The Shoes

Moments after the memorial they stepped out into less complicated air. It was warm for an early winter day; the atmosphere was grey and humid and still, despite the traffic sounds, and the people movement beyond. Clutching his friend’s hands, the man said: I’m glad you were there. They looked at one another. One man was chewing gum, and the one who wasn’t longed for some of his own, so, they decided to cross the avenue to get a stick. But before that, the man who wasn’t chewing gum was stopped by another man. He was as tall and brown as the gumless one. He said: Excuse me but are you–. The man without gum nodded. His interlocutor continued: You may not remember me. But I’m –. We met many years ago, through –. And it was maybe twenty years ago and you were wearing the same shoes. I just have to say how much I like them, and what you do. The man without gum, but with the shoes, looked down at them. They were saddle shoes, the first he had ever bought for himself. And he knew the man who complimented him was referring to his previous pair of saddle shoes, a gift from a friend. Looking back as he looked at the man who had admired them–remembered how, after his friend had presented him with the saddle shoes, he sat at another desk at the newspaper they both worked at then, and polished them. Such was the work and emotion of that day. Years later, the backs of those shoes broke down, and, as he crossed 8th Street one day, the always grateful and shy recipient of his friend’s largesse saw a variation of those saddle shoes in a shop window, and put them out of his mind, almost at once: he could not replace the memory of his friend slowly rubbing oil into those first pair of shoes, ever, despite the fact that he hadn’t seen his friend for many years. He went to the organic food shop and thought about the shoes; they would not leave him alone. What was he supposed to do with his memory of love and care, and the necessity of new shoes? Would he buy his own shoes forever? Why did buying new shoes feel as though he was cheating on the old? His friend–the man who bought him his first pair of saddle shoes–was sacred, and yet he needed new shoes, shoes that reminded him of his friend, and yet carried him into the future. He bought the new saddle shoes and as he crossed the avenue in search of his stick of gum, he realized that the person he and his present friend had just memorialized was one of the few people who knew something of his old saddle shoes, and already hope and death stuck to the soles of the new pair, like gum.