Martin felt it was incredible that the situation had come to exist at all .
And once begun , had grown to such monstrous proportions .
The pair of white cotton shorts ruled his life .
Lying awake at night , he could see them , laid out on the floor of his mind .
When he rose in the morning , the image was still there .
He had always been a messy and negligent man .
In his bachelor days , his bedroom had been strewn with clothes which his mother , or later the hotel maid , generally saw fit to put in order .
No doubt Dolores resented following in their footsteps .
But it was fun those first days , kidding about the trail of garments he left littered across the rug .
There was an assertive maleness in his grinning refusal to pick them up .
Half slyly he enjoyed seeing her stoop to lift the things .
He remembered the first time he saw her , standing across the room at a party .
The smooth curve of her neck , very white against hair which curled against it like petals .
Her hair was the color of those blooms which in seed catalogues are referred to as `` black '' , but since no flower is actually without color contain always a hint of grape or purple or blue -- he wanted to draw the broad patina of hair through his fingers , searching it slowly for a trace of veining which might reveal its true shade beneath the darkness .
So he sought her out , and spoke to her , and thought of his hand in her hair .
Or against her back , pressed on the column of vertebrae , which held her so magnificently straight and unyielding , until the segments of bone made tiny sharp cracking noises , like the snapped stem of a tulip .
But , to put it bluntly , nothing snapped .
Yet that had not seriously troubled him , not then .
They married .
More he could take at leisure .
All Martin thought he needed was time : to what better use could time be put ? ?
He saw later that they had made their marriage too quickly .
There was too little occasion beforehand for resistance , the brave strong delights of emotional clash and meeting .
They had left themselves too much to discover .
But , at the start , his new life felt invigorating .
It was on the tenth day after the wedding ( how could it have been so soon ? ?
) that he dropped the shorts on the floor .
`` Now , I'm not going to pick up those shorts '' ! !
Martin gave her a teasing pat .
`` I think you'll get tired of them there '' .
In the morning the shorts were where he had left them .
He smiled to himself , and decided not to mention them till Dolores did .
It was almost too easy .
For he had just remembered : tonight they were having their first guests .
The shorts would not be on the floor when he came home that evening .
He was wrong .
The rest of the bedroom had been groomed to a superhuman neatness , but in the middle of the carpet lay the disheveled shorts .
They gave the room a strange note of incongruity , like a mole on a beautiful face .
He saw that Dolores intended to wait until the last minute , thinking he would get nervous .
Quietly he determined to foil her .
I can be as stubborn as she can , he thought ; ;
my nerves are as strong .
She'll rush to the bedroom when the doorbell rings .
It rang .
Ten minutes early .
Martin was standing a few feet from the front door .
He swung around , eyes toward the bedroom , some fifteen feet away .
Dolores stood motionless in the doorway .
He could not cross the living room , brush past her , and bend down to retrieve the shorts .
Martin turned his back .
He strode to answer the bell .
Bill's hat was deposited in the hall closet .
With the most casual and relaxed manner in the world , Dolores led Anthea to the bedroom .
Martin strained his ears .
At first he could not be sure .
Then he caught just enough to know that the shorts were still there .
A glissade of giggles slid over their voices .
All evening Anthea favored him with odd , coy looks .
Clearly she had been instructed `` not to say a word '' .
For some reason , this ellipsis in the conversation spread until it swallowed up every other topic .
At last there was a void no one could fill .
The Brainards went home early .
Martin realized , later on , that he should have `` had it out '' with Dolores that night .
As violently as possible .
But he was so taken aback , he could not believe any rage of his would make her give in .
On the contrary , it would only weaken his position if he fumed , while she stayed calm and adamant .
And if he surrendered after raving at her .
He shivered .
Suppose he ran up the white flag altogether ? ?
At once .
He considered the sober possibility .
In his head was the echo of those titters with Anthea .
There was something about private feminine whisperings which always made him feel scabrous and unclean .
He remembered his mother gossiping with her neighborhood women friends , lowering her voice to a penetrating hoarseness which might be trusted to carry to the head of the stairs , where he crouched listening .
He could even recall the last time he sat there .
She was talking about him that time , because he had done some bad thing , something she disliked , but `` Afterwards Martin said he was sorry .
He apologized so sweetly , I couldn't keep being annoyed with him '' .
It wasn't even true that he'd said he was sorry that time ; ;
he had in fact said simply that he wished the thing hadn't happened , which was as honest as he could put it .
But his mother told the story over and over , till her `` Martin said he was sorry '' was as much a part of her as the shape of her thin , pallid ears .
The battle had to be fought .
Let the best sex win .
But his resolution hardly seemed to help .
If the situation had been bad , it now got worse .
About this time people began `` dropping in '' , considering that the newly married had been left alone long enough .
