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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fiction #40: Robert Sharp


Eric needed a new pair of shoes. He had been a government courier for years and now, obviously, his shoes were done for. Both soles were cracked and the cold slush of an early November snow seeped through piercing his feet with cold. Sometimes bare patches on the sidewalks spared his feet, but when he stepped from the sidewalk into the gutter, the ice water that collected there, in addition to seeping through his soles, would wash over the tops of his shoes and seep through places where the storm welts failed, and fill his shoes with water.

However, he liked these shoes; he was a courier and they had given him good service. He had paid more for them than he had intended, but the soles, a rubber-like compound, had proved better on ice than most. Moreover, the shoes had stood the gaff for nearly three years.

He had bought them at a place called Tigress on a seedy part of Yonge Street. The owner, was a man of medium height, mid thirties, ruddy complexion, and jet black hair, in other words he looked like a real lady-killer. But he knew his business.

Eric had seen a pair of shoes in the window of Tigress had entered the store and was examining the soles of a similar pair in the store when the owner appeared. “I know exactly what you want; a pair of shoes that are good on ice and that you can wear inside. What size do you take?”  Eric told him but the man brought a half size larger. “Wear them for a couple of days and they’ll take the shape of your foot. I know what I’m talking about. This is my career.” He did know.  The shoes were comfortable; they were good on ice, and they were still presentable.

Now, three years later, Eric was going to Tigress again to get another pair. The owner was on him soon as he entered. Eric asked for the same shoe, but the owner told him the manufacturer had discontinued the line and replaced it with another. “It’s heavier and tougher. It’s good on ice. It doesn’t look bad. It’s more expensive, but I’ll sell it to you for the same price.”

Eric tried them on. They felt loose on his feet. He walked up and down the store with them. The soles had thick treads on them. The shoes felt heavy. Instead of a glossy finish, the uppers were oily.

“What do I put on these for waterproofing?”

“Mink oil,” said the owner.  “It’s available at any shoe repair shop.”

Eric was unsure of them.  He took them home in a box, put them on and walked up and down his bare-floored apartment.  It was the weekend; Eric stayed inside and continued breaking in his shoes. By Sunday they had taken the shape of his feet and he felt at home in them.  Monday morning a storm was raging.  Huge wet flakes of snow fell and turned to slush. Slush was everywhere. In this weather, his old shoes were impossible, so Eric ventured out with his new ones. They proved to be excellent. He had treated the oily uppers with Mink Oil and the slop couldn’t penetrate them. When the temperature dropped and the slush turned to ice, the heavy treads were as good as he could hope for. And the heaviness of the shoes had an added benefit: when faced with sudden gusts of wind, he was steadier; he had no need to fear that his feet would be whipped out from under him.

Indoors, the shoes were almost as successful.  He thought the shoes looked clunky, like boots, but Maysie, a clerk in his office, complimented him on their practicality. “I felt so sorry for you in your other shoes. When it rained you looked so uncomfortable. I could see you were limping and they were coming apart. I don’t see how you could wear shoes like that and then go out in the snow. In the summer, maybe, ok.  But in winter with the snow and the ice; uh-uh.”

“I liked them,” Eric answered. “They were comfortable most of the time. I hate to give up on comfortable shoes.”

“Me too!  I hate to throw them out.  Are these ones comfortable?”

He smiled. “They’re pretty good.”

But comfortable as his shoes were, there were problems. For one thing, the right shoe rode up high on his ankle and chafed against his Achilles tendon. He put a band-aid on his ankle and worked the back of the shoe with his thumbs in hopes of loosening it. After a few days, the back did loosen; the shoe became comfortable again, and his raw flesh healed.

But another problem was more serious. His new soles caught on the carpets. He noticed this problem the first week in his home office. He was carrying some letters from the manager’s office to the director’s and his sole caught. Instinctively he reached out and grabbed the side of a file cabinet and managed to stay on his feet. Nevertheless, Maysie had seen him.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“New shoes,” he said irritably. “It takes a few days for the soles to lose their edge.”

