Martin could hear the sound of distant drawers from the bedroom upstairs, Sally opening them; noisily rummaging through them and then ramming them shut again.
“Socks! I said: socks!” Sally yelled down the stairs.
“Socks?” Martin replied walking across to the bottom of the stairs and looking up.
Sally appeared on the landing and stared back down at him, hands on her hips. “Yes, darling – socks. Is that too difficult for you to understand?”
Martin noticed she was clutching a pair of his underpants in one hand. “Well… frankly, yes. I mean… well, you’ve never mentioned socks before.”
“I did, once.” Sally said, sitting down on the top step, smoothing out then folding the pair of Martin’s underpants on her lap as she spoke. “Can you remember? It was that time we were on holiday… in that place… where was it? You know, where we had that ice-cream?”
Martin thought for a moment. “Oh, there! Er… thingy. What about it?”
“That was the place where you wanted to do it on the beach at midnight. We walked… well, you stumbled… I think you must have drunk most of that bottle of wine yourself…. Anyway, we got all the way down to the beach – it took us ages to cross that road, even at that time of the night. And then… then when we got there… when we got there… there was no bloody beach! The tide was right in, right up against the sea wall at the edge of the road. We would’ve had to strip off in the middle of the bloody dual-carriageway – or whatever they are called over there. You were in a really foul mood, and me – I couldn’t stop laughing… giggling. Maybe I’d had a bit too much to drink too and – of course – that made you even more of a miserable bastard than usual.”
“Anyway Sal….” Martin said abruptly, breaking her reverie. “What were we talking about?”
“Socks… I think.”
“Oh right.” Martin looked up at his wife. “But what has not finding my socks got to do with that holiday?”
“That was the time when you kept losing all your socks, can’t you remember?” She seemed surprised that Martin could not remember such a momentous event in their marriage. She shrugged, dismissing his puzzled frown. “I found them all on the last day, remember? They’d fallen down the back of the drawer in the hotel room. You know… for some reason I was never able to fathom… the drawers in that hotel room didn’t have proper backs on them. So whenever….”
“Yes, yes… right.” Martin interrupted, before she moved on to some other memory. “Listen Sal, I’ve got to…. y’know… I don’t want to get stuck in the rush hour traffic again?”
“Yes, sorry darling…. Right.” She stood up, showing him the now neatly folded underpants. “I think that is everything, apart from the socks, that is.”
A few minutes later, Martin knelt in front of his full suitcase, checking it was fastened securely. He picked it up, sighing at its weight. “Right then, I’m off. Sorry about the… well, the short notice. But y’know….”
Sally stepped forward, almost formally, to kiss him. “Yes, darling, it’s all right. Have a good trip and don’t forget to ring this time. At least, if only to let me know how long you’ll be gone.”
Martin glanced at his watch. Realising he was running late, he rushed to open the front door, turning to face Sally as he eased his case through it. “Yes. Right. Okay. Bye Sal. Kiss? Bye.” The door slammed behind him and Sally heard a final muffled “Bye” from behind the closed door.
“Hopeless.” Sally sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know how he’d manage without me…. Certainly wouldn’t have any socks, that’s for sure.” She picked up the phone as she sat down on the sofa, tucking her feet up under herself. She dialled the number without glancing at the buttons she was pressing.
“Hello… is that you?” she said when the phone was answered. “Yes, he’s just left….”
From where he sat in the front room of the flat, Martin could hear her opening his suitcase, unpacking it and putting its contents away in drawers and so on.
“Socks! I said: socks!” Rachel yelled from the bedroom.
“Socks again?” Martin sighed. “I don’t believe this.”
Rachel appeared in the doorway. “Pardon? What did you say love?”
“Nothing. Nothing… I was… I was just wondering what you said.”
“Oh, socks.” Rachel said, sitting down on the arm of the sofa. She held up a pair of Martin’s socks balled up together. “It’s just… your socks. How come I can never find a matching pair on washday – that’s what I want to know? All I ever have are odd ones. But whenever you come back from your trips, the matching ones turn up again.”
