Beulah's Wet Pants
Valerie Borey
Break
"I'll just put these pants on," Beulah said, "They're wet, but at least they're clean."
Beulah put her hand on my shoulder for balance while she slid her thick legs into the wet sheaths of her trousers. The cuffs were heavy with water and dragged on the floor when she walked away.
"Don't be silly," I pleaded with her, "You can't go out in wet pants. You'll get sick."
Beulah stood on tiptoe in front of the hallway mirror. She was circling her eyes with a charcoal pencil, squinting through a set of artificial lashes. On tiptoe like that, she looked like a hippo doing ballet. Her body was firm, if corpulent, and gathered about her bones in such a way that it resembled a rising loaf of dough getting ready for the oven. Her black hair had been knotted back, pulling the skin on her face tight so that it seemed to possess a vibrant awareness of its surroundings.
"Please don't, Beulah. It won't matter if you wear something else. Just put on a dirty pair."
Beulah pursed her lips as she applied a vivid crimson lipstick, "Is this too much?" she asked, "Too bright?"
I ignored her and began to rummage through a pile of dirty laundry on the floor next to her coffee table. Some torn t-shirts, a damp towel, a crumpled bedsheet, and below that, what promised to be a pair of jeans. Beulah grabbed my arm with a roughness I hadn't expected.
"Don't!" she snapped, and then more pleasantly, "These are my favorite pants. They're slimming, I think." She loosened her grip on my arm and pretended playfully to search for fat on the underside, up near my armpit. "See, you don't have to worry about that, do you?" she asked.
"Listen," I said, "This sounds harsh, but I have to say it. The performance tonight isn't about whether you look slim or not. I can't have you on stage tonight with a big puddle under your feet. They'll think you wet yourself. They'll think you're unprofessional, that I'm unprofessional. It's my first play! I wrote it! I directed it! Who's going to pay attention to the words when all they'll see is that the leading actress has wet herself?"
I broke free from Beulah's grasp and plunged my hand into the pile of clothing, grasping for the jeans. Beulah lunged at me, found a hold around my waist and pulled me from the pile. My hand clung stubbornly to the pair of jeans, which opened into view. They were sodden, saturated with what took me only an instant to recognize as fresh blood and excrement.
Beulah's eyes widened in shock, though she kept her hold on me. The pants dropped to the floor. I turned my head back to the pile of clothing. At the very bottom, near the cast-iron leg of Beulah's coffee table, a wrinkled foot protruded from the bedsheets. It was a baby's foot, unmoving.
Or maybe a doll's foot.
Our eyes locked and froze together and for a moment there was just silence.
"All right," I said lamely, "just bring a towel to cover my car seat."
Valerie Borey lives in Minneapolis, where she writes, teaches, and occasionally performs with her favorite theatre company. She is the editor of MN Flasher and MN Crawler, sister blogs that focus on the creative sociological landscape of Minnesota.