You are sitting on a back stair, underneath your apartment window, and you 
are watching Darcy, the fifteen-year old across the complex, carry her new baby to 
her mother’s car.  She holds the bundle against her chest uncertainly; her mother 
has to readjust it twice. You are thirteen, and you sat with her at lunch several 
months back, before she had begun to show, and when she fretted about a broken 
condom, you had thought her worldly.  

But now you are thinking about socks.  They are selling them at school to 
raise money for the basketball team, and everyone is buying them. Your friends 
ordered them weeks ago, and the sale will end in three days, but your father had 
scoffed at the idea of ten-dollar socks, and you do not have your own cash.
Your father knows how to go without, and he does his best to teach you.  He 
emigrated from the Soviet Union, a place that no longer appears on the maps 
hanging on your classroom walls, and your mother has told you that before the 
move, he was training to be a doctor.   In America, he manages the Dominos on 
Milwaukee Avenue, and you eat pizza twice a week.

The socks, designed by the cheerleading squad, are white and purple: school 
colors.  Your friends are planning to wear them to the basketball games this winter, 
to kick their shoes high into the air when the team wins.  Yours will be the only feet 
in grey or black or white.

Darcy stands by and lets her mother strap the baby into its carrier.  Her hair 
is unwashed; you can tell by the way it slicks down against her forehead.  You rarely 
see her at school now, and never at the parties. She is disappearing, slowly, into her 
new life.  You ran into her three weeks ago at Target – she was with her mother and 
you with your father, and all four of you passed by the aisles with the lip glosses and 
the nail polishes and convened, instead, at the Clearance aisle.  You had looked down 
at your feet, somehow embarrassed.  You had pictured yourself at forty and 
promised yourself that you when you had children, you would let them buy their 
clothes at Marshall Fields.

What irks you the most is that you are not poor – your father is not poor –
but he insists on living as if he is, saving his pennies for a rainy day, withholding the 
money for an ice cream cone because a half-gallon costs less.  He had a shock when 
he came to America, your mother told you once:  back home, there were lines and 
frustrations, but there was food, even without cash in hand.  He had never held a 
credit card, had no understanding for the intricacies of a mortgage.  You do not find 
this relevant to your own situation.  You want the socks. 

And more: you want your father’s accent to be like the other fathers’.  You 
want your mother to fry hamburgers and bake apple pie.  You do not want to hear 
stories of harassment, of a society who watches their mouths.  You want tales of 
football heroism; you want your father to have played baseball in the park. It occurs 
to you from time to time that your father is from a country that does not even exist, 
and this irritates you somehow, though you cannot put your finger on it

You watch the car pull out, see Darcy staring out the window, her mother 
navigating the wheel.  You had seen her at the mall, a few months back, when her 
stomach was still so large that she leaned backward when she walked, and your 
friend Becky had smirked behind her hand.  You regarded the curve of her belly, and 
what you saw was not the horror of a wasted youth, an unwanted baby, but rather 
the simple horror of the protrusion itself, its own immediate ugliness.  You had 
looked down at your own stomach and given silent thanks for its flatness.  Your 
belly is flat as a cheerleaders’, though you did not try out for the squad this year.  
You watched some of their practices outside on the back field after school, 
transfixed by their relative celebrity.  Their poms flew through the air, purple and 
white, school colors.

Like the socks.

Your father will be working until 10pm tonight, and he will come home and 
stuff pizza and breadsticks into the refrigerator, and he will look tired.  You are not 
talking to him this week; you are deliberately fuming, staring at him with what you 
hope is a wounded expression.  But you know that he will not change his mind.  You 
purse your lips now, and your eyes tear.  And though years later you will wonder 
that you did not cry for your father’s misery or for the depressing after-image of a 
fifteen-year old mother, you do not.  You cry for the socks that you will go without.

Jennifer's recent work includes “A Simple Encounter,” published in Straylight Magazine, and “A Doctor in the Family,” published in Foliate Oak. She is a neurologist living in Iowa City and attended the Graduate Summer Workshop at Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

I am intrigued by the flight of associations that we often derive from everyday objects.  In this story, a young teenager who is not allowed an article of class fashion calls up a longstanding sense of isolation that has little to do with the object itself.  At the same time, she is so focused on this object as to fail to see the genuine isolation shared by the other characters whom she encounters.  I chose to write this story in second-person point of view to highlight the character’s vague but limited awareness of the underlying issues derived from the concrete.



Copyright 2009