Over at filthy, funny, flawed, gorgeous, ammani has a new series of '24-hour challenge' posts - the theme for today being 'socks'. And since it's been a slow day and a while since I did any fiction, I figured I'd try my hand at a few variations on that theme (a couple of which I posted in the comments to ammani's post):
Take 1: Darn It!
There it is again. That bit in the story where someone - some doting mother or devoted wife - darns some man's socks. Something about these scenes always annoys her. She knows it's supposed to be all touching and beautiful, but I mean really, who darns socks anymore? She wouldn't even know how to. The most she does for her husband is buy him new socks when his old ones wear out, and even that she gets grief for from her women friends, who claim she's spoiling him and that he should learn to buy his own socks. The only reason she does it is because he never seems to realize that his socks have holes in them, and he goes on wearing them, and eventually she's the one who ends up being embarrassed. But darning them! That's like something her grandmother would have done. She flings the book aside impatiently, picks up a magazine.
Take 2: A sock left lonely
Leo Argyle was a sock in love. Nothing in the world was as precious to him as his mate, Rebecca. They had been together from the very start, as far back as Leo could remember, and even in those innocent days when the world had been all clear and crinkly, it had always felt like a perfect match. Long were the hours these two had spent, folded in each other's arms, deep in the warm, pressing intimacy of the Drawer. And even when work beckoned and they were forced to part, even then Leo had the comfort of knowing that Rebecca was close by, only a few feet away, working side by side with him. The one time the Master had made the mistake of pairing him with some other sock, a stranger, Leo had felt embarrassed, estranged, and had sighed in relief when a friendly hand finally returned him to Rebecca's embrace. Their's was a perfect marriage, a union of equals joined by a common destiny and secure in the expectation of growing old together, the travails of life wearing them down at the same pace.
Which is why it was a shock to Leo when Rebecca disappeared. It happened one day in the wash. The two of them had gone in together, along with four or five other couples, as was the custom of socks on a Saturday following a work-week. Once inside, of course, they had been parted in all the giddiness and excitement, the furious swirling of the crowded wash making it almost impossible to stay together. And so, when the whole thing was over Leo had sat patiently at the bottom of the laundry basket, as he had a hundred times before, waiting for Rebecca to rejoin him.
Except this time there was no sign of her. Sock after sock was picked up and paired with its mate until all the others had been put away and still she did not appear. Even the Master, who normally paid little attention to the socks, was forced to take notice. He went so far as to pull out the other pairs to make sure that Rebecca was not among them (as if she would be disloyal to Leo that way) but of course she wasn't there, and besides, that would still have left one sock missing. She had simply disappeared.
For the longest time, Leo lay limp and griefstricken at the bottom of the basket, unable to comprehend the tragedy that had overtaken him. He had heard of this happening before - of socks disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Some people said it was the ghosts of socks past that waited in the dryer and picked off straying socks, others that it was all some evil design of the Master's to keep them subjugated, still others that it was the shirts and sweaters that kidnapped the socks. But never had Leo imagined that such a thing could happen to him. Eventually the Master, taking pity on Leo, picked him out of the basket and placed him very gently in the Drawer, but the sight of this familiar place without his beloved by his side only made Leo suffer more.
There is nothing in nature more lonely than a sock left alone. As the days passed, Leo felt himself sinking deeper and deeper into a kind of moral listlessness, felt as though the elastic of his soul were growing slack. It wasn't just that he missed Rebecca, though he did - intensely, endlessly - it was that in her absence he felt himself at a loose end, of no use to anyone, abandoned at the bottom of the Drawer to sigh and mope all by himself.
In a few days, once he had got over his initial shock, Leo began to realize that he had other problems. Sock communities do not take kindly to loners. The way they see it, a sock by itself is an unnatural thing, a rogue, whose only purpose can be to disrupt the order of the drawer by attempting to insinuate itself between other pairs, seducing away the lawful mate of some other sock. At best, a lone sock is a scavenger, waiting like a bad omen for some other (preferably some sock that looks like him) to go missing so that he can take his place; at worst, he is a pair-breaker, who will lure away some unsuspecting sock-wife by force or guile. Little wonder then that the other socks, who had always treated Leo with easy camaraderie, now turned hostile. Socks that looked similar to Leo in appearance began to stay as far away from him as possible, as though to highlight the difference between them and him. Other, more belligerent socks balled themselves up into fists, threatening Leo away. It wasn't long before Leo found himself pushed virtually out of the Drawer, lost in the no-man's land between the socks and the underpants.
By himself, Leo would have been quite happy to accept his status as a pariah, for he found the company of other socks galling, their happy pairings only serving to remind him of his own status as odd sock out. Unfortunately the Master wasn't content with this. Every time he opened the drawer and found Leo huddled away among the other underwear, he would carefully restore him to the middle of the sock pile, often with a puzzled air as to what Leo was doing so far away from the others in the first place.
Leo tried to explain to the other socks that this was not his fault, but they remained suspicious. Every night, after the chink-light had disappeared, a small group of socks would seek Leo out in the dark and shout warnings and abuse at him, keeping him awake all night. It wasn't long before the mental and emotional stress began to tell. Leo, once the smartest and most personable of socks, began to look old and worn - his heel was beginning to unravel, his mouth hung permanently slack. Two months of this and Leo looked more like a dust rag than a sock. For a while he managed to live on in the Drawer, crawling into a corner at the very back where he passed unnoticed and the other socks (who in this part of the Drawer were themselves decrepit and full of holes) didn't seem to mind him as much, but one day the Master was groping about in the Drawer and discovered him.
