Horn of Plenty by Alison Rae Mauro

Under the filthiest, stinkingest socks dwelt a terrified, mortified person of questionable species. He might have been an insect, but perhaps not, since the exoskeleton was a soft and plush little cushion, like a tiny upholstered footstool capable of locomotion.

I found him for the purpose of this interview as he was combing chalky dust through his hair, which I seized on as the point of my lead question: “What was he doing with his hair and how could it be improved?” He confessed to never having watched the Learning Channel and to never reading a how-to article on the subject of hair maintenance, so I was flabbergasted to say the least. His face was slathered in burgundy grease that seemed like molasses but on closer examination proved to be a form of mold.

His answer to my first question had quite put me off my mark and forestalled an awkward survey of his skin care regime. The next logical thing was to fall back on the notes I had taken one week earlier while speaking to his mother. She had said something to the effect that he lives exclusively on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and never made any phone calls. Still, she seemed rather proud of him.

I had been giddy at the prospect of meeting him in the flesh, but my expectations were somewhat diminished after the first few minutes of our encounter. His home was a sock stretched over a tin can, with another sock forming the interior walls and floor, and additional socks draped over the top to lend stability. I anticipated a collection of orange candy wrappers, but apparently this sock-cave had regular sanitation. The echo was menacing.

Out of nervous hilarity I blurted, “Don’t you even have a CD player or a small entertainment system?” And like a maniac, he began rapping one wooden leg against the floor as though mesmerized by the racket he was creating, like gunshots, every tap reverberating through my spine!

I was repulsed by the shameful display. It could only have been an insane adherence to duty that prevented me from dashing out of the sock at once, camera and microphone in tow. I persevered and pushed through one more question to this orangutan and, by my faith, it was the most absurd thing that has ever crossed my lips, and I swear it shall never cross them again. I simply could not cope with the monstrous noise that was coming from my subject and had to make it cease. I called out to the brute.

“Will you show me how you play dead?”

To my knowledge, I am not an individual of rash or changeable temperament, and so my own behavior shocked me thoroughly, yet not as much as what followed.

My poor subject had stopped the dreadful booming and was swaying rather gloomily towards the edge of the sock-cave. He pawed a small valise and dispiritedly knocked it against the wall, then began to unzip. Empty it was, until he proceeded to lift his legs one at a time and stuff himself into it.

But how could the creature presume to fit inside a valise so obviously incapable of accommodating him? One wouldn't suppose that even a plush invertebrate, with no skeleton, inside or out, could reduce itself so dramatically, and oh, the groans that emitted from within his paisley, knitted wrapping.

“Was there something inside that felt pain?” I asked, sensing now that I had committed a grave error.

He was in the phase of closing the valise up around him, and to that end he inhaled and exhaled repeatedly, on each exhale coming closer to being able to advance the zipper. It moved—a tiny bit, just enough to increase the horrendous sobbing that was quickly turning me to a shaking heap of paralysis, unable to examine whether the pain was internal or external. I whipped my body as if from below, finally into action; and, before I knew what I was doing, my hands were on the valise, thumb and knuckle manipulating the zipper; the other arm providing leverage and alternately prying, prying the thing open for my little friend. Pillow, I would call him when all of this was over. Yes, a fine time we would have as soon as I got this zipper to move back, move back.

“Help me!” I bellowed. But the little stuffed beast was exerting himself in some other way, growling and spitting at me. I had to punch him directly in the mouth six times before I could get him to cooperate and then effectively direct my strength towards removing him from this vice.

I began singing a tune my mother made up when I was but a small chickadee: “Cookies at the corner of your mouth,” I sang. “Cookies will jump and cookies will find more cookies at the corner of your mouth!”

It was a sweet, happy tune, full of memories of me and my mother and the serene landscape of my youthful home. To my friend in the valise it seemed to do a bit of good here and there, as I thought I heard him humming while I was on the second go-round. At last the zipper became easy to drag open, and out popped my strange and alluring friend.

There was no way for us to keep our hands and legs off each other now, and we must have been a dizzy sight: a tornado of lust and fabric gradually converting to liquid. One liquid entity fastened to the earth is what we have become, and it is what we've remained. And a peaceful life it is, as preserves in a can—unopened, undisturbed, untainted by putrefying forces or fingerprints. Simply in a can, with mellow and amorous intentions.

Alison Rae Mauro is from Teaneck, NJ.