For years I have agonised, meditated, fretted furiously, pondered, laboured, and ground my teeth, about, on, over, around, because of, and upon the problem of odd socks. A little portmanteau suitcase in the cupboard is now almost entirely devoted to the storage of odd socks in the house, the number of which seems to keep growing and growing. Occasionally, Beatrice the cat likes to nip into the cupboard and curl up upon the comfortable bed of warm socks provided, and go to sleep, which makes me think she does not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
What is this mysterious power that odd socks have, to keep multiplying, as if by some curious generative agency that biologists had previously been unaware of? They are filling a small suitcase today, in a few years they may fill a small cupboard, by the end of my life perhaps the household will be overflowing with these odd socks, their number increasing exponentially. Are all the small niggles and irks and worries and bothers and troubles and woes and quibbles of life likely to multiply in this manner?
Occasionally, it is true, I will unveil a sock that makes a pair, hiding beneath the bed, or underneath the washing machine, or covered by a pillow, or draped teasingly over the back of a seat (am I wrong to think that these socks are 'teasing'? For there does seem to be a sense of purpose to the way they appear and disappear and reappear at different locations in the house.) This is a moment of jubilation, for what can be better than to finally place two socks together again after a long separation? For socks, I contend, were meant to go together, like bread and butter, like tea-cosies and tea-pots, with all the undeniable simplicity of a basic mathematical equation; for just as a plus b plus a is equal to b plus 2a in the world of algebra, so too does it seem absurd for socks to not be in pairs.
But the reality is, as the socks grow older and the number of unpaired socks rises, so too do the odd socks mutate and develop new holes, new crevices, accretions of dust, until their original purpose, that of fitting neatly on someone's foot and providing that foot with shelter and warmth, seems entirely obsolete; they have a new, strange purpose in life, though what that purpose could be, I do not know.
For what reason am I keeping the odd socks? The probability that I will ever be able to perfectly match up all the socks in the houses seems now vanishingly small; perhaps it has been impossible for some years. Is every pair of socks in reality just two odd socks that have been temporarily placed in one another's company, two socks that are for a moment similar but will spend the rest of their lives changing and growing apart? Is the purpose for which socks were designed about to be subsumed, at any moment, into an unknowable, greater purpose? Is this the lesson I should draw from the presence of odd socks in our house? Are they symptomatic of the universal law of entropy, the inevitable tendency of all systems towards chaos? If my little suitcase of odd socks, many differing in colour, some containing curious iconographical symbols on them, were to be discovered by a future civilisation, would they divine some undeniable symbolic meaning to these socks that is for some reason unclear to us now? Why do these odd socks torment me so?
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