Simone Bellenoit: “Pink-Striped Socks” (short story)

AUTHOR:  Simone Bellenoit

TITLE:  “Pink-Striped Socks”

GENRE:  Short Story (fiction)

SYNOPSIS:  When there is light, there is dark. When there is laughter, there is pain. When there is smoke, there is fire. And when there is fire, there’s Olivia.

ISSUES:  A friend said there should be more foreshadowing involved in the beginning, and I would absolutely like to know if others agree. Ideas for a catchier title in general would be the bee’s knees, too.

Pink-Striped Socks

a short story by Simone Bellenoit

          It all began with the pair of pink-striped socks. You know, the kind you find on the clearance rack in the department store basement. Under the moth balls, next to the fake and extremely out-dated Gucci bags, right above the rat-chewed Betsy Johnson dresses. We’ve all got a pair of those sinking in our sock drawers, right ladies?

          The result of a severe impulse buy, or a saver for special occasions; Halloween parties, fun first dates at the carnival, relaxing by the fire after a long week’s worth of work in a dull cubical.

          Our comfort mechanism. A security blanket wrapping seductively around your calves. A reminder of your childhood; nothing could harm you in these knitted foot gloves. Nothing.

          I met Olivia in that same basement. Hair astray, tied back in an attempt to control the beast that was her red mane. She was wearing a black pea coat jacket, snugged tightly against her petite figure with a purple paisley scarf just fluttering around her neck, swaying ever so gently from each movement her body made. Men would watch her with caution and intrigue; she was a walking mystery, that Olive.

          Our hands tensed as we reached for the same product, hitting fists together, causing a spine-chilling sound of two knuckles colliding.

          We both stand surprised and apologetic.

          “Sorry!” I yelped, rubbing my hand.

          She laughed hesitantly, “No, really, my apologies.”

          An awkward silence; God taking advantage to laugh at you.

          Olive picked up the pair of striped socks, “Here, you saw them first.” She held out her hand and placed them gently in mine.

          I tried to renegotiate, “No, really, they aren’t important. Take-” She held a hand up in the air, signaling a halt.

          “Nonsense,” she reassured, and handed me three dollar bills. “Compensation for your wounded hand.”

          Her smile was warm, her actions unusually kind.

          I stared blankly for a moment looking like a complete idiot, something I had a real knack for.

          “It’s the Holidays after all. Pay it forward.”

          She reached out her hand, touching mine, folding my fingers around the white and pink wool. I wasn’t sure if she was actually in the rare holiday spirit or making a pass at me; Either way, I thanked her, and we made our departure.

          When I pulled the money she gave me out of my coat pocket to pay, a business card fell out. Name and number clear as day, a smile formed on my face. I grabbed the small bag and rushed home, calling her almost instantly. She must have known it was me on the other line, because she teased, letting it ring what seemed like forever until the receiver was finally picked up, and all I heard was that sweet, honey voice of hers.

          “What took you so long?”

 

          We got together often. Once a week turned into twice, then three into four. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into at the time, but something told me it was not the typical coffee date. Something else was brewing between us and the closer we mentally got the more intimidated I actually was about the whole damn thing.

          Olivia read my mind. No, not guessed, but actually read my mind. I was starting to feel like I had to be extra careful with my jumbling thoughts around her, or she may pick up some unwanted frequency on her inner radar. She had me on my toes at all times.

          It was exciting, and most of all, different.

          She wasn’t a threat, but like a great present you aren’t exactly sure how to react to. Like a diamond encrusted Jesus candle, or a salad spinner. You admire the novelty and appreciate the sentiment behind it, but you don’t necessarily want to do anything with it. That was Olive. Poor and lonely Olive. So much misunderstanding; too much self-loathing.   

          The first time we made love felt like it was out of an act of desperation; a job we had to do. This was not Olivia’s first time having sex with another woman, but it was clearly mine. The second time was more intimate, and the rest after that was pure fire.

          We kept our relationship out of the open. Not for shameless reasons, for we had nothing to be ashamed of other then our terrible obsession with puppy dog calendars; just didn’t see a point in telling our friends or family. It all seemed easier that way. Wouldn’t have to drag our asses to dinner parties or petty gal-pal bar hoppings; just more of us.

          And that’s when everything went terribly wrong.

          The spying wasn’t even the worst of it, but the constant accusations of cheating were getting far too out of hand.

