By Adam Levin


When her socks were sweaty, her dog would chew them. He must have liked the taste and, because she loved him and believed he loved her, and because love entailed empathy, if not understanding—these being her words, i.e., “empathy, if not understanding”—she tried her best to enjoy the salty taste of the dampened, elasticized cotton she imagined. It seemed to be working ’til her boyfriend showed up.

“What,” he said, “are you doing?”

She opened her eyes, hid her tongue, and explained.

“That’s bullshit,” said her boyfriend, once she’d finished explaining. “It’s half-assed,” he said, “if you want to know the truth.”

“I want to know the truth.”

“Your imagination,” he told her, “can’t grant you access to what it’s like to enjoy the taste of a sweaty sock the way the taste of a real sweaty sock can.”

“Only if it can,” she said.

“What?” he said. “What’s that supposed to mean? What in the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t think,” she said, “I’d be able to enjoy the real thing. So, actually, the imagined taste of an imagined sweaty sock probably gets me closer to empathy with and understanding of the dog than would my licking an actual sock.”

“‘Than would my wicking an ack-chew-ew sock.’ You know?” he said. “That’s your whole problem. That’s it right there.”

His hand was in his pants, scratching or pulling, possibly both—she couldn’t tell. He was over by the stove, in the shadow of the fridge. He said, “You’re lost in your head. It’s like the world isn’t even …”

They moved closer together, clutched one another—“Clutched, clutches, we’re clutching,” she thought—and bore down on sex. Parts were spat on and slapped. Parts were licked and admired. Twisted, accommodating faces were made. The whole thing was gross, but the good kind of gross.


This story first appeared in MAKE #13, “Exchange/Intercambio.”

Adam Levin is the author of the novel The Instructions, winner of the 2011 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. His new collection of short stories, Hot Pink, was published by McSweeney’s in March 2012. He lives in Chicago and teaches Creative Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Image: Intercambio (detail) by Roy Villalobos.


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