The Sock by Lydia Davis, 1985
The magic trick:
Revealing the narrator’s loss through the mundane
It’s bad sign when the narrator begins by saying, “My husband is married to a different woman now…” Clearly, this is going to be a story of difficult transitions.
It is remarkable to see how much the narrator withstands. She welcomes her ex and his new wife into her house. They go to the beach together. Her ex and new wife shower at her house. She meets her former mother-in-law for dinner.
All this she merely reports. It’s only when she discusses her ex-husband’s sock that she gets emotional. Suddenly, in one glorious run-on sentence, she zeroes in on all of the details about his everyday habits that she misses. It’s a remarkable attention to the mundane and the way those things have a tendency to frame our hurt. And that’s quite a trick on Davis’s part.
It was a small thing, but later I couldn’t forget the sock, because here was this one sock in his back pocket in a strange neighborhood way out in the eastern part of the city in a Vietnamese ghetto, by the massage parlors, and none of us really knew this city but we were all here together and it was odd, because I still felt as though he and I were partners, we had been partners a long time, and I couldn’t help thinking of all the other socks of his I had picked up, stiff with his sweat and threadbare on the sole, in all our life together from place to place, and then of his feet in those socks, how the skin shone through at the ball of the foot and the heel where the weave was worn down; how he would lie reading on his back on the bed with his feet crossed at the ankles so that his toes pointed at different corners of the room; how he would then turn on his side with his feet together like two halves of a fruit; how, still reading, he would reach down and pull off his socks and drop them in little balls on the floor and reach down again and pick at his his toes while he read; sometimes he shared with me what he was reading and thinking, and sometimes he didn’t know whether I was there in the room or somewhere else.
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