Nonfiction from Anna Hundert

Photo: Kara Michalczyk

Lace Lessons

lace (noun): cotton or silk, knitted or twisted, or clinging to skin, or lying on the table waiting to be touched (as in lace doilies) / lace (noun): they come in pairs, looping around each other in knots; they keep her shoes on her feet when she runs (away) / lace (verb): to fasten the laces of your shoes, or of someone else’s shoes (perhaps kneeling at her feet)

Lace makes an insincere effort in the task of covering. The appeal is in that dissonance of nakedness and modesty, the way the lace represents a barrier that isn’t there, a type of clothing that welcomes hands, allows for the contact of skin on skin. Or: clothing that is made to be removed. You see, loops can be either quaint or sinister. The word lace derives from the Latin noun laqueus, meaning noose. Or: the thing that makes your body feel inescapably heavy.

Which is not to say that my lace underwear might be compared to a thousand tiny nooses. I am sometimes afraid to write a question mark after asking something like how did lace come to be so exclusively feminine, what other fabric can claim this gendered air. Is it in the perceived fragility, or in the way we value it for thinness and lightness, or whiteness. Something in the way it seems to invite you to try to tear it apart. To press yourself into its empty spaces.

Which is to say that the appeal is in the uncovered parts, the patterning of a self with a hidden self. Which is to say that maybe we’re sexier when we’re not entirely present. Or: the appeal is in the material itself. Have you ever looked closely at the pattern on the cups of a lace bra. The truth is that it was never really about skin. Lingerie looks sexy on its own, lying crumpled on the floor or folded neatly in the drawer below your socks. A thousand tiny nooses linked together.

lace (verb): to entwine or entangle; the fingers of your right hand mingling with the fingers of your left hand (or her left hand)  / lace (verb): to enrich or fortify, to add an extra ingredient (for example, “laced with ecstasy”)

I used to think that lace would be uncomfortable. I imagined that my body would bulge out of the loops in tiny circles of fatness, or that the fabric would leave coarse pink railroad tracks around my hips. Which is to say that a story should weave around itself like lace. Reveal just enough flesh to be titillating. Should make your body feel unescapably heavy, or inescapably light. Should cling close to the skin, or hang in front of windows. A story should be forever touching itself, splitting apart and then meeting itself again.

When a female orgasm is especially strong, it is said to be violent. You break into shuddering ecstasy within the same idiom that lets dawn break each morning-after. You see, I do not like to describe sex with the language of advances and surrenders, those words of war, and I do not like my own tendency to associate pleasure with surrender. A student of Classics will always remember the Latin class where she learned that the word vagina means sheath or scabbard, the place to put your sword, and she will always remember the ninth-grade boys who laughed. Or: broke into laughter.

The pattern of lace rises and falls like a story. It has no climax, not in the traditional sense, not a linear build and release. But this is not a story of lack. My body cycles in loops, but it is not like a noose. I am not like a noose. I am not like a sheath. It’s never a good idea to think too hard about etymology. You’ll press yourself into too many empty spaces, get caught up in the loops.

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Anna Hundert is a fiction and nonfiction writer currently based in Madrid. Her work has appeared in the Ploughshares blog, LitHub, Electric Literature, Passages North, and elsewhere both online and in print. She studied Classics and Literary Arts at Brown University.

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