- John the Stick and the Three Spare Socks -





There was once, and still is, due to the unstable conditions of the weather, a patch of bare soil between a forest and a road. Three socks were lying there, waiting for the night to come, and with the night some relief from the sun that daily blisters their fibers by staring at them with its awkward look.

They weren’t a couple with their baby-sock, as socks do not breed, they are rather bred in endless stacks of twins, pairs at birth. They weren’t the socks of a three-legged being, as beings that are not human do not make use of socks. There were three socks and each was one-of-a-kind and gray and out of shape in the same way, and they were on the ground and in between things because they were spare socks, and that’s what happens to spare socks when, for reasons unknown, they fall out of their inbred wedlock, becoming useless to the feet.

From the way they were lying on the floor, the three socks couldn’t see either the forest or the road. However, wherever they turned their eyeballs of lint, they could see the horizon, as the sky met the ground all around them in a close-fitting circle. The sky was already covered in pink sores when the socks saw something cutting their horizon with its long lean silhouette. It was hard to tell whether the evening breeze pushed them closer to the thing or the thing approached them. Above all, it was irrelevant; the socks were used to being displaced against their will. It was in their nature, socks are made to walk.

The socks had been lying around in their odd kinship for months, and whenever something would fall inside their horizon, they took the chance to have a chat with it. One of the socks raised its voice above the noise of the cars and asked to the thing, “Who are you?”
“I am a tree”, said the thing.

The sock asked again, “Who are you?”
The socks knew what trees were, and they knew they were vertical things since it was im- possible to fit them all at once in their sight. This thing that called itself a tree was certainly horizontal since they could see it all when staring at the horizon.

“Who are you?”, repeated the sock. An uncomfortable silence replied to the question. An- other sock decided to make the answer more clear. “I think you are a stick”, the sock said, “A wooden stick.”“I used to be a tree”, said the stick with resentment. “What happened to you?”, asked the sock, curious.“A storm broke me off and I fell on the ground. As I can’t lift myself I cannot go back to where I used to be”. The socks felt sympathy for the stick: they were all leftovers after all.

“Do you have a name?”, asked one of the socks. “I was a pine…”, said the stick, “and I want to be a pine again!”.“You can be called John; John the stick.”, said one of the socks. “My owner used to say the word John so tenderly sometimes. Don’t cry John, you’ll like your new name”. “I am not crying, I never cry”, said John the stick, crying.

The stick waited for the tears to cake over its bark in amber beads before it spoke again. The socks tightened their fibers and pulled themselves closer to the stick. Their cotton head was suddenly soaked in images of their first night as mismatches and their stitches ached a little bit.

“You rather, what are you?”, said John the stick, with disdain.“We are spare socks and we take the name of the one who owns us. Since nobody owns us now, we have no name.”
“I could see everything from where I used to be”, said John the stick. “Of course, I saw socks too. I know there’s always a right shoe and a left shoe, and so there is a right sock and a left sock inside of it. Your peer sock must have been better than you at being a sock if you have been discarded!”, said the stick.“Socks just get left behind, one disappear, the other, lonely, is forgotten. Besides, without a foot to judge, there is no such thing as a left or right sock.”, said one of the socks. John the stick could see things from above, but surely that dis- tance created some confusion, the socks thought. The night was closer now, and the socks excused the stick for its misinterpretation. After all, how could they know what it was like to be up on a tree. Everything they ever knew happened on the floor.

“Do you feel abandoned?”, said one of the socks. “I feel betrayed: I was so important as a tree and now I am nothing.” “You are a stick, John!”, said one of the socks.“I don’t want to be a stick”, said John the stick. “Sticks are useless. I want to be a tree, I want to push my roots into the ground and carry the weight of my own crown, like a king.” It was clear to the socks that a tree was made of different parts, and John the stick was just one of them. The socks decided not to draw attention to details and help the stick to acclimatize to its new condition.

“You are going to be a dog stick !”, one of the socks said. “Sticks and spare socks make dogs happy, you can really tell. Besides, you will be thrown up in the air, and you will be able to see all the amazing things you once saw”, continued the sock. “I don’t want my cortex to be ruined by the slimy fangs of a stupid dog”, said John the stick. The socks looked at each with concern: this stick was a very hard stick to deal with.

