|Winter 2015 Fiction, Memoir & Poetry Anthology | Contents | Authors | echapbook.com
Who knows how long Eva stared at the primary colored object propped at the base of the trash can on 120th Street and Broadway before she finally bent for a closer look? Eva often lost track of time. She was walking from the subway to her apartment, her eyes cast down, when she spotted it and stopped. Perhaps it was the bright red of its armless, legless body, or its four uneven strands of yellow yarn hair. Maybe it was the missing button eye that gave it a vaguely rakish yet sinister look despite the goofy felt grin that stretched beneath it. It called to her. She picked up the sock puppet and put it into her canvas tote along with the manuscripts she carried home from work.
Twenty-five years is a long time to be invisible. But somehow Eva had managed it, dwarfed within the high walls of her cubicle at the center of a department full of ever younger copy editors for a large and often-merging publishing house. Day after day she hunched over her work, her ruined eyes owly behind thick transition lenses, her spine curved like an ill-placed question mark, her wrist stiff with carpal tunnel as she scribbled red “delete” marks that resembled bloody inverted nooses along the pages of authors who Eva considered (had always considered) young and gimmicky or old and hackneyed. Night after night she went home alone to her walk-up railroad flat on Manhattan Avenue. A hold-out tenement that, like Eva had become surrounded over the years by newer, shinier additions to the neighborhood.
It was a Friday in November, marked by drizzle, dreariness and Eva’s birthday. She would celebrate tonight with a split of French champagne and a Magnolia vanilla cupcake topped with a buttercream rose. Once home she placed the found object on a towel rack and took a long hot shower, letting the old sock steam clean even as she dressed for her dinner of scrambled eggs and toast. Then she turned off the water and ate all the while feeling … what? Restless. Eva felt restless.
After clearing the dishes, she went to check on the thing. It was dry and so she slipped her hand into it. A wave of electricity passed from the scratchy wool body up her arm and into her chest. Eva smiled. Did the puppet’s grin grow just a fraction? Eva looked at it for a few moments, the puppet looked back. They turned to face the bathroom mirror, as if taking the measure of their match as a couple. They turned to face each other again. They let a few more seconds pass. Then, “hello Sock Puppet,” Eva whispered. Sock Puppet took a moment to get his bearings, to find his voice. Then, “hello Eva,” he cooed. “Happy birthday.”
That night passed quickly. Eva popped her champagne and plated her cupcake while Sock Puppet, draped over the bakery box, watched her. It was he who insisted on a candle and on singing Happy Birthday. At bedtime she placed him on the dresser between her glasses and the birthday card her parents sent from their Disney Cruise: “Dear Eva, a famous celebrity says Happy Birthday!” An envelope tucked inside showed a picture of them grinning madly alongside a life-sized Pinocchio, Dear Eve — the best is yet to come. And that’s no lie! scrawled along the bottom.
“Hey Eva who’s your new friend?” Glen Condelli’s Monday morning check in.
He was peering over the top of Eva’s cubicle at Sock Puppet perched atop her computer screen. Eva looked up from her manuscript, a book by one of the publisher’s hottest young authors that seemed to her to be written in some kind of code. On page after page the author had circled in red his narrator’s mistakes or the mistakes of his characters; common punctuation marks stood in for silence or things unsaid; there were lines typeset on top of lines so that some pages appeared fully black. Blank pages, picture pages. A copy editors nightmare! She snapped out of her daze.
“Don’t touch it!” she said.
Glen pulled back the hand he’d been reaching across her desk, as if Sock Puppet might bite. He had never before heard Eva raise her voice
Glen had copy-edited for almost as long as Eva. His longevity was attributable only to Eva’s uncomplaining nature and meticulous work. Twenty years ago his soft eyes, narrow shoulders and adenoidal wheeze seemed boyish and bookishly charming to her. She was delighted to teach him, to demonstrate ‘delete line space,’ ‘insert and close up,’ in the margin of an author’s text. She’d taken pains to explain faulty diction (DICT), comma splice (CS), dangling construction (Dgl). The two often sat like kindred souls, one red pencil between them; delete marks in those days the shapes of fluttering hearts. But Glen lacked stamina in all matters. His focus wavered. His ability to hunt down and make his mark alongside faulty abbreviations and problem pronouns faltered. His heart wavered too. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in Eva’s cubicle, the red writing instrument between them was too much for him to bear. He began dropping manuscripts off at Eva’s desk, asking her to “double check” them. She would discover that he had stopped his work three quarters of the way through, then halfway through, and soon it was up to Eva to make his marks for him.
