A short story, fresh from the second row of the aimlessly extravagant corn field.
Priscilla Lemonluck could feel a stranger sitting on her face. Its name, Consternation. The usually smooth swath between her black feathery eyebrows was puckery, too tight, and strained; her thick lips — voluntarily distorted to bespeak the emotions she harbored — hung heavy to the left. At the back of her two front teeth is where she rested her tongue, sliding it in and out of the sizable crevice she’d opted not to correct with the suggested four years of braces. It wasn’t the pain she feared (although Cooper Lyons, her best friend and three-houses-down-next-door neighbor, had mentioned more than once after a tightening that it was like having an angry barracuda, a chain-link fence, and a rubber slingshot living in your mouth all at once). Dreadful as all that sounded, Priscilla wouldn’t have minded the gruesome reconstruction of her mouth if what she wanted was to have teeth that looked like everyone else’s. She didn’t want that, though. Not even a little. And so, at the age of nine and three-quarters, Priscilla determined with arbitrary zeal that her teeth were off the table (at the tim she didn’t quite know what that meant, but on enough occasions had heard her father, Judge Lemonluck, use the phrase — this usually accompanied by an austere scowl or impassive hand — to understand it meant strictly and formidably NO) once and for all. These teeth of hers had personality and character — something that would surely be mitigated with reparative orthodontics.
This is neither here nor there, however. Priscilla fancied a real problem: missing socks.
An hour ago the last half of her final pair of socks had gone missing. Seated on the edge of her bed, Priscilla glanced down and wiggled her bare toes; each one had been painted a different shade of purple, starting from the smallest toe and darkest shade, eggplant, and gradually lightening to pellucid lavender. Were it June, July, or August, she might not have minded the cool, grainy hardwood pressing reassuringly at mound and heel. But it was not any of those summery months, unfortunately. And mid-march was a terrible time for socks to haul off and disappear.
It hadn’t happened all at once. No . . . socks are smarter than that, Priscilla contemplated, drumming her toes lambently into the floor. Socks are covert, clandestine, fiendish even; they knew that if the attrition rate was slow enough, a lost sock here and there wouldn’t matter much to the average over-extended, assiduously distracted human being, and then they would be free to do what socks liked to do most. Hide.
That wasn’t how it happened to Priscilla. After washing and drying her laundry — and she always saved her socks for last, because all things under Heaven had an order, and socks were not an exception — coming finally to the part where she would either roll, stack, or fold the socks depending on their length, purpose, and occasion, there she had inevitably reached for the final pair, only to discover it was too late. It’s brother — or sister — had gone missing.
Priscilla thought herself a reasonable person, and reasonable people knew that if they just waited long enough, lost things eventually turned up. Only in this particular case, they didn’t. It never happened. And so, one by one, her entire assortment of socks had vanished, much in same way people in the witness protection program do. And now there was nothing protecting her feet from the arctic temperatures Lemonluck Manor employed.
Growing up, Priscilla’s mother asseverated “the cold keeps one keen on her feet,” which Priscilla argued into the empty frigid air, was precisely the problem. A problem leaving her with no socks and one pair of her fleece-lined frog slippers that sang row-row-row your boat each time she gently made her way down the stairs as she passed her favorite painting of a watermill and bubbling stream. These were wonderful, songful companions to have, but along with being a reasonable person, Priscilla was also a sensible person, and she understood well and good that sensible people don’t wear their slippers all the time. The’d get worn out too quickly that way.
Oh, but now, she was without even one pair of matching socks.
Well, that was not entirely true; though this was an admission that called a shudder to Priscilla’s spine. It sat there on her sacrum for a moment, heavy and acrid, then began its fiery ascent toward the nape of her neck, coiling around her throat like a sunbathed python.
