by Gavin Broom
Fate was a sock.
Roy often wondered what would’ve happened if fate had been something else or if that first audition had gone in a different direction. He knew he had a good act. It was funny. It just wasn’t great. The producer told him he needed a hook if he wanted the gig and he needed to find one in thirty seconds otherwise the moment would be gone and he’d be back on that bus, heading home with more disappointment, more rejection.
In later interviews, he’d tell people the idea presented itself while he waited in line but in reality, it was more instinct than plan. He remembered standing centre-stage, thinking about all the auditions he’d flunked, all the good-but-not-quites he’d amassed over the years, all the I-told-you-so stares he’d tried to avoid and how failing here and now would finally put an end to his dreams. In other words, it would be time to get a day job.
The next he knew, an independent force within him was removing his left shoe, peeling off a white sports sock and sliding it on to his right hand. In an unfamiliar voice, he delivered a brand new routine and this time the sock told the jokes and the sock took more risks, the sock was edgier, the sock got more laughs.
Roy and Socko got the gig.
That year, Charlie “Chuckles” Chucklington’s summer show took pride of place on the Central Pier. Chuckles was at the height of his game so the public were literally fighting for tickets and the police prepared for a mini riot each day when the box office opened. An unknown Roy and Socko provided the support act. No one queued for them.
On the opening night, after vomiting up a gutful of butterflies for an hour, Roy was on the verge of pulling out and catching that bus home after all. Despite waiting his whole life for this moment, it didn’t feel right. Maybe he didn’t have the nerve. The thought of those waiting I-told-you-so eyes kept him clinging to the porcelain and stopped him running for his life. With a determined puff of the cheeks, he got to his feet and slipped the sock on to his right hand. The cold sweats evaporated. The butterflies settled. His shoulders relaxed. He stood proud. He was ready to kick some ass.
“You got the world at your feet, kid,” Chuckles told him over drinks in the private lounge after the show. “I’ve seen everything in this game a million times over but the chemistry you’ve got with that sock… I tells ya, that’s something beautiful right there. Beautiful.”
Before Roy could reply, a young girl approached them, armed with a book and pen, and thrust them at Roy. Chuckles, far from taking offence, gave him a knowing nod and wink.
When he was halfway through scratching his autograph on to a fresh page, Roy noticed he was still wearing the sock.
By the end of the summer, whispers of Roy and Socko’s groundbreaking act were beginning to gain volume. That autumn, a single column feature appeared in Sidekicks Quarterly under the heading, The Most Dangerous Act In The Country. By the winter issue, they’d made it to the front cover. It seemed they were a breath of fresh air and the nation had taken this outrageous, foul-mouthed white sports sock into its heart.
There were photo-shoots, panel show appearances, a weekly newspaper column. It became necessary for Roy to buy an apartment in the city, acquire an agent and a team of people to meet and have working lunches with other people’s people. Then he needed a place in the country to get a minute away from all those noisy people now in his employ. It was madness.
A year after his first audition success and after working ninety-eight days out of the last hundred, Roy stood on the mezzanine level of his converted loft and felt his head stop spinning and the enormous thud of everything as it sank into place. If they were to go shopping right at that moment, they’d be mobbed. If they wanted to dine at the Ivy, they’d get a table immediately and during the meal, they’d attract more work, more job offers, more money, more fame. If there was a party, they’d be invited. They’d made it. Somewhat absently, he wondered when he’d started referring to himself as ‘they’.
“I’d like to write a movie.”
“Yeah, a movie. Maybe star in it, too. Remember we spoke about it? The one about the aliens that’s not really about the aliens.”
“I dunno, Roy. Movies are a big step.”
“I was also thinking about maybe doing some solo stuff.”
“Solo stuff? What do you mean, solo stuff?”
“Well, exactly that. Solo. I’ve had ideas for documentaries I’d like to make. You know, about Nazis and sharks and whatever. And if I’m honest, one day, I’d like to do some solo stand-up. I mean, that’s what I always dreamt about doing from the start and it’s never felt like it’s ever been just me.”
