This sock, photographed three miles west of town on a particularly empty stretch of the Chipman Trail, perplexed me. I have wondered about it since the day in January when I saw it, laughed and took its portrait. I truly couldn’t fathom how it had gotten there.
One day this week as I walked through Friendship Square, I discovered that the sock’s story, and that of its owner, was briefly intertwined with our curious, young friend Edward.
At 11:55 AM on Saturday, 27 January, a boy in a puffy red winter coat, jeans and navy blue snow boots crouched next to a free-standing, enameled metal drinking fountain on the south edge of Friendship Square on south Main Street. He was closely examining the fixture at the bottom of the fountain. After 37 seconds of silent contemplation, a man’s voice nearby said, “It’s for dogs.”
“I know,” the boy said without looking up. “I’m looking at the ice. It’s -” He interrupted himself and pivoted slightly left and turned his head over his left shoulder to the source of the voice – a man in a gray canvas coat, tan work pants worn almost to white at the reinforced knees and a black knit cap that sculpted a wispy halo of silver hair over his ears and the nape of his neck. The silver-haired man was sitting on a bench 14 feet north and slightly west of the boy. The boy’s eyes widened slightly and then he turned back to the fountain as he said, “My mom says I can’t talk to you.”
As the boy said this, 2.8 miles west of them on the Chipman Trail a lanky man was striding west. He suddenly stopped, looking down and to his left. He laughed out loud. He looked up and pivoted 360 degrees, eyes wide and lips slightly apart.
“To me?” the silver-haired man in Friendship Square said and the corners of his lips went up by less than a quarter of an inch before he said, “Me specifically?”
The boy rigidly faced the steel bowl at the base of the fountain as he said, “I don’t know what spec-i-fall-ee means, but I can’t talk to strange men because they’re dangerous.”
The lanky man on Chipman Trail unslung his gray pack from his back, set it upright on its side on the asphalt trail, crouched next to it, unzipped a long, curving pocket and pulled out a camera. Just off the side of the trail, 28 inches in front of the man, a thick dark gray sock lay in the shape of a hockey stick.
The corners of the silver-haired man’s lips went up a further quarter of an inch. He nodded. He said, “Okay.” His head then turned eighty degrees up and to his right. In the direction of his gaze, a man sat 27 feet almost directly west on the end of another iron and wood bench. The man across the way was younger with medium brown hair. He wore a corduroy sportcoat over a gray sweater. He held a paperback book in his hand, currently closed with his left index finger separating one third of the book from the other two thirds. The silver-haired man’s brows went up and he twitched his head to his left. The younger man nodded once and held the older man’s gaze.
After 13 seconds the silver-haired man nodded again and turned his head straight ahead and down. As his head turned, he brought his right lower leg up and rested it across his left thigh. The hem of his pantleg pulled away from the gray, white and blue of the worn Nike running shoe on his foot, exposing skin all the way to the padded collar of shoe. He untied the shoe, loosened the laces and pushed his left index finger between the heel tab and the skin over his achilles tendon. He muttered and then hissed in a breath as he pried the shoe from his foot.
On the Chipman trail, the lanky man re-stowed his camera, zipped the bag, put his arms through the straps and settled it on his back. He turned west and began to walk.
The boy’s head turned toward the hissing noise. He watched the shoe uncover the bare foot. The silver-haired man unfolded his leg and placed the rough sole of his right foot on the brick. He then lifted his left leg up, resting that calf across his right thigh. He untied the laces on that shoe, loosened them and quickly removed the shoe. His left foot was covered by a thick gray sock. He placed the sock-clad foot down next to the bare one.
The boy looked at the two feet for just over three seconds and then stood and walked to the younger man. The boy stopped and placed his left hand on the man’s right shoulder. The man leaned toward the hand and the boy turned and raised his mouth to the man’s ear. After 11 seconds, the man nodded, straightened. The boy turned to face the silver-haired man. The younger man placed his left hand on top of the boy’s messy, medium brown hair and said loudly, “Sir.” The gray-haired man looked up at the pair. The younger man continued, “I’m Edward and this is Edward, Junior. He’d like you to meet me so he can talk to you.”
The silver-haired man looked up at the younger man, Edward’s dad, and drew his brows together. Just under a second later, his forehead unwrinkled and his lips curled up slightly. “Had to parse that,” he said. “Hello Edward. And Edward’s dad. I’m John.”
