Odd Socks and Sinks in Chaos by Pat Dutt

The story appeared in the magazine’s Personal Experience column. George always read the column’s first paragraph, then picked out a middle paragraph, and finally read the last paragraph. If he wasn’t too busy and there were enough potato chips left in the bag, he’d read the remaining inside paragraphs, in effect, reading the whole damn column.
The lover depicted in the narrative, Gerald (a gifted and creative individual) was kind of a jerk, and this gave George a tremendous feeling of superiority. Any piece of writing that could elicit a spontaneous smile was worth all the gold that his eccentric neighbor down the road had buried in his kale garden. Yet it seemed odd that both Gerald and George lived alongside a robust creek near a university. Odder still, they both taught the exact same third-year physics course. Their roofs leaked. Their sinks backed-up periodically. His socks never matched. Gerald was depicted as living in a whirlwind of confusion and chaos, and because he eschewed putting anything away there were electronics, most of it retired sound equipment, often in parts and pieces, scattered everywhere.
Only after George finished the column did he see the author’s nom de plume.
“That’s my house you described!” he told his girlfriend. Maggie and George had met three years ago at the Native Plants Symposium where Maggie had spoken about the birds and the bees. He held out the magazine to her so she could read the title, Odd Socks and Sinks in Chaos.
“How many people do you think live in houses with leaking roofs and plugged sinks?” Maggie said. “Probably half of New York State.”
“But the column says Personal Experience. That means non-fiction. And if anyone who reads this knows you, then they will assume that this is about me.”
“I think we can agree that such writing is often a mix of fiction and fact.”
“In this instance, Maggie, I don’t agree at all.”
“George, you don’t understand,” Maggie said, gently putting her right hand above her chest. “Writing comes from the heart. A writer needs those intriguing details to keep a story moving, especially given a person’s limited attention span. Or the reader gives up. Why write if the reader’s going to give up?”
He stood there, shocked, trying not to feel aggrieved.
“George, you’re my muse!”
“But it says ‘He insists on wearing non-matching socks.’ I’ve never insisted on any such thing. And where did this come from, ‘He enjoys dining in the nude and he doesn’t care if the neighbors peek through the forsythia hedge and see his manhood’? You make him sound like a pervert.”
“If you let your conscious mind run the show then the protagonist has zero dimension. No mystery. Anyway, a hint of sex is good because sex is drama, and drama engages.” Maggie smiled, and raised her left eyebrow seductively.
“At my expense,” he said.
“At your self-affirmation. Maybe you’ll even think differently about yourself.”
He did not see that at all. Maybe he had to sit with the idea for a while.
It was May, nearly dusk, so the evening symphony of bird whistles and cooing had commenced. Glancing out of the kitchen window to the forest lining the creek, George saw a Downy woodpecker rhythmically hitting on an ash tree. As a physicist, when he heard such pleasing melodies, he imagined sound waves building and refracting as they moved at approximately 1,087 feet per-second through air. Blue Jays flew from one spruce tree to another, yakking the whole time and looking down on the world with amusement. The shallow pond beside the creek, a premier hangout for peepers, rocked nightly.
“I write because I care, and I care about you, and you’re on my mind! That’s a compliment. Yes?”
“How would you feel if I wrote about you?”
“Not a concern.”
“You’re sure?” He narrowed his eyes, and held the bag of chips out to her. She took one.
“Be my guest.” She sat down on a stool, folded her hands, and smiled up at him.
“Julia gets up every morning at four to work. She’s always working. At her job or writing. Obsessively and organically. She’s a maniac. Then she leaves dishes in the sink and doesn’t wash a single dish until the cupboard is bare, or the ants have moved on.”
“Wait a minute – ants? Everyone gets ants now and then.”
“Odd Socks and Sinks in Chaos?”
“Okay fine.”
“As a biologist and responsible citizen, she’s deep into horticulture and sustainability, so she pees in a bucket, claiming the nitrates, if diluted, are the ideal plant fertilizer.”
Maggie stared hard at George. “What else would it be, George? You make me sound like some kind of weirdo!”
“This not necessarily about you, Maggie. Writing is a mixture of fact and fiction? I’m not finished. She likes to go on long, walks pointing out moss and lichens, all the while quietly imitating bird calls. She knows 150. Her companion can barely get a word in edgewise.” He made sure she was looking at him when he added, “And she’s nearly 60 years old.”
“Must you mention my age?”
George grinned at her in his particularly devilish way and she knew what was coming.
“If you want to sell it,” Maggie said, giving him the same look back, “you have to add some one-on-one.”
“You mean sex.”
“The horizontal bop. Right now.”
So George put Bachman Tuner Overdrive on the stereo, and Maggie got the cold beer. They went into the bedroom and plugged in the string of lights that framed the windows facing the woods. As You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet played, George made a stab at the meaning of bird calls, and this provoked fits of ridiculous, snorting laughter, putting them both in the mood to finally, get down to business.

Pat Dutt’s short stories and flash fictions have been published in The Louisville Review, Emrys Journal, Caustic Frolic, America Writers Review, and other literary magazines. She is the author of the non-fiction book, The Good Moms, Their Children, and Friendship. Her home is in central New York where she taught high school science and worked for many years as a landscape estimator. She also volunteers for a mental health organization, and writes a blog (mentalchill.org) along with her son, Ben.

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