“I… I… er…. Do you fancy eating out tonight, Rach? Somewhere special?”
“Well….” Rachel frowned as she looked down at the pair of socks in her hand.
“What?” Martin took the balled-up socks from her, shoving them down the side of the sofa and took her hands in his.
“I thought we’d eat here, at home – just the two of us. After all, you’ve been away eating in hotels, restaurants and places like that. I thought you’d be looking forward to a home-cooked meal.”
“Yes, yes of course Rach.” Martin nodded his agreement. “There’s nothing I’d rather have. I just thought… y’know… you might fancy a night out… that’s all.”
Rachel looked down at her hands where Martin held them in her lap. “How long will you be staying for, love? I hope it is not just for the weekend again.”
“Er… sorry Rach. But you know I’m the only driver Len will trust with these important loads.”
“Aw….” Rachel snatched her hands free. “But I hardly ever get to see you these days. It seems I see more of your socks than I do of you.”
“What is this thing with socks?”
“What do you mean, love?”
Martin sighed. “It seems like all you’ve talked about since I came in, all you’ve mentioned is my bloody socks, and….”
“And… what?” Rachel turned to stare hard into Martin’s face.
“Nothing. Sorry, Rach. I must be more tired than I thought.”
Rachel stared at him for a few more seconds then smiled briefly. “Well… I suppose I’m sorry too, love. After all, you have been away nearly a week… and all I can do when you come home is nag you about your socks.”
“Let’s have an early night,” Martin said, taking her hand again. “Then tomorrow we’ll do something special, eh?”
“I had arranged to go into town with mum, tomorrow. We were going shopping. I know how much you hate shopping too, so….”
Martin sighed loudly.
“But it’s not my fault is it?” Rachel snatched her hand away again. “If you’d have said a few days ago – rang me… or something – then maybe I could have cancelled.”
“Can’t you cancel now?”
“I could, I suppose… and upset my mother… again,” Rachel said. She suddenly sat up straighter, turning to face Martin again. “But why should I? Don’t you think enough of my bloody life revolves around you – and your constant comings and goings – enough as it is? Aren’t I allowed to have some time of my own?” She got to her feet and turned towards the door.
“But what about… us?”
Rachel turned in the doorway, hands on hips. “What about us? Is that what you think I ought to do? Is that how you want me to live my life… to… to go into suspended animation when you are not here? What do you think happens when you go through that door? Do you think I trundle off to the cupboard under the stairs and shut myself down until I hear your key in the door again… who knows how many days later?”
Martin got to his feet and held out his hand towards Rachel “No… Rach… I….”
Rachel shrugged away from Martin’s outreaching hand. “I do have a life of my own you know. I do carry on while you are gone. In fact, I’ve had to make myself a bloody life without you!”
“This is the last thing I need when I get home after spending days on the road.”
“You think I want it?”
“Yes! I do.” Martin said urgently. “Just lately, yes, every time I come home I get this aggro…. But not this time! I’m off down the pub. Don’t wait up.” He pushed past Rachel, grabbed his coat from the hall and left. The front door slammed behind him.
Rachel stared at the closed door for a moment and then abruptly nodded at it before turning back into the front room of the flat. “Right-oh, love, you go down the pub. We’ll just see who has to apologise to whom when you get back.”
She sat down on the sofa, still warm from when Martin was sitting in it. She poured herself a glass of wine from the bottle on the coffee table and switched the television on. “Cheers love. Welcome home!” she said raising her glass to their wedding photo perched on the top of the TV.
“Yes, yes, he did,” Rachel said into the phone, stifling her giggles. “And then he stormed off to the pub….” She glanced up guiltily as she heard the front door slam. “Hang on, that sounds like him coming back…. Yes, bye…. Bye.”
She quickly put the phone down and switched the TV back on, grinning to herself as she heard the door behind her opening slowly.
“Rach? Rachel love – are you still…? Ah, yes. Er…. Listen, I’m… can we turn the telly off for a minute?”