“You could be a walking stick”, they said then in chorus.One sock remembered the day when its owner stuffed her feet and socks inside a new pair of high heels. Something hap- pened that night, something in the vertical axis, outside of the sock’s understanding. Then everything was horizontal, and things made sense to the sock, and things were scary, and that being horizontal, and therefore understood by the sock, caused the owner to lose one of her shoes. She had to limp back home, that’s how the spare sock got those mud stains and that wear that might have signed its destiny as a spare sock. How the sock’s owner would have needed a stick to lean on that night!

“I want to stand up by myself! I don’t want to be weighed down, useful but helpless.”, said John the stick. The socks thought about how they could never stand by themselves, since they were soft and hollow, and they remembered how, sometimes, they missed the weight of their owner.

“Then just be a stick!”, one of the socks said. “The ground is full of broken sticks. You could even make friends and talk about love, or the weather.” The stick gave a desperate groan. “This is a really bad idea.” said John the stick, “besides being terribly bored, laying close to other sticks would make me even more vulnerable. Someone who’s looking for sticks would surely know where to find us. He will gather us in a bundle and bring us home, and I will burn to death inside a fireplace.”

The night reached the patch of bare ground and the conversation fell into silence. Suddenly a draft of wind brought one of the socks closer to the stick. “I am scared this wind will turn into a storm”, whispered John the stick to the sock after a while. The sock could feel the wooden fibers of the stick shivering against its woven skin. “Maybe, if you would wear me, you would become a leg, a wooden leg, and you’d be able to stand by yourself and we could walk away from here together”, said the sock.

The stick pondered the idea for a while, in silence.
“I would be carrying my own weight!”, he finally said, and the idea seemed to please him. The sky was black now but the ground they were resting on was still glowing of the light collected during the day. The stick was thinking about standing up and the sock about being wrapped around something, and maybe because they were one with the floor, or maybe because of the bright nature of their dreams, they were glowing a little bit too.

Another draft of wind pushed the sock even closer to the stick. “When we’ll walk together, will you tell me what you see?”, asked the sock with its feeble voice. The other socks were already asleep, holding one another tight in a knot of gray cotton. “I will tell you about the world, and you will make sure I don’t stumble on things I can’t see.”, said the stick.

A silent agreement brought the stick and the sock closer than they already were. The sock started to squeeze its fibers, reshaping its hollow body to host the truncated feet of the stick. The stick started to pull its wooden rings back and forth, sliding slowly inside the open mouth of the spare sock. The moon was rising above them as they were working their ways into each other’s form. To anyone who passed by at that moment glancing at them, the scene was totally still.

After a short period of time that felt endless, after a labor so microscopic and so visceral it was invisible, after things had changed each other’s nature in drastic ways without any observable change, the stick was finally wearing the sock. Wrapping the rough crust of the stick within its poor, worn skin, the sock was overpowered, for a second, by pleasure. It was almost like holding a foot, being held down by the weight of a body, a pleasure that is em- bedded in socks’ nature, a guilty pleasure for a spare sock to whom that pleasure is forever banned the very moment it abandons socks’ coupledom, becoming spare. It was almost more than the pleasure of holding a foot: the sock felt each fiber of its body cramped in the desire of being a foot, and that pleasure, even so imagined, even so virtual, the pleasure of carrying weight, formed tears along the sock’s mending stitches. No socks, not even the most dutiful socks, were ever entitled to that pleasure, but all socks knew about it, as socks are mediating for that pleasure to happen, and that pleasure happened all-around them all the time, and it is nature as much as they are its exception.

The moonlight hit with her gentle stroke the patch of bare ground where the stick and the sock laid together, within one another. The stick was absorbed in its new condition, and in that warm useless hug the sock was providing, the stick was ready to walk. But unfortu- nately there was no wooden leg, and no feet: the sock was still a sock and the stick a stick. Caught in such an odd grip their intention was, anyhow, clear: they wanted to be, but that will was anchored to the ground by gravity.

