(Or: Shame Comes in Pairs)
I live in a house where chore life is divided. My spouse shops and cooks and nightly places dinner in an almost timely manner upon our table. I launder, vacuum, and distract the children while he shops and cooks. Most other chores we equally and agreeably ignore. But beneath my half of this tranquility lies a secret, a laundering secret. It’s about the socks.
Yes, everyone says they lose socks. I’m pretty sure, though, that no one loses as many as I do. Or else, no one keeps the evidence. I have a bag, a heavyweight trash bag, filled with the remains. Like a criminal who can’t think of where to dispose of the gun, I hang on.
The bag is so heavy I can barely lift it.
I keep the bag beneath our bed. I stuff it under there, shaping and reshaping and, I swear, it’s the length of a body. With the unmatched socks lying beneath me at night, I’m like a character from the pages of Edgar Allen Poe. There’s no heartbeat to give me away, nothing live, nothing audible, and yet, I can hear the socks talking.
Here’s what the socks say:
3 for the price of 2, at The GAP! Remember?
I’m padded at the bottom, great at the gym!
I’m a remnant of babyhood! Have you no pity?
And, little changelings, they remind me of their usefulness:
Puppets! Sock puppets! Hang on and make good use!
Stuff me into a pillow! I won’t be lumpy, I swear.
Remember the Depression? No? Well, ask your grandmother!
I can’t help but listen. Plus, there’s always the chance that the mate (well, okay, maybe five hundred or so mates) will resurface. Will claim conjugal rights. How can I let such good socks go?
My husband knows nothing of these crimes against cotton. He has not even yet discovered the bag of remains. We are so certain in our house about which side of the bed is his, and which is mine, that he would never even think to peek under my side for an errant slipper. The dust ruffle works well and besides, his old canvases (college art major–a former life) divide the beneath-the-bed space in two. And, conveniently, restrict his visibility.
My secret is safe from him. That’s because, having failed in the sock department, I have grown furtive. I shop in secret hours and I buy more.
Socks on display cry out to me. Each pair has its own appeal and, bound together with plastic ties and sticky labels, they seem as faithful to one another as did my grandparents. These are the socks that will not get away. I buy them, more and more of them, sometimes two of the same pair, a slight concession to the possibility of loss, but really, at the beginning of a new relationship no one dreams of the end. Wheeling my cart through Target, I beam. Newness.
But the elation is short-lived. Something happens. Perhaps you’ve been there. It could happen anywhere along the route from foot to laundry basket to washer to dryer to basket again to the soft landing upon the bed. And with a household full of feet, with socks perhaps under couches, in a backpack, stuffed still inside a sneaker, the possibilities multiply. When the folding commences (The folding! The sweet-smelling domestication of the world!) something even then can go wrong, something even then can alter the order of the universe. I raise my head from the task to fumble with the TV controller, and then, glancing back down, it happens: the better half of one sock pair has slipped again, like water, like Jell-O, like all my best motherly intentions, between my fingers.
It’s Sunday night. No stores are open. But tomorrow is another day and today’s circulars promise sales aplenty. As for tonight, I am left with one sock remaining. From the kitchen I can hear my husband finishing up his evening chores at the sink, blasting water triumphantly at the Calphalon pans with the kitchen hose. I hate to have his chore (done!) matched with mine (incomplete!). Every mother has something to hide, I think, some failing, small or large, that a partner needn’t know. When I grab for that lone sock, the mouth opens at the top. I turn a deaf ear as the sock protests its unceremonial procession to the bag, the bag beneath our bed.
Eileen Donovan Kranz teaches writing at Boston College; her work has appeared in South Dakota Review, Pikeville Review, YARN, Storyglossia, and Literary Mama, among other publications. Eileen lives north of Boston with her husband, writer Jonathan Kranz, two feisty (and writerly) teenage daughters, and one misbehaving but much-loved Maltese terrier.