Angrily Martin wished they had delayed the wedding and gone on a trip -- preferably one that lasted months -- instead of deciding not to postpone the date until he could get away .
Here they were at the mercy of anyone who chose to come by .
These stray people nearly always insisted on Dolores showing them around the apartment .
Of course , the tours of inspection included the ever-present shorts .
It was curious how the different visitors took this .
Some tried to ignore the blot on the bedroom's countenance .
Others asked .
Quite a few laughed .
To them all Dolores told a lighthearted and witty tale .
`` It's a little contest Martin and I have '' , she would begin gaily , carrying the anecdote through a frothy and deceptive course .
While he waited in the living room .
Once Martin went along .
They entered the bedroom , and Dolores said nothing .
Then one of the guests showed his merriment .
`` You were in a hurry , weren't you '' ? ?
Martin would have liked to break the man's neck .
Dolores smiled ; ;
she let the interpretation stand .
Now Martin heard himself give a snort of mock good nature .
With her eyes Dolores dared him for the truth , ready to begin : It's a little contest --
Never again did he enter into the ritual of showing the apartment .
They kept up a rigid pretense of speaking relations .
But Martin seldom felt the impulse to talk about anything .
What to talk about ? ?
Dolores kept picking up any of his clothes ( except the fatal shorts ) which he left about , but he had been robbed of pleasure in scattering his possessions .
He fell into the habit of putting his clothes in drawers and closets , so his life might impinge as little as possible on hers .
The shorts alone remained .
In his moments of worst agony , Martin imagined what his friends were saying .
The sound of their amazement .
Bizarre : He could hear the word .
The most bizarre situation .
We were up to visit them and
He had thought her exactly what he wanted .
Six weeks of marriage and I'm using the past tense , he told himself furiously .
Pursuing his idea , he saw that it would be impossible to leave her now .
Everyone would know why ; ;
he would cut a supremely ridiculous figure .
He was trapped .
Day and night Martin could not drag his mind from the dilemma he had made for himself .
His mind scurried frantically , seeking an exit .
Alternately he had periods of hostile defeatism in which he determined sullenly , morosely , to live out his life in this fashion .
Nothing would change , nothing would ever change .
When the solution finally came to him , one night while he was in bed , he was so shaken by its simplicity that he could only wonder why it had not occurred to him before .
In a frenzy of excitement , he considered his plan .
Beside his shorts , he would place something of hers .
Instantaneously he would have won an immeasurable moral victory , for if she picked up , say , a pair of her panties , she might just as well lift his shorts lying alongside -- the expenditure of energy was almost the same .
He felt that it would be a particular humiliation to Dolores to pick up her own underwear which he had laid on the floor .
Furthermore , he could go on repeating the maneuver endlessly : every time he went in the bedroom , he could drop a slip or a brassiere , or maybe a girdle , next to his shorts .
Sooner or later , Dolores would crack .
On the other hand , if she didn't remove her own things , it would be difficult to explain to the parade of guests which traversed the apartment .
Martin guessed that Dolores would not be so eager to tell the next installment of her story .
The tale , he thought , would become less gay .
She had used his rumpled shorts as the very image of his childishness , his lack of control , his general male looseness , while she remained cool , airy , and untouched , the charming teacher who disciplined an unruly body .
To have her underclothes linked with his on the floor would draw her visibly into a struggle both bitter and absurd .
Something in the back of his mind was aware that the magnificence of the plan lay in his faith , that the idea would work because he believed in it , since his courage and virility were involved , because it was truly his .
The knowledge kept him from analyzing his scheme to death , and took him through the last hours of that night in a peace of exalted fanaticism .
The next morning , while Dolores was out of the room , he went to her bureau drawer , took out a pair of nylon lace pants , and tenderly dropped them next to his shorts .
He sat down on the bed .
In a surprisingly short time , Dolores appeared .
To his delight , her eyes focused at once upon the two garments .
Slowly and deliberately she reached down and touched the lace with her fingers , then hesitated for about a second .
Ah , he thought , she's going through the chain of reasoning which says she might really just as well pick up my shorts too .
He saw that in a moment she had grasped all the implications of a plot which had been weeks in occurring to him .
Extending her fingers another inch , she caught up the shorts , and swiftly left the room .
She did not look at him , but he noticed that her face was flushed and her eyes unsteady .
They breakfasted together , but Martin did not refer to his triumph , and Dolores found a great deal to do in the kitchen , bobbing up and down from the table so that talk was impossible .
Well , Martin thought , That'll save .
He left for work in high spirits .
As he relaxed that day , Martin realized how tense he had been these past weeks .
He found that he no longer hated Dolores ( he knew how much he had hated her ) , and he was surprised at a resurgence of an affectionate feeling .