Glen inhaled noisily. “Eva do you mind double checking these for me?” The question was barely out of his mouth before he dropped his manuscripts onto her desk and moved away. Eva took in a breath so deep her shoulders shook as if she might weep. Then she let out the long breath, lifted Glen’s manuscripts, dropped them onto her to-do pile and continued her work.
“Awk,” she heard whispered. “Frag!” Eva looked up at Sock Puppet and then back to her manuscript. True the novel’s expression was unconventional but she could find nothing awkward about its wording or construction. Nor did she see any fragmented sentences unless done intentionally. She looked again at Sock Puppet. He cocked his one eye toward the direction Glen had taken, his yellow hair swayed. “Awk,” he said again. “Frag.” “Delete!” Eva smiled. Quite a sophisticated sense of humor Sock Puppet had!
At ten to seven Eva made her last mark on Glen’s manuscript. She removed her glasses, rubbed her eyes and smiled at Sock Puppet.
Sock puppet sighed, a loud indignant breath. “Well finally!” he said.
For the past forty-five minutes he’d been restless and bored, trying to get Eva’s attention.
“Eeevaa. Eeevaa … come on! We’re the only two left here! Let’s bounce!”
He wheedled, cajoled, and tried to bully her into leaving with him.
“Eva!” He used the tone that her mother used when Eva was little and dreamy, lost in a book or penning one of the stories she liked to make up. “Eva look at you! Pale as a ghost and twice as ghastly! Get your nose out of that book and get outside for some fresh air!”
But just as Eva had learned to retreat into her own world and ignore her mother’s bullying, so she was able to tune out Sock Puppet while she worked.
“Well finally!” Sock Puppet was suddenly all smiles. “We have a big day tomorrow Eva. Let’s get going. I want to make a stop before we get home.”
Eva frowned. The Copy Editing Department had cleared. Everyone gone early to prepare for tomorrow night’s event.
“The Celebrated Authors Dinner Eva!” Sock Puppet beamed. “Don’t you think it’s about time you get something new to wear?”
By the time they left the building, Sock Puppet had convinced Eva into taking the subway to Manhattan’s former meat packing district, now the center of New York City chic. They stood outside the neighborhood’s newest boutique, Save the Cows, Eva peering into the window at clothing that cost two weeks’ salary, Sock Puppet making muffled, histrionic sounds in her purse.
“Elll mmm seee! Elll mmm owww!” Let me see Eva, let me out!”
She positioned him so that his good eye peeked out from the top of her bag and together they walked into the store.
Who knows how long they stood rooted just inside the threshold watching long-legged women with hair blown straight and lush, posing in front of mirrors while equally long-limbed salesgirls in short black dresses brought them arm loads of clothing. Eva stood silent, ignored by the shop girls until Sock Puppet cleared his throat loudly.
Did the entire shop fall silent for just a moment or was it Eva’s imagination?
“Can I help you?” A spidery blond leaned toward Eva, who was lost for words. Sock Puppet cleared his throat again. The sales girl looked startled.
“Do … you … need … help?” she asked slowly, and rather scornfully, as if Eva might need to read her lips.
“Size ten,” Eva managed. “I’d like to see something in size ten.”
The sales girl scowled, pointed to a rack of clothing and disappeared.
“Stop it Sock Puppet” Eva said, “someone will hear you.”
“I don’t care!” Who does that anorectic shop girl bitch think …”
Sock Puppet was not allowed back out of Eva’s purse until they were in the dressing room. She took nearly everything she could find in size ten. She tried on a black velvet dress with cap sleeves and a square neckline.
“Too conservative.” Sock Puppet advised.
A floor length sheath slightly fitted at the waist.
“It makes you look hippy.” Sock Puppet said without a hint of sensitivity.
A midnight blue long-sleeved, drop-waist dress was “too school girl.”
A black satin pant suit was “too Hillary Clinton.”
A red wool shift came close but then Sock Puppet thought it would be embarrassing if they were dressed similarly.
Eva was close to tears. She was hungry. She was sweating. Her glasses kept slipping down her nose and once or twice they actually slid onto the floor and she nearly stepped on them.
“Buck up Eva!” her shopping companion commanded. “There’s something in this pile of rags just for you!”
Finally she slipped into a pink A-line dress with a plunging neckline and straps covered in fabric roses. The skirt was layers of tulle embroidered with delicate roses and decorated with rhinestones.
“It’s like my birthday cupcake,” Eva said and wept just a little.
“You look like a princess baby!” shouted Sock Puppet.
