Barbara was looking out the front window at her husband Dave, bent over in the grass pulling out weeds when she noticed — with horror and confusion — the cut-off shorts her husband happened to be wearing, and she nearly choked on the lemonade she was sipping.
Outside, Dave paused and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm then looked around, squinting in the sun. He looked towards Barbara standing at the window with her lemonade and waved to her, smiling.
She didn’t wave back, even though from his vantage point outside she appeared to be staring right at him. She could only see the cut-off shorts, and she realized after a moment that she was shaking, and the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up.
First off, the shorts used to be cotton dress pants with spaghetti-thin vertical lines of light blue and white. Dave cut them one summer afternoon when, for some reason or another, he was in need of a pair of shorts. If you asked him, he would say he was low on shorts at the time and that he never once wore the pants or the matching blazer that went with them. Besides, he could still wear the blazer with other pants, or jeans, he reasoned.
“They were never meant to be shorts,” was one of the things Barbara always said to him. That was just a general criticism; there were, of course, other things she said about the shorts based on the situation. He would always retort by saying that just because something was originally designed to be something else that it could still be turned into other useful things, or something like that. Then he would emphasize the twenty-or-so dollars they saved by not having to buy new shorts “all the time” and all of the various environmental footprints they weren’t making as a result. Dave had always been environmentally conscious, sometimes to a fault.
The shorts were cut uneven, which drove Barbara the most crazy. On any given day, because he wore them so often, she would plead with him to “even them out at least,” and to his credit he would try to trim the longer leg, but they always seemed to remain slightly uneven, like a picture on a wall that is barely, but noticeably, not level. And they were cut short too — a few inches above the knee. Short-shorts on men was not the style of the time, which, paradoxically, was a fact that each of them used to justify their own positions regarding the social symbolism of the shorts.
He had the shorts for several years initially, before Barbara finally got rid of them. Over time, the shorts began to fray at the bottoms and thus got increments shorter with each wash and at some point the inseam began to split so that you could see the bottom of his boxer-brief underwear. Sometimes he would wear them in public like that, to go grocery shopping or to pick up take-out. It drove her crazy, and with tender firmness she would say things like, “You can’t go out in public like that. Can you not wear them out in public? At least with me?”
Of course, he would respond by saying, “Who cares what other people think?” and it would go on and on like that. He had a retort for everything; some philosophical shit that she often thought he just kind of made up on the spot, but she managed to repress her harshest criticisms of the shorts for several years because in a strange way she accepted that Dave liked them.
To him, though, the shorts were a subtle expression of self in addition to being comfortable and practical. He said a lot more than that actually, and she plain stopped listening at certain points, when he was being redundant, to look around the room or out a window or to check her phone, but that’s what it all came down to when you distilled everything he rambled on about in defense of the shorts: they were an expression of self. He would often say that he was practicing purposeful non-conformity and end up talking about transcendentalism and she would tune out during those parts too. In his mind, there was an intention to the shorts, like long hair on men in the Sixties or something. Of course she developed her own retorts to his retorts, and would sometimes respond by asking him what kind of expression he was making by wearing such embarrassing shorts to the grocery store.
One day he finally sewed the inseam back together with neon green thread and they both felt better about the shorts in their own way. Barbara was simply glad that the inseam was no longer wide open so that anyone could see his underwear when he was sitting down, while Dave figured now that he had fixed the inseam he might wear them that much longer.
Years continued to pass and Barbara’s strategy regarding the shorts changed: she stopped bringing them up altogether. The shorts were still in his dresser drawer, she knew that, and he wore them almost every weekend and sometimes after work until one day, to her glittering delight, he came home from work and changed into a pair of blue gym shorts instead. Normal shorts.
She noticed immediately, as soon as he came back out of the bedroom, and her eyes lingered on him as he passed back into the living room. He said, “What?” and she said, “Nothing,” and turned on the sink. “I feel like you’re looking at me funny,” he said, and she said, “You look good. You look thinner,” and he said, “Well I’ve been drinking less lately,” and she would say, “Yeah, babe, you’ve been good with that lately.”
She continued to monitor how often he wore the old cut-offs and for some reason or another they were appearing less and less in his rotation of shorts, seemingly replaced by the blue gym shorts that she never knew he had. He had even started wearing normal shorts to the grocery store, shorts that were meant to be shorts.
Finally, one morning after he left for work, she decided to get rid of the shorts once and for all so that she could be sure she would never have to see them again. It was a day she had waited years for. She waited a few minutes to make sure he wasn’t coming back, and then she dug them out of his dresser drawer and burned them in a metal bucket on their back deck. Then she mixed the ashes with some old soil to get rid of any evidence and spent the rest of the day planting a small tree in the backyard, just along the edge of the deck. Dave was always saying how he would like to have his ashes be mixed in garden soil and used to grow a garden. She thought that by mixing the ashes of the shorts with the soil, it might soften any kind of emotional blow if she ever had to tell him the truth about his shorts.
But Dave never mentioned the shorts again, never brought them up, and after a few more years passed even Barbara seemed to forget about them. Then came the day where she was drinking lemonade at the front window, watching Dave pull weeds.
DAN KENNARD is an English and American Literature instructor at Keiser University in Fort Pierce, Florida who graduated from Florida Atlantic University with his MFA in May 2011. He is currently working on a variety of writing projects, and also maintains a fiction blog at www.litcoms.com in which he tries to essentially write literature-sitcoms, individually referred to (by him) as “txtisodes” that follow the same group of characters the same way a television sitcom does, even including commercial breaks.