Martha has a special gift: when she touches an object or piece of clothing, she can relive its history. This makes second-hand lingerie very interesting.
A parking space up front! A good omen, Martha thought. She got out of her car, locked it carefully -- she'd been wearing gloves for so long now that handling car keys was nothing -- and headed into the shop to see what her sex life was about to be like.
There's nothing like a thrift store to really depress a person. A room full of castoffs, once-treasured items condemned to collect dust because they were scratched, out of style, or just not as treasured anymore. Everything here came with baggage. Everything here was used, passed on, handed down. Everything here had a history, which was good, since that's why Martha was here.
It wasn't crowded today; that made things easier. She grabbed a shopping basket, her attention on the rack at the far end of the store where the lingerie was. A large woman was over there, sifting through the hosiery and underwear bin. Martha shuddered. How could anyone buy second-hand panties? Didn't she know where they'd been? Martha certainly did, better than most people.
The woman was living a dream anyway, one where she was a size 4. She passed over clothing that might actually fit to grab undies that would barely stretch over a supermodel. Martha smiled to herself. Any minute now she'll get fed up and...
The woman left. After glancing around to see where everybody was, Martha meandered in a purely coincidental path that led her directly to the lingerie.
The rack was full; they must have just gotten new stuff. She took a deep breath at all the possibilities. Too many weekends she had come in to see the same threadbare rags hanging in the same places: pathetic teddies from discount stores, flimsy robes with suspicious rips, that sort of thing. Nothing she'd be interested in. But this looked like a collection of quality things, and she knew without looking that the prices would reflect it. That was okay. Martha got a lot more out of these garments than anyone would think. She looked around a final time -- no one was paying attention -- and pulled out a sheer silk nightie that had surely never seen the inside of a mall. She carefully pulled off her glove and brushed a hand against it.
. . . red driving thrust and purple-black fuck and biting to taste his rich blood as he attacked, pounding and splitting her with his cock.
She yanked her hand away. A bit too rough, she thought, shaking. She always had stomach trouble after one of those, and a tendency to shy away from men. More than usual. Just her fault for being too eager -- she should have known by now not to grab. She began lightly touching the next few dainties, enough to get the barest hint of each one without losing herself.
Martha had looked the word up after her life had exploded: what happened to her was called psychometry -- the ability to touch something and "read" its history. Thank God it only happened when she touched something with her bare hands -- otherwise she'd have gone insane the first year. It had first appeared in high school, when she got in a friend's new (used) car and suddenly found herself in the midst of someone else's maelstrom of flame and death. She'd screamed and the vision had stopped cold, but the memory remained.
Years of therapy followed. She was careful not to reveal her psychic ability. She knew what happened to people with...odd...abilities.
Then came years of loneliness, of thick, safe layers between her and the world. A few abortive relationships taught her that it's not good to know everything about your loved one. How could she live with a person when every time she picked up something she became them, thought their thoughts, knew their secrets?
She wore gloves every second she was out of her apartment, and she was careful never to touch anything she had owned for less than a year, in case it carried memories of its manufacture, or some horrible disaster that happened in the store while it was on the shelf.
One night, depressed and lonely, she had been doing her laundry in the basement of her apartment building when the young blonde girl from the apartment next to hers came in with her own basket. Lucy, Martha knew, was a college girl with a cat and a boyfriend and a red Miata. Martha kept her eyes down, embarrassed. Many a night she had heard the thumping and gasping from next door; she considered her bitter envy inappropriate.
Lucy dumped her clothes on the wooden counter and started separating them, only to realize she'd forgotten her change. Martha agreed to watch her pile and she dashed upstairs, all bounces and shining golden hair. On top of Lucy's laundry was a crumpled nightgown.
Martha lifted the nightie. It was a sheer thing, pink and lace-trimmed and entirely useless for modesty or sleep. Martha, flannel to the depths of her soul, had never worn anything remotely like it in her life.
Quickly, before she could change her mind, she had slipped off her glove and grasped the nightie.
When the girl came back down with a Pringles can half full of quarters, Martha was just finishing her load. Lucy never noticed the missing nightie or the way Martha's face glowed, or how Martha trembled as she hurried upstairs with a basket full of wet laundry.
