“The Dryer Doesn’t Eat Socks” was published in the 2016 edition of The Mill (print).
“The Dryer Doesn’t Eat Socks”
He dove back into the drum, pulling out the end of the load: a dryer sheet, underwear, and a single sock. One half his favorite pair. Panicking, he stuck his head into the dryer, but pulled it out again and disappointedly groaned. He loved those socks. The little moose on them wore sunglasses. The cartoon lounged across “Canada,” holding a cocktail glass, which he had often joked was “full of maple syrup.” They had been a gift. Gritting his teeth, he slammed the dryer shut. The slam echoed in the concrete basement of his house. He sat down on the cool ground, with his back against the dryer, still dissipating heat. He pulled his knees to his armpits and took deep breaths. He lived alone. That suited him. He could mope in a laundry room, and no one would walk in. No one would judge him for being a grown man, curled up on the ground, crying about a missing sock. He liked that he thought he had that freedom.
He raised his head and blinked. Spots swam in front of his eyes, fading quickly, as he tried to look around the room. He stood up. The dryer rang. Must have bumped it, he thought. The door of the dryer swung open. He spun around and saw three fingers wrapped around the door’s edge. I’ve lost it. A child-sized, bald head poked out from the dryer. Instant terror threatened to make him puke. The head’s skin was opalescent, and seemed to change as it moved, rising farther out of the dryer. The small face had two eyes with lavender irises. Its nose was tiny, petite, like a baby’s nose glued onto a larger face. Its mouth was wide and had no lips but was rather a slit cut into the creature’s skin. The slit pulled back to reveal large, square blue teeth with unnatural right-angled edges as the creature smiled and spoke, in surprisingly clear English, “Did you lose a sock?”
He was too startled to answer. The creature kept smiling, as it lifted itself so that two of its hands held onto the top of the dryer’s door. It spoke again, “You sir, did you lose a sock?”
The man nodded. He opened his mouth. All that came out was, “Sock.”
“I thought so,” the creature said, as it pulled a clipboard out of the dryer with a third arm and seemed to read the page. “Right, well, let’s get this sorted then. Come with me,” the creature said.
Yep, I’ve lost it, the man thought. The man didn’t move. He didn’t speak.
“Do you want that sock back, or should I go?” the creature hesitated.
“My sock, please,” the man squeaked.
“This way then,” said the creature, as it disappeared back into the dryer.
The man took a deep breath. My obituary is going to say I died in a dryer. He walked over to the dryer, leaned down on shaking arms, and stared inside. The back panel was open wide. It appeared to have moved almost two feet forward to reveal a metal shaft, inside of which a ladder descended into darkness. Perhaps, he should have been surprised by the transformation of this trusty home appliance, but instead he thought, this wasn’t in any part of the owner’s manual. With his palms on the cool concrete of the basement floor, he eased his feet in, reaching his toes for the top rung of the ladder. He started down the shaft. “Let’s get a move on,” the creature called up. I better get my sock back, he thought.
“What’s your name, by the way?” the creature asked in a deep and gravely tone, the way the man imagined a large, warty toad would talk.
“Drew. Yours?” the man said, with hesitation as he realized the absurdity of what he was saying.
“Call me Henry,” the creature responded. “You know, usually humans ask a lot more questions than you.”
“Well, actually, first they scream. Some of them blubber. Then, they usually go off: who are you? What are you doing in my house? What is going on? Why are you that color? What the hell?”
“Hmm,” Drew murmured, “and the answers to those?”
“Well, name’s Henry, as I told you. I came to your house to answer a distress signal, which would have been that slam of your dryer door and that miserable sobbing.” Drew felt heat rise to his cheeks. Can’t even cry in my own house, he thought. Henry kept speaking. “We are climbing down to headquarters to get your sock back. I don’t know why I’m this color. And I haven’t come up with an answer to the last one yet.”
“That about covers it, I guess,” said Drew.
“Yep,” said Henry. They climbed on in silence.
