The following piece was presented at Jersey City Writers’ genre event – Recess: Children Stories for Adults. Please enjoy.
There was once a land divided by a great winding river. On one side of the river lived a proud people who worked and trod the land in their bare feet. On the other side of the river lived the people who went about the hills while wearing socks. Each of these peoples thought the other wicked and backwards. There had been many great battles in the past that had tragically ended in nothing but stubbed toes and bloody socks. Over time, the river had become the natural way to avert more warring.
This all changed one day when a wee basket drifted down the river bearing a wee peanut-shaped baby. A barefoot sheep-herder saw the basket and towed it in by the hook of his staff. Imagine his shock when he saw that this child had but one wee soggy sock upon its wee right foot. He had the basket raised high above him and he was just about to dunk the wretched sock-wearing child when a besocked washer-woman who had been watching from the other side of the river called out to him.
She noted that this child was wearing a sock unlike that of her people. With the river between them, the barefoot shepherd and the washer-woman divined that this was no sock-wearer’s child who had simply lost a left sock. Nor was the child a bare-footer’s progeny who had been cruelly adorned with a mocking right-foot sock. No, this child was mystery itself.
Were there perhaps among their peoples two ripe lovers from either side of the river, sock and none, who had met in the shameful shadows of taboo and dared to plant a seedling of their forbidden love? Or was this foundling a thing that had sailed from beyond the vistas of their imagination?
The god of the barefooted was rooted in the land and so: no socks. The god of the sock-wearers suffered no pebbles and, thus, socks. Yet this child, with its singular sock, defied the very idea of free-footing hardiness. This wee peanut-shaped babe allowed no conceptual space for the mere notion of cottony comfort between both soles and the ground. In short, the gods of old were but petrified wood in the light of this child’s drooling gob of one-socked joy.
There could be no other words for it. The babe’s simple glee was over-awing to the presumed shame of either going about barefoot or wearing a pair of warm socks. In this child there was no instinct to peel off with one foot the sock from the other. Nor was the babe inclined to withhold its naked foot whilst its clothed one boldly probed and approximated potential surfaces.
No. This child was one while it was two. The very child that had the heart of a bare-footer was within the self-same form a child who ever and always have socks upon both its soles. It was as if one kind of hoofing could not account enough for the scope of its identity. It was as if — please bear along this stretch of unsteady bridge with me — it was as if this child was all at once a threshold for all that could be.
Word rippled out from the shepherd and washer-woman and everything stopped at once. Farmers in bare feet dropped their harvests in the fields and headed eastward towards the river. Bakers extinguished their flames and walked westward towards the river with a trail of flour and dust rising from their cotton socks. The peoples converged and saw this child and shook their heads. Skeptics on either side of the water call out to opposing banks, daring the other to reveal the shameful boy or girl who would be so chicken-hearted as to row across the water on some foggy night and seduce one of their own witless youngsters.
But it was all pointless. For the shepherd passed the babe among his people and they all saw with their very own eyes that the child wore the future snugly upon it. The child was rowed across to the sock-wearing heath-dwellers across the water and then they — one by astonished one — saw how pleasant and cozy the wee one was with its lone little sock. Their din of denial, too, became muted in awe. Only the sound of water, birds, sheep, insects, wind, and the chirp of the babe’s mirthful glee could be heard.
If the river could see it would have been embarrassed for the people on both sides of its banks. How desperately they had clung to the past. If the river, too, could feel it would have forgiven their foolishness as surely as the day was new. Their heads hung mutually in shame for a spell until their fear of the ones on the other side of the water pipped and popped away like mere bubbles of so many nothings.
No bird sang and then, like some boneless wiggle-crow, a lone black sock arced through the silence and across the river. Another. Then, another and another still. On and on and so on. The unbelievable — this miracle flight of half-pair socks — had instantly happened.
One people had removed not so much as the sock of their foot but as the very marrow of their souls that they may fling it across like some small thing. And you would have thought that there would have been stillness or hesitation across the way but no. They, the others, either caught a sock mid-flight or stole one from the ground but they all hastily thrust big-toe in that their heels may dig deeply in. And whence came those errant socks, those who would have otherwise scorned the nakedness of their feet now hopped up and down with grasping toes that dug ravenously through the moist earth.
The baby squealed in delight and a wave of ecstasy coursed through everyone like soft lightning in the blood. All were now one. One-sock-wearing…a one-sock-wearing people. As if the past had been always in the past, the peoples cast off their enmity and swam across the river to embrace the ones who had always been ‘others.’
From that day on, the child, like all their children, was raised by all. Like all their children, the child grew up enjoying the games and wonders of youth. It grew into the wondrous selfhood that stemmed from the integral fellowship of belonging to a people who were completely okay with wearing just one sock. The people built a fine pine bridge across the river and the coming generations maintained its velvety smoothness that there may be no splinters along the way.
Oh but the river! Alas, the poor river went away and, though the people noticed not for their one-socked ways, it was replaced by another, different, river. The poor river had initially babbled beneath the bridge in a constant stream of giggling bubbles. As the years passed, its giggling bubbles died down and it became placid, then morose, and finally stagnant. Since it couldn’t speak, the river could not tell the people how ashamed of itself it had become. How it had only been rivering and having some good old-fashioned river-fun. It could not tell the people how sorry it was and, unable to release itself of this inner burden, it went out all the way to the farthest end of the sea and never came back. All that was left of its spindrift was a salty spray of wretched sadness and a wee little sock.