Now Martha trembled again at the cash register. She always did. It seemed impossible that the cashier wouldn't wonder why she was buying five pieces of lingerie, no two even remotely the same size, but the woman rang the purchase up without comment. Martha clutched the bag to her chest as she hurried out to her car, cringing against the cries of "Pervert!" that never came.
She rushed into her apartment, locked the door, and began the weekend ritual that had crystallized over the last few years into ceremony. One glass of red wine, to accompany her into the bathtub. One capful of Amethyst Dreams in the steaming water. Exactly one half-hour in the tub, to relax and soothe and to make her skin soft and smooth (she wore rubber gloves: no telling what might have happened in an apartment tub). Dry off with a thick, fluffy towel, then walk naked-but-for-gloves to where her fantasies patiently waited in a white plastic bag.
She stretched luxuriously across her covers with an anticipatory smile, and then sat up with her legs straight out, like a child at Christmas. The lingerie spilled out of the bag into a small silky heap. Martha brought her hands in front of her face and, shivering, began to tug at the slick fingertips of her right glove, revealing the milky-white hand underneath. The heat began to build, a purely Pavlovian reaction reinforced over the last two years; her nipples tightened into knurled buttons. With naked hands, she snatched the first nightie, bunched it against her breasts, and she…
...she was Michelle, slipping her new teddy over smooth shoulders, feeling it drift down to caress her curves. Hank was due home any time. She was ready to show him that the honeymoon wasn't over yet, not by a long shot. She slipped on panties so he could tear them off, applied perfume to the five main areas, and scooted under the covers to wait for him. She heard his car almost immediately, and the front door right after.
"Honey?" he called. "You left me already?"
"I'm in here," Michelle/Martha called in a husky voice. "Did you bring dinner?"
Hank appeared in the doorway, a burly bear of a man with a big grin and a large bulge. "I did, ma'am," he said. "Hot and ready and all you can eat!" He leaped out of his clothes and jumped onto the bed, capturing Michelle/Martha in a rough embrace and kissing her throat and breasts with a playful hunger that turned intense almost immediately. She arched up to meet him, her fingernails dragging lines across his broad back. His hands pushed her teddy aside to pinch at her nipples. His cock was a hard, red-hot presence, pushing at the sheets to get to her.
Michelle/Martha swept the bedclothes aside to reveal herself in all her glory -- tanned, tight, aching with need -- and she slowly rolled over to her hands and knees, planting her face solidly in the pillow and pushing her rounded ass into Hank's crotch.
"You know what I want, lover," she said. Michelle/Martha shook with desire as she felt the first push of Hank's cock against her asshole…
…Shaking, Martha pitched the nightie away. She took a deep, cleansing breath as she fought to ignore the pulsing signals from her groin. She wasn't against anal play, exactly. She had no problem with anybody else enjoying it, she just didn't want it herself. Like broccoli.
And enjoy it she would have, she knew from experience. If the person she became had enjoyed what happened, then Martha would enjoy it just as much, at least until she let go and became Martha again. It was the ickiness afterward. Anal sex was so undignified, thought Martha, the thirty-seven-year-old virgin.
That was one advantage. She could try sexual kinks without fear of discovery, disease, or social acceptance, and eventually, hesitantly, she had. Martha had, at times, been a lesbian, an exhibitionist, a swinger, a submissive (dominants didn't wear nighties, apparently, or else didn't give them to Goodwill afterwards), old, young, white, black, brown, yellow, red, handicapped, athletic, thin, fat -- every possible combination of those and more. Intact though she might be, she had fucked almost a thousand men, sort of. And women. But she always felt uncomfortable about lesbian sex, even though it invariably caused massive orgasms. Possibly because it caused massive orgasms.
Her disappointment in the nightie was easy to quell. She counted herself lucky if even a third of her purchases were keepers. She put away the insistent memory of how badly she had wanted her ass filled...and she picked up the second nightie…
...one last bow and it was tied in place and Look at you, aren't you the pretty, pretty girl! The diaphanous white cloth clung to rounded curves and the full-length mirror faithfully reflected every one. Balding head, bright eyes, straggly mustache over an unshaven face, skinny pale shoulders, whorls of chest hair disappearing into the delicate neckline, a middle-aged pot belly pushing the cloth…
Martha threw the nightie all the way into the hall, where it snagged on a picture frame.
The gift had its drawbacks, for sure. It had taken quite a bit of trial and error before Martha settled on her routine.
