Last night after dinner I walked with my daughter, each of us with a dog on the lead. We walked behind a woman whose dress was caught in her underpants. Though I could not be sure. The dress might be designed that way, a type of culottes. But the woman was my age at least and not someone likely to show off her legs.
‘Do we tell her?’ I asked my daughter.
‘No, it’s too awful,’ she said, though agreed it was unkind to leave the woman in ignorance.
When we caught up, I told the woman about her dress.
‘That’s so embarrassing,’ she said and wrenched her skirt down, then smoothed it with her hand. ‘Thanks,’ she said without making eye contact.
My daughter and I crossed the road to take the quick walk around the block and avoid the evening heat. That’s when I remembered Mrs P who took us for music when I was in year eight.
One day Mrs P stood in the concert hall and glared down at us from her place on the dais, which she shared with a piano. There was also a black board behind the piano onto which she turned to write down notes on a set of lines: a gorgeous treble clef in first place. Crotchets and quavers, and demi semi quavers.
I loved the written language of music. The words for each sign, each black ball with its accompanying tag that told you how long to hold the beat. The open circled ball a full beat, unlike the dark connected quavers.
When she moved off the piano stool after playing the notes of the doh ray mi and stood to mark these notes on the board, we saw that Mrs P’s dress was caught in her underpants. Her thick fleshy thighs showed all the way down to curve of her bottom. Midway you could see the point where the top of her stockings joined the lines of her suspender belt. No neat panty hose in those days. They had only just come in and were the clothing of the rich and fashionable, not a lowly schoolteacher, a music teacher to boot within the Catholic system whose wages were notoriously less than in the protestant system.
Our teachers, and especially the nuns, taught for the love of God alone. Out of duty to educate the young. Mrs P, a lay teacher earned a salary, but not enough to get her out of this hideous situation where girls tittered at her exposed behind. Me among them.
No one told Mrs P that her dress was caught in her underpants and when the bell rang, she left the hall. We filed after her onto the quadrangle and I watched her round behind go up and down in rhythm with her steps.
What would she think when hopefully one of her fellow teachers finally told her that her dress was not as it should be? How long before someone spared her the greater embarrassment of spending an entire day unknowing that her underpants were showing?