          We fought. So terribly that I’d have scratches all around my neck and wrists. Torn skirts, bruised ribs. Broken glass in my tangled and tired hair. She tore me to shreds, and that was on a good day. Too ashamed to tell anybody and too afraid of Olivia’s wrath, I left. Ran right out the door, in fact. No luggage, with the exception of my purse and battered morality.

          By the sixth month of our now rapidly dissolving relationship I officially moved out. Both of us agreed it was for the best, but I knew Olivia was certainly not on the same damn page. She was livid on the inside.

          “What happened to your last girlfriend?” I asked, attempting a whim of friendly conversation while wrapping coffee cups in underwear; a real space saver for rushed departures.

          Olive said nothing.

          I went back to my novelty mugs and Victoria’s Secret suitcase.

          “Trisha,” she mumbled finally, “She said I was too intense. Didn’t like the way I looked at her.”

          “That’s a strange response,” I turned to Olive, “Don’t you think?”

          And there it was; the devil staring back at me.

          Trisha did not have to be the sanest person in the world to observe a demonic look like this.

          Slowly, I picked up the box and made my way to the door, feeling her eyes on me the entire time. Haunted, I left the rest of my things with her, too afraid to step inside that apartment ever again. My life was starting to feel more important than a couple of Duran Duran albums and a tube of over-priced organic toothpaste.

          I unpacked back at my old place with my dignity between my legs. My roommates had been surprisingly welcoming, as if they were as relieved as I was to get out of that diminishing hell hole.

          When I emptied the last of my laundry I noticed the pair of pink-striped socks shoved in the bottom of my insufferable duffel bag. I touched them, feeling a terrible overwhelming sensation of loss and regret. Tears were running faster than any marathon down my face as I sat on the edge of my bed, clutching the one fond memory I ever really had of any body in the entire world. And that world was crashing down within seconds. The weight was hitting me and I felt dead. I felt useless.

          I felt I made a horrible, horrible mistake.

          Like most things in life, everything has a process. You grieve, you breathe, you move forward. You rethink things more than should be mentally aloud. You dramatize scenarios, stage fights and conversations to your liking. You eat a carton of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip in your bath tub blaring Roxette’s “Listen To Your Heart”. You go shoe shopping. You take up tennis lessons. You don’t show up for tennis lessons. You return the shoes you bought in order to pay for the tennis lessons you never went to. You make snide remarks with your friends at clothing boutiques, saying ‘Yes, Sherry, you are too fat to wear that dress.’. You think about calling, then put the phone back on the receiver at the last minute.

          You lounge around in her favorite perfume.

          You pretend to be fine when you’re really falling apart.

          Three months pass and I see Olivia with someone new. A shorter, slimmer, almost stickily version of myself. They sit together at the same coffee shop we used to meet at weekly. They seemed playful, all ready more intimate than I ever was with her.

          There was no bad energy left to feel. No, I couldn’t feel anything any more. Not for her, at least, not when I remember her scarring stares and rough hands in bed.

          I pitied the new victim. Little did this person know of the mental trauma she was yet to face, and I walked away facing the rest of the day entirely numb with a dull headache.

          Two weeks pass and I sit at my office desk, making a botched Bjork cartoon in my complementary paint program brought to you by Bill Gates and Windows 98′. Even through all of the fluorescent lighting I could see commotion around the office. I ditch my art lesson and walked to the conference room where the windows are larger than my own flat.

          I ask a co-worker what the problem was.

          “There’s a girl on the roof,” one bluntly replied.

          “A what?” I ask, not thinking about their answer.

          “Yeah!” someone interfered, “They say she’s about to jump!”

          My head was in a fog.

          Exciting, in a terribly selfish way, we were eager to see the end result. Police and firemen were all around the street, yellow tape blocking off intersections, crowds with worried faces. Because as long as we didn’t have to sit in our cubicles, we didn’t give a shit whether she lived or died. Just give us a reason to pay attention to you. That’s what everybody wants after all, isn’t it?

          Like a bottle of terrific red wine, it hit me.

          The most gut-wrenching feeling was hurtling like a shit-ton of bricks; I had to get to her. I had to talk to her. So I ran down the hallway, throwing myself out the emergency exit door, dashing like a jack rabbit up five flights of stairs to the roof top of the building where a poor bird was about to fly.