At first, when she finally convinced herself to sample other peoples' sex lives, she had reasoned that panties would provide the strongest charge. She quickly discovered that while they were often filled with memories of toe-curling foreplay, they would almost always go cold right at the hottest point, when the owner (or owner's lover) yanked them off and left Martha shuddering with interrupted passion. Enough agonizing frustration, along with two or three traumatic menstrual memories, and she decided to avoid other people's underwear forever.
When she heard about porn stars and Web girls selling used panties, she wondered for a moment whether or not there were others like her out there, buying them for the memories inside, but it wasn't enough for her to consider buying any herself. Besides, second-hand lingerie was cheaper, and people were more likely to leave nighties on during sex.
The third one was a long nightgown with little lace roses at the neck. It looked like something Martha might even have chosen for herself, should she ever wear anything to bed that wasn't for warmth. She had been intending to save it for last but after the first two she badly needed one to work. Casting caution to the winds she rapidly pulled it over her head and wrapped her hands around her breasts, crushing the thin cloth between them…
...and she was Anne and was holding the nightgown up, gazing at it, while a handsome man sat next to her on the bed. He was in his forties, with a salt and pepper beard and streaks of gray and silver in his hair that made Anne/Martha want to run her fingers through it, again and again. Right now he looked absurdly pleased with himself at having chosen correctly.
Anne/Martha held the nightgown to her chest and leaned over to kiss him soundly on the mouth before shooing him out the door. She stood up and let her robe fall to the ground, then applied powder and lipstick before putting the nightgown on. It felt incredible, exciting her nerve endings and tugging her nipples erect to form thick points in the cloth. She could hear John brushing his teeth in the next room; she smiled at his thoughtfulness.
John came back to a darkened room. He didn't pause for an instant, but made his way to the bed to find a double-armful of scented delight, soft and lush. His hands roamed over the familiar wonders made new by a satiny wrap that slid like oil over blood-hot skin. Never once did he fail to find a sensitive spot or a fiery nerve ending, and within seconds Anne/Martha was panting and mindless with want. She gasped as he ran his hand along her side, over her hip, to squeeze at a ripe buttock before slipping between her legs. His knowing fingers pushed the slick cloth against her, tugging at her, setting her folds aflame. The sensations threatened to overwhelm her and push her too close, too fast, so she grabbed the hem of the gown and wrapped it around his cock, drawing it back and forth and causing him to cry out in surprise and desire. A loving race began, the fever cascading over itself until both combatants surrendered and merged. The nightgown slipped up over her thighs as he entered her, and it slid between their bodies as they moved, adding an intoxicating sensation that drove them harder and harder until they roared into each other's mouth and...
…Martha bucked and came, and came, feeling John spurting deep inside her, tasting his mouth, bearing his weight, drumming her heels on his broad back. She let herself drop flat to the mattress, her arms and legs starfished, and rode out the afterglow. It was always an odd experience -- the rapture of the climax, the joy of togetherness, the feeling of loss as the memory faded, and the relief at being just Martha again. This one had been more exciting and more painful than usual. A happy, loving relationship was Martha's own secret fantasy; this pale version was like watching through a locked window.
She wrapped her hand in the sheet so she could safely move the nightgown aside. Painful though it was, that one would get saved for later. Psychometric memories never lasted long -- her own experiences quickly overrode the traces of former owners. But they were usually good for two or three times before they became too faint to read -- and she already had a crush on John. She often got crushes on the men she experienced. They never lasted. Abruptly knowing everything about a strange new man was heady, but another one could always replace him in the next touch.
It was a source of amusement to Martha that she had become such a psychic slut. Whatever would Mother think? One more sip of wine and she touched the next pile…
...tug it down over hippo hips and butt. Dunno why I wear stuff like this, no one else will ever see it, and God knows it's not as comfortable as a t-shirt. But, oh, it feels so nice on my skin, and with the lights off I can pretend I'm a beautiful model. These hands aren't mine, they're the photographer's, because I'm so beautiful. He's seen a thousand women but he can't resist me...
…Off came the gown, and Martha resisted the impulse to throw this one even farther. She hated, hated hearing the thoughts of single, unloved women. They were too close to her own inner anguish. Fantasies were supposed to be better than life; that was the whole point. More depressing still was that in those few seconds while she hated herself, she remembered seeing a perfectly good body that was probably more attractive than Martha's own. She felt a moment of pity and sadness for Jill. At least Martha had a reason to avoid people. Jill's isolation was self-inflicted.
