national anthology of the best
undergraduate writing 2010

The Sock

Untitled, Julian Harake

She came home that night with a bulge under her shirt.

“It happens that fast?” the man asked. He was not her husband, but boyfriend was too pimply a word to describe someone she had lived with for years.

“The doctor says not to question the miracle of life,” the woman said. She let her bag drop to the floor and removed her coat.

“Well, what else did she say?”

“Oh, let’s talk about it later,” she said, slouching into the living room and sinking into the couch. “I’m tired.”

Before entering their apartment, which required twisting three separate keys into three separate locks, the woman had upturned her bag and watched the yarn come tumbling out onto the front steps. She had three large gatherings of yarn—not so much balls as neatly-coiled oblong creatures, royal blue and cinched at the waist with ribbons. Crouching down, she pulled at the end strings of each until they came undone, crawling all over each other and themselves. Then she had gathered up these long, long strands into a messy pile under her shirt and placed one cold hand on top (the way she had seen pregnant women do) as she made her way inside.

Now the man came over to her and laid a hand on her belly, on top of the shirt, which lay on top of the yarn that was bunched on top of her skin. It was lumpy. She moved his hand away and let her head fall back on the couch.

He said, “Let’s get you to bed.”

“Me and the baby,” she corrected. As she rose from the couch, a bit of yarn slipped out and dangled between her legs like a misplaced tail. She scooped this up without making eye contact with the man, who was also busy not making eye contact with her.

After he fell asleep, the woman rose out of their bed with the stiffness and deliberation of a sleepwalker. She made her way to the living room, settled into their old armchair and took up the pair of knitting needles she kept on the end table. From underneath her shirt, like a magician, she pulled with one hand a long string of yarn. With this she began to knit.

In the morning, she woke up to see the man standing over her, his head bent down close to hers. His beard smelled like towels just out of the dryer.

“You fell asleep down here. I’m going to work. Are you going to be okay by yourself today?”

“Yes,” she said, sitting up. “I’m so hungry. How do you feel about pasta for dinner tonight?”

“That’s fine. I’ll pick up tomatoes on my way home.”  He gave her head a quick squeeze with his fingers and turned to leave.

As he opened the front door with the click click click of the three locks, he turned back to her. “You know,” he said, “I’m not upset. You don’t have to be afraid that I’m upset. I’m just worried about you.”

“Why would you be upset?”

“Because. Of what happened.”

“It’s fine. We’re fine,” she said, patting her stomach and looking away. “It doesn’t help anything for you to be worried.”

After she was sure he had left—she listened to the sound of the gate creaking open and clanging shut, and to the clop of his shoes hurrying down the sidewalk—she pulled out the yarn and continued her knitting. It was an automatic action, this knitting, like turning a key or picking up a phone over and over and over again.

The doctor said it could have happened because of a genetic abnormality. It was also an unfortunate fact, the doctor explained gently, that the older a woman became, the more likely this was to happen.

During this conversation, whenever the doctor referred to it, the thing that had been growing inside her, she called it the “products of conception.” The doctor said it was important for the woman to try as best she could to remain unsentimental about the whole thing, as it had only been ten weeks, after all. Of course feelings of profound loss were to be expected, but studies had shown that the persistent and relentless usage of clinical rhetoric could alleviate these feelings, and help the patient keep a certain distanced perspective. Therefore, the doctor maintained, it was best to refer to it using medical terms—they would not use emotional words such as “baby.” The doctor recommended avoiding even the seemingly benign term “fetus.” The woman thought that the products of conception sounded more like the results of some heavy thinking; a figment of her imagination.

The loss had been unexpected. But when the man and the woman first decided to live together, they could not have predicted the many things that would happen to them. Things that seemed simply unoriginal, like a gradual falling out of love. After the first two years, they didn’t have much to say to each other. Things that had once interested them—like telling each other how much they loved each other and how perfect the other one was and how they could never bear to be apart—were no longer compelling topics of conversation. They needed something new in their lives, something they could love in a different, permanent way.

The doctor said she and her partner could always try again, although the probability of success was low. This was how they tried: He put her body between his legs and she put her mouth on his and he put her hair in his hand and she squeezed and he made a noise and she made a noise. Trying.

As time went on, the woman wore tighter shirts, to keep everything in place. The man grew used to seeing this bump grow on the woman’s stomach, messy and un-round as it was. He made a habit of rubbing it in a manner that could be called affectionate.

The woman began to have very specific cravings and wanted nothing but mangoes, rice pilaf, and ice cubes. The man was creative and came up with ways to incorporate these three ingredients into a wide variety of dishes—chicken and mango stew served on top of rice pilaf with a glass of ice cubes. Raw mango stuffed with icy rice pilaf. Ice cubes made from mango juice with rice pilaf sprinkled on top. Et cetera. He would announce the menu for the night the way a circus ringleader might announce the upcoming act, and she would clap her hands together until they hurt. Then they would eat these dishes quickly, eyes wide and mouths full.

As her belly grew larger and larger, the man saw her smiling more and he began to smile too. She would remark on how lucky she was not to have typical symptoms, like morning sickness or mood swings. He would agree; yes, they were very lucky.

Sometimes the woman continued her ritual of knitting while the man was asleep, or at work. The man became used to hearing this sound in the middle of the night, the light tap tap tap of the needles hitting each other. More often than not though, she chose just to lie in bed, happily feeling her stomach in the dark.

One night, the man came home to see the woman decorating the small room they had begun using for storage. Having read somewhere that cow images were soothing to infants, she had painted large, gangly ones all over the walls. In the center of the room was a cardboard box, lined with a towel.

As he came into the room, she said, not looking up from washing her brushes in a large can of grey water, “Don’t worry, that isn’t the real crib. This is just to mark where it will go, when the baby comes.”

“Really?  I think it looks very comfortable.” He tried to squeeze into the flimsy thing, to make her laugh.

“I think you look very comfortable,” she said, and lay down on top of him, and they smushed the box together. They lay there giggling for a while until the man started saying ow ow ow ow ow.

It was that night, after dinner (it was far too early and they weren’t expecting anything at all, not now) that it happened: The woman stood up from her armchair and suddenly, a large knitted sock fell from under her shirt, dropping to the floor without a sound. “Oh!” she said, as if she were in pain. The man rushed over from the kitchen, where he had been doing the dishes, and saw her deflated stomach and the sock on the ground. They bent down together to pick it up. The sock was the bruised blue of a berry, and large enough for each of them to hold an end in one hand, the long middle sagging between like a hammock.

“Is that it?” the man asked.

“It’s just a sock,” the woman said, looking down at what they held in their hands.

They were silent together, not knowing how to grieve. “Here,” the man finally said. He lifted her shirt and clumsily fit the sock around her breast with his large hand. It stuck there firmly. The woman moved her hand to support the body of the sock. There was something quite natural about this blue, knotted yarn attaching itself to her smooth skin.

They stayed absolutely still then—the man with his arm around the woman’s thin shoulders, the woman with her hand under the limp sock, the sock with its mouth around the woman’s breast—knowing that eventually they would have to move. But not yet.