“No, wait,” Rachel said as Martin leant down to turn off the television. “I’m watching this.”
“Hang on,” Martin said as his beer-fuddled brain began to make sense of the TV programme. “Since when have you been interested in the government’s macroeconomic strategy?”
“This programme… that’s what it’s about – the government, public spending, taxation….” Martin stared at Rachel, head cocked to one side. “You don’t care about things like that, do you?”
“How the bloody hell do you know? You’re never here long enough to find out what I do care about… know about.”
“That’s ‘cos I’m… no… hang on… we’re not going to start all that again.”
“All what again?”
“Arguing.” Martin sat down in the chair facing Rachel. He ran a weary hand over his face. “These days it seems that all I get when I come home are these constant arguments.”
“We don’t argue all the time.”
“Yes, we do. It’s like this constantly – all the time. Pointless, niggly little arguments about nothing that get blown out of all proportion.”
“It’s not like that at all.” Rachel sat back and crossed her arms, then her legs.
“I dunno… what is the matter with you these days? It never used to be like this… we used to have great times together, just me and you together on this settee, a couple of drinks, the lights down low- like this, the TV on.” Martin got up and sat down on the sofa next to Rachel. He reached out towards her.
Rachel shrugged his hands off her. “Get your hand off me. I’m still angry with you, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“You can’t criticise me one minute and then get all lovey-dovey the next. If you think I’m going to whip my knickers off and lie back just because you turn the lights down… after all you’ve said tonight.”
Martin murmured an apology and crept along the sofa, closer to Rachel.
“STOP IT! I said no. Get your hands off me.” She got up suddenly and stepped away, out of his reach. “I’m going to bed, and I expect to be sleeping alone again – just like the rest of last week. Goodnight.”
“Oh… fu….” Martin said as the door slammed and he stepped back knocking Rachel’s half-empty wine bottle over. “Oh hell, it’s gone all over the… damn, Rach’ll kill me.” He turned, looking guilty, as the door reopened.
“Here are some blankets and a pi…. What’s happened?”
“That bottle of wine you left open on the table….” Martin stood up straighter. “It was… when you slammed the door. Look, it’s gone all over the settee, down the cushi… what’s this? A pair of socks? I don’t belie…. Hang on, these aren’t mine.”
“Er… that. Oh, right. Er….” Rachel grabbed the socks from Martin’s hand.
“So that’s your game is it? While the cat’s away and all that.”
“No… listen… let me explain. It isn’t what you think it…”
“This is the last….” Martin shook his head. “No. That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’m off.”
“Oh well,” Rachel sighed as she threw the damp sofa cushion on the floor and sat down on the dry side. “There’s still at least another gla…” A door slammed followed by the front door slamming. “…ss left in the bottle though. Cheers Martin, have a good trip.” She sat back and took a long slow drink of wine. A few moments later, she put her wineglass down on the table and picked up the phone. “Hello? Yes, it’s me,” she said when the phone was answered. “No, he just stormed out… yes…. Well… nothing but rows since he got here, really…. Oh, I know.… Yes. No, he found a pair of socks… yes, socks! Me too! Under the cushions on the sofa…. Oh, he knocked some wine over, clumsy sod… and he blamed me for it. Well, he had been to the pub…. If he’d have bothered to ask…. No, not me…. When would I get the chance, eh? No, they were my brother’s actually. He stayed here… last weekend on his way back home from holiday…. What? Oh, France. Well, if dozy Martin had thought about it, if I had got myself another bloke, then his socks would have been in the bedroom, not down here on the sofa…. No, no way love, not on this old thing, it would probably collapse…. You cheeky sod! No, listen….”
The door opened slowly and carefully, followed by Martin’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the bedroom in silence, Already wincing and tense at the squeaking hinges of the door as it closed again, his each careful step seemed to land on a creaking floorboard. Once he’d made it across the room he tried to undress quietly, but dropped his loose change then his keys, before bumping into the wardrobe and then the dressing table as he tried to untangle his legs from his trousers.