“But you’d just be some shmuck standing on a stage telling jokes. Who the hell’s going to pay money to see that?”
“With all due respect, you’re somewhat biased.”
“Of course, I’m biased. I’m also the voice of reason, pal. Perhaps you’re forgetting what pays for the roof over your head and the organic tofu in your many fridges.”
“I’m not forgetting, but is this it? Is this how things are going to be for the rest of my life?”
“Sorry, I didn’t realise you were a slave.”
“I’m not saying that, I’m just thinking that maybe at some point in the unspecified future, perhaps I might like to write my alien movie script or something.”
“Okay, well why don’t you try and write that movie script? You sit down and get yourself a compelling narrative, some memorable characters, give them a conflict to resolve, obstacles to overcome and you write that damned movie script. But I’ll tell you now, I want nothing of it.”
“Aw, come on.”
“No, I want nothing of it, Roy, and you know what that means. If you’re writing that stinking movie, you’re going to have to take me off your hand first.”
The movie idea never found itself on paper and the documentaries about Nazis and sharks were eventually made by other people. Night after night, while Socko went through his increasingly offensive repertoire, Roy stood bored and wondered what Socko’s blood might look like or what would happen if he tugged on that loose thread at the heel.
Of course, it was Socko’s idea to phone Charlie Chucklington and call him a decrepit old bastard and a paedophile on live on national TV. It would be a brilliant laugh, Socko insisted. A white cotton sports sock had never done crank phone calls before. This had cutting edge written all over it. This was the new direction Roy had been bitching about. What could possibly go wrong?
Charlie Chucklington had been in the business for longer than Roy had been alive. Charlie knew a lot of people. In turn, those people knew an astonishing number of people and not all of those people were friendly. If you were anybody whomsoever in the field of showbusiness or organised crime, you’d either know Charlie, one of his people or you’d actually be one of those people.
Within seven minutes of hanging up, Charlie had made a phone call of his own. One phone call was all it took.
And as quickly as it came, so it went. The loft in the city, the Saturday night slot on BBC1, the offers, the newspaper columns, the nationwide tours, the voice-overs; they all dried up. Filling the void were recriminations, outrage, hatred, death threats, all fuelled by a media whose owners, at their most distant, were friends of a friend of Charlie Chucklington. And once that all died down, what came next was even worse. Apathy. Anonymity. What was the big deal in the first place, the public asked. And excuse me, but wasn’t it just a sweary bloke with a sock on his hand? Now you mention it, what was the guy’s name again? Rodney, wasn’t it? Oh, it doesn’t matter. And anyway, didn’t he die or something?
For weeks, Roy sat at his rusty old typewriter where he used to write sketches as a child and for weeks, he stared at the blank page. The ideas were still there but he couldn’t find the first word, so he sat with his fingers hovering over the keys, never having the nerve to punch out a letter in anger. The muffled cries from the sock drawer wouldn’t let him.
The lawn outside Roy’s council house flashed red and blue while arcs of water battled pointlessly against the inferno.
“Anyone alive?” asked the chief fire-fighter.
His deputy wiped sweat and soot from his brow. “Too early to say,” he said. “But if anyone was inside, they’re coming out stuck to the bottom of our shoes.”
“That’s too bad,” the chief said. “He used to be pretty famous. I liked his act. I stole a few of his gags for my turn at the mayor’s ball, you might remember. Wasn’t as good as the original, of course.”
“Everyone remarked at how sparkling your routine was, sir.”
“You’re too kind.”
The chief dismissed his deputy and had turned to leave when he spotted a single white sports sock at his feet on the grass. He removed his helmet and crouched down to pick it up. The sock, despite sitting on cool grass for at least thirty minutes, was warm. The chief smiled and when he was sure no one was looking, and even though the sock carried more than a hint of lighter fluid and sulphur, he couldn’t resist slipping it on his hand.
GAVIN BROOM lives and writes in Scotland. He’s had over fifty pieces of poetry and fiction published in print and online. He’s still holding out for that house at the beach.