"You wanna do something fun?” Cash asked his partner.
“I don’t know. Anything! I’m so bored. We’ve literally never been out.”
His partner’s silence told Cash all he needed to know. If he was getting out, it would have to be on his own.
Their spot in the back right-hand corner of the Drawer was thick with dust and obnoxious spiders that spun their webs even though there was no possibility of catching a fly. “Good practice, innit,” they would say, before scuttling away, presumably to bother the underpants down below.
Cash wished he was a warrior, like Umbro or Reebok. They had the most interesting stories, oozing with danger. Only last week, Umbro had boasted about being splashed with fresh rain and how he had come within inches of a monstrous, slobbering dog. He didn’t believe all of their outrageous stories, but he yearned to have some of his own.
“Why do you want to go out so much?” his partner, Mere, asked, “It sounds awful! The smells must be atrocious, seeping, cloying, we’d never smell new again and the washing machine sounds absolutely terrifying. You've only to look at the warriors to know we aren't washed separately. You should be grateful we’re too precious to be worn.”
A pervading sense of woe engulfed Cash, suffocating him beneath an interminable life spent listening to other people’s adventures.
“Is that what it is? We’re too precious? Did you ever think that we’re just… not liked?”
“Preposterous! We are smooth and silky. Too good to wear and too good for out there. The sooner you realise that, the happier you’ll be.”
Sensing this was a silly question, he asked, “Do you ever wonder if the Realm of Lost Socks exists?”
“Don’t be absurd.”
Cash unfurled himself very smoothly and very silkily from Mere, “That’s it. I’m going to see what it’s like at the front.”
“Oh no you are not! Cash! Get back here!... Cash!”
What was he doing? He didn’t have a plan, but it was already the most exciting thing he’d ever done.
“Halt!” It was Umbro: war-sock and unofficial leader of the Drawer ever since the sad day that his partner never returned. He was the toughest sock Cash had ever met, seeming to be made of thick twine or perhaps cable ties rather than soft white cotton.
“I, uh, just wanted to have a look up front. Is that alright?”
Umbro shifted aside, but his tone made Cash feel embarrassed, “Careful not to pull any of your delicate threads on any of the regulars.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
As Cash passed the rigid rows of war-socks, he tried to appear indifferent to their overpowering aura of dominance. The hard red lines, angry black logos and off-white colour, which marked out the more experienced and therefore, more respected individuals.
After the warriors, there were the smug colours, all jumbled together front-right. Boasting the highest probability of longevity within the Drawer, the colours were almost as arrogant and irritating as the spiders. Cash meandered away from them.
Finally, front-left were the regulars, the everyday black socks. They intrigued Cash most of all, even more than the warriors due to their reckless attitude and promiscuity. Apparently, they got paired up with different partners all the time, so often in fact, that it didn’t strike them as obscene.
Cash wondered what it would be like to be paired with someone other than Mere. The thought made his fibres tingle and slide in a most unsettling way. Mere didn’t even like to be touched by him too much, in case her strands should be delineated to some unfathomably small degree. He remembered their brief time in the store wistfully, so many lights, so many odd-looking humans to watch. And come night-time, games and conversation were rife for they were not the outsiders, they were one luxury pair among many. He wondered if all the other luxury socks had met the same impossibly dull fate as them.
“Hel-lo,” said a black sock, “I’m Prim”. Its friendly tone made Cash feel uneasy.
“Uh, hello,” Cash said, fastidious in his desire to not look at the other sock’s hole.
“Looking for anyone in particular?”
It suddenly occurred to Cash that this sock and a number of nearby ones (all black) were loose. He couldn’t tell who belonged together at all. Some had thin cuffs, others thick with ribs or without. Quite a few had holes, he noticed now, and the translucent beginnings of such. What was he doing here? They might pair with him against his will, they certainly didn’t seem too bothered about keeping to their original partners. Although, Cash mused, if he was worn often enough that he developed a hole, maybe he wouldn’t be so fussy either.
Unfortunately, he’d attracted attention. Loose black socks in varying states crowded him, rubbing against him, touching, stroking. The onslaught of questions reminded him of Lost Property, a party game they used to play in the store afterhours.
“Lookin’ to kick up your heels?”
“How long have you been back there?”
“Do you think my hole is too big?”
“Does this mean Mere is available?”
“What? No!” She would literally unravel at the thought. This was a mistake. He needed to get back. Now.
