Fiction by Hall Jameson
A pair of fashionable, open-toed pumps with chunky, two-inch heels rested on the center stripe of Montana Avenue, the shoe on the right slightly ahead of the shoe on the left, as if someone stepped out of them mid-stride and left them to fend for themselves during the impending early morning rush. There were always two shoes, never a single, posed around town like players on a stage. Owen found the rampant footwear abandonment in his town puzzling.
And the numbers were increasing.
Owen, a small man with straw-colored hair, a scattered complexion, and weak chin, rescued the pumps. He traced the high arch with his index finger, brought them to his nose and inhaled, savoring the earthy smell of leather.
He'd found the first derelict pair three weeks ago—suede Mukluks trimmed in rabbit fur—cozied up to the ATM machine on Broadway. He tossed these into the bed of his Ford F-150, but not before taking a moment to stroke the soft trim.
Then he began to see shoes everywhere.
Yesterday, it had been men's loafers, a shiny penny wedged beneath the front straps, the profile of Abe Lincoln in the right shoe, the Lincoln Memorial in the left (Owen found that left shoe rebellious). He'd found them in a stall in the men's room of the courthouse, lined up in front of the john. He could picture the owner seated there, a paralegal, or maybe even a public defender, mulling over his case, trousers pooled around his ankles, Abe winking up at him: We'll win this case together, boss.
There had been many others over the past three weeks: Converse All Stars in the frozen section at the supermarket, rigid and frosty, tucked between pints of Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's. Purple flip-flops arranged beneath a pew in the cathedral next to an open hymnal. Strappy sandals dangling from a street lamp on Last Chance Gulch. Scuffed combat boots on the third story ledge of the public library, considering a jump into the shallow river below.
Thoughts of shoe hunting consumed Owen. It was a game, to see how many he could find in a day, and each pair he found was the prize for a job well done.
He pulled up to the small bungalow, where he lived alone, and retrieved the new pumps and wooden clogs he'd found earlier that morning, anxious to add them to his collection. The weekend before he pulled all his shirts, ties, and dress pants from the spacious walk-in closet in his bedroom and draped them over the treadmill and the footboard of his twin bed. Then he'd removed the rods in the closet and replaced them with custom shelves, the perfect width for shoe display. He hung mirrors behind the shelves to give a sense of depth and to promote an in-the-round experience. He installed new lighting on a dimmer switch that he could adjust according to his mood. At the far end of the closet there was a recliner, complete with cup holder, so he could sit and admire his collection for hours.
He placed his latest treasures on a high shelf and stretched out in the recliner, kicking off his boots and wiggling the toes in greeting to the shoes lining the shelves. The air was filled with the comforting aroma of leather, rubber, and canvas.
He was surrounded by friends.
Owen moved with a sense of urgency as he stepped into the early morning drizzle. He had his work cut out for him today. The soggy weather had the potential to condemn any shoes to an unpleasant death of mildew and discoloration if he didn't find them in time. His first stop: Memorial Park on the west side of town, Owen had a feeling there might be something special waiting there for him. He'd been getting these feelings a lot lately.
He pulled into the parking lot. The band shell, decorated with a tacky hand-painted mural of an underwater scene, loomed beyond the picnic tables. As he approached, he saw two flat objects in the center of the stage. His heart fluttered as a punch of adrenaline hit his body.
Swim fins, royal blue, sat in the center of the stage, heels together, webbed toes pointing outward. They appeared to be standing at the edge of the water.
Rain peppered the fins as he placed them in his truck. He didn't have to worry about this particular pair of shoes getting wet—they loved it.
He skirted around the edge of the park, his truck bumping through puddled potholes. At the stop sign, he closed his eyes.
Where do I go next?
Wal-Mart was nearby, but that didn't feel right. Maybe the elementary school? A lone, adult male wandering the school grounds might draw unwanted attention. Then it clicked. The city cemetery. Of course! There was bound to be something special there.
