What household doesn't have one? Who doesn't dread those brushes with the unknown? I'm not talking about spirits roaming the halls. Great-Aunt Greta's ghost can haunt any room in the house she chooses. She can stay for dinner and take a shower, too, as long as she hangs up her wet towel when she's done.
I'm talking about the Sock Eater, that mythical being that turns perfectly good pairs of socks into lone singles destined for the ragbag. No Halloween ghoul could produce as much anxiety as I see on my preteen daughter's face when she's searching for two matching socks on a school morning.
"Just wear what you can find!" I yell from my closet, where I'm frantically dressing for work. "It's time to go!" What she can find is a lime-green shortie, a white crew, one blue sock with butterflies on it and a black. She settles for the green and the black. No wonder she prefers the shorties. At least they don't show.
Like many families, we used to blame the dryer. The Sock Eater, we figured, was a formless creature that lived behind the drum and was always voraciously hungry. We had so many odd socks that, after a while, I began pairing them up to each other, looking for the least garish combinations. We can only use so many dust rags, and I just can't throw away perfectly good socks even if they don't match. Maybe the kids could start a fashion trend.
My sister did that once — started a fashion trend, that is. One day she wore a pair of painter's overalls to school that no normal teenage girl would be caught dead in. This garment was a cheap, cotton affair cut to fit any and every human form between 90 and 350 pounds. It tied on quickly over regular clothes and was easily shed before venturing out into the general public. She wore it with a tie-dyed T-shirt.
The following week, I saw a couple of other girls wearing the same baggy overalls, also with tie-dyed shirts. Before the end of the semester, the overalls themselves were tie-dyed every color of the rainbow and had become a staple wardrobe item among the senior girls. This was the age of granola and Earth shoes. I guess tie-dyed painter's overalls were a phenomenon waiting to happen.
One night, the girls were getting ready for bed, and my younger daughter came rushing in to tell me the dog had just eaten a sock. "Eaten?" I echoed. The dog, a young heeler, was inclined to rip and shred things but as far as I knew, he didn't actually eat them.
"Mom, I saw him swallow!"
Oh, how we worried! He was just a pup. I let him sleep on the floor by my bed so I could be sure to wake up if he had any problems. But he had none. He got rid of the sock in the normal way. We spotted it in the yard a day or two later. We also spotted, now that we were looking, at least four other socks that I recognized instantly. I'd spent the previous evening pairing their mates up with other widowed socks while watching a "Law and Order" rerun. So much for worry.
Since then he's eaten so many socks it's become routine. We can tell when he's about to do it. His ears swivel up on top of his head like a little girl's hair bow, and he brushes by the laundry basket ever so casually. He can snatch up a sock and swallow it before you can draw in enough breath to yell: "NO!"
I finally bought something called Bitter Yuck. I sprayed a half-dozen socks and strewed them here and there as bait. I sprayed the top layer of the laundry basket, too, just in case he got any ideas about washcloths. Then I let the dog in.
His eyes lit on the stray socks. Up went his ears, and he did his little saunter over to the nearest one, but before he could grab it, his nose must have told him something was amiss. He stopped in his tracks. The ears came down. He wandered over to the laundry basket and sniffed it, too. I swear he furrowed his brow.
"Gotcha!" I thought, but I was wrong. He leveled his head and scanned the room. Faster than thought, he grabbed up a Nerf ball lying under a chair. One second he was mouthing it like a kid shifting gum from one side to the other. The next second "… nothing. It was gone. A softball-sized hunk of sponge down the hatch. He sat down and gave me a look that could only be called triumphant.
The Nerf ball has yet to reappear.
Miriam Liberatore lives and writes near Eagle Point.