The Stockings

The Stockings

Annie Werner


— TW —
Descriptions of Self-harm

I am writing to you because the other day I sat next to a girl and stared at her legs. She had straight cut scars cascading down her calves. Razors, I figured. Remarkable. She’s so out in the open about it.

I am writing to you because for so long I didn’t have a name for what transpired between us that night. You have a wife now. And a child. I am a sign you pass on the highway.

I am writing because I looked again at the girl’s legs and saw it was only her stockings. Flesh-colored, cheap and tearing in consecutive lines. I discovered a small hole at her knee where her skin was lighter than the fabric.

Your wife has a beautiful smile. From what I’ve seen on her Facebook profile.

After the girl with the stockings, I made a trip to the drugstore and bought some for myself. I took them home in the little plastic egg. In the bathroom I unraveled them from their shriveled form. I stretched the waist opening over my chin, nose, forehead, hair. I wanted to see my flattened face. My hair marbled under the sheer nude. My nose upturned against the fabric, two black circles in the center.

I am writing because now that I have a name for what transpired between us that night, I am not so sure I want that name. I have that power with words. I can say no. I didn’t say no. I said, “Do you need help with that?” The button of my pants, I meant. In the dark room. At the party. Ten years ago. The last of high school.

I can imagine your wife nudging me with her soft and friendly elbow: no one calls them stockings anymore, silly!

I didn’t wonder for years—why this memory was so sharp. The hiss of your belt through the loops. You, crawling onto me in the dark. My hands—frisking your arms, your back your shoulders. My hands—slipping off your shoulders. No one ever remembers the blackness.

I’m going to call them stockings, OK? It’s a proper word. Like me. A proper girl. A girl who had a mother who had rules.

With the stockings over my face, I thought I might like to go for a drive. I cut holes for my eyes. The scissors glinted off the bathroom light. The fabric was coarse on my skin. It was a little more work to breathe but not impossible.

Nothing good happens after midnight, my mother said.

Nothing good happens after midnight, my mother said.

I rolled the windows down and drove. It was newly afternoon and it had just rained. The tires slushed on wet gravel. A neon sun gleamed off of puddles and the tops of cars. I stopped at a stop light. A woman in the lane over stared. I waved—don’t worry, I’m friendly, I’m just going through a thing.

We broke up a few weeks after that night and never spoke again, but here: you can have your life. I’m writing to be able to tell you that.

Plenty of good things have happened to me after midnight. Your wife might even say, “Well that sounds like an unfortunate situation but there’s nothing we can do about it now.” It’s not like it was THAT bad, what transpired between us. I had consented. At least at first. The terms changed too quickly for you. Why rob you of your life.

She’s a voice of reason, your wife. I think I’d like her if we ever met in person—from what I can tell from the not-insignificant number of pictures I’ve looked at on Facebook. Her peachy face, glossed on screen.

At another stoplight, a child in the backseat of a minivan laughed at me. Must be the nose. I inhaled spring air and smoking rubber and the synthetic fabric of the stockings. I revved my engine.

What if your wife and I ran into each other at a café? She wouldn’t know who I am. I’d befriend her. I wouldn’t tell.

My face and hair began to sweat through the stockings. The air got humid. I took the fast lane on the highway. I wanted to hear the hum. A stronger breeze. I went so fast, the city and the signs warped by like a space-time continuum and I forgot what I was remembering for a moment.

I’m writing because I just feel so common. One in millions of told and untold stories. Other women. It happened to them, too. They gave it a name. I couldn’t unname it. I am writing to reshape this commonality. Of course I’ll frame this all as fiction. I am just trying take up some space in your brain.

They gave it a name. I couldn’t unname it.

Maybe we’d go to yoga together, your wife and I. She’d tell you about this new friend she’d made, how you have to meet her—I’d use a fake name.

Eventually I’d meet your daughter. I’d fold her golden hair between my fingers. Lean down to her level. Whisper something her mother can’t hear. Something that will stay with her but she’ll never be quite sure why.

I’m writing because some fucker was going too slow in the fast lane. I got right up to his back bumper. He looked at me through his rearview mirror. He turned on his blinker and slid to the lane over. I zipped past him.

I’m writing because I want to bake your wife cookies. I’d make too many so she has to take some home. You’ll eat one of the cookies. They’ll be a little dry, overcooked. I tend to do that. They’ll leave a taste in your mouth. Crumbs in your teeth, shiny and wet from saliva.

Another stoplight, a spectacular Labrador on the street corner barked at me with his neck stretched up. I think he was saying good for you!

My face started to feel a little itchy. I was grateful to be aware of my own skin. I scratched my chin. The material was smooth. I want my skin to feel like this all the time.

Remember how sloshed we got that night?

I had to stop to get gas. It was pay-at-the-pump but I forgot my credit card. I went into the store and the cashier yelped. He was tall and fat. Nothing like you. I know how I must have looked. He pulled a pistol from under the counter. He pointed it at me. The black hole of the barrel. His hand shaking. The pistol rattled the rings on his fingers. Silly man.

What I do remember: waking up from blackness. On my back. Cold and sticky. You had finished. You were gone.

What I do remember: waking up from blackness. On my back. Cold and sticky. You had finished. You were gone.

I sighed. My voice muffled by the stockings I said, “Don’t worry, I’m not a thief. I’m just a girl. I mean woman.” I took my sunglasses off and smiled to confirm this. I left my cash on the counter. He never stopped pointing at me. I walked outside shielding my eyes from the sun, the stockings tight around my neck.

Annie Werner is a writer, editor and lapsed Texan living in New York. She lurks on Instagram @anniewerner.

Illustration by Elena Hayward.

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