          A crowd had all ready been making their round to the girl. I push through, so hard I stumble to get my own balance, then lost it again when I noticed the young disheveled woman’s pink-striped socks.

          My jaw fucking drops.

          Her face, as if she had lived through the Holocaust, peered over her shoulder to face mine. With her black dress in tatters, she had been covered in bruise with cuts all over her thighs and arms; she was a walking massacre, and she had seen the Devil.

          “Don’t.” I pleaded, holding my hand out, walking slowly towards her, “Don’t do this.”

          Her eyes did not blink once, “You’ve seen her. You’ve seen it.”

          Unsure and sure as hell, I reluctantly nod my head.

          “How did you do it? How did you make her stop?”

          After everything that happened, after every mid-day pounding, slap across a face, breaking of fine china, I still cannot explained what lead into that horrific relationship, but I did not doubt myself once on how I got out.

          “I ran.”

          A soft smile developed between two rows of dried tears, and falls.

          The world stops in those brief four seconds, then my heart pounces as the sound of a crash echoes through the air.

          I practically throw myself towards the edge. The riot and summer haze beneath the building is too much and I can’t see clear. Although foggy, a figure starts to come into focus as I squint eagerly at the street corner.

          Olivia, smiling at me for the first time in months, throws a gentle wave of acknowledgment.

          Back on the ground I push myself through crowds, nearly vomiting at the scene.

          Red water trickles down every part of her body as bones and joints exit through her skin; she landed on a police car, and the car was almost as totaled as the girl. I averted my eyes away from the disaster when a reporter caught me.

          “You!” she exclaimed, microphone and camera shoved in my face, flashes from on-looker’s miniature Cannons and iPhones momentarily blinding my vision, “You were on the roof with the girl when she jumped- can you explain what happened?”

          I take one more glance at Olive before she disappeared from my life completely. I had only the world’s most honest answer to give to the world’s most anxious reporter.

          “Her.”

16 Responses to Simone Bellenoit: “Pink-Striped Socks” (short story)

  1. Hey Simone — haven’t actually read this yet, but in posting it I noticed something. Could be a nit, but could indicate something to look at in terms of tool-weilding. That is… your “synopsis” is actually a statement of theme, rather than a “logline” (as it should be) that describes the story in a ridiculously condensed way.

    CHALLENGE TO READERS: care to chip in a “logline” after your read?

  2. brian

    I’m going to have to agree with your friend’s assessment–for me, there wasn’t enough groundwork to support the ending, and so I felt “robbed” or let down–maybe even violated as a reader. What instantly popped into my head was “Gran Torino”, which–for me, anyway–did an extremely poor job of foreshadowing the twist ending and I walked away feeling–violated as a viewer.

    Also, I didn’t feel any motivation as to how/why the narrator could so easily engage in a lesbian relationship, if she’d never done so before.

    Better title–I agree. But it’s a toughie! Maybe just “Socks”, which can play on two levels at once?

    Very well-written, though. Great descriptions, economical use of language, fast pace that lets you skip along.

  3. brian

    More title thoughts–“Walk Away”. “Run”. “Getaway”. “Her”.

  4. Howard Diamond

    I thought your descriptions were marvelous. Perhaps a little more foreshadowing of the reasons for her breakup with Olive might improve it, but it really works as is. I thought the other commentators were nit picking. You have talent.

  5. I like your title, and I love the story. I followed fine, I never got lost or questioned what you were writing. I appreciate not being spoon fed so many details that it bogged the story down. Instead I had enough information for my imagination to pull it together. I saw the socks, the meeting, and the abuse. I think it’s well written. I loved it. Great job!

