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Alina Stefanescu


after Eileen Joy and Michael Martone

This is a story about two socks and what she tucked into them. A story about what lies inside a dresser drawer. If the girl had been wealthy, this would be a story about the housekeeper who found the socks while folding laundry. The housekeeper would hand in her resignation. For a year, the housekeeper would shudder through movie scenes which cut to unpainted oak dressers. But she does not exist. It is the socks who exist. It is the socks who have something important to tell us about the author.

The left sock comes first. Inside the left sock sits a small, red pocketknife with Yellowstone engraved on one side. A souvenir for your thoughts, a trinket that sinks to the bottom.

The girl has never been to Yellowstone— at this point in her young life, she has never travelled north of the Mason-Dixon line— but she treasures the places she’s stolen from others. It would be easy enough to swipe such a knife at a roadside flea market. But that is not what happens. That would be the story about a different author; likely a novelist who specialized in historical romance.

This is the story about the author and the girl who knows treachery is one part art and always a treasure. Gabe sits in the church pew next to her. He is surrounded by his happy, well-functioning nuclear family. During communion, he describes their splendid family road trip. When he fails to mention a single road-stop fight, the girl is overcome by nausea. She begins to despise Gabe but the hatred does not flare into its usual livid orange rocket. Instead, it rolls about the room like seasickness, a gunky green.

It takes two months to arrange the scenario whereby Gabe comes over for a trig study session as her parents host a Bible study downstairs. It takes eighteen minutes to ease Gabe into a supine position on her four-poster canopy bed, and four additional minutes to remove his shorts, carefully enabling the knife to slip from a pocket onto the carpet. Ten seconds to nudge the knife under the lavender dust ruffle with her toe. Six minutes total to strip off her cargo pants, climb atop Gabe, straddle him in place, and watch his eyes open wide as entry-way door frames.

For those six minutes, the girl does what she’s seen in magazines. At one point she imagines riding a muscular black horse across a windswept prairie. When she glances down at Gabe, he groans and wiggles beneath her body like one of Nabokov’s pinned butterflies. The knife never comes up.

The knife remains inside the left sock until the day when the right sock arrives to complete the pair. Inside the right sock lies a small, foldable mirror with tiny rubies and faux gold brocade around the edges. The girl might purchase such a mirror from any mall costume shop. But that would be a story about a different author, likely a male who specializes in crime-suspense series. No, the girl is the same girl only now she has another sock, another something spectacular to hide.

At first, she finds the mirror tacky— and probably wouldn’t think twice about it— if it weren’t for the way Suzanne holds it close. For many years, the girl and Suzanne have been best-ish friends. Yet one day in the parking lot something happens to Suzanne, and she is absent from school for two weeks. When Suzanne returns, she doesn’t talk much. Her eyes are flat and duffelled. The girl misses the old Suzanne. She wonders how long before things get back to normal between them.

Another day, the girl approaches the water fountain and catches Suzanne talking to that mirror.

“Who am I?” Suzanne asks the mirror. “Who is this person?”

There is an element of horror and irrevocability that reminds the girl of terrifying film scenes, particularly ones where a wife stands in the kitchen and tells a man to leave, scenes you watch knowing there is nothing he can say or plead or do to change her mind.

The girl is afraid and angry. She resents this fear’s appearance in her life. Since she cannot change the channel, she asks Suzanne if everything is okay.

When Suzanne turns her eyes towards the girl, her face is frozen, blank, an unmoving ice sculpture. Two words: I’m fine. Stiff as glaciers.

Suzanne says she likes to check the mirror every so often. It’s part of therapy. A way to check and make sure she is still there. That she is Suzanne.

The girls nods. She understands the mirror must be a magic mirror, one which reveals the truth, perhaps a fairy tale mirror like the one that belonged to the evil stepmother.

In the locker room, the girls change into their gym clothes, which include purple polyester shorts too skimpy for pockets. As Suzanne washes her face, the girl slips the mirror into the deep zippered pocket of her duffel bag. She misses every shot on the basketball court thinking about the magic mirror.

After gym class, Suzanne disappears into one of three toilet stalls to change back into school clothes. Other girls raise their eyebrows and whisper. No one changes in the stalls. What is she hiding? Maybe’s it’s her time of month. Maybe she’s got the curse.

The next morning, Mrs. Eisenberg tells the class that Suzanne will not be with us anymore. She has transferred to another school.

The room is silent. Mrs. Eisenberg says she does not want to point fingers but it appears there might be a thief in the class and whoever stole something from Suzanne knows what they did. And that person has to live with what they’ve done.

The girl looks around and pretends to be curious. Her lips part in surprise. What she cannot believe is how potent the magic in that mirror which made Suzanne disappear.

The girl loves the mirror. As time inches past, the girl will unroll the sock and stare into the mirror when unexpected things occur. She stares into the mirror after her brother dies. Again after graduation and between continents. Countless times when her daughters grow surly and the girl wonders if the mirror might help them develop differently. Again when the girl discovers she has been replaced by an aging, thin-lipped female with flaccid cheeks.

The girl will become an author of unremarkable short stories. She will consider creating a fiction involving two socks in a dresser. She will toy with the idea of an omniscient narrator before kicking a hole through the bedroom door. Ultimately, the girl will sew a quilt. She will slice salad tomatoes with the red Yellowstone knife and use the magic mirror to check her teeth for lipstick, knowing, more than likely, no one will believe her.


“Watching the girl I'm reminded
she's quite a lot like me
Trapped in the suburbs of wonderland,
lost in her own fantasy
Somehow my heart never grew up,
no one ever burst my balloon
So here I am swirling in star dust
slow dancing with the moon.”

He says what is that?

I say it’s a song by Dolly Parton. An epigraph.

He says suddenly things feel heavy in less than a heartbeat. He wants to know why. He wants to know about the heavy and the epigraph. Is this the beginning of something?

I say what does it look like?

He says trouble.

I say it could be worse.

He says he doubts it.

I don’t know what to say. I don’t say I don’t know what but settle for saying nothing.

He says it’s too late. Doing is saying and now I’ve done it.

I say done what?

He says I’ve said things. He says I’ve said too many things out loud. Like Dolly Parton.

I say I said what I saw.

He says that’s different from seeing.

I say it’s really my balloon and my magic forest. I can paint this place black if it suits me.

He says black is not a color and it’s really hard to mix.

I say watch me.

He says whoa there what are you doing?

I say I’m taking my clothes off.

He says why? The song is over. The scene was a no-starter. Why add a new dimension to what failed to emerge from an epigraph?

I say so I can see it. I say so I can see what’s left.

➥ Bio