Maroon Knickers

by Mary McCluskey

She told him, in those dangerous moments after sex, as they lay in his bed, bodies damp, her breasts bruised like fingered fruit, a trickle of semen on her thigh, about the things she hadn’t known. The things she learned at aged ten, on her first time away from the council flats, the tenement block, when she stayed with a new schoolfriend, a girl who lived in a real house with a wooden gate and carpeting that stretched from wall to wall.

She learned that other people did not use neat squares of yesterday’s newspaper but kept a roll of toilet paper hidden under the pink lace skirts of a toy lady with an embroidered face.

She learned that some mothers cooked a hot dinner and ate with everyone else and stayed in the room, and did not go off to the pub at seven exactly, leaving a candy bar and a big brother in charge of the television remote.

She learned how things could be the same color – plates, towels, cushions. She learned what matched meant.

She learned that a girl, no older than she, could have her own little set of drawers, packed with white knickers and clean socks and nighties in soft cotton.

“I wore my brother’s old shirts to bed,” she said. “And wore maroon knickers, the school gym knickers, every day.”

“Maroon?” he said. “Really?”

“Can you imagine how rank they must have been? Worn every day and washed just twice a week in the bath, with my sister and me.”

“Jesus,” he said.

“Until then I thought everyone was like me, like my street friends. It’s as if the entire world expanded that weekend into some huge space with all these secrets I had to learn.”

“Wear the maroon knickers for me,” he said. “Dance for me in the maroon knickers.”

Mary McCluskey’s short stories have been published in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong. A few have won prizes, been included in anthologies or read on BBC Radio 4. She has completed a novel, which is now undergoing a brutal revision.

At the center of this piece: maroon knickers. What would you like to say about them, their role in the piece, their power as image, their connection to what is real, or anything at all?

Ah, those ugly knickers. Pretty ones wouldn’t have worked so well. I needed them to show how the past can haunt us and people surprise us. His desire to see her dance in the maroon knickers is unexpected. She will see that the world is still a huge space with secrets she has yet to learn.


Congrats to the Best Small Fictions nominations from Matter Press for Compressed Creative Arts: Sara Backer’s “Oh, What a Night”; Dan Crawley’s “Powers”; Jill Talbot’s “Malahat Highway on Boxing Day”; Christopher Allen’s “Falling Man;” and Kathy Fish’s “Five Micros.” Congrats to Christopher Allen for being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions is now open. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period closes June 15, 2019; submit here.


05/23 • Nance Van Winckel (1 of 8)
05/30 • Nance Van Winckel (2 of 8)
06/05 • Rachel Rodman
06/06 • Nance Van Winckel (3 of 8)
06/10 • Erica Soon Olsen
06/12 • Beverly Jackson
06/13 • Nance Van Winckel (4 of 8)
06/17 • Avra Margariti
06/19 • Tommy Dean
06/20 • Nance Van Winckel (5 of 8)
06/24 • Stephen Reaugh
06/26 • Hege Lepri
06/27 • Nance Van Winckel (6 of 8)
07/01 • Danielle Hark
07/03 • Shirley Harshenin
07/04 • Nance Van Winckel (7 of 8)
07/08 • Matthew Barrett
07/10 • Andrew Stevens
07/11 • Nance Van Winckel (8 of 8)
07/15 • Peter Cherches
07/17 • Christopher Ryan
07/18 • Alex Durham
07/22 • Jessica Kehinde Ngo
07/24 • Jillian Pretzel
07/25 • Danielle Hark (1 of 6)
07/29 • Theresa Senato Edwards
07/31 • Stephanie Dickinson
08/01 • Danielle Hark (2 of 6)
08/05 • Callista Buchen
08/07 • Sara Elkamel
08/08 • Danielle Hark (3 of 6)
08/12 • Steven Ostrowski
08/14 • Karie Luidens
08/15 • Danielle Hark (4 of 6)
08/19 • Nick Ackerson
08/21 • Tyler Friend
08/22 • Danielle Hark (5 of 6)
08/26 • Suzanne Verrall
08/28 • Amelia Wright
08/29 • Danielle Hark (6 of 6)
09/05 • Richard Baldasty (1 of 4)
09/12 • Richard Baldasty (2 of 4)
09/19 • Richard Baldasty (3 of 4)
09/26 • Richard Baldasty (4 of 4)
12/23 • Tara Campbell