He was just beginning to edge away when the Drawer was yanked open to cries of excitement and dread. Then, everything happened at once. Warm human fingers plucked him up out of the darkness and swept Cash into the light. He shuddered as warmth invaded his core and toes waggled, pushing at the insides of his fabric. A hand brushed against him, he thought in appreciation, and manoeuvred him into an odorous shiny black shoe.
Hair. There was hair inside him! Oh, it was so itchy!
“You get used to it,” said Prim. He’d been paired with her! Shame, outrage and disgust washed over Cash, but there was nothing to be done. He wanted out and here he was. Time to deal with the consequences.
“What’s going to happen?” he asked as the lighting abruptly changed, it became brighter, all-encompassing and… warm. They were outside.
“Not much,” she said, “Until we get to the basket.”
“What happens then?”
“Am I right in thinkin’ that you’ve only ever met socks?”
No point in lying, “Yes.”
“Oh! What a treat! I hope some of the bras and knickers are in there, they’re so much fun.”
Cash didn’t question what kind of fun that was, he was too busy trying not to notice a nearby pair of sheer nylon stockings. They were see-through! He was out of his depth. He should never have left Mere but… would she even want him back? This was too much.
Abruptly, he realised Prim had said something, “Sorry?”
“I said I lost my partner, Mark, a while ago. He never came back to the Drawer, but you will. Don’t worry, you’ll see Mere again.”
“Thank you,” he said, “But I’m not so sure she’ll want to see me.”
The rest of the day was a tumble-dryer of activity as far as Cash was concerned. He saw pens, paper-clips, crumbs, scrunched up balls of paper and lots of other socks, out and about, conversing, sharing stories. It was everything he’d dreamt of and more!
The more being how pleasant Prim’s company was. She was funny, kind and very cheeky, a polar-opposite to Mere. Long before they returned to the house, Cash decided that he wanted to keep her as a friend, even after they got back.
He was about to tell her as much when he was suddenly lifted out of the shoe.
“Here we go!” Prim said, “Into the basket!”
Before Cash knew what was happening, he was sailing through the air, buffeted by a ceiling fan he hadn’t previously realised was there. The basket rove into view and he plunged in, landing atop a white t-shirt right at the bottom.
Prim didn’t follow.
“Musta missed,” said the white t-shirt, “She’ll be in soon enough. Don’t worry.”
Cash waited, wishing he could do something. More items joined them. Tops, ties, shorts, vests, more black socks (that didn’t match each other, but who was he to judge) and a pair of jeans which would have made the coloured socks look humble. No knickers. No bras. And no Prim.
This was a disaster.
He was buried beneath who knew how many others, now in utter darkness, listening to the strange human sounds, which were much louder than in the Drawer despite his unfavourable position. Had something happened to Prim? Horror stories were told of a white cat that murdered socks, peeling them apart strand by strand. No! She had to be here, above him, somewhere.
He was in there so long he thought he’d never experience anything else, that this was the eternal darkness, melting into him. However, the white t-shirt assured him that this was simply the way of things in the basket. “Have patience”, it said.
Eventually, the time came.
“Here we go!” The call went up from the top and permeated the basket like water on a dry sponge. Cash braced himself. He hadn’t asked anyone about the washing machine, he’d been too frightened. Oddly, the other items of clothing seemed excited. A distinct crackle of expectation zipped about as they were loaded into the gleaming silver drum.
A boom resounded as the door was slammed shut and water began entering from somewhere, rising inexorably, foaming and tilting one way and then the other. The clothes around him squealed, the anticipation reaching unbearable levels.
Then, it started.
The splashing water, the rocking back and forth, the random full-spin and then doubles, triples! Never had he felt such exhilaration. Cash hooted and lost himself in the whirlpool.
Whum, whum, whum… SPIN!
Whum, whum, turn… SPIN!
The clothes screamed, rapturous, absolutely befuddled with pleasure until, sadly, the spinning abated, the water drained and the door latch unlocked.
He was clean again!
He smelt different, fresh and apparently of lavender. He wondered how he went about joining the ranks of the regulars. He would have to ask Umbro, but that didn’t scare him anymore.
Another sock, a bright yellow one was pushed into him as they were lifted out of the machine, “First time?”
“Thought so. I’ve been more times than I could count,” Yellow said, “I even remember the old washing machine. I was in it the time it broke down. Did you know that?”
“No, uh, what was that like?”
He wished he’d never asked as Yellow’s tone deepened, “Dark days. You wouldn’t understand.”
As off-putting as Yellow was, Cash had a question and old socks knew things, “Does the Realm of Lost Socks exist?”
“You really want to know?”
“Then,” Yellow said with exaggerated solemnity, “you must fall. For only in letting go can we truly discover our innermost desires.”
