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 Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.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

"Nina" by Marsha Hammel
A Collection of Jazz Poetry — Winter, 2024 Edition...One-third of the Winter, 2024 collection of jazz poetry is made up of poets who have only come to my attention since the publication of the Summer, 2023 collection. What this says about jazz music and jazz poetry – and this community – is that the connection between the two art forms is inspirational and enduring, and that poets are finding a place for their voice within the pages of this website. (Featuring the art of Marsha Hammel)

The Sunday Poem

photo via RawPixel.com
“Style” by Laurie Kuntz

Poetry

Proceeding From Behind: A collection of poems grounded in the rhythmic, relating to the remarkable, by Terrance Underwood...A relaxed, familiar comfort emerges from the poet Terrance Underwood’s language of intellectual acuity, wit, and space – a feeling similar to one gets while listening to Monk, or Jamal, or Miles. I have long wanted to share his gifts as a poet on an expanded platform, and this 33-poem collection – woven among his audio readings, music he considers significant to his story, and brief personal comments – fulfills my desire to do so.

Black History

The Harlem Globetrotters/photo via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: The Harlem Globetrotters...In this 2005 interview, Ben Green, author of Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters, discusses the complex history of the celebrated Black touring basketball team.

Black History

photo of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress
A Black History Month Profile: Zora Neale Hurston...In a 2002 interview, Carla Kaplan, editor of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, talks about the novelist, anthropologist, playwright, folklorist, essayist and poet

Black History

Eubie Blake
A Black History Month Profile – Pianist and composer Eubie Blake...In this 2021 Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Eubie Blake biographers Ken Bloom and Richard Carlin discuss the legendary composer of American popular song and jazz during the 20th century

Feature

Jamie Branch's 2023 album "Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))"
On the Turntable— The “Best Of the ‘Best Of’” in 2023 jazz recordings...A year-end compilation of jazz albums oft mentioned by a wide range of critics as being the best of 2023 - including the late trumpeter Jamie Branch's Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))

Essay

"Lester Leaps In" by Tad Richards
"Jazz and American Poetry," an essay by Tad Richards...In an essay that first appeared in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Poetry in 2005, Tad Richards - a prolific visual artist, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer who has been active for over four decades – writes about the history of the connection of jazz and American poetry.

Interview

photo of Pepper Adams/courtesy of Pepper Adams Estate
Interview with Gary Carner, author of Pepper Adams: Saxophone Trailblazer...The author speaks with Bob Hecht about his book and his decades-long dedication to the genius of Pepper Adams, the stellar baritone saxophonist whose hard-swinging bebop style inspired many of the top-tier modern baritone players.

Interview

IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Judith Tick, author of Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song...The author discusses her book, a rich, emotionally stirring, exceptional work that explores every element of Ella’s legacy in great depth, reminding readers that she was not only a great singing artist, but also a musical visionary and social activist.

Poetry

Trading Fours with Douglas Cole is an occasional series of the writer’s poetic interpretations of jazz recordings and film. This edition is influenced by Stillpoint, the 2021 album by Zen practitioner Barrett Martin

Playlist

“Latin Tinges in Modern Jazz” – a playlist by Bob Hecht...A nine-hour long Spotify playlist featuring songs by the likes of Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Ahmad Jamal, and Dizzy Gillespie that demonstrates how the Latin music influence on jazz has been present since the music’s beginnings.

Poetry

[Columbia Legacy]
“On Becoming A Jazz Fanatic In The Early 1970’s” – 20 linked short poems by Daniel Brown

Short Fiction

Christerajet, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #64 — “The Old Casino” by J.B. Marlow...The author's award-winning story takes place over the course of a young man's life, looking at all the women he's loved and how the presence of a derelict building informs those relationships.

Feature

George Shearing/Associated Booking Corporation/James Kriegsmann, New York, via Wikimedia Commons
True Jazz Stories: “An Evening With George,” by Terry Sanville...The writer tells his story of playing guitar with a symphony orchestra, backing up jazz legend George Shearing.

Short Fiction

Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/via Picryl.com
“Afloat” – a finalist in the 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest – is about a troubled man in his 40s who lessens his worries by envisioning himself and loved ones on a boat that provides safety and ease for all of them.

Poetry

The poet Connie Johnson in 1981
In a Place of Dreams: Connie Johnson’s album of jazz poetry, music, and life stories...A collection of the remarkable poet's work is woven among her audio readings, a personal narrative of her journey and music she considers significant to it, providing readers the chance to experience the full value of her gifts.

Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt from Becoming Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Singer Who Transformed American Song, by Judith Tick...The author writes about highlights of Ella’s career, and how the significance of her Song Book recordings is an example of her “becoming” Ella.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII

Interview

photo courtesy of Henry Threadgill
Interview with Brent Hayes Edwards, co-author (with Henry Threadgill) of Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music...The author discusses his work co-written with Threadgill, the composer and multi-instrumentalist widely recognized as one of the most original and innovative voices in contemporary music, and the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Poetry

art by Russell duPont
Three jazz poets…three jazz poems...Takes on love and loss, and memories of Lady Day, Prez, Ella, Louis, Dolphy and others…

Playlist

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
“A Baker’s Dozen Playlist of Ella Fitzgerald Specialties from Five Decades,” as selected by Ella biographer Judith Tick...Chosen from Ella’s entire repertoire, Ms. Tick’s intriguing playlist (with brief commentary) is a mix of studio recordings, live dates, and video, all available for listening here.

