’Til Dusk We Fold

by Emmy Rubin

February 15, 2023

Every thirty minutes I get a new basket of socks. The socks aren’t folded. They’re not balled. They’re not even strewn in any proximity to their partner; they mingle like bodies committing adultery. The smell of fabric softener climbs up the infinitesimal amount of air particles that occupy space between the basket and my snub nose. Underneath it, however, lurks the toxic plastic odour of the laundry basket. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think anybody in the house knows either. It’s one of those things that just materialised one day next to the kitchen sink: a sleek, beige basket with two handles and squiggly horizontal grooves going around the basket so many times that if you look at it for too long you get vertigo.

I plunge my hands into the basket until I’m wrist deep in socks—inside-out socks, socks with polka dots, with stripes, with stickers still on them from when they first came out of their eight-pack packaging—and swirl my hands around in slow languishing motions, as if I’m kneeling at a pond and trying to feel the texture of water.

“You do that every time,” Raphael says from my right. He sits on the couch next to me and doesn’t even bother to look at me. Instead of a basket of socks between his knees he has an ironing board and a pile of shirts. It’s not a regular ironing board, though. Raphael can’t stand for very long on account of his weight, so we had to saw off half of the legs of one we found at the thrift store. He’s 400 pounds. At night, when there’s no more folding or ironing to be done, he moves the turquoise ironing board to the other side of the couch and goes to sleep sitting up, right there, on the right-most cushion of the couch, his head lolled back as if he was looking at God.

I stop whisking my hands through the socks and pull out all the red ones. Once I’ve extracted all the red ones I can find—even the ones that are white but have a red trimming—I sift through the sub-pile and pluck out the matching ones so I can roll and fold them. Then I do the same with the oranges. And the yellows. I go in order of the rainbow. Twenty-nine minutes later, I’ve piled the whole basket with sorted and folded socks. The basket always looks much emptier after I’ve put them all together.

For the minute I’ve saved between basket changes, I look across from my seat on the couch at the opposite wall. From my position, my elbows resting on my widespread knees and my back bent like I’ve just been tapped out of an especially tiresome basketball game, I have, as usual, an uncompromised view of my great-great grandma. It’s an oil portrait, the last one the family commissioned. My grandmother is about the same age as I am now: eighteen.  She’s leaning on a windowsill that opens out into a sky so blue and wispy it looks like the dyed hair of a woman too old to be punk. She’s wearing a white dress, probably chiffon, and a matching white ribbon lacing through her brown chignon. Next to her, on a mahogany tulip table, is a cage housing three green and blue birds. One of them appears to be creeping out through the wiry mouth of the cage flap.

It’s the last nice thing in the house. We keep it in the living room so someone always has an eye on it: Raphael sleeps and wakes here, and in the scattered moments when he excavates himself from his hole in the couch, I’m here.

“Do you think Agatha ever folded socks?” I poke my tongue into my cheek so it protrudes like an alien bursting for freedom.

Raphael’s brow is licked with sweat, but his hands are too occupied with smoothing down a periwinkle dress shirt. “Socks weren’t invented yet when Agatha was alive.”

“Oh.” My tongue retreated back into place.

On the little rectangular coffee table in front of me, a clinically white, oval egg timer chirped, signalling the end of the thirty minutes.

Natalie, a curled up noodle of a woman, enters silently and picks up my basket of folded socks without bending her knees. She evaporates into the kitchen, and a minute later she’s back with the same basket loaded with a new batch of freshly laundered socks. She stops and stands directly in front of me, blocking Agatha. Then she relinquishes her hold of the handles, and the basket plummets the two feet between its place in Natalie’s arms and the matted Persian carpet.

“Don’t dawdle,” she says as she hobbles to the kitchen, her back to the living room but her voice directed at us. “We don’t pay you for staring at the wall.”

“All I’m hearing is gobble gobble with that turkey neck hanging loose,” I muttered once she had disappeared from view, my hands swirling around in the warm confection of socks.

“I think she heard you,” Raphael says as he puts the iron down on the board, giving him a spare moment to twirl his sweaty bangs away from his eyes.

“She didn’t, she was already in the kitchen.”

“I didn’t mean her.”

I glanced up at the portrait and immediately looked back at my basket, filtering out the reds with a renewed speed I usually only muster at the start of the day, when the sun pokes its face through the moth-eaten bed clothes of dawn.

Five hours later the day was gone.

After the last basket of the day, Natalie disperses into some unknown territory of the house until the next morning when she will silently hobble her torment to and from the kitchen, a basket always in her arms, ready to be folded or ironed, and sometimes even sewed. Raphael’s eyes droop as he shoves the maimed ironing board with one hand to the side of the couch. He just blinks for a few minutes, each closure a drum beat, the rhythm soothing his wakefulness into the haze until his head creaks back on his neck, and again he’s left to his nightly conversation with God.

I stand up from the seat on the couch I’ve occupied for the last fourteen hours and swivel my torso from side to side, elbows bent and a grimace on my face. I lean down to touch my toes and stand up again, only able to reach three inches below my knees. I trudge around the couch until I reach the stairs leading to my bedroom. Before I go up, a worm of guilt niggles at me. I turn around.

“I hear you, Agatha.”

I wake up to something warm and soft shaking my shoulder. My eyelashes creep apart and then scurry from each other.

“Raph?” I ask, my voice a husky croak, as the tendrils of sleep haven’t yet loosened their grip.

“I almost forgot how to get up here,” he says and immediately turns away. He bulldozes down the stairs, almost slipping on the bottom one.

I’m wearing my South Park night dress, and my eyes still protest against the obnoxious light from the lamps and sun trickling in through the windows, but I can’t see anything amiss in the living room, except–

“Raph, where’s Agatha?” My teeth start to chatter, and I realise I’m not wearing any socks.

Natalie rounds the corner of the kitchen, looking like a wet string of spaghetti noodle, a straight line smeared on her face.

“Times got tough, kid.” she says. “The painting was the only thing between you and prostitution. Although you don’t look like you’d make for a good time.”

My eyebrows peak at the centre, and my shoulders grow rounded as I hold myself. I stand like that for a while. Then I let go of my arms, straighten my back, and shuffle back up the stairs. Raphael looks on at me.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“To get some socks.”

About Emmy Rubin

Emmy Rubin is a second-year student in Literature at Dawson College in Montreal. She was inspired to write having been a voracious reader since before she could tie her shoes. She hopes to one day to have the endurance to write full-length novels.