But it happened again a few days later. One of his managers asked him to take some papers to Mr. Krindishin in the minister’s office a few buildings away. Eric frequently made deliveries there and when he entered the minister’s waiting room, the receptionist pressed a button to admit him to the suite of offices used by the minister and his staff.  The common area was large, well-carpeted, with a slightly uneven floor. As Eric made for Mr. Krindishin’s office, the tread on one of his shoes caught and he was suddenly on his knees, as if in prayer.  He was up in an instant. He glanced around quickly, hoping no one had seen him fall. But one of the secretaries, Celsa from the Philippines, had and came over.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

He blushed red.  “I’m fine,” he said. “New shoes.  Uneven carpet.”

While finishing his delivery, he was careful to lift his feet.

In the middle of January, the minister’s office moved to a different building. In the new building, the minister’s suite took up an entire floor. The minister’s personal office was larger; the offices for his staff were smaller and opened into thin, ill-lit corridors. The minister chose a new sumptuous carpet to cover the entire floor. One afternoon one of the managers in Eric’s home office told him that the following day he would be asked to deliver a file to Mr. Krindishin in the minister’s office and some letters to Alice Green, one of the minister’s assistants.  When Eric went home that night he knew the following day was going to be busy.

The following morning when he was leaving for work, a five- year old boy from down the hall ran into the apartment lobby. The mother, a tall humourless lady who lived upstairs came bustling into the lobby after him. “Wait!  Watch where you’re going!” she called after the child. She gave Eric a stone-faced nod, caught the little boy by the hand and hurried off to the bus stop. When he reached work he was still wondering about the woman living on her own with the naughty little boy.  Where’s the father?  Did he run off?  Is he dead?

Eric had several deliveries to make that day. Rushing from place to place, he soon forgot about her.  Late in the afternoon he arrived at the minister’s office to deliver the material for his staff and material for him. He had one more delivery make afterward.

On the instructions of the receptionist he found Mr. Krindishin’s office in the north east corner of the floor. He knew he was late. After leaving the file he rushed down the thin corridor toward Alice Green’s office near the south west corner. As he rushed, the sole of one of his shoes, (he never knew which one), caught on the new carpet and he fell. It seemed to him he fell slowly, but with documents in his hands he was unable to protect himself. He saw the floor coming up towards him. He hit his face hard.

The frames of his glasses broke; he was hurt and badly shaken. A young man from one of the offices rushed out and helped him up. Celsa came over and picked up his documents. Eric stood trembling with his glasses in his hand.

“You’re bleeding,” she said.

Eric felt the blood running down his face and saw the scarlet drops falling on his jacket. “Where’s the washroom?” he asked.

“Just a minute.” She fetched a band-aid from her desk and then answered his question.

When he was in the washroom he looked at himself in the mirror. His eye was alright. The blood was coming from a cut at the end of his eyebrow near the temple. The plastic rim of his glasses had snapped and part of the plastic had cut into his skin. He soaked some paper towels in cold water and pressed them to the cut.  In a few minutes the bleeding stopped. He cleaned himself up and put Celsa’s band-aid on the cut. The rim of his glasses had only broken in one place; but the frame kept its shape. He put the lens back in and put the glasses on. The lens was loose, but the glasses were wearable.

When he left the building he realized he was too shaky to make any more deliveries that day so he headed back to his office where he applied cello-tape to his frames to hold the lens in. He was still shaky. He rested a while before leaving for home.

When he entered the lobby of his apartment building that night, he met the tall woman with her naughty young son.

“Good evening,” Eric said

The woman looked at him and asked what had happened.

“I fell.”

The woman stooped down to her little boy and said, “You see what happens when you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.” She caught his arm and the pair vanished into the elevator. Eric went into his apartment and closed the door.

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