It was true: she did have one pair of socks remaining — but she refused to wear them. Priscilla would sooner walk barefoot down a street replete with broken glass, skip perilously through the overgrowth along the dog-park trail, or lose a toe to hyperthermia before wearing those despicable demonized things her Great Aunt Jocasta had given her three years prior, on her sixteenth birthday. And since Jocasta had been there in person to both celebrate the occasion and deliver the present, Priscilla had her work cut out as she peeled the turquoise tissue paper apart, it sealed together with a shiny gold medallion, and gazed upon the striped yellow and black glove-socks. They looked like hornets with a vendetta. Priscilla believed they would most certainly sting her if she allowed them anywhere near her feet. Not wanting to offend her Great Aunt, with much effort put forth Priscilla had managed a sallow-faced smile. Still, when she saw them, those wooly abominations that sought to separate and push all ten toes apart like rooster talons, Priscilla had vomited a little in her mouth. Thankfully she’d eaten a cream-cheese danish for lunch.
Priscilla would never forget the day she saw her best friend Cooper wearing those hideous torture devices.
It was Sunday, December twenty-seventh, two-thirty-seven in the afternoon (this she knew because, for Christmas, she had been given a Cat In The Hat wristwatch, and so taken with it, she was unable to cast her eye away for more than six to seven seconds). It was movie-marathon day. Effusively devoted Goldie Hawn fans, she and Cooper were scheduled to watch Death Becomes Her and eat Rolos until either they finished nine bags — their current record — or until chocolate and carmel started oozing from their ears (a highly anticipated event). Cooper had just opened the front door, smiling outlandishly to display the masticated Rolo draped across his incisor, when Priscilla glanced down and noticed what was on his feet. At first she could only stare, the way one does when spontaneously confronted with filth and mire beyond their immediate means of comprehension or tolerance. Her brain quickly elaborated the situation. She went wide-eyed and shrieked, and with all her strength stepped forward and punched Cooper in the left ear (she had been aiming for his nose) before running back home, trying not to trip as she gazed adoringly at her wristwatch.
Forcing toes into quarantine, in Priscilla’s opinion, was just as reprovable as those people who wore glasses for fashion rather than out of any need for ocular support. Her conviction remained that if she was to suffer with terrible eyesight, needing a different pair of glasses for nearly every occasion — reading, driving, computer-work, and even goggles for swimming — then at least she, and those suffering along with her, should be able to claim the small gratuity of idiosyncratic glasses. Because if someone didn’t draw the line somewhere, then who knew where this could lead: adorned canes and walkers assisting those without limp or gait impediments? Sparkly hearing aids strapped to perfectly good ears? Priscilla snorted. How both absurd and ridiculous. No, accommodating devices should be used and worn out of need first, vanity second. Her glasses, the ones she wore for daily tasks and such, were hot pink with tiny white palm trees strategically placed along the arms, drooped low across her cheeks, and in her opinion made her look like an erudite owl. Priscilla adored owls.
All this consideration led to her noticing a smudge on the right lens. She found a cloth in her left trouser pocket and after manufacturing a lungful of moistened air, rubbed circles on the right lens until it was pristine once more. The left was fine; she cleaned it anyway.
Once there weren’t any superficial obstacles to distort her visual field, she stuffed the cloth back into her pocket, rose from the bed, and turned around. What to do . . . Hands at her waist, Priscilla exhaled strongly enough to make her lips flap together, causing them to make the same sound a door stopper does when it’s been disrupted. Twelve socks total, each one estranged from its partner; an apparel atrocity, if she ever saw one.
Priscilla was not one to mope over a problem when there was something to be done about it. And even those times when there wasn’t something to be done, Priscilla always made sure to set a timer on her beloved wristwatch, allowing herself no more than six to ten minutes to feel incredibly sorry for herself. To ignore a heavy heart completely was like leaving the house while a pot of oil simmered on the stove. The house might not burn down right away, but eventually energy and substance would collide, leaving its victim charred and motionless like the grass that grows in the cracks under summer’s sun. Contrarily, to indulge a heavy heart without boundaries was rather like crawling into the pot and bringing the lid down over head. Priscilla had known someone once, a long, long time ago, who, so distraught after a haircut gone terribly wrong, went to that boiling place of melancholy and depression; and because she had neglected in setting a timer, she hadn’t known when it was time to come back and face the world. Time could be your friend, an ally, but it was very important to keep a close I (ahem, eye) on it.
