By Charlie Rogers
It was right here a second ago.
Socks disappear all the time, often when they’re tumbling out of the dryer.
Elizabeth always joked, “Looks like another one’s run off to join the Navy.”
“Is it argyle? Probably the Marine Corps,” I’d respond. I don’t recall what that meant anymore. I didn’t own any argyle, never did.
So now I have one sock on my foot, the other has gone AWOL. It was right next to me when I was putting on this one.
I’ll retrace my steps. I carried them, and my slippers, from the bedroom to my recliner. Either that one sock has enlisted in the armed forces, hungry for a life of adventure, or my easy chair has eaten it.
My son Frankie would have insisted on putting them on for me. He treats me like an invalid: helpless. But he wouldn’t have lost one so fast.
Guess I’ll go back to the bedroom to get another one. I can’t be walking around with one sock. If Junior sees me—oh, he hates when I call him that, Frankie is better—he’ll get that worried face he’s had since he was two feet tall.
Such a tender little kid, delicate, like my brother was. He didn’t get that from me or Elizabeth. I tease him because he’s just so easy to rile up, but my chest swells with pride whenever he pops into my head. He’s an animator for a TV show. I watched it once, but didn’t get the jokes.
I open the bedroom door.
Seems I went the wrong way. Huh. I intended to return to my bedroom, but now I’m in the kitchen. There’s coffee brewing, and I’d love a cup but Junior loses his mind when he catches me. He worries: my blood pressure, blood sugar, other words I imagine he’s making up. I shouldn’t call him Junior, he doesn’t like it.
“Franklin. What are you looking for?” Elizabeth asks. Such a lovely woman I married. Before I met her I was no different from any of the boys, I fancied the girls in the movies or magazines or whatever. Until the day I saw Elizabeth smoking a cigarette behind our school, and a new excitement stirred in me. I tried a corny line, and she punched me in the face. Not slapped, but punched. That’s the girl for me, I told my buddies that day.
“Just a sock gone off to do its civic duty,” I say, but she’s exited the room.
I follow her through the door into the living room, stopped for a moment by a sharp pain in my foot, still sockless. Like I stepped on a tiny stone. Gravel?
“Who brought the driveway into the house?” I call out.
There’s a siren in the distance.
When we’d hear that sound, Elizabeth would always say, “They’re coming for you.”
“What will you do if I’m gone?”
She’d shrug. “I got some boyfriends lined up.”
“You better not.” Just a joke; I was sure she didn’t and she wouldn’t. She wasn’t as tough as she pretended, I saw that when we lost our daughter Janice. I took it hard, too. It’s not supposed to go that way, everyone says, and it’s true.
Even though Janice was the youngest, she ruled over the entire family, always looking out for her brother. Until she couldn’t anymore. Frankie, he took it best of the lot of us. Underneath those soft features and his sensitivity, he’s made of sturdy stuff. He’s a good kid. We got lucky with him.
My foot is freezing, numb.
“Elizabeth, where did you go? Are you getting me some socks?”
I stare at my naked foot again. It’s turning shades of blue.
“We’re getting old,” Elizabeth says, but sounds as if she’s saying it from another room. Which direction?
Now these strangers are walking through my living room like it’s the bus station or something. Young people, so they must be friends of Frankie’s. I guess. They don’t even notice me.
“Hey,” I say, but not that loud, and they ignore me. Some make a funny face but they keep walking.
Well, I still need that sock. I’ll just go to the bedroom and get one. I’m not helpless.
Stupid. I keep going the wrong way. I’m in the kitchen but the tile floor looks funny to me now.
“Daddy!” Janice grabs my leg.
“Hey, Strawberry,” I say. We call her that because of her hair color. Elizabeth had hair like that when I met her. “Do you want some ice cream?”
I lift her towards the ceiling. She’s much heavier than she used to be, and I’m not as strong as I once was, but I can still get her in the air. Not for much longer. I set her on a stool and we wait for the man to come and take our order.
I haven’t had ice cream in forever. With the diabetes, Frankie doesn’t let me—
My brother is standing where Janice was, looking tired.
“You’re dead, how are you here?” I ask him.
“It’s okay, Dad,” he says, touching my arm. “It’s me.”
Oh, it’s Frankie. He’s not so little anymore.
“You wandered out again. How did you walk all this distance?” he asks. His voice stays calm, but I can’t get over how old he looks. “With one sock and no shoes. Dad.”
I glance around. We’re standing in the pharmacy.
“I don’t know how I got here,” I say.
“I’ll take you home.” Frankie never loses his patience. Not with me.
We did a good thing making him, me and Elizabeth. We did so much before she left; we fought and laughed and wasted lots of time. It was for this, this kid who’s not a kid anymore, my son, who knows I get lost but always brings me back home. He goes to hug me and I let him. I let him take my weight.