The memory-sock

In the distant light of the hallway I grab a pair of socks from the drawer and unbundle them as I walk to the kitchen. My feet shuffle in their mocassins, still half-awake, while six feet higher up my brain decants the day. Breakfast, sandwiches, send the boys off to school, a couple of phone calls, check the news. A corona test first off, cycling in the rain. Must remember the mask: only three days since they’ve stopped being compulsory and already it’s become an effort. Two deadlines, a football match on the TV and chicken nuggets for supper. Nothing like working against time to make you feel alive.

On reaching the kitchen I go to put the socks on, but there’s only one in my hand. The other has vanished. I go back down the hallway, peer into corners and behind open doors in search of the sock I must have dropped on the way through, but there’s nothing. I double back again, checking the same niches and corners as if it might materialise by magic. I’m perplexed. Despite the early hour and the lack of caffeine in my veins I have a clear memory of not just extracting the socks from the drawer, but from each other, separating the yin and yang of the tight cotton ball. But the evidence in my hands is incontrovertible. I replace the lonely sock in the drawer, take out another pair, open them and quickly pull them onto my feet before my mind can disrupt itself again.

When we are young our memories are bright and pristine, like a book whose pages are still blank. But as we get older the pages fill up, the edges turn yellow and coffeestained, we scribble in the margins and the book opens by itself at random pages. Events connect and collide, forming spontaneous patterns that confuse and mislead us. Locating things in the mental jumble becomes increasingly challenging, unless we’re one of those rare sorts that keeps an index of their lives, until we can be flummoxed just by trying to discover if we took one sock out of a drawer or two. It begins like this, I think, and ends with a kindly nurse leaning over us and patiently asking if we know the name of the prime minister.

So I make the sandwiches, drink two cups of coffee, dispatch a bowl of cereal and watch the children disappear off to school. Back in the kitchen I cup a hand against my back pocket, absent-mindedly, and feel a soft bulge. The pocket, perhaps, turned inside out in the wash. But when I plunge a hand into the pocket the lump is still there. I fish inside the trousers, pull out the elusive sock and stare at it for a minute. Then return to the drawer to reunite it with its partner, with a sigh of relief.

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