The spare sock saw how, within its horizontal world, nothing was changed and could ever be changed, as the sock was too weak to carry the weight of the stick. The spare sock felt the stick’s desire of standing up piercing its mesh, and thought suddenly about how, above all desires that made the sock ashamed of its own nature, it stood the desire of looking at the ground through the eyes of the stick, of feeling feelings by feeling the other’s feelings, of making the stick happy.

Yellow clouds were rushing through the black sky pushed by a cold wind. It looked like a storm was approaching, and this consideration awakened in the stick an old fear. “John the stick will hold its own weight before the rain comes”, thought the sock with determination. The sock decided to hook its fibers on the wood of the stick and started to drag its tiny weight down, up, down again, scraping against the stick. The sock knew how to do this, how to perform wear on another object by wearing its own body down, he learned that from the shoes.

A piece of night went by, and on the skin of the sock new holes formed, old holes reopened, its fabric turned grayer than ever, but its heart of dust and grit was heavier at every stroke. “John the stick will soon have a sharp end, and when the storm will come blowing angry its wind from north, the stick, when lifted, will be able to fall down again sticking its body into the bare ground, as sticks can do. John the stick will stand by himself, and I will lay beside him, listening to its stories.” The sock didn’t say anything about its plans to the stick, since this way of becoming vertical was a horizontal way, something that the stick wouldn’t be able to understand even if laying on the floor.

“John”, whispered the sock, and it was a tender sound, and it was a nostalgic sound too, as it bore the voice of the old sock owner calling for John in the dark of her bedroom. It was also a soft sound as it was the sound of something made soft by the painful wear and tear of bodily friction. As the sock spoke, the stick felt its mass shaped unexpectedly into a new purposeful sharp object and pleasure took over its lean body.

“I could hurt someone”, John the stick said.

The wind turned and the moon was once again free to walk in the clear sky above them. “I could hit someone, hurt someone, poke a hole through something!”, said the stick, im- agining its new sharp end sinking through a softer material, defeating it, pushing it to the ground, powerless and useless. “I don’t care about carrying my own weight any longer, if I can cause others to lose the ability of carrying theirs.” he continued, enthusiastically.

Even the idea of socializing with other sticks seemed not to fear him any longer.
“I could even rest with other sharp sticks in a bundle1: we will be a set of weapons to the one who carry us, and we will help each other hitting as hard and deep as we could never, all alone by our selves. It would be fun, we will wait to be picked up by savvy hands, and while waiting we could drink sap liquor and talk about politics, or the weather.” the stick continued.

The spare sock was still holding the new sharp end of the stick within its ripped skin. The body of the sock was hurting and nobody was there to mend its cuts, as nobody cares about mending a spare sock. Besides, no thread and needle could ever seal the kinds of holes that the words of the stick was breaking open.

“We will take down trees! We will crash purposeless sticks in order to make fire! We will strike the limping down on the floor again! We will break legs! We will hit the dog!” said John the stick, and his voice was full of joy.
The third sock was hardly a sock any longer, and it was hard to tell it apart from grit and dust. The other socks woke up hearing John’s voice, and looked at each other. There was no need to talk: all three of them were sad and gray and worn out and one of a kind, but one of them more than the other, and they were sharing that difference in equal parts, as spare socks do.

The third sock rolled its soggy eyes and glanced at the stick. John the stick looked back, and in doing that he said, “I am going to hit that dog! I am going to hit that fucking dog!” and in saying that he smiled a big human smile on his dead wooden skin.

Such a beautiful smile, thought the sock with its last energy, such a beautiful smile but so much pain to carve it.

The threat of a storm was over and the sky was now calm, beautiful and heavy of stars, and under that, on a spare patch of ground between a forest and a road, very close to a smiling stick, three spare socks were laying as usual, flat and still and pointless, with no strength, but carrying the weight of the night.

- THE END -

Notes:


1:

Bundle, noun: a collection of things, or a quantity of material, tied or wrapped up together. Bundle in italian is translated as fascio, from the latin Fasces. Roman fasces or fascio littorio, a bundle of rods tied around an axe, was an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrate which could be used for corporal and capital punishment. The term fascism derives from the term fascio, a boundle. Boundles of rods became also part of fascism iconography.