Doing It Again

The first one he met in an after-work type of bar, where lonely people loitered over a single drink and avoided going home to nobody. She was pale and faintly pretty and wore painfully thin plaid cotton dresses with lace collars, even in winter. He was thirty-three, worked in a reference library, and kept all the odd socks he found in his neighbourhood laundromat. Each sock in his ever-growing collection was pinned up with a tack on his largest living room wall. What a sad but brightly-coloured family of mostly wool blends it was.

Until Laura came along, his sexual experience was limited to the three times he had slept with a fifty-two year old woman, Amelia, when he was twenty-four. There had been nothing before, not even furtive teenage fumbling. Amelia had a tired mouth and soft back. He didn’t pine for her after she was gone, and only recalled their brief encounters analytically. They had met randomly, on a busy corner in the middle of the city.

So his first real same-generation girlfriend was Laura, she dressed in worn-out plaid things, he met her in a bar. She was over-fond of talking on and on about the most uninteresting topics, dissecting her father’s complicated relationship with her older brother, getting angry all over again rehashing mother-daughter arguments from her childhood years, wondering aloud how the various dysfunctional dynamics had caused her lack of direction.

This was incredibly dull, but he listened nonetheless. Eventually she would stop and they would discuss a movie they had seen, and then fall into her clean unmade bed for seven minutes. Laura was twenty-nine, worked as a secretary in a car dealership, and had a Ph.D. in biology. She had prints of Impressionist paintings all over her small apartment and loved serving Earl Grey in pastel teapots. They had absolutely nothing in common.

Laura appeared to be obsessed with his eyelids, in maybe the same way that he coveted other peoples’ lone socks. He felt certain that if it was possible, Laura would remove his eyelids and hang them somewhere, preferably within stroking distance. She was always reaching for them, none too gently running her index fingers over them, telling him his eyes were globes. He shouted at her that it was an unpleasant sensation, but this never stopped her. She couldn’t help herself, she said.

He preferred to keep quiet about his odd sock fixation. They spent time exclusively at her apartment, so there was really no need to reveal it. Laura was averse to visiting him in his miniscule house in the suburbs, which was just fine with him. He wasn’t altogether ashamed of his habit, but he explained it only when forced (thus far by his mother, the cable repairman, and his old high school friend Stu, who wouldn’t stop asking why the fuck he didn’t buy a washer and dryer). Somehow he figured that Laura wouldn’t stand for it. She was that type.

Unfortunately, about three months in Laura requested a date at his place.

"It won’t be an always thing, don’t worry. I mean, I sense you’re a bit uncomfortable with it. I just think that it’s strange that I’ve never seen your house, you know? You don’t live with your parents, do you?"

"No," he said sullenly, "I don’t." He was thinking about the socks, how he’d have to painstakingly remove them from their hallowed positions on the wall. How would he get them back in their proper places? He couldn’t exactly put diagrams up; that would look suspicious. Later he decided to take Polaroids, to help him remember. At three o’clock one morning he got out of bed, lit the living room attractively, and took several pictures. He taped them to the fridge, and then removed them immediately. They were evidence. No sense tempting fate. He put them under his bed, but kept sliding his favourite out over the rotting hardwood to gaze at. For a while he excitedly considered putting it up in his cubicle at the library, but decided this was too risky.

Laura came over on a Tuesday; he had just been to the laundromat the previous evening and had three new socks to add to his collection, which was now stowed away at the bottom of the broom closet. The fact that he couldn’t fuss and cluck over the new items made him cantankerous. It wouldn’t be long before the socks started to overlap each other on the wall. This prospect gave him tingles all over, and he could think of little else.The date was less than pleasant.

"What’s wrong with you?" Laura kept demanding, and rightly so. He frowned and moped and served a stupid and revolting dinner of linguine; the noodles were mushy and the canned cream sauce wasn’t heated properly. A strand of Laura’s fine blonde hair went swinging into her bowl during the meal and this made him furious. His mind kept racing to his socks, but his hands couldn’t. He felt terribly frustrated, and not the least bit guilty about his behaviour.

Most aggravating of all was that Laura commented several times on the old rug of his mother’s he had hung up to hide the tack marks.

"Oooo, I love this," she said for the third or fourth time, actually bouncing forward from the futon to touch a corner of it as they sat watching television. He wanted to slap at her fingers.

Laura finally left around eleven. She was pouting and solemn.

"I had a nice time," she lied, kissing him meekly. She made a swipe for his eyelids but he stepped out of her reach, literally closing the door on her. After a while he heard her car humming away down the street. She had probably sat behind the wheel for a few minutes and cried.

But maybe not. He never heard from Laura again, which made him doubly upset because he had gone to such trouble to hide his little secret from her, to keep things going longer. At first he dismissed her lack of contact, telling himself that she was merely upset at his rudeness and would come around. Perversely, he didn’t call her, either. After a week and a half went by, he was convinced. It was over. Fine, then. At least he could take the godforsaken rug down. He had left it up in case of a surprise drop-by. After all, she knew where he lived. But now it was back up with the socks. And his eyelids could have a rest. He missed the sex, though.

In bitter defiance he brought his preferred Polaroid of the socks to work and taped it to his computer. No one ever said a word about it.


The last one he met on the bus. She was Gina. The first was Laura and the last was Gina, and what a world of difference between the two. Gina, wonderful woman, thirty-four, with a limp body and silly hats but irresistible cheekbones. He knew right away she was ripe for seeing the socks. He had no doubt. It was clear to him that she had long ago surrendered any real sense of judgment or opinion. She was empty but not vacuous. Unabashedly accepting. Perfect.

Gina thrived on the peculiarities and problems of others. Her friends were either drug addicts or depressives or soulless professionals who lurched around like zombies. Compared to them, he was a walk in the park. An almost normal person. But not normal enough for her to lose interest. Special, still. He had a thing for socks. But, in the long run, so what? Meredith, Gina’s lifelong (platonic) soulmate, was bipolar and institutionalised; she had punched Gina in the face during their last scheduled visit. The bruise was so very tender-looking; he didn’t want to touch it, but thinking about it felt good. It made him rather gleeful, not because she had been hurt, but because it booted his sock collection once and for all into the acceptable realm. Dealable. Tellable. Adorable, even.

Gina laughed, but in a kind way, when he showed it to her.

"Hmmmm…enjoying it, enjoying it," she mused, absently touching a spindly argyle, most likely suited to a weak, elderly foot. He was sure she meant the whole thing, though. The entire picture. Him included.

"I knew you would," he said, trying not to sound as self-satisfied as he felt.

"Have you shown it to many others?" she asked. Her tone implied that whatever he answered didn’t really matter.

"Not many," he said. "Not many at all. I…I have a Polaroid of it up at work, though."

"Hmmm? Oh. That’s amazing. Anyone have any comments?"

"No. No one said anything about it, in fact. Do you find that odd?"

"I think their denial says more about them than it does about you," she whispered, a supremely appropriate answer. He loved her now. He really did. The next time she went to see Meredith, he’d go with her, to make sure Gina was safe. He was ready to make that kind of commitment.

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