me and frowned.  Shit, I thought, maybe this isn’t going to work after all. But she opened the box, pulled out the bra and panties, held them up. Nice colour, she said, thank you, they’re lovely. But she didn’t look like she really meant it. She folded them carefully and started to put them back in the box. If they don’t fit, I said, you can take them back and change them; I’ve still got the receipt. Oh, they look the right size, she said, not meeting my eye, getting up to put the dishes in the sink. Don’t you want to try them on first, I said, following her, putting my arms round her waist, kissing the back of her neck. I’d really like to see you in them, I said, I think you’d look fantastic. She shook her head. Not now, she said, maybe later. Oh come on, I said, running my hands over the front of the dressing gown’s thick folds, feeling for her breasts underneath. I had a hard-on – I pushed against her and let her know about it. Stop it, she shouted, lifting her arms to get me off. Just leave me be! She ran out the kitchen then, straight upstairs, into the bathroom and banged the door. Shit. I waited a minute then followed her, knocking on the bathroom door. Come on, love, I’m sorry, it’s your birthday, I didn’t mean to upset you. I could hear her crying on the other side of the door. I hate it when she cries - I’m useless; I never know what to say. She wouldn’t come out and I had to go to work without shaving or brushing my teeth.

I tried texting her from work but she didn’t answer so I bought some flowers and a bottle of her favourite red wine on the way home to make up for what had happened. I’d pretty much abandoned hope of ever seeing her in the bra and knickers, but at least I could fantasize about it. I had booked a table for a meal in an Indian restaurant. She loves spicy food. She’ll order different dishes from the menu every time. I always play safe and have chicken tikka masala. That’s the funny thing, you see, she’s much more adventurous than me. She’ll try any kind of food. She loves going to see foreign films and listens to bands and artists I’ve never heard of. She’s always talking about how she wants to go skydiving. So I guess calling her a prude was a bit unfair, when you think about it.

I knew she was in when I got home because the door was unlocked. I called out her name but she didn’t answer. She wasn’t in the kitchen or the living room so I went upstairs. The bathroom door was open so she had to be in the bedroom. For a second I wondered if she was going to surprise me, if she’d put on the bra and panties after all and was lying on the bed, dolled up, waiting for me to come home from work. I threw my jacket over the banisters, loosened my tie and pushed open the bedroom door. Baby, I said, I’m home. She was sitting on the bed alright, but still wearing my old dressing gown. Her hair was a mess – she hadn’t been in to work or anything. She didn’t even turn round to look at me. What’s wrong sweetheart, I asked, sitting down on the bed next to her. By this stage I was really wishing I’d got those red pyjamas instead. I patted her back and she leaned her shoulder against me. She kept shaking her head and saying she was sorry, really sorry, that it wasn’t my fault. She had a box of old photographs she’d been looking through, pictures of her on our wedding day, while we were dating, on her twenty-first birthday, as a teenager, a schoolgirl. There was a cute picture of her and her sister, all kitted out in their Sunday best - dresses, hair ribbons, long white socks and black patent leather shoes. Another one showed them at Hallowe’en, dressed up as witches with long pointed hats, making wicked faces at the camera. Look at this one, she said, holding up a photograph. I looked at it. She must have been about twelve or thirteen at the time - big eyes, blonde curls. She was wearing a pair of flared jeans and a purple and white shirt. I loved that shirt, she said, it was cheesecloth and had little heart-shaped buttons. You look lovely, I said, even then you were gorgeous. I tried to kiss her neck but she pulled away. My dad took that picture, she said slowly, tapping her finger on the photo, we’d been out shopping, just him and me. Mum was away at a concert and my sister had gone to stay with my granny. He took me into town, said he was going to buy me something really special. We went into a big department store on Argyle Street, up to the girl’s department, and he let me choose that cheesecloth shirt. I was really pleased. Then he took me to the underwear department. He said he’d noticed I was growing out of my vests. Time for your first bra, he said, and I said do we have to, can’t we wait for mum. I was embarrassed, you see.  Oh, your mum’s too busy, he said, and went up to one of the sales assistants, asked her to look after me - it was awful. My dad waited outside, near the lift, while I had to try on all these different bras. The assistant came right into the cubicle while I was changing. I was mortified. But I had to choose something. Then she called my dad over and he paid. I started crying on the way home and my dad told me not to be so silly, anyone would think he’d taken me to the dentists’. He said, I know how to cheer you up - I’ll take some pictures of you in your new shirt. You know how much you like dressing up. We can put them in the album. Run upstairs and put it on. I’ll come up when you’re ready and take some pictures. Then he went into the living room and switched on the telly. I went up to my bedroom, took off my old jumper and vest and put on one of my new bras. It was white cotton, with a tiny pink bow on the crossover. I remember looking at myself in the mirror, turning round to the side, thinking it didn’t look so bad after all. I was just about to put my new shirt on over it when I saw my dad’s reflection in the mirror. He must have been standing at the door all the time. Not yet, he said, pushing the door closed behind him, don’t put it on yet. Let me take a picture of you like that first.