Eva kissed Sock Puppet on top of his head and then told him something that she had hardly dared to say, even to herself
“You know Sock Puppet. Tomorrow’s dinner doesn’t celebrate only the Publisher’s most Celebrated Author. Each year the Company also names its most valuable Editor and …” she hesitated …”and Copy Editor”.
“And this year …”
“Yes Eva? Yes?”
“This year …”
“Go on Eva, say it.”
“This year,” she whispered into the place where Sock Puppet’s ear would be if he had them “I think … I think it may be me.”
A full forty minutes before dinner was to begin Eva stood squinting into the ladies room mirror, the pink filmy layers of her dress creating a penumbra around her blurred reflection. Spread before her lay pots, tubes, and cases of colored creams and powders. She had, with some success, shadowed her eyelids, darkened her lashes, highlighted her cheekbones, and tinted her lips two shades darker than her dress. After last night’s shopping spree she went to her parent’s empty apartment and raided her mother’s closet taking a pair of glittery very high heels and a matching clutch bag. In it were her glasses, a comb, a delicate bill fold she’d also swiped from her mother, and Sock Puppet folded over on himself. The two were not speaking. All through the night and into the early morning Sock Puppet badgered Eva, insisting that he attend the dinner pinned beneath her plunging neckline.
“No Sock Puppet!” Eva put her foot down.
“Oh but Eva, what a pair we will make! Tracey and Hepburn! Fred and Ginger! Bert and Ernie!” You can’t have one without the other. “Sock Puppet and Eva! ”
“S.P.” she tried to reason. How will it look if I walk into the Celebrated Authors Dinner with an old sock pinned to my dress?” She immediately regretted her choice of words.
“Old Sock! Old Sock! I happen to be a hundred percent cashmere. Except for the parts of me that are wool and felt. Also a hundred percent you can be sure. Furthermore, I could have lured anyone over to that trash can. I could have gone home to Park Avenue. Madison! I chose you Eva. I chose you!”
Eva felt a tingle. Was the hair on the back of her neck standing up? She let it pass.
“I’m sorry.” She said. “Of course you’re more than an old sock. But wearing you to the dinner is out of the question.”
“Why? Why, why, why, why, why?”
“You’ll clash with my dress!”
“Mix pink with red Eva, take a risk! Besides, when was the last time anyone noticed your breasts honey? Just think, with me nestled between them everyone will …”
Finally Eva could take it no longer. She flung Sock Puppet into her wicker clothes hamper and covered her ears against what sounded like a string of shocking obscenities.
Still, she could not abandon him entirely and the next morning she retrieved him, folded him in half and tucked him in her evening bag, safe until the dinner.
“BFF’s?” Sock Puppet said rather sheepishly when she opened the bag to put away her cosmetics.
“Of course, Sock Puppet. Of course.”
Eva walked into the dining room, found her place card and joined her co-workers at table 17. The food was abundant and rich. Alcohol flowed. Eva rearranged the food on her plate while conversation floated by her. During desert, Lindsay, a young newcomer to the Copy Editing Department turned to her and said “You haven’t eaten a thing. Aren’t you hungry Eva? And by the way, you look really pretty tonight.” Lindsay leaned in closer, her blond hair swaying a little, her snug black dress rippling with the contours of her body “Glen can’t take his eyes off you” she giggled. “You two should really get together.”
“Glen is an A-hole” sock puppet grumbled from deep within Eva’s purse. Lindsay snapped back to an upright position.
Who knows how long Eva sat on the bench at the west end of Central Park near Columbus Circle, while New Yorkers strolled and taxis dropped tourists off at their hotels. If Sock Puppet spoke during that time, she didn’t notice. It wasn’t until she smoothed her skirt beneath her thighs and felt the two jagged tears that she remembered.
The author of the difficult manuscript she’d labored over, the publisher’s literary darling, was named “Most Celebrated.” His faithful editor Most Valuable. When the Company President announced achievement in copy editing Eva rose from her seat. And while she stood, tucking her unruly hair behind her ear, blushing just a little she watched Lindsay walk toward the stage. Was it Sock Puppet who lunged at Lindsay? Did Glen tear her skirt while restraining her from going after SP? It was all so hazy and confusing. She remembered the sound of shattering glass because she — or was it sock puppet? — knocked over a tray-carrying waiter on the way to claim what was rightfully hers. But Lindsay was in the way.
