In his youth he had been neatly stitched, smelling of new cotton and plastic wrap. His neck had been firm, not wadded with washings and the loss of supportive nylon threads. He had been a tube sock to know then, with his bands of red and gold, his toe of royal blue. Now he faded, day after day, brought out of the drawer only when all the other socks had been used up.
His wife still admired him, though; she who had once been so fine, his perfect twin except for a slight turn in the toe that had seemed to him a coquettish bit of roguery. They had spent nights jumbled up together under the argyles, hiding giggles in their fabric as they lay together. The other socks would kindly turn a blind eye, with perhaps the slightest knowing smirk.
They survived countless washings together, braving the terror of the rushing water with the assumption of immortality that all youngsters enjoyed. They survived the bad times over and over, searching for one another's toes as they were tossed around in the heat of a thousand hells in the dryer, twining around one another as soon as they came to rest at the end of a cycle -- their static cling a remnant of youth that pulled them back together time and time again.
But now he was old, now he faded. He had listened to the whispers, passed along from the T-shirts to the underwear and up through the old bureau to the winter mittens. He had seen the thing they spoke of, the great maw in the dryer that sucked at them all for a meal. He tried to reassure the newer socks; told them stories of his younger days, pointed out his frayed parts as testament to the fact that the dryer could be survived, and had been. But they were young, and frightened. They would not listen. They crouched down in the back of the drawer to escape notice.
Nothing could be done about the situation, though. It was what it was. At least that's what he believed, until the day the new brown woolens came.
He and his wife smiled at them. They turned a blind but knowing eye to the two lovers, allowed them to nestle down in the bottom of the drawer and whisper sweet things to one another, giggling.
The new socks weathered their first wash well, shrieking with laughter as they were whirled around and around. Then, in the bottom of the dryer, things fell quiet.
The new wife clearly felt it. "What happens now?" she asked worriedly. "Why is everyone so quiet?"
"I don't know," said her husband.
"Nothing to worry about," said the old socks.
"Nothing but the maw," said the middle-aged socks, still new enough to be frightened.
"The maw?" The wife's voice became shrill. "What is the maw?"
But there was no more speaking, for they began to tumble, and the heat pressed against them.
The old sock went through the motions, keeping a careful eye on his wife, tumbling as near to the door as he could. He tossed the odd comment to an old T-shirt he hardly saw any more, sympathized about a tear with a pair of briefs.
Then, when the heat was highest, the maw appeared; a tingly blue ring of electricity surrounding the black nothing of an inner void. The socks shrank back from it, crowding one another against the walls, clumping up in groups for the safety of weight and substance. The maw was small -- it could only devour so much. Everything would have been fine, had not one of these clumps brushed up against the new socks, knocking them apart. The little brown wife cried out, as she drifted toward the crackling edges of the void.
The old tube sock, near the door, unraveled a little around the edges at the sound of her cry. His wife glanced at him from across the dryer, frightened.
"Do something!" the brown sock-husband cried. "Please! Someone!"
The old sock looked at his wife. Together, they were all that remained of last summer's socks. The others had gone by the wayside, into the maw or as dust rags. He himself had been feeling the frustration of age, constantly struggling to keep himself anchored to the calf, yet always losing the battle against his hoary old support nylon.
He saw in his wife's eyes that she knew him well. He saw in her the way she had been, new and bright and witty. He saw that the brown socks had a chance such as they'd had. She saw his intention, and nodded.
"I'll go with you."
"No," he called out as she tumbled by. "Stay as long as you can. They need someone wise to remind them how to be good socks. I've never been wise. I've always just been a sports accessory."
She curled her toe in unhappy acquiescence.
He eyed the brown sock, clinging to the rim of the maw desperately -- a slender thread caught in the button of a pair of boxers the only thing keeping her from flying away. The boxers, desperate not to go with her, were working their fabric to unbutton themselves.
The old sock eyed the electric void. Then, with a flip of his toe, he flung himself to the place where socks disappeared, blocking the void long enough that the little brown sock was able to fling herself away. As he went, he saw his wife looking at him, and the red thread around his toe curled into a peaceful smile.
Perhaps, he thought, this is the place all socks are meant to go, in the end.
At the end of the cycle the other socks rested together in silence, awed and humbled by the sacrifice of a braver sock, a nobler sock, a heroic sock for all time. His story would be whispered about for years in drawers, and eventually spread to the underwear -- who, of course, claimed it to have been one of their own. But everyone knew the truth, and the legend would carry on.
Copyright © 2003 M. Thomas
M. Thomas is a teacher and contributing editor for Deep Magic ezine, where she contributes the occasional humorous help article. She writes primarily humorous fantasy, as well as some magical realism, and maintains a resource website for genre authors at www.found-things.com.