  6. Dawn Peterson

    You’ve got a terrific skeleton written, now you need to really bleed out the emotion. You’re story is way too sterile and aloof for such a volatile situation. The reason it reads this way is because you’re using passive language rather than active. Go through the story and make it more active. (Example: “I was starting to feel” s/b “I felt xyz.”)
    Second go-around you need to reach into your heart and get into the darkest emotion in your soul. Right now you’re dancing around the pain. We don’t want to be told about abuse, we need to feel it. (Example: She sank her fingernails into my face…blood oozed…burning….) and don’t forget the tug of war between these two characters. What happens after the abuse? Show us this couple hanging onto each other, rocking and crying. Heart feeling as if it’s ripping out of the chest.
    Another comment is that I couldn’t see the storyteller. Bare knuckles don’t make a noise, but if both women are wearing rings on every finger it does. You’ve described Olivia very well, but not the other character. This can be done over the sock bin. It threw me when you said, “Men watch her with caution and intrigue.” Can’t have both. Is “caution” the greater feeling? In this case, is it more telling how the women watch her??? How other women back off–avert eye contact, are repelled–but this character is drawn to the danger?
    Every time you spoke to me, the reader, you pulled me out of the story. Don’t talk to me. Save those words and put it back into the emotion. Don’t tell me that she saw the devil–make me feel her despair. You do it again with “God laughing at you.” s/b “God laughing at the two of us”.
    I think a better title w/b “Torn Socks” or “Shredded Socks”. Log Line ideas?
    Two women find romance over a sock sale bin. What should have been a lifetime of love turns into a nightmare.

  7. This is a great synopsis of a story that could really easily be fleshed out to a full length novel. There are many holes that left more questions than answers in my mind. I would love to see some history on Olivia and Trisha. Great start!

  8. Jason B. Reed

    Well, Dawn did an awesome job at pointing everything out, so there’s not much I can add. I like the idea, but it does feel like the skeleton of the story. There is so much more you can add to it!
    About the title, I think Brian hit the spot with “Her”, but I also like “Shredded Socks”.

  9. brian

    Dawn makes a good point about juicing up the emotion, but I didn’t find that so much lacking as I did with not knowing enough of the motivation of the narrator and the ultimate motivation of Olive/Olivia (not sure which is the correct name)–which is what I think Dawn finds missing, as well. If Olivia can drive someone to suicide, then how can the narrator skip away so easily from her clutches and seemingly without emotional scarring (I know some victims of abuse like this and their subsequent lives are nothing but fear and paranoia)? Does Olivia regularly drive her victims to suicide? If not, then how could she so cavalierly react when the girl jumps? I find this–“Olivia, smiling at me for the first time in months, throws a gentle wave of acknowledgment.”–to be an extremely odd reaction. (maybe I missed something–a not uncommon occurrence!).

    I really like the way this is written–especially the pace–but I want to know more about what these characters are about, even the suicide girl. The problem, of course, is having to cram a lot of stuff into a short space–but that’s also the fun of it!

  10. I like the title that you have. I think it matches the tone that you’ve set with the story, and sets up a kind of contrast of the promise of buying them versus what they lead to. Kind of like when you buy a fabulous sweater only to discover it itches like crazy when you finally wear it. Just like a relationship that starts of with so much promise, then implodes.

    I’ve been thinking about your story for awhile, feedback is always hard to give! I don’t feel like your end does justice to your story. We go on this painful journey with your main character (MC) but in the end she just blames Olivia for everything. We don’t really see her change and grow. I think it would be more poignant for her if the pink striped socks that the girl about to jump is wearing were actually the main character’s that she left behind. It would be a real kick in the stomach to see that.

    I think you’ve glossed over a lot of important events. I get what you are trying to do stylistically, but it is compromising your storytelling and there is too much telling. It would be great to see your opening cut a bit–it goes on too long. And the meeting with Olivia definitely needs more sparkle–when they make love it is something they have to do, let us feel that initial pull. Especially when you realize that you are attracted to someone of the same sex for the first time. That is a big wow. Also, what happens to turn the tide in their relationship? How does it go bad? Take us along on the journey.

    You have two major things going on in this story, first it’s the first time your MC has been in a relationship with a woman and second, it turns out to be an abusive relationship. How do these things change who she is? What is it like to see those pink striped socks on a dead woman who could easily have been her? I think if you can answer these questions, you’ll end up with a more fulfilling ending.

    In general, I think it would benefit the story to do some more character development with both women. I don’t really buy that Olivia sets up to hurt people on purpose, that she is some spider ensnaring helpless young women in her web. I think these things are rarely that simple. If she was simply abusive, it would be so much easier to walk away than it apparently is. So the smile and wave from her at the end doesn’t really ring true for me.

    This is probably a nitpick but I found switching from Olive to Olivia really distracting.

    Hopefully this helps. Sorry if my thoughts are all over the map!

  11. This caught my attention and kept it, which is a VERY hard feat. Once one has mastered that I truly believe they have an actual chance at being an actual writer (I’ve been toying with chapter one of my novel for a year for fear that it won’t grab someone as your story did).