At last free of his trousers, he turned to walk towards the bed and banged his shins against the dressing table stool, which was – for some inexplicable reason not in its usual place. “Damn… bugger…. oh shi….” he whispered, unsuccessfully trying to rub his calves as he stumbled towards the bed.
“What? Who’s there!” Sally called out into the semi-darkness, trying to stifle her giggles and sound stern. “I’m… my husband’s calling the police!”
“No, Sal… wait!” Martin said. “It’s me.” He blinkered and squinted covering his eyes with his hand. “God, that’s bright!”
When he took his hand from his eyes, he could see Sally sitting up in bed, her hand still on the bedside light switch.
“Sorry,” she said. “But you surprised me. Look, I’m shaking!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean… I was trying not to wake you.”
“But what are you doing here? I mean… coming back so soon? You said you would be away for days.” She shuffled across so Martin could get into the bed. “It’s like that time when you…. Bloody hell, you are cold. What have you been doing, living in a fridge?”
Martin shrank back, away from her. “Sorry Ra… er… Sal. It’s just that I got the chance of coming home tonight, and I took it, even though I had to have the windows open all the way back though… keep me awake, I….” He yawned, making sure his cold stretching arms didn’t touch Sally. “…so tired.”
Sally watched him burying himself under the sheets, and then, smiling to herself, she turned off the bedside light.
“Sal… Sally! What are you doing?”
“I know it’s been a while, but surely you haven’t forgotten how to do it?”
“No, Sal… but y’know… I’m tired. I just want to sleep. I’ve been on the road all… bloody hell, woman! That hurts.”
“But you do know, don’t you, Martin that women have needs too, don’t you?”
“Wh…. What the hell are you on about now?” Martin said as he sat up in bed and switched the light back on. “Don’t you realise it is three o’clock in the bloody morning?”
Sally sat up too, crossing her arms under her breasts. “Yes, Mister Martin bloody Carter – I do realise it is three o’clock in the bloody morning, and do you know why I realise it is three o’clock in the bloody morning?”
“Listen! I know that it is three o’ bloody clock in the morning because you woke me up at three bloody o’clock in the morning and put your freezing cold hands all over me. Then, when I turn over and try to get some heat, get some warmth back in my body before I die of hyper-bloody-thermia you go all moany and sulky, moaning about how tired you are!”
“Sshh. Hang on, just listen for once in your life. If you are going to insist on waking me up in the middle of the night, you could at least have the common courtesy to make it worth my while!”
“But… I…. but….”
“Shut up now. I’m going back to sleep. I’m tired.” Sally snapped the light off.
There was a short rustling of sheets then silence.
“Damn,” Martin whispered in the darkness.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m tidying up,” Sally said, indicating the vacuum cleaner with her hand. “Or did you think all this happened by magic… little pixies coming out in the middle of the night to collect up all your discarded underpants and empty beer cans?”
“No… I…. Of course, not,” Martin sighed. “I just wondered why now?”
“Oh, I have someone coming. A visitor,” Sally said absently as she swept a duster around the table.
“Well…” Sally stood, hands on hips, giving the question serious consideration. “No… not really.” She straightened the mirror and then stood back to contemplate her handiwork. “More than a visitor… or at least, I hope so.”
“Sally, what on Earth are you on about, now?” Martin moved to stand in front of her.
“Oh, I decided, while you were away the last time, I’d had enough of living on my own nearly all the time. So I decided to get a lodger.” Sally smiled sweetly at him.
“What? Don’t I get a say in any of this?”
“Well,” Sally said over her shoulder as she took the vacuum cleaner from the room. “I did ask you. But you weren’t here at the time, so I took you silence as agreement.”
“But… wha… who?”
Sally turned from putting the vacuum cleaner away in the understairs cupboard to find Martin had followed her out into the hall.
“Who? Oh, it’s quite a funny story really.” Sally leant back against the closed cupboard door. “It was in town a few weeks ago now. I was in that big new clothes store… you know the one?”
Martin nodded dumbly, knowing better than try to interrupt.
“Well,” Sally said. “I was there buying socks, socks for you, as it happened.”
