Fiction

Repeat offender

This all happened a little while ago. I was at the Shed on a Thursday night and Kiz was giving me a Steven Spielberg between sets about how he hates when people’s socks don’t match their shoes.

“I’m a repeat offender,” I said to him, lowering the barbell down to the rack.

Well, if I’m being honest, it started earlier than that. My boss took me out to some underground whisky bar in the city and when she saw my socks she goes, “You know only paedophiles wear white socks and black shoes?”

She’d had a couple of drinks by then – sake, decanted red and overpriced gin and tonics – but the comment still irked me.

Anyways, I guess these two incidents taken together prompted me to start buying new socks. Packs of nine online, three blacks, three beiges, three whites. The blacks went with my Doc Martens and RMs. The whites with my Gel-Kayano 14s and the beiges my New Balance 574s. I created a system where I’d wear a new pair every day and on the days I went to the Shed – Tuesdays and Thursdays – I’d use the extra pairs post-workout.

It’s funny how I don’t remember specific days when the system was in place. I just remember that nothing went wrong. I’d go to work, put my head down, then look up and it would be time to knock off. I don’t remember getting a single red light when driving. I got more notifications from the dating apps and the mailman left the parcels by my door instead of at the post office.

Anyway, after a few weeks, I think it was weeks, I was putting away my washing when I noticed I was missing some socks. One white. One beige. I turned the bag upside down and went through all my drawers but it was to no avail.

I walked back down the road to the laundromat and asked the guy behind the counter if he’d seen the socks. The guy I asked was sleeping with the sun on his face. His thick fingers resting clasped on his chest. He gently opened his eyes.

“No, no, no,” he said, “No socks, sorry.”

“Can you check the machines? I know sometimes they get caught in –”

“No, no, no! No, socks, sorry.”

He gestured for me to move out of the way as someone was waiting behind me. The system was ruined.

A few days later I was in the change rooms at the Shed and Leeroy said, “You get dressed in the dark or something?” pointing down to my feet, noting that I was wearing one beige sock and one white sock. The rest of the guys laughed and I didn’t know what to say. Before I went to bed that night, I got a good look at the socks. One white and one beige. They couldn’t be more different. Stupid boy. Stupid, stupid boy.

I shut my eyes and that’s when I remember hearing the laughing again. I guess that’s when it really started. Mrs Stuart pulled me up the front of assembly with two other boys as an example of inappropriate socks and shoes.

“I should’ve known you’d be one of them,” she said to me, putting her hand on my shoulder, then slowly moving it down the rest of my arm. Stupid boy, stupid, stupid boy. Our little secret. Stupid little boy.

I went through the drawers again looking for the missing socks. Nothing. I pulled the drawer out and tipped out its contents. On top of the pile fell my ski mask. I held it in my hands and that’s when I came up with my plan.

I drove to the laundromat with the ski mask in my lap. Stupid boy. Stupid little boy. I put the mask on. Our little secret. I went in and started screaming, “Where are they! Where the fuck are they!”

The man was standing by an ironing-board with steam rising from the iron. He hadn’t even noticed I’d walked in. He had earphones in, connected to a small radio that was clipped to his belt, and was mouthing the words to “Bigmouth Strikes Again” by The Smiths.

I waited for him to look up but he didn’t. I then walked over, ripped the earphones out and he put his hands up in fright.

“Where the fuck are they!” I said and I threw him to the ground. He started muttering, Please don’t, please don’t, sorry, sorry, sorry. I put my foot on the middle of his chest and grabbed the iron then started to move it towards his face.

“Where the fuck are they!”

He kept muttering and started to cry.

“Where the fuck are they!” I yelled again and then I pulled the bottoms of his trousers up and saw one navy blue sock and one black sock. I felt my hands become moist. I traced a stream up and saw that the man had pissed himself.

I put the iron back on the board and ran out of the laundromat shaking my hands free of the piss. Stupid boy. Stupid little boy.

After that, I gave up on the socks. I was extra courteous whenever I went to the laundromat. I paid the guy in cash every time because whenever you’d present cash he’d go “Oh oh oh, cash! Very good!” and then he’d put it in the little bum bag he wore.

Then one day, this wasn’t that long ago I guess, I dropped my washing off and sat in the cafe next door. I ordered a cappuccino and was reading the paper when two police officers walk in. I turned the page and their shadows fell over my paper on the table. I gave them a little “Hey fellas” without much thought. But when I looked up, I saw the laundromat guy standing next to them. Then I saw the ski mask in a plastic bag. Turns out I’d got home one night, had a few drinks, and thrown it in with the rest of my washing.

I admitted to everything and told them about the system and how everything was great for a few weeks, or months, or however long it was. They didn’t care about that, though.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here now. Time’s disappeared again. I’ve got one pair of white runners and only white socks. Seven pairs as a matter of fact. One for each day of the week. I’ve made a request for an additional two pairs. Laundry day is on Wednesdays.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 12, 2022 as "Repeat offender".

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