First things first, Priscilla thought, accessing the sockle-debacle. Liking the sound of that in her mind, she said, “Sockle-debacle,” aloud, putting a strong emphasis on the middle consonants. From what she could see there were only three conclusive options available.
One: she could mix and match the socks. This would be the easiest solution, taking no time at all, and providing her six incongruous pairs. This would would suit her needs just fine, Priscilla contemplated, but only on the days she wore pants. What of the days she wanted to wear a skirt, shorts, or a dress? Of the two white socks remaining one effected sweet lacy ruffles and the had other vertical ribs. The others would protest their patterns, clashing with her plaid and paisley blouses. High-heels were out of the question, as walking in them forced Priscilla to walk like a robot. Or a zombie. Most sandals pinched her toes, and flip-flops left her with gross calluses on the bottoms of her feet.
Two: she could throw away the motley collection and purchase twelve new pairs of socks. Again, this was fairly simple, requiring only a small amount of money and time on her part.
And third: she could determine to reunite each and every last sock. Not that she wasn’t up for a challenge, but this, obviously, was the most complicated and precarious option. It could take hours, days, or even weeks before she located all of them, and even then there was no guarantee they would all turn up. It was risky business setting off in search of things that had little interest in being found.
Very softly Priscilla began to cry.
The delicate truth of the matter was that she herself had been feeling quite lost lately. She just didn’t want to admit it — especially not to herself. But where colors and shapes and sounds and textures had always presented themselves in perfect clarity for Priscilla, it was as if a haze had settled over her eyeballs. It was like trying to see her reflection in the mirror immediately after emerging from an extremely hot shower; the more she rubbed and rubbed and rubbed, the more watery and distorted everything became. She didn’t know how or when it had happened, and in fact it had taken her completely by surprise; so much so that when she woke one morning, it was not with a pliant stretch and auditioning yawn, but with her nightgown all twisted and bunched at her knees, and sore elbows.
All her life Priscilla was someone who surely and capably felt found. Maybe she didn’t always know where she was going or like where she ended up, but with each wrong turn or dead end there existed a discovery in learning something new about herself, having found another little piece of Priscilla to add to the slowly developing mosaic. Although she would definitely consider herself a thinker, she was not prone to questioning her ephemeral existence or spending too much time considering for what purpose she might have been placed on this planet. Neither was Priscilla a hedonist, the type of person to seek joys and avoid vivd sentience. Like everyone else she experienced her fair share of small problems and monumental crises. Occasionally she’d get stuck in the mud, wrestling with a slippery answer, but she always found her way out, eventually. Content . . . overall she had always been very content, that was it. So, she was quite embarrassed to say that throughout the past few weeks, more and more she had taken to setting the timer on her watch — using the full ten minutes to grieve; and each time the beeper signaled time was up, she’d wipe away her tears, unable to remember what, if anything, she had been grieving. Haze, just haze.
The first time Priscilla became aware that something strange was happening was the other morning while in the kitchen fixing herself breakfast — whole grain toast with orange marmalade, scrambled eggs, and ginger-raspberry tea. It was just after nine-fifteen when her mother, Lucille Lemonluck, entered the kitchen, still wearing her carnation pink robe and her dark hair swept into a neat bun.
“Good morning,” Priscilla had said. “I made coffee.”
Lucille, smiling as she found herself a clean mug from the cupboard, returned the greeting, then took one look at Priscilla’s breakfast, and with only curiosity, not judgement, said, “Haven’t you had toast and eggs the last four mornings?”
