Andy glared at the damp sock in his hand as if it was the root of all problems. His other grey socks, along with his white vests and shirts, pleated trousers and frayed Y-fronts, covered every available space on the radiators of the silent semi-detached. This one was missing its other half and the very thought gnawed at him.
Andy fruitlessly searched the empty washing basket, the unmopped kitchen floor, the deserted hallway. Even the sink, full of dirty mugs, plates and cutlery. The tap dripping. The smell of stale bread. He peered inside the washing machine, then rummaged its dark cavern with a hand that grasped nothing. It had to be in there, somewhere.
His jeans felt tight. Had he put on weight or had they shrunk? Andy questioned whether he’d been using the machine correctly. A particular memory floated above the others weighing down his mind. He opened the filter cover, pulled out the thin tube that was curled up snake-like inside and drained the residual water into a spaghetti-smeared bowl. Then removed the debris filter. A stray sock had once caught inside, causing a nasty blockage, but there was nothing there now.
Scratching his paunch, Andy stared at the washing machine. An idea blossomed. A voice told him not to do it, but he was able to ignore it. He found his screwdriver, wrench, and hammer. He knew he was no good with his hands, he’d been told often enough, but was willing to give it a go — to at least try — to solve the mystery.
Andy pulled out the plug, turned the stop tap and disconnected the water supply hose. He wrestled with the contraption for several grunting minutes until it was out in the open, exposed. The most exercise he’d had in years. Then he set to work.
Slowly, methodically, he took the bulky device apart piece by piece. It felt satisfying, dismantling it, getting inside to the heart of how it works. The porthole staring blankly like a blind eye. The colourful wires entangling the control panel. The hollow silver drum reminiscent of a space capsule. But no sock to be seen. Not a garment of any description amid the debris.
Socks can’t just evaporate like love can, he thought. They can’t vanish as if part of a magician’s cheap trick. They’re always around, somewhere. They don’t just walk out on you, never to be seen again.
“Fucking socks,” he muttered.
Twisting the gold ring on his fourth finger, Andy surveyed the kitchen. The washing machine was gone, broken down into dozens of singular parts scattered across the cold lino, useless on their own. Realising with a painful jolt that he had no idea how to put it back together again, Andy sank to his knees and sobbed.