After two hours of navigating the narrow tracks between the plots, Owen was beginning to doubt his trusty shoe intuition when a flash of pink caught his eye. A pair of fuzzy, hot pink slippers was perched atop a high headstone, soggy but salvageable with a little work from a hair dryer and comb. Any longer in the rain, and they would have been ruined. Owen had saved them.
He decided to reward himself with a caramel latte from Java Jake's Coffee Shack. A pretty barista with black hair and cool hazel eyes greeted him at the drive-thru window.
"Good morning. What sounds good today?"
"A large caramel latte, please, with an extra shot of espresso," he said. Usually, he had difficulty ordering in such places, he would stammer and stutter, but today, confidence oozed from him. He was almost cocky.
The barista turned away from him and his eyes drifted to the small of her back, then down to the curve of her hips. When he leaned forward to see her foot attire, something white caught his eye. He gasped. A pair of baby shoes, laces tied in sweet little bows, sat on the counter next to the window. Owen took a shaky breath. They were so perfect! So cute! He snatched the shoes from the counter. He cradled them in his hand, tracing the laces with his fingertips, cooing softly.
"What are you doing?" the barista said. Owen froze, his fingers gripping the small shoes.
"Nothing," he whispered. He cleared his throat. "Someone left these here for me."
"What are you talking about? Those are my son's shoes. I'm getting them bronzed today." The barista held out her hand. "Can I have them back, please?" She frowned.
"No!" he snapped. "They're mine!" Spittle flew from his mouth.
"Give me my son's shoes back right now, you freak!" She reached for the shoes. Owen slammed on the gas pedal and his truck jumped the curb. He tore away from the coffee shack, tires spinning on the rain-slick road, the baby shoes pressed to his heart.
It was instinct by now—where to hunt—and the next morning Owen was drawn to Dayspring Funeral home where a pair of white figure skates hung from the doorknob by their laces. Next, he drove to the manicured football field of the local college. He climbed over the low wire fence bordering the field, the skates hung around his neck like a winter scarf. The morning was calm and quiet; on a Wednesday morning was an excellent time to hunt.
When he saw the man on the field, he froze.
The man stood a few yards away. He was tall and broad across the chest, a bodybuilder, or perhaps a football player, which made perfect sense to Owen, considering the surroundings. The man stepped back, arms crossed, studying something on the field. Owen followed his gaze to the forty-yard line, where a pair of women's high-heeled thigh boots leaned against each other. A small whine escaped Owen. The man turned, his dark eyes flashing.
"Sorry! I didn't mean to startle you," Owen said.
"Are you a cop?" the man asked.
"A cop? No, I'm a collector." Owen's eyes tracked back to the boots. "So, you're the one who's been leaving the shoes all over town."
"Yeah." The man eyed the skates around Owen's neck. "Are you the one who keeps taking them?" He walked toward Owen.
"Yes. I'm Owen." Owen offered his hand, but the man snaked past him and climbed into the bleachers, taking a seat a few rows up. When he crossed his legs at the ankle, Owen exhaled through pursed lips. The man wore a pair of chocolate brown Ferrini Hornback alligator boots: the perfect foot attire.
"I see," the man said. "And how many pairs of shoes have you collected so far?" he asked.
"Over forty. Forty-three, I think," Owen said. "Forty-four with these skates." He pointed to the skates around his neck. And half-a-dozen single shoes."
"Careful, those blades are sharp," the man said. "The singles are not my work. I never leave a solo shoe. Always a pair. Always. Judging from your count, I would guess there are still several pairs you have not found. Did you find the combat boots?"
"The Vans skate shoes?"
"Yes, at the old drive-in theater. I had to replace the laces. They had funny spots on them," Owen said.
"The yellow Espadrilles?"
"Last week at the fire station." He chuckled. "Of all the pairs I've collected so far, my favorite has to be the swim fins, so thoughtfully composed beneath the aquatic mural!"
"Ah yes, the fins! I remember that day.
. That man was a challenge. A bit slippery." The man
laughed and scratched his chin. San Francisco
Owen frowned. "Slippery?"
The man ignored this. "How about the three-inch gold stilettos? Did you find those beauties?"