Drew heard Henry land on the floor below with a soft thump. He did the same a few moments later, then turned and looked down to face Henry. The creature stood about four feet high, had three arms: one coming from each of his shoulders and the third coming out the center of his torso. The torso arm still carried the clipboard. It wore a sort of jumpsuit in an army-green shade. The suit was made to accommodate his six legs, which came in pairs of two. Two feet pointed left, two feet pointed right, and two feet pointed straight ahead, copying the direction of the creature’s arms. Each foot wore a sock, none of which matched. He wore one of blue argyle; another with candy canes and white and red pom-poms encircling the ankle. Another sock was detailed purple with flowers. Still another was tie-dyed. One foot sported a large white tube sock, and the last, a blue, women’s dress sock. Drew looked away as lump began to choke his throat. He imagined his missing moose on the creature’s, oddly large feet. For Christ’s sake, keep it together, he thought. He cleared his throat to dislodge the lump.
“Nice socks,” he mumbled.
“Thanks,” Henry said, beaming up at Drew, though he dropped his smile when he saw the odd, but apparent pain in Drew’s eyes. “Let’s get your sock back.”
Henry crossed the hallway where the ladder had dropped them and reached for the brass handle of a wooden door, upon which hung a plaque that read, “Office of Claims,” and in smaller print underneath, “please have paperwork ready.” Henry opened the door, and Drew followed him inside, stepping quickly across the dry, but still cool concrete floor. He ducked to enter the door frame. Never thought I would find a doorway short enough to need to do that, five feet, ten inch Drew thought.
“Take a seat,” Henry said, motioning to the child-sized chair, sitting opposite the wooden desk which was covered with neatly piled stacks of paper. Also on the desk sat a small square box with a speaker and a few buttons. Henry pulled a few sheets from the top of one pile with his left hand and added them to the clipboard, still held by his third arm. His right hand grabbed a pen.
“I will need you to answer a couple questions. Could you give me a description of the sock,” Henry asked, eyes focused on the clipped pages.
“It’s white, with red toes and a red band around the top. On the sole, it has a moose, lying on the word ‘Canada,’ holding a glass.”
“That’s quite a sock,” Henry said glancing up at Drew. He thought he caught a glimmer of envy in Henry’s eye.
“It was a gift.”
“Okay, we’ll check sentimental value as your reason for re-claiming then.” Henry wrote. Drew nodded.
“Can I have your address and model of clothes dryer?” Henry said, sounding official.
“226 Whiting Street and I got it from Sears. It says 120 near the knob. Is that enough?”
Henry shrugged his shoulders then nodded. He laid a finger on the intercom on his desk. “Hey, Charlie, could you grab me the latest haul? We are looking for a moose taken from 226 Whiting.”
The intercom answered, “You got it.”
While they waited, Henry tapped his six sock-clad feet in a pattern that confused Drew’s ears. Drew cleared his throat.
“So, do you guys take the socks or just collect the lost ones?” Drew asked.
“With as many feet as my kind has, we are always in need of socks. We take the unique ones, ones with odd prints or patchable holes. It keeps us happy. Your rulers seem to think it’s still a good trade off.”
“Trade-off for?” Drew’s brow furrowed.
“Keeping your economy going,” Henry said matter-of-factly, as he glanced over the page on the clipboard.
“The economy?” Drew asked, confused. Is that all people can talk about anymore? he thought.
“Think about it this way,” Henry said, “no one ever goes into a store and walks out with just socks. Half the time humans don’t even remember they need new socks by the time they’re done looking around. Instead, they walk out with other things. The more socks we take, the more often people go into stores and buy things they don’t need, thus, helping the economy.” Henry folded his hands, all three of them, into a knot and set them on a stack of papers in front of him.
Drew nodded. That’s just sneaky. There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” called Henry. The door swung open and another creature—presumably Charlie from the intercom—entered. It looked like Henry in almost every way, except the smile revealed a few holes where gums were missing teeth.
“All socks from the latest haul,” Charlie said, handing over a large brown paper bag with all three of his hands. Henry unrolled the top then peered inside. A smile cracked his slit-mouth. It plunged its right arm inside and pulled from the bag: the moose sock. With a flourish Henry held it out to Drew, who snatched it away.
“This guy really wanted that sock back?” Charlie asked.
“Sentimental reasons,” said Henry.
“It was a gift,” Drew muttered, as he stared down at the sock in his hands.
“What? Your girlfriend gonna kill you if you don’t keep her lousy gifts?” teased Charlie.
“She’s not my girlfriend anymore,” Drew said more to the floor than to Charlie.
Drew climbed back out of his dryer, glad to be in his own house again. I could kiss this floor, he thought, but remembered that he hadn’t swept it in weeks. Instead, he took the other moose sock and carefully rolled the top of it over its newly returned mate, binding them together. Henry sat in the dryer’s drum, clipboard in chest-hand, glancing over paperwork.
