There should, by rights, be an age at which you fully understand the relationship between your body and the world, rendering you graceful in all things, but there isn’t, so you drop your trainer into the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain on the hottest day of the year.
A child fishes it out for you but the fountain has already accepted the sock stuffed inside as an offering. One of your favourites too, with cats on it and not a single hole.
The sock slips eel-like and unseen between paddling legs and grasping hands into the peaceful pool at the bottom of the fountain, and slides with the excitable acceleration of a child down a waterslide into the maw of the drain.
You leave the park and the sock leaves the park. Your paths are going to diverge for a while now, so, as you get to have a fabulous view of your own journey anyway, let’s follow the sock.
Its path is clear and the pull of the water strong, until the seam of the toe catches on an unbent staple whose held-together pages have all dissolved. The staple is almost entirely engulfed by a greasy mass which combines all human life in miniature – wet wipes, paper, plastic, rags, food enough to make a tasting menu of every cultural cuisine in London. For a short time the sock finds employment as a recruiter for this ambitious young fatberg, netting participants which only a short time ago would have been out of its reach and, frankly, out of its league. Unfortunately, the sock’s threads gum up quickly with grease and mud, and, a watertight victim of its own success, it’s torn away and carried off by the current once more.
From there its grease-impregnated threads manage to stick in a gap in the stone and catch the noses of a community of rats. They return regularly to pay tribute, and we shall probably never know whether the source of their cult worship is the knitted cats still partially visible under the filth, as primal and laden with symbolism as cave paintings, or the delicious grease and crumbs which have sunk into the weave, but they tend their idol assiduously with tongues and dextrous paws until the current works it free and steals it away.
Now it passes out of our view, and we return to you.
You may despise emotionally manipulative viral videos of animal trauma and restored faith in humanity, or you may be morbidly fascinated by them, but any video viral enough will eventually cross your path regardless of your best efforts. The inventor of autoplay has a lot to answer for.
The video is of the usual kind; the animal in distress, the kindness of the volunteers emptying the ocean of manmade suffering with their underfunded teaspoons, the struggle, the pragmatic timeskips which allow the viewer to pretend they too have the patience of animal rescuers, the eventual bittersweet ending in which the animal is released back into the wild in the vain hope that this won’t happen again.
It’s a long video, and gruelling. The sea turtle paws at the air and groans for air in an uncannily human voice. It’s already a bit battered by life, with an endearing notch in its shell that kindles immediate feelings of tenderness and protectiveness in the viewer towards this creature simultaneously helpless and regal.
Slowly, painstakingly, bloodily, out from its chelonian nostril is coaxed a scrap of cloth. Hard to tell what it is at first, though the comments give it away if you can’t bear the suspense.
Is that a sock?
With cats on it?
The anger is already whipped into a firestorm by the time you get to the party. What monster throws away a sock with cats on it, and no holes in it? At such times the drive for survival is strong. You throw yourself under the bus. You bay for your own execution with the others, positing that those who hurl their socks in the sea should be made to eat them. No one will ever suspect.
No one ever does.
You lie low as a relatively anonymous pitchfork in the mob and join the roars of support for the new regime. The turtle’s face retreats to merely a background feature of everyday life, staring out from newspaper front pages and podiums, looking benevolently down from reelection campaign poster after reelection campaign poster, as though somewhere in its reptilian heart it knows that it already has the country’s backing. Despite its omnipresence you eventually stop looking over your shoulder. Perhaps because of its omnipresence. Wherever you look, the country’s beloved mascot there, Prime Minister or President-for-Life or God King. The political news is almost soothing to watch now, like an aquarium in a waiting room.
It won’t be until long in the future, when your children are sorting through the belongings you left behind and the memories they left behind in this house, filling bags and boxes with pieces of your life’s discarded shell, that one of them will come across it, crumpled in the corner of a drawer that otherwise contains only starched tablecloths – the other sock.
They will look at each other. They know what to do. A bonfire is built of your diaries and photo albums – who knows what anti-turtle heresy they contain? – and kindled with your clothes and books. They will not even react when a cinder twists away and sets the house alight. Only when the flames burn blue will they throw the sock in and watch it burn away to nothing. Later, when they report the fire, they will change their names.
Danielle Jorgenson-Murray is a Teesside-born video game translator based in Frankfurt. Her short fiction can be found in The Cabinet of Heed and Dear Damsels. She tweets at @ukenagashi and opining about books she’s read at sparrowdove.com.