“Step off bitch!” shouted Sock Puppet. Yes, it was definitely SP who screamed that. And it was he that knocked Lindsay to the ground. Eva had tripped and landed on top of her. What looked like Eva grabbing handfuls of Lindsay’s blonde hair and tearing at her black dress had merely been Eva trying to right herself. Right? There was blood down the front of her pink tulle dress. Was it she who turned and broke Glen’s nose with a karate chop? Or was it sock puppet? Eva was standing now, taking slow unsteady steps toward Central Park West, teetering on her mother’s high heels. She had bruises on both arms just above her elbows. Security guards! Two beefy men had held her while she struggled, and dragged her out of the dinner. Slowly she realized, there would be no job for her in the morning.
“Those suckers!” she heard above the traffic noise and the rumble of the subway beneath the sidewalk. It was Sock Puppet peeking out of her evening bag.
“Those suckers don’t know what they lost! Right Eva?”
Eva reached down and curled a strand of SP’s yellow hair around her finger.
“You are a sight baby! Look at you!”
She bent to catch her reflection in the window of a car. Her wiry hair sprung from her head in all directions, her glasses were crooked on her nose, mascara ran beneath both eyes. Her dress torn at the back with blood on the front.
“Let’s go home, Sock Puppet” she said.
“What’s waiting for you at home Eva? A plate of eggs? Come on. I know a place where no one will notice you’re a mess. We’ll take the A train” he said, “to 42nd street.”
“I’m not getting on the train like this” she said. “We’ll walk.” “OK baby, up to you.”
“Hey! Hey! Honey! What’ll it be?” shouted the large bikini clad barmaid at Bar Four One. “I don’t really give a crap if you sit here all night honey, but I’m not asking again.”
Eva straddled her stool, her eyes fixed on her reflection in the dirty mirror behind the bar. She turned slowly to Sock Puppet.
“Hey baby, is that murder I see in your eyes?” he said. Come on! No use cryin’ over milk that’s already spilt, am I right? Just order a glass of that bottom shelf whisky they pass off as bourbon around here. You’ll be alright.”
The brown liquid burned going down, and when it hit her gut Eva’s eyes opened wide and her ears popped. She cringed at a cacophony of shrieks and screams and guttural growls.
“Death Metal, baby!’ SP shouted.
A greasy teenager was screaming something about cannibal corpses. An obese man with dark close cut hair and a pencil mustache was making a five dollar bill dance on the bar while he leered at the barmaid. In the middle of the room a bone-thin couple of indeterminate gender, both with shoulder length hair, dressed in green army jackets clung to each other and swayed. Eva felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to face a nearly toothless woman, her face and arms covered in scabs the size of quarters.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said to Sock Puppet.
The floor was wet and sticky. The bathroom smelled of beer, piss and puke. Two toilets sat side by side without even a partition separating them. Sprawled on one of the toilets was the obese man who just moments ago had been at the bar.
“Hello sweet thing,” he said. “Hello! I’ve been waiting for you.” He spread his thick thighs and began to heave himself up.
“You are an angel,” he said lumbering toward her. “An angel! You are an angel and I am the devil. The devil and the angel.”
He moved closer. Eva could see great beads of sweat running from his temples.
“You are a sweet thing,” he said. “An angel. Meet the devil.”
He took another step toward Eva and reached out to her. His funk overpowered even the wretched stink of the bathroom.
“The angel and the devil,” he said. Why don’t we ….”
Was it Eva or Sock Puppet who picked up a discarded beer bottle before he said another word and smashed it on the edge of the sink? Was it she who waved the bottle as a warning but accidently sliced the guys left cheek? Or was it Sock Puppet? Was it ….it doesn’t matter. They both ran. A straight shot across the street to The Port Authority Bus Terminal.
Who knows how long Eva wandered the terminal checking the destinations of different bus routes? She often lost track of time. How long did it take before she settled on El Paso? El Paso. Just across the border from Mexico. Many years ago, as a young copy editor she worked on a book about Mexican flowers: poinsettias and marigolds, hibiscus and dahlia. Common perhaps, but such extraordinary colors, vivid and alive.
Tucked in her mother’s delicate billfold Eva had two twenty dollar bills, her license and a credit card. American Express. Gold. That was all she needed. That was all she took.
A homeless woman retrieved Eva’s discarded sparkly purse and added it to the pile of shiny things in her shopping cart. She tossed the lifeless rag she found inside. The bright, primary colored object landed at the base of a sculpture; three tired looking commuters about to pass through a doorway. That’s where Melinda — on her way home from her night job caring for an old man who must be the world’s most demanding person — spotted it and bent down to take a closer look.
|© 2015, Teresa Giordano
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