She looked back longingly at the nightgown John had bought for Anne, but steeled herself to move on. Not good to obsess on a perfect lover who's never met you, she thought, and reached for the last one. It was the color of peaches and cream; it eased over her head like smoke…
...and John, her John, was over her again, thrusting and grunting, the old fool. Anne/Martha tilted her hips to speed things up so he'd pop and she could go to sleep. Faking arousal did begin to wear on you after awhile. John was a good man, a decent husband, but oh Lord, Rick was incredible and young and the things he did drove her wild. Anne/Martha let herself remember what Rick had done with his tongue in the motel and for the first time tonight she felt her juices flow. There we go, she thought and closed her eyes. That isn't John on me, it's Rick, and he's sucking my cunt 'til I see spots, and he's jumping up to ram it into me and it hurts and it feels so good and I'll be damned I think I'm going to come…
…A tiny Martha voice cried out in betrayal and pain. How could she?...
…The phone rang. John lunged to pick it up with a movement that nearly sent Anne/Martha over the edge, but his words sent a torrent of ice water down her spine.
"Yeah?" he gasped.
"Jimmy, look, I can't talk right now...what? They were where? The Motel 6?" Terror captured Anne/Martha's mind as John looked down at her, pain blossoming across his face. "No, I -- No, thank you for telling me, Jim." He hung up, looked at her for a long, questioning moment, then got up and left without a word. Emptied and alone, Anne/Martha shook quietly for a long time before the wracking sobs broke free and consumed her…
…Martha tore the gown in half, ripping it off her body with a strength that would have surprised her if she'd been capable of noticing. How could Anne have done that? How could she have hurt such a good man? For Martha knew John now, knew both him and Anne intimately and completely. John was the most handsome, responsible, loving man she had ever encountered. She could hardly conceive why any woman would stray from him, even having just been inside the mind of one who did. What fool would throw that away? John was perfect. The memory of his tortured face looking down on her, pleading for explanation, tore her heart.
Riding Anne's mind, she had learned all there was to know about him, his tastes, his loves, his life, their wedding day, his favorite Chinese restaurant, everything that Anne knew. She had felt their thundering passion -- and Anne had cut out his heart. Living through both events in a matter of moments was enough to tear her soul in two.
Anne's lover seemed a poor replacement. Young and rough and...Martha realized with a shock that the first nightie she had touched in the store, the one with the brutal penetration, had been Anne's as well. She had worn it in the motel.
Numb, Martha realized something else. This had happened recently. The feelings were too fresh, too intense. John finding out about Anne's infidelity somehow led directly to Anne's lingerie ending up in a thrift shop, and the possible reasons kept Martha awake for the rest of the night. Did he leave her? Did he kill her? No, John couldn't do that. She knew him too well; he was a truly good man.
With a shock, she realized she could find him. She knew where he lived, what his phone number was, what time he got home. And now, right now, he was alone. And hurting.
Sunday morning at the thrift shop. The cashier opened the front door and jumped aside as this crazy lady rushed in, yanked an old lace glove off her hand, and began grabbing at every article of clothing in the store. It was the weirdest thing the cashier had ever seen, in a business where weirdness was part of the inventory. The lady would grab a nightgown, her eyes would pop and she'd sag a little, then she'd shake it off and grab the next one. It was like each one gave her a migraine or something, and she was desperate to get 'em all. She went from rack to rack, shuddering with spasms, and almost fell to her knees in the underwear bins. But she never once slowed down.
Martha drove herself on, memory after memory, life after life. She dashed through the thoughts and lives of thousands of people, searching for clues to John. She had to know if he was all right, if he was recovering, if he was dying inside, if he needed her. All she could think about was a man she had never met, a man she had worshiped completely and betrayed utterly in the space of ten minutes, a stranger with whom she was deeply in love. Waves of second-hand thought washed over her mind, threatening to overwhelm her, but she kept grabbing everything within reach, looking for traces of her lover.
If I don't find him here, she thought raggedly, there are an awful lot of thrift shops out there. It's amazing the perfectly good things people throw out. And she reached for the next memory.