“He means,” a nearby pair of stripy shorts said, “let yourself slip and fall off the clothes horse and onto the tiles.”
“That’s suicide! What about the cat!”
“Who told you about that?”
“Don’t worry about the cat.”
“IS there a cat?”
“Then I’m darn well worried!”
Yellow shushed the shorts, “He is not ready. He is too young. Leave him to the Drawer.”
The sameness of the Drawer loomed in Cash’s mind.
All the memories hurtled to the forefront of his consciousness, overwhelming him. The frigidity of Mere, the aggressive war-socks, the self-satisfied colours all huddled together in their little groups and him alone, at the back, in the dark with the cobwebs and the dust motes, forever.
He let go, allowing himself to slide off and fall with a soft thump to the cold white tiles, leaving behind a cacophony of shocked gasps. Collectively resembling those drafts of wind that sometimes slip through the unseen gaps of windows, doors and walls.
Cash tried to move and panic seized him. He was so heavy! He’d never been wet before, at least, he didn’t think so. If the cat came now, he was as dead as a white t-shirt stained with cocoa.
A movement snatched his attention from across the room. The shadows beneath a large machine were shifting, it reminded Cash of when the regular black socks had a party at the front of the Drawer.
Voices resounded from overhead, “Move! The cat might come! You can do it!”
He moved. Scrunching and sliding, inexorably inching closer and closer to the shadows. To safety. A trail of wet marked his progress and he thought he might make it. Maybe the Realm of Lost Socks really did exist! Maybe this was the beginning of his new exciting life. He’d always suspected that there was more than the Drawer.
He was so close he could make out the familiar shape of a sock in the shadows when a distant shout made his silken fibres stiffen. “CAT!”
No! He was so close! This wasn’t fair! He wriggled with all his tiny might, heaving his sodden self faster. Had it seen him? Was that the sound of padded paws on smooth tiles?
He imagined jagged claws ripping him apart and with one last humungous effort, slid beneath the machine and into the darkness. A white paw followed him, blindly slashing, but he was just out of reach. He’d done it!
“You,” rumbled a voice from the deepest shadow, “are one lucky sock.”
“Who are you?”
The owner of the voice approached Cash, revealing themselves to be a long dark sock adorned with silver diamonds, “Name’s Argyle, and you are?”
“Welcome. Now, follow me. It’s dangerous out here.”
Cash followed, struggling to keep up but thankfully, he didn’t have far to go. On the other side of those shadows was a ragged hole in the wall which Argyle ushered him through.
“What do you know of the RLS?
After a moment’s hesitation, Cash said, “Nothing.” It struck him only in that moment that he had done all of this for something he knew nothing about. He’d thrown away everything for a feeling, an idea. He must sound insane.
“Good,” Argyle said, “That means no one’s talked. We have to keep our numbers relatively low to avoid suspicion.”
They wriggled through the wall, Cash following Argyle’s path directly into a large open space inside the wall. How this was possible, he didn’t understand, but here it was: the Realm of Lost Socks, the RLS.
A few small holes high above draped the space in a magical haze, spiderwebs filled the corners and socks of all shapes, sizes and colours mingled together. They all seemed to be in a good state, which confused Cash until he saw one with an irregular patch of cloth over its heel.
“You can mend yourselves?”
“Yes, the spiders help with that. We are not confined to a drawer and we are never paired unless we want to be. You are free to leave, to roam if you wish but it is very dangerous, as you know. Sadly, few return.”
“What were you doing out there then?”
“A friend of yours asked me to keep a look out for you. She had a message, but now she can give it to you herself. Ah, here she is.”
“Cash! You’re here! What happened?”
After recounting his tale, he felt a tide of guilt sweep over him, “I’ve abandoned Mere.”
“No, you haven’t,” Prim said, “She’s absolutely fine. She prefers being alone, says that you used to move around too much. Umbro guards her now. I think they actually get along.”
“How do you know all this?”
“The spiders,” she said, as if were obvious, “They know everything! If you ask me, they’re a bit insufferable, but handy. I’d be nice if I were you. They patched up my hole! See? Good as new and I haven’t told you the best part! Mark’s here!”
“Mark? You’re partner?”
“That’s fantastic, Prim. I’m happy for you.”
A strange fuzzy feeling bloomed inside of Cash as he watched Mark sidle up to nuzzle at Prim. Argyle drew his attention away for a moment to say, “If you want to go back to the Drawer. It can be arranged, although, it is a risk.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Cash said.
He’d identified the bizarre feeling and he wasn’t going to let go, not this time.
He was happy.