The boy, Edward, turned under his dad’s hand and faced the silver-haired man. Edward then ducked out from under his dad’s hand, shuffling 11 inches to his left. He turned his head and looked at his dad’s face. Edward’s dad raised his eyebrows. Three seconds later, Edward turned his head back to John. Edward then took a breath and walked across the square to the older man.
He stopped. He set the tip of his right snow boot 19 inches from the toe of John’s left sock. He placed his left 19 inches from the bare toes of John’s right foot. Edward looked down at the four feet.
“If you wear a sock on that foot, your shoe won’t hurt your heel,” the boy said.
“You are right about that.”
“I know I am. I hurt my feet without socks once last summer when I walked a lot without socks between my feet and my shoes.”
“Didn’t do that again, then?” Edward looked up at John’s face.
“No. So you probably shouldn’t,” Edward said.
“Well, I don’t have the other sock.”
Edward looked back down at the arrangement of the four feet. He looked back up at the older man’s face and said, “Are you doing an experiment?”
A short burst of laughter wafted into the conversation from behind Edward. John’s eyes flicked from Edward’s face, over the boy’s left shoulder. The corners of his lips twitched up and he said, “Why would you think I’m doing an experiment?”
“Because I have a pair of socks that’s only one sock right now because the other sock is sitting in the grass across two streets from my house and it’s been there since September and my dad’s – my – pothesis is that it will last until March because it’s not an organic sock from the co-op.”
John was silent for just over a second. Then he took a breath and opened his mouth, but remained silent for a further two seconds. Then he closed his mouth, opened it again, took in a breath and said, “Ah.”
Behind Edward there was a bark of a laugh.
“Are you?” Edward said.
“Am I what?”
“Doing an experiment?”
Both were silent for just under five seconds. Edward looked back down at the four feet still arranged in two upended equal signs, and said, “Why do you have only your left sock?”
“Yesterday it was my right sock.”
Edward looked up at the man’s face and his brows drew together creating a 3/8″ tall vertical divot above the bridge of his nose. John said, “The day before that I don’t know which foot it was on because it was still working in partnership with this one.” John nodded his chin down toward his feet and slightly to the left.
Edward continued to look at the man’s face then his head tilted down and he looked at the four feet. “Why is it not working in part-ship any more?”
John said, “Because a squirrel peed on it.”
“Oh,” Edward said.
“It might have been a raccoon.”
“Oh,” Edward said.
“Or a possum.”
“Why did a squirrel or a raccoon or a possum pee on your sock.”
“I wish I knew.”
“And you couldn’t wear the sock because of the pee?”
“Well, I wanted to, but I spent $14 on these almost brand-new shoes and I plan to wear them for a while. I didn’t want one of my shoes to smell like rodent pee for the next year.”
“An opossum is a marsupial.”
“Not a rodent. Raccoons aren’t either, I think.”
“Nope. They once were classified with bears, actually”
“Okay,” Edward said.
“Do you get picked on at school?”
“Picked on?” Edward said. A cough behind Edward punctuated the end of the boy’s question and caused John to look over Edward’s left shoulder.
“Never mind,” John said, bringing his eyes back to Edward’s face.
Edward said, “Okay.” He took in a quick breath and said, “So, are all your other socks dirty?”
John looked at the boy and then flicked his gaze over the boy’s left shoulder and then turned his face to his right and down, toward the faded green pack sitting on the bench next to him. After just under three seconds, he turned his face back up to the boy’s face and said, “There are no other socks.”
Edward’s brows drew together again. The divot above his nose was 1/2″ long this time. He said, “Are you going to wash the sock you’re not wearing?”
“That was my plan, but it seems to have disappeared.”
“It was hanging off my backpack when I started walking this morning. When I got into the restroom over there,” He flicked his chin up and slightly to the left as he continued, “and was ready to wash it in the sink, it was gone. I suppose it fell off somewhere.”
Edward turned his face down to the four feet and then back up to John’s face. He said, “Do you want my socks?”
John’s brows came together slightly and his head cocked five degrees to the right. He said, “No. But thank you.”
“Are you walking far today?”
“The plan was fifteen or twenty miles. But I will get by with one sock.”
“I have lots of socks. And I’m not walking twenty miles.”
“Your socks wouldn’t fit me.”