“Socks,” Martin repeated, feeling a sudden coldness wash over him. He nodded.
“Yes, Socks,” Sally said brightly. “Actually, it was only the other day we were talking about socks, weren’t we, about how I can never find enough of yours… remember?”
“Are you all right, love?” Sally touched his cheek in concern. “You look a bit pale.”
Martin shrugged, trying to look casual.
“Anyway, where was I?” Sally shrugged in return. “Oh, yeah. Anyway, I just went to pick up this pair of socks and this other woman there, about my age, I’d say… well, we both grabbed for the same pair, the last pair on the rack thingy. Well, anyway… we got to talking about the socks, about our husbands, and… well… to cut a long story short, we discovered we had so much in common.” Sally took a step closer to Martin and looked deep into his eyes. “A lot more in common than you would believe….”
Martin swallowed – hard – and Sally nodded silently as though he had confirmed something. The doorbell rang – loud in the sudden silence.
“That’ll be her, come to see her new room,” Sally said, almost whispering. “I’ll get it, shall I?” She turned and walked off towards the front door without waiting for Martin to answer.
“Martin,” Sally said. “This is Rachel…. I think you may already know her, is that right?”
“Hello, Martin,” Rachel said, shrugging off her coat for Sally to hang up. “Sally mentioned when she let me in that she’d already told you how we met buying socks for our husbands… husband, isn’t that right?”
Martin nodded, meekly following the two women as they lead the way back into the front room and sat down, side by side on the sofa.
“Well, it was a bit odd, talking about our husbands over a cup of coffee. The coincidence of them both having the same first name, both having the same size in socks….”
“And in everything else,” Sally added. “Well, we women all say that men are all alike, don’t we?”
“But, it wasn’t until we both got our photos of our husbands out, we realised just how alike our husbands really were… are… is.”
“Is that it!” Sally yelled, suddenly angry. “You have totally fu… ruined our lives and all you can do is stand there opening and closing your mouth like… like a lobotomised guppy. God, Martin, you are pathetic.”
“I… didn’t mean….” Martin looked from one woman to the other. “It was… it was an accident.”
“An accident!” Rachel cried. “So you just happened to forget that you were already married to Sally here when you married me?”
“Well… er… sort of.” Martin just managed to stop himself from nodding again. “I’m…. Well, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough, though, is it Rach?”
“Are you… well… y’know… the law?” Martin said, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.
The two women looked at each other for some time, then both turned and regarded Martin in silence, before looking back at each other.
“Well…,” Sally said.
“We were very tempted,” Rachel said.
“But,” Sally added. “The law – what happens then, you go to prison, all we get are our names in the papers with everyone we know giggling over the details of our lives, saying what fools we are….”
“Then there is the question of lawyers and all that…. It all adds up.”
“We suggest you, Martin,” Sally said. “Just pack a bag – one suitcase – and get out of here. The some time down the line a bit we will each quietly divorce you – one at a time – so no-one notices.”
“One bloody suitcase?” Martin stood up straighter. “After all the hours I worked, what about all this stuff of mine, stuff that I paid for?” He swept his hand around the room.
“Or… there is prison,” Rachel said.
“Ah….” Martin slumped down into the chair behind him in defeat.
“Would you like to help me pack his case for him?” Sally said to Rachel. “This one last time.”
“Okay,” Rachel said as the two women got to their feet. “Only you can pack his bloody socks. I’m sick of the sight of them.”
“I’m home!” Martin called out, feeling the front door shutting solidly behind him.
“Darling is that you?” she came, almost running, from the kitchen. “Oh, am I glad to see you.” She kissed him and hugged him. “But I thought you said you’d be away for quite a while, this time?”
“I decided I wanted something different. I’m fed up of that job, always away from home, y’know?” Martin said. “So, I quit… resigned. I thought I’d come home for a while, then look for something else. Is that all right?”
“Of course, it is. This is your home, after all, isn’t it?”
Martin smiled in relief. “Yes, mom,” he said.
[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]