Poetry

"Jazz Trio" by Samuel Dixon
A collection of jazz haiku, Vol. 2...The 19 poets included in this collection effectively share their reverence for jazz music and its culture with passion and brevity.

Jazz History Quiz #169

This trumpeter was in the 1932 car accident that took the life of famed clarinetist/saxophonist Frankie Techemacher (pictured), and is best remembered for his work with Eddie Condon’s bands. Who was he?

Interview

From the Interview Archive: A 2011 conversation with Alyn Shipton, author of Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway...In this interview, Shipton discusses Cab Calloway, whose vocal theatrics and flamboyant stage presence made him one of the country’s most beloved entertainers.

Community

Nominations for the Pushcart Prize XLVIII...announcing the six Jerry Jazz Musician-published writers nominated for the prestigious literary award

Poetry

Gotfryd, Bernard, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“Devotion” – a poem and 11 “Musings on Monk,” by Connie Johnson

Photography

photo of Mal Waldron by Giovanni Piesco
Beginning in 1990, the noted photographer Giovanni Piesco began taking backstage photographs of many of the great musicians who played in Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, that city’s main jazz venue which is considered one of the finest in the world. Jerry Jazz Musician will occasionally publish portraits of jazz musicians that Giovanni has taken over the years. This edition is of the pianist/composer Mal Waldron, taken on three separate appearances at Bimhuis (1996, 2000 and 2001).

Interview

Leffler, Warren K/Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A Black History Month Profile: Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin...

Community

FOTO:FORTEPAN / Kölcsey Ferenc Dunakeszi Városi Könyvtár / Petanovics fényképek, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
.“Community Bookshelf, #1"...a twice-yearly space where writers who have been published on Jerry Jazz Musician can share news about their recently authored books. This edition includes information about books published within the last six months or so…

Short Fiction

photo by Pedro Coelho/Deviant Art/CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DEED
“After The Death of Margaret: A True Novella” by S. Stephanie...This story -- a finalist in our recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest -- harkens back to Richard Brautigan's fiction of the '70s, and explores modern day co-worker relationships/friendship and the politics of for profit "Universities"

Short Fiction

painting of Gaetano Donizetti by Francesco Coghetti/via Wikimedia Commons
“A Single Furtive Tear” – a short story by Dora Emma Esze...A short-listed entry in the recently concluded 64th Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest, the story is a heartfelt, grateful monologue to one Italian composer, dead and immortal of course, whose oeuvre means so much to so many of us.

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Interview with Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950’s Quartets...Long regarded as jazz music’s most eminent baritone saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan was a central figure in “cool” jazz whose contributions to it also included his important work as a composer and arranger. Noted jazz scholar Alyn Shipton, author of The Gerry Mulligan 1950s Quartets, and Jerry Jazz Musician contributing writer Bob Hecht discuss Mulligan’s unique contributions to modern jazz.

Book Excerpt

“Chick” Webb was one of the first virtuoso drummers in jazz and an innovative bandleader dubbed the “Savoy King,” who reigned at Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom. Stephanie Stein Crease is the first to fully tell Webb’s story in her biography, Rhythm Man: Chick Webb and the Beat that Changed America…The book’s entire introduction is excerpted here.

Short Fiction

pixabay.com via Picryl.com
“The Silent Type,” a short story by Tom Funk...The story, a finalist in the recently concluded 64th Short Fiction Contest, is inspired by the classic Bob Dylan song “Tangled Up in Blue” which speculates about what might have been the back story to the song.

Book Excerpt

Book excerpt from Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music, by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

Contributing Writers

Click the image to view the writers, poets and artists whose work has been published on Jerry Jazz Musician, and find links to their work

Art

Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance: “Outtakes” — Vol. 2...In this edition, the authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder share examples of Cha Cha Cha record album covers that didn't make the final cut in their book

Pressed for All Time

“Pressed For All Time,” Vol. 17 — producer Joel Dorn on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1967 album, The Inflated Tear

Coming Soon

An interview with Tad Richards, author of Jazz With a Beat: Small Group Swing, 1940 - 1960;  an interview with Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz, authors of But Will You Love Me Tomorrow? An Oral History of the 60's Girl Groups;  a new collection of jazz poetry; a collection of jazz haiku; a new Jazz History Quiz; short fiction; poetry; photography; interviews; playlists; and lots more in the works...

Interview Archive

Eubie Blake
Click to view the complete 22 year archive of Jerry Jazz Musician interviews, including those recently published with Richard Carlin and Ken Bloom on Eubie Blake (pictured); Richard Brent Turner on jazz and Islam; Alyn Shipton on the art of jazz; Shawn Levy on the original queens of standup comedy; Travis Atria on the expatriate trumpeter Arthur Briggs; Kitt Shapiro on her life with her mother, Eartha Kitt; Will Friedwald on Nat King Cole; Wayne Enstice on the drummer Dottie Dodgion; the drummer Joe La Barbera on Bill Evans; Philip Clark on Dave Brubeck; Nicholas Buccola on James Baldwin and William F. Buckley; Ricky Riccardi on Louis Armstrong; Dan Morgenstern and Christian Sands on Erroll Garner; Maria Golia on Ornette Coleman.

Site Archive