Edward’s brows came together and again the divot formed. He looked down at the four feet. Two small ones in blue snow boots. One larger in a thick gray sock and one bare. His head came up and he looked at John’s face. Then he turned and tilted his head to the right, looking over John’s left shoulder. His eyes went wide and he turned and ran the 27 feet to his father’s side. He put his hand on his father’s left shoulder and leaned in so his mouth was at his father’s ear. After four seconds, Edward’s dad’s head straightened and he turned to look at Edward’s face. “Really?” Edward’s dad said. Edward was silent, simply looking at his dad. Edward’s dad raised his eyebrows, flaattened his lips and nodded once. He then reached his right hand into his coat and produced a small leather wallet. He opened it, looked inside, reached in with thumb and forefinger and extracted two bills. He handed them to Edward.
Edward took the bills, folded them carefully and put them in his left front pants pocket. The boy then turned and looked toward but not at John. He didn’t move for three seconds. Edward’s dad said, “Go ahead. Look both ways when you cross.”
Edward took a breath and then began walking just north of east. He passed the north end of John’s bench and stopped between two 40 inch high posts at the west edge of main street. He looked left, then right, then left again and stepped into the street. He crossed both lanes and passed between two posts on the west side of the street. He changed direction slightly south, angling directly toward the shop just south of the inert fountain that dominated that half of the square. Eleven steps later, he pulled the shop door open, entered and disappeared as the door closed behind him.
John’s head had followed Edward’s progress but turned back toward Edward’s dad as the door to the shop obscured the boy’s form.
Edward’s dad had opened his paperback and held it in front of his downturned face.
John looked at the Edward’s dad’s head for five seconds and then glanced over his left shoulder. His face turned forward again and then down. He leaned his elbows on his thighs, just above his knees, stared at his feet and breathed in deeply.
Edward’s dad’s head came up from his book 17 seconds later when red Mazda Miata with a lightning bolt of silver duct tape across the rear window passed southbound on Main Street.
Eleven seconds after Edward’s dad’s eyes returned to the paperback, a white 30 passenger bus moved north on Main Street and stopped with it’s rear bumper 18 feet north of where Edward had crossed. The doors opened. And 13 seconds later, the doors closed with no one having entered or exited the bus. It accelerated slowly north again.
The door of the shop opened a further 24 seconds later. Edward emerged carrying a 12 inch by 12 inch plastic bag that bulged to a breadth of three and a half inches across its full width and 2/3 of it’s height.
He angled northwest and stopped between the same two posts through which he had passed earlier. He stopped, looked left, looked right and looked left again. A Moscow Police Department SUV slowed and stopped in the northbound lane. The giant officer inside the vehicle looked at Edward and smiled. Edward nodded and began crossing the street.
As he stepped into the street a female voice said, “Where’s our son?” Edward’s dad slapped the book closed and stood. He turned his head to the left, the direction of the voice, and then back toward his son who was directly in front of the MPD SUV.
The woman, Edward’s mother, was just shorter than Edward’s dad. She was three feet away and had her mouth open with her lips forming tight oval. Air was hissing into this oval and her chest was expanding. Her eyes, directed past Edward’s dad, toward Main Street, were wide. The inhalation stopped and her expanded rib cage shuddered under the white cotton of her shirt.
As the corners of her lips drew back to flatten the opening of her mouth, Edward’s dad pivoted directly in front of her, placing a hand on each of her upper arms and crouching at the knees to lower his eyeline by the three inches necessary to put it precisely on the level of hers. A high vowel sound had just begun to pulse from her mouth, but he interrupted this, saying, “Don’t.”
She took a breath. Edward was past the SUV and was in the southbound lane. She said, “But -”
Edward’s dad interrupted with “Watch.”
She took a breath. Edward was passing between the two 40 inch high posts on the west side of Main Street. She said, “He’s -”
Edward’s dad interrupted with “Fine.”
She took a breath. Edward was at the end of John’s bench. She leaned to her left. She said, “Who is -”
Edward’s dad shuffled to his right 13 inches, placed his face in front of her eyes again and interrupted with “Please.”
She took a breath. Edward was directly in front of John. Edward’s dad released his left hand from her right arm, pivoted on his right foot and slid his right hand from her left arm across her back to her right shoulder, turning so they were both facing the interaction between Edward and the silver-haired man.
Edward was in front of John, the two pairs of feet returned to their previous configuration. He held the bag out at shoulder level.