Priscilla paused, her eyes on her mother and teeth sunk into the viscous marmalade. She followed through with the bite without tasting much of anything. Her throat was especially dry when she answered, “Yes . . . I have.”
For most people, eating the same breakfast more than once a week, or even every day or every week, might not be that uncommon. Priscilla clearly understood that she was not most people. She wasn’t even least people. And a duplicate breakfast rarely if ever presented itself in any given week. But it was not only that; she hadn’t even noticed! After that, she began to realize other things; for example, how lately she was prone to starting then abandoning projects. This, too, was highly abnormal, as Priscilla prided herself on seeing things through. Right now there was a medicine cabinet half organized, a photo collage prepped, and Sophie, the manor’s Tabby was walking around somewhere with two perfectly groomed paws. Most bizarre of all was that she hadn’t seen or spoken to Cooper in days. Since the age of six the two could never go more than a day, two at most, before that insatiable need to be with the person who knew you best, and loved you at your worst, gnawed at your bones until satiated. There were several voicemails on her phone asking her to call him back, and her intention was to call him back, but for no conscious reason at all she hadn’t. She couldn’t even say she had been busy, she just . . . hadn’t. This abnormal gap in communication left Priscilla with a selcouth feeling, one she couldn’t completely identify.
And finally, two days ago, on her way home from culinary class, Priscilla didn’t stop by Abshire’s Patisserie to pick up the ready-and-waiting-mint-chip-frosting-red-velvet cupcake, a treat that she not only looked forward to all week long, but was impressionably solidified with a timer set to go off at precisely three-fifty-two, two minutes after class let out. She had heard the beeping like always, pressed the tiny serrated button to shut it off, and set off in the right direction, but when she came to Plymouth and Marigold, she continued past Abshire’s without so much as glance in the window adorned with frosted white fancy victorian lettering. She had, however, paused before rounding the corner. Someone might have seen her and called out her name, but it was a bellow lost in the wind.
Priscilla wiped her eyes using the edge of her too long-sleeve shirt and smoothed her pelt of black hair behind her ears. Then she hiccuped. As she looked down at the predicament still awaiting a decision, she felt something like a gentle finger prodding her heart. Then her ears grew very warm, the ways ears do when someone’s mouth is very close and whispering into them. Priscilla was slightly astonished to hear a voice speak from within, a voice that sounded exactly like her own, only more sure of herself. Like an antennae searching for optimum reception, Priscilla’s head oscillated on her shoulders. All too soon the warmth subsided and so did the voice.
Priscilla stood stock still for a moment, considering the things she had just been told. Could it be possible? Or was this more wishful thinking than anything else? In what sort of world were missing socks linked to a person’s wellbeing? Priscilla, all her life, believed in anomalies and arcane wonders, those occurrences that stupefied some and disquieted most to a vexed state of perplexment. She learned without ever having to learn that the unexplainable tended to really bother people; even when the outcome benefited the recipient, still a conclusive answer, something tangible remained the focus, rather than the great act or miracle or event that had just bejoyed them. These people, Priscilla determined by observation, were usually the type of people who neglected to return their shopping cart to their posts, left their trashcans on the curb well past collecting day, and made concerted efforts to read books only on the Bestseller list.
After such a long time in silence, Priscilla’s whisper sounded like a holler. “I’m going to find the socks,” she said. “All of them.” And maybe in doing so, the pieces of herself lost somewhere along the way would find their way home. A smile that began in her chest reached up and touched her lips. She was excited, hopeful, and maybe even a little frightened . . . but the good, expectant kind.
She nodded her head once and turned, leaving her bedroom and the twelve socks, her mind already on her destination. She would start in the attic and work her way down to the wine cellar. And who knows? she thought — and here the tips of her fingers began to tingle — maybe something else, not lost exactly, but certainly in need of finding, would instead find her.
~ The End.
Or . . . is it?