It was clear that the Master had forgotten who Leo was, even though he had once been proud enough of him to wear him on a date. He stared at Leo for a moment, as though trying to remember something, then, with a shrug, carried him over to the dustbin and threw him away in the trash.
Take 3: Exhibit E
Exhibit E: One pair of socks, gray, cotton, showing signs of darning, presumably by victim's hands. Item was found stuffed in victim's mouth, presumably to muffle her screams while she was raped. No fingerprints were found on the item.
Take 4: The Socks of Young Werther (or The Superman also buys Socks)
As he stepped into the store, the young man was keenly aware of the absurdity of his errand. It was a beautiful spring day. The sun had been busy all morning polishing the town roofs and now stood back to observe the effect, beaming broadly. Girls in light dresses walked by in twos and threes, scattering shy glances around them like drops of laughing dew. A fountain tinkled in the square, whispering sweet endearments into the ear of the April breeze. From somewhere far away the strains of a street violin wafted through the streets. It was a day to walk along the avenues, wearing a collar of immaculate white, or to lie in the shade of some great tree, a book of poems open in one's hand, declaiming lines from Rilke to the scented air.
Instead here he was, spending his time buying socks. It was unfair, wretchedly unfair, but there was no help for it. Certain proprieties had to be maintained, and the current state of his socks was deplorable. He had been vaguely aware of this for some time, of course, but it had been brought home to him the other day when his friend Franz dropped by to borrow a book and happened to catch sight of his socks. Franz, ever the gentleman, said nothing, but even so it was a shaming moment. That was why he was out here, looking to buy new socks, even though he'd much rather be spending the time out in the park, or even (if he had to be indoors shopping) in some quiet bookstore. It was a terrible thing indeed to waste an afternoon like this on a chore like buying socks. As the shadow of the store awning fell upon him, he felt as though he were drowning in its gloom.
It took him five minutes to find the sock counter. The first clerk he asked was unhelpful, the second sent him the wrong way, the third made him wait till he was done with an earlier customer, then directed him to the right place. And all the while the sense of suffocation, of being trapped in a conspiracy against his youth grew stronger inside him.
And when he finally got to the sock counter, what did he see? The clerk behind the counter was giving him a familiar, almost mocking smile, as though his arrival here had been inevitable, as though the clerk had been waiting for him all his life. What was meant by this insolence? How dare this clerk - and a incompetent clerk at that, for why else would they have him selling something as undemanding as socks - treat him like an equal? Did it show in his face that the socks he was wearing had holes in them? Surely not. He was always careful to look respectable. What then had given him away?
Instinctively he looked down at his shoes. There they were, opaque as ever, keeping the sorry secret of his feet hidden from all prying eyes. Why then was this clerk smirking at him? It was all quite unbearable! The closeness of the store, the shabbiness of this corner of it in which he found himself, the clerk's offensively superior manner, all this came together like a great weight pressed to his chest, smothering him, taking away his breath.
"Care to see some socks, sir?" the clerk asked, the leer still on his face. For a moment, as he wrestled with his sense of being stifled, words failed him and he could only nod. The clerk turned to the shelves behind him, pulled out a few packages, started to lay out an assortment of socks on the counter. Then, at last, the young man found his voice. "No!" he cried, the word coming out almost as a shout, "I don't want to see the socks. Any three pairs will do. Just put them in a bag and I'll buy them."
At these words, the clerk's eyes opened wider, and he stopped to stare at his young client. The look of surprise on his face immediately made the young man feel better. Yes, he thought, taking a deep breath into his lungs, this was the way. The only way to come through this chore with all his dignity intact. Was he to scrabble about among these arrayed socks like some feeble-minded housewife, trying to distinguish one from the other by some tiny variation in shade or design, eventually picking one pair here, a second there, the way a man at a fortune teller picks the cards of his fate? No! Better to show his scorn for these mundanities, for these petty conventions, these niceties by which the soul of the true intellectual is chained by the bourgeoisie, and leave the choice of which socks to those who cared about such things.
Secure in his intention, he repeated his instructions to the befuddled clerk. Then, turning away before the clerk could argue or question, he walked over to the cashier, feeling noble and a little imperious, imagining the news of his defiance passing among the staff (as indeed it was, for was that not the clerk from the shoe-counter whispering in another clerk's ear, and was this second clerk not turning to stare at him?). At the exit, he handed over his money, took the bag from the still bewildered clerk and without, even now, condescending to glance at his purchase, walked out into the glorious Spring sunlight.
And this is how young Werther came to own three pairs of crimson socks with magenta hearts on them.
Take V: Before the Fireplace
He's getting too fat for this job. He doesn't remember it being this difficult before. Maybe he should consider that diet his wife keeps talking about.
Then again, maybe it's just that the chimney is narrow. That's the trouble with coming to this part of town. He doesn't know why he bothers. It's not like the poor deserve Christmas anyway.
Wheezing and spluttering with soot he emerges from the fireplace, trying not to make too much noise. They probably have thin walls here. Now where the devil is it? Ah there! But what's this? Those aren't stockings. Can't these people do anything properly?
Standing in the pale winter moonlight he stares at the pair of children's socks, their fabric worn thin at the heel, a hole visible in one toe, and suddenly he feels something give way inside him, feels tears in the corners of his eyes. Hastily he unloads gifts from his sack, not bothering to check his list. When the sack is empty, he feels better. "Ho! Ho! Ho!" he whispers to himself, as he slips out the window.