The woman’s upper back began to tremble under Edward’s dad’s arm. That arm tensed slightly and the woman was drawn closer to Edward’s dad.
“What’s this?” John said after taking two quick breaths.
“They’re not my socks.”
“When you take them from my hand, they will be.”
Edward flattened his lips for a moment. Then he said, “Because possession is ten-ninths the law.”
“Nine-tenths. I mean why are you giving me socks.”
Edward drew his brows together. The divot was 5/8 of an inch high. “Don’t you need socks?”
“That’s why I’m giving them to you.”
John looked at Edward. They each took a breath. They both released their breath simultaneously. They both breathed in as John took the bag from Edward’s outstretched hand. The boy immediately turned and began walking toward his parents. The plastic bag crackled as John reached inside.
Edward was seven feet from his parents when John stopped him with, “Edward.” Edward turned to face the older man. “I only needed one pair. You didn’t have to buy me three. That’s a lot of allowance money.”
“I only bought one.”
John cradled three identical pairs of heather gray hiking socks in his hands. He offered the hands forward and raised his eyebrows.
“I only bought one. The man behind me in line bought one. And the lady behind the counter bought one.”
“I don’t know.”
A slight breeze rustled the trees that surrounded the square.
Edward’s dad said, “Edward, what did you say when you were buying them?”
“The lady behind the counter asked if they were for you and I said no they were for a nice man who had a squirrel or a raccoon or a possum pee on one of his socks and that he needed socks because he was walking 20 miles today and that I wanted to get him some socks because of that.”
“Ah,” Edward’s dad and John said in unison. They both laughed. Edward’s mother put her right hand to her mouth and swiped her left knuckle across her right bottom eyelashes.
“Really? People would just..” John said, moving his gaze up to Edward’s dad’s face as his sentence trailed off. Edward’s dad shrugged his shoulders and smiled broadly.
“Jesus,” John said. “What’s the -”
Edward interrupted, looking over his right shoulder and then back at John as he said, “Please, don’t use the lord’s name in pain.”
All three adults said, “Vain.” in unison. All three laughed gently.
Edward raised his voice by almost 50 percent in order to say over the laughter, “Pain makes more sense.” The only sound for the next ten seconds was their breathing. Another slight gust caused the trees to whisper.
John said, “I’m sorry. Pain or vain, I apologize for the usage. Now, my question was: what’s the name of this town?”
“Moscow,” Edward said.
John said, “And Moscow gives random strangers socks?”
Edward turned over his left shoulder. John looked up from the boy to Edward’s dad who thrust his lower lip out slightly and cocked his head 20 degrees to the right, turning his eyes skyward. Then Edward’s dad breathed in, straightened his head, looked at John again and said, “Maybe more often than some other places.” He placed his left hand on Edward’s brown hair. “Maybe the town has ways of knowing when someone really needs socks.”
John looked at Edward. He took a breath, released it, took another and said, “Maybe so.” He then turned up to Edward’s dad. He flicked his gaze to Edward’s mother briefly and then looked back at Edward again. Edward watched the movements and then met the older man’s gaze. John said, “Thank you, Edward.”
“You’re welcome” Edward said. He nodded and began to pivot on his left foot. He reached up and took his dad’s hand from his head, simultaneously taking his mother’s right hand. He put the two hands together and crouched and walked under them. Once he was behind the adults, he sidled behind his dad and took his dad’s free hand with his left hand. He started walking west, pulling on his dad.
“I guess we’re going home. Take care, John,” Edward’s dad said as he began to follow Edward.
John nodded and watched as Edward led his parents past the playground and into the parking lot beyond it. When they disappeared around the corner, he looked down at the three pairs of socks in his hand. He shook his head and smiled.
A voice to his left said, “You look like you could use a cup of coffee.” A young woman in a black dress and a charcoal apron held a white, 12-ounce waxed paper cup out to John. He turned his head and took in a breath. His mouth quivered slightly and then closed. He took the offered cup and said, “Thanks.” The young woman nodded and turned to the south, walking toward and then into the restaurant on the south edge of the square.
“Jeez-” John started. Then he took a breath and said in a rumbling whisper. “No need for that. At least by Edward’s way of looking at it.” A gust moved through the square and he said, “At least for this morning.”
He took a sip of the coffee and leaned his back against the bench.