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.