“Alright, if you sign the bottom of this form, saying you did get your sock back and that we returned both you and it home safely then I can be on my way.”
“Okay,” Drew said, taking the clipboard and the pen. He scribbled his name on the sheet, then noticed the note Henry had written in the “Sentimental Reasons” box. It read, “Sock 56412 was a gift from recently ended relationship. Poor guy got dumped, would like to keep the memories.”
“Your note, the one about me being dumped, it’s not accurate,” Drew said, handing the clipboard back to Henry.
“Sure it isn’t,” Henry said, with a tone of pity.
“It isn’t,” Drew said defiantly, “I told her I didn’t love her.”
Henry closed the dryer door with a gentle, but definitive bang. Drew yanked the door open again, and, without looking, yelled into the drum.
“I didn’t think she would believe me.”
But, the drum had gone back to normal, and Drew was once again alone.
Note: The author maintains the rights to “The Dryer Doesn’t Eat Socks;” this can not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.
The following two pieces, “Maria” and “Cheerios,” were both published in the 2016 edition of The Mill (print). They are works of flash fiction (generally defined as stories under 1,000 words) by Sydney M. Crago.
Civilian, Convicted of Treason, Executed by Italian Military, 1942
Please, mumbled into wrinkled pillowcase, breathing the smell of wildflowers and sun from happy summer, from wind that dried it, and something sharp, human, that stings the nose. Say please, Mamma told me when I asked to be done scrubbing laundry, You have to be kind, child, ask nice, Mamma’s eyebrows raised, waiting. Please, may I be finished, Mamma, little eyes wide hoping for a yes, to be free and run barefoot through grass. Very good, polite, you may be finished. Grazie, Mamma. Run away with me, he said, begging, when the pillowcase was still crisp, before letting him sleep next to me, before promising those coffee-brown eyes, rimmed with red and panic, I would keep him safe. Not even tell Mamma, hush darling, please, we hide here in my room high up the stairs where no one comes, very safe. They won’t find you. Grazie, Bella. Sweat soaking into pillowcases, restless sleep, stomping boots on streets below in search of the solider who knows too much French to be a good Italian boy. Rank boots and socks piled at the end of our bed. I will wash them in the morning; sneak them into the laundry, past Mamma’s eyes. Just Pappa’s, Mamma. He will want clean socks on leave, our Pappa. His hand rustles sheets, finds my hip, from his dream he says, Bonne, Belle. Big, callused hands pull a blade of grass from my hair, Yes, Pappa, very good.
Pull the box from the third shelf on the wire rack in your too small kitchen. Set it on the counter you can reach without moving your square-toed, dress-shoe clad feet. Hear your wife’s hair dryer whirring down the hall. Look out the window at the sun peaking over the apartment building next to yours and the potted cactus, which sits on the window sill, opposite your window, in a big kitchen, with no wire racks and a countertop that looks like granite. Sigh. Reach for the cabinet door with the white, chipped paint on which a grocery list for the week is taped. Remind yourself for the thousandth time to repaint the cabinets. Pull out a bowl on whose depths Winnie the Pooh is barely visible after a few hundred washes. Open the cereal box and pour some on top of Pooh Bear. Listen to them clink as they pound his plastic face. Hear the suction release as you swing open the fridge door. Reach for the two-percent milk amongst the Tupperware containers of leftover pasta, meatballs, and mashed potatoes. Listen to the shuffle of the cereal as each piece pushes against the bowl’s sides, forced upward by the rising milk. Carry the bowl and the box to the table covered in coffee rings and crumbs, which you forgot to wipe up after dinner last night. Dip your hand into the paperboard box. Crinkle the bag as you pull up a handful of o’s. Stuck, one is stuck under the leather band of your watch whose hands point out the time: 7:06. Release the o’s onto the highchair tray for your teething son. Watch him pull a spit covered hand from his mouth and paw at the cereal. Tumbling o’s plink on the tile as they roll to hidden corners where the broom will never find them. Admire his tiny fingernails, the ones you watched your wife so carefully trim last night, as she sat cross-legged on the living room floor, holding your curly-haired baby in her lap and murmuring a song with words you did not know to a tune you’d heard a thousand times. Kiss the spot of his head that still seems a little soft. Smile. Sit down to eat your bowl of cereal; realize you forgot your spoon.