    So here’s my feedback (having not read any of the others so that you can see if there are trends among them):

    1. Need to know more about what compelled narrator to begin a lesbian relationship having never had one.
    2. Need to know about that first fight. Few people have been in physically abusive relationships probably because most would kick someone to the curb immediately at any sign of violence. What makes your main character different? Is she intrigued by the violence at first? Turned on by it? Does she blame it on herself? Getting more into the psychology of how the fighting begins and continues to occur might help foreshadow AND let us grow with the main character leading us to a revised version of your very interesting end. How is main character suddenly strong enought to leave? She just sees the devil? Need more.
    3. I get where you’re going with the sock thing and I like it to an extent, but it’s just not believable. I mean, are the socks haunted? It is almost impossible to imagine that Olivia (or Olive?) planted socks and conjured an exchange with the woman who jumps that’s identical to that of our narrator. Perhaps that’s your intent? Make us wonder if Olivia has supernatural powers and pulls this sock trick all the time? Or maybe Olivia broke into narrator’s house and stole them? If that’s what you’re after, give us more there. Perhaps the beginning of the narrator’s relationship with Olivia would be a good place to play up the socks.
    4. How long did narrator and Olvia date? A month? You mentioned the frequency of dates, but not how long they dated (maybe you did but it didn’t stick out at me). This bothered me the whole time.
    5. Aside from good sex and their affection for calendars what did these woman do on the dates? Talk? Play Chess? Obsess over cheescake? Consider adding a scene wherein they’re getting to know each other… perhaps narrator notes something strange, but decides to take the plunge anyway?
    6. Overall, I really like your voice. Of all the stuff I’ve read on here yours is definitely in the top 2. It kept me interested. Don’t give up!

  12. What about: Girl On The Roof
    Although your current title also works it might add more emotion to what is a very deep story. I, too, was waiting for a more visceral response from your MC–what did she feel when all of this strange new behavior was being carried out. Didn’t she question more deeply this brand new attraction that appears to have come out of nowhere? Was she disturbed by it, surprised by it, upset, invigorated? I think we’d get more as readers if we felt more in tune with her, if we hated Olive more, if we understood how she got the final push of strength to move on–and was she scarred, damaged, haunted? LOVED the Jesus candle and salad spinner line, good stuff! I understand your friend’s suggestions about foreshadowing, because I think bits and pieces of that would help us become more attached to your characters.
    Interesting twist on the abusive relationship story, though. Good Luck!

  13. I really like the story. I’d like to see more of the relationship and fully experience the emotional trauma and fighting as well as the character’s conflicted desire to escape. Stories are conflict and in a longer version this could be a Girl Versus Olivia story with Olivia’s new love interest as the stakes character… My final thought: Keep Writing.
    Lake

  14. Evonne M. Biggins

    Simone, you are a writer, that’s for sure.

    I had to read back to see if the narriator was a woman or a man. Maybe make that clear up front. Some of the critique-comments before mine echoed mine. But you sucked me in; I was hooked, and to be honest, I’m bummed because I wish I could write like you.

  15. Wow. I was not at all expecting this much replying, let alone my story being read at all.

    Thank you all for your critiques! Nit-picking or not, everyone has great advice, and I feel now I can get back to work on the right track. Some of things you guys said has left me quite humble. If I could hug you through a MacBook, I would. You have all been awesome.

  16. I really enjoyed this! Though I agree with the points everyone made about structure, making it stronger and more emotional, more succinct, I also see where you wanted to go and must say Bravo. I hope we’ll see what you’ll do in your next revision?

    I suppose I was distracted but I found myself reading certain parts over and over– for example, I didn’t realize the story was about two women until you mentioned that it was her first time with a woman. I wondered why a guy cared about rat-eaten dresses and pink striped socks. I also didn’t really get that the girl jumped until you mentioned that she had jumped. I read that part a few times and I suppose I could just infer it… I’d rather read her horrified reaction as she watches the girl tumble over. I’m also easily confused and the entire story is about women so she/the girl is used so liberally, I’m not sure who we’re talking about, so I have to back and read it again and guess from the subject. I don’t need everything spelled out for me but if it’s major and something I need to understand to get the story, I need a hint.

    Lastly, I like the title as is. The socks are important. And is it me or does she give the same socks to every girl sh dates? A tie in perhaps? Not sure about the tagline but it should probably have something to do with the demon inside Olivia that chases people away.

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