Liz sighted as she pegged out the last of the washing. She and Malcolm were meticulous in both personal and domestic habits, so the clothesline was full almost every day of the week. She picked up the last pair of socks from the basket. (She always hung them in pairs). There was a vacant, bored look in her eyes as she pulled at the socks to make them hang evenly. As her eyes focused on these last two socks, she suddenly became alert, looking more closely at them. A darned sock? “A darned sock!” Liz exclaimed out loud. “Whoever darns socks? Certainly not me!” She gave a little snort. Liz had an even closer look. Yes, these certainly were Malcolm’s socks. She remembered buying them for him last year. They were quite unusual; red, with a dark green geometric design up one side. She’d bought them at a sale. But darned? How? By whom? Who would have darned one of Malcolm’s socks? Well, not me. And definitely not Malcolm! Liz laughed, ‘though her brow was furrowed. Liz pondered the sock mystery as she made preparations to go out. She had arranged to visit her sister, Claire, for lunch that day and was looking forward to it. Liz enjoyed going to Claire’s place. Claire was such a relaxed person; Casual in her approach to everything. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that Claire and Doug loved to live so far out of town. It was somehow more acceptable to have a messy house and surrounds if the setting was a bit countrified. Liz wondered how two sisters ever turned out so differently. She decided to tell Claire the mystery of the darned sock. Even if Claire couldn’t think of an explanation, at least they’d have a laugh together over it. As usual, Claire was happily pottering about in the garden when Liz arrived. She had just picked a large basket full of beans and tomatoes from the tangled mess that was a thriving vegetable garden.
Over lunch, the two young women gossipped about all manner of things and Liz completely forgot the sock puzzle as she relaxed in her sister’s company. Sipping coffee at the end of their meal, Claire began to tell Liz of the plans she and Doug had for their upcoming overseas trip. “We’re being so careful with money,” said Claire. “Practically living out of the vegie garden and not spending money on anything that is not absolutely essential." “The only way to do it, I suppose,” agreed Liz. “It’s hard,” went on Claire, “But it will be worth it. I’m even darning socks!” The mention of darning socks jolted Liz back to this morning’s clothesline surprise. She opened her mouth to start to tell Claire of the mystery, but something held her back. In a rush, she remembered that she had actually bought TWO pairs of the red socks at the sale last year. And, yes, she had given a pair to Doug for his birthday. Well, then, was it Doug’s sock that she had pegged out on the line? But what was Doug’s sock doing in her washing? Liz’s mind raced as she tried to make sense of all this. But, just supposing that Malcolm had been wearing one of Doug’s socks by mistake. How did that happen? Liz looked around Claire’s house. There were things lying all over the floor in most of the rooms. Not junk actually, but newspapers, shoes, books, a jacket, a beach towel, some socks. SOCKS! Perhaps Malcolm had picked up one of Doug’s socks by mistake. But, wait a moment - why would Malcolm have been here (and, in the last day or two) and, more to the point, WHY would Malcolm have taken off his socks at Claire’s place? Liz’s head began to spin. What other clothing might Malcolm have removed in this house? Oh, no - this is too stupid, she thought. Not Malcolm and Claire! Liz looked at Claire as she prattled on about her trip. Liz was no longer listening. What a pretty girl Claire was. Still with that really young, open face she’d always had. Claire, the younger sister; always into freedom and “no worries”. So different from Liz, the perfectionist. Liz who was so neat and organised. Oh, no, again she thought. Not Malcolm! Liz loved Malcolm dearly. It was perhaps her great love for him that had made her become even more fastidious in her habits. Malcolm was a stickler for detail and always liked things to be neat and orderly. She admired the way he cared for his appearance. Even with the recent addition of quite a few extra kilos in weight, he still kept himself meticulously neat and tidy at all times. Liz always ensured that his surroundings matched his personal appearance. Perhaps over all these years I’ve been wrong, Liz thought, as her mind raced further into this imaginary liaison between Malcolm and Claire. Perhaps the lifestyle Malcolm prefers is really a casual, untidy one. Perhaps my neatness annoys him. Perhaps he’d like to be a hippie! Her mind was jumping to ridiculous possibilities. “Liz!” Claire’s voice broke into Liz’s distractedness. “Liz, whatever’s the matter? You look quite shaken.” “It’s nothing,” replied Liz. “Nothing, really. It’s just that I’ve a lot on my mind. I’d really better be going.” Claire looked puzzled as she watched her sister gather up her things and prepare to leave. Once home, Liz didn’t really know what to do. She busied herself, doing unnecessary things, just trying to rid her mind of the horrible speculations that kept presenting themselves. Malcolm and Claire! By the time Malcolm arrived home from work, Liz was in a real state. She had decided to confront him with what she knew. She’d use bluff. Malcolm came breezily into the house. A lamb to the slaughter. There was no waiting. No preliminary niceties. “Malcolm, Claire told me what you’re doing.” “Oh, what an old spoil sport.” Malcolm’s reply was not what she had expected. “Spoil sport!” spat out Liz. “SPOIL SPORT!” “What’s the problem, Sweetheart? I thought you’d be pleased.” “Pleased? PLEASED? You and my sister? PLEASED?” Liz was screaming. “Calm down, Darling, and it’s not me and Claire,” replied Malcolm, looking more than a little puzzled. “It’s me and Doug.” Liz’s voice became even more hysterical, “What do you mean, you and Doug?” “It’s me and Doug,” repeated Malcolm. “Claire only organised it. But it’s me and Doug doing it.” Liz felt faint. “It’s just me and Doug, Darling.” Malcolm looked inquiringly at his wife. “We’ve been swimming twice a week now for three weeks. It’s working already, I think. I definitely feel fitter and trimmer. Isn’t that what you want?”