"Why...no! I did not run across those...yet."
"They're on the east side of town, near the old train station," he said. "They're from Vegas. What a night that was! I won't tell you anymore, you seem to enjoy the hunt. That is probably the only thing you and I have in common."
Owen laughed nervously. This man was very strange, yet interesting.
"And those shit-kickers you're wearing, are those my work?" he asked, pointing to Owen's tan work boots.
"Why, no..." Owen said, looking at his feet. "These are Kmart specials. They're great boots. Very sturdy. Not nearly as nice as yours, though." He nodded toward the man's boots.
"I didn't think so. They're similar to a pair I picked up in
, but not quite right. That man had been strong. A
construction worker." He paused. "I wonder what happened to those
boots. I must have misplaced them..." The man sighed and shook his head.
"I was really hoping you were a cop instead of some shoe-freak. After
twenty years of this, I'm exhausted." Seattle
"Sorry? I don't understand," Owen said, stung. Sure, he might be a tad peculiar, but he was not a freak. He wasn't the one leaving shoes all over town. He was merely cleaning up after someone else. He was being a good citizen, a dedicated collector.
"You don't need to understand," the man said, scanning Owen from head to toe. "So what do you do with the shoes I leave around town?"
"Well, at first I just tossed them in the back of my pickup truck, because I disapprove of littering, but after a while, my collection started to grow. Overall, the shoes are in excellent shape, so I put them in my closet," Owen paused to catch his breath. His hands were trembling, so he shoved them into his pockets. It was titillating to talk about his collection.
"At first, I considered selling them, or donating them to Goodwill," he lied. He had never intended to sell them or give them away. "I redesigned my closet so I could better track my inventory, and at that point, I just decided to keep them. I never realized how beautiful shoes were. How each pair is special. The colors, the textures, the smells. Each style has a unique personality."
"I find they reflect the personality of their former owners," the man said.
"I suppose they do. I find it very relaxing to just sit in there with the colors and the smell of leather, and close my eyes." Owen stopped. "Man, I sound like kinda screwy, don't I?"
"No," the man said. "Do you wear the shoes?"
"Uh...no. That would be strange..." Owen paused. The man raised his eyebrows.
"It's okay, you know? It's natural to want to try on fancy things. Secret things. Things that don't really belong to you. I'm actually very flattered that you've been collecting my shoes."
"Really?" Owen gushed. "I guess I've tried some of them on," he paused. "The men's running shoes, the penny loafers, and the swim fins." He laughed. "I haven't found any that fit perfectly though."
"What about the Dolce & Gabbana T-strap sandals? The woman that belonged to those had the biggest feet I'd ever seen! Despite the high heels and unnatural arch, I found those quite comfortable. What did you think?" The man asked.
"Come on!" The man urged. "How could you not try on a pair of $800 shoes? You can't tell me that you didn't try them. I won't believe you! They were comfy, yes?"
Owen hesitated. "The strap cut into my ankle a little bit, so I couldn't wear them for long. I don't know how women do it!" He stopped. The man was smirking. "You didn't really try them on, did you?" Owen asked, his cheeks growing hot.
"No, of course not, that would be weird, kind of like collecting shoes scattered about town." The man's voice had suddenly grown thick and low. An uncomfortable silence followed. Owen shuffled his feet, studying the round toes of his boots. He cleared his throat.
"So, you're not from around here?" he asked nervously.
"No. I'm not from around here," the man said.
"Where are you from?"
"All over," the man said, shaking his head. "You ask too many questions." He glared at Owen, his brown eyes glimmering. "After all these years, I finally decide to leave a trail of shoes, then you come along and pick them all up. You really fucked up my plans with your strange collecting." He paused, looking over Owen's shoulder, toward the field, his eyes distant and dim. "One more. What's one more?" he muttered, his eyes shifting to Owen's boots. "I'll leave your boots on the front steps of the police station. That ought to get their attention."
He stood and took a step toward Owen.
The sun glinted off something in the distance and his heart raced as he followed the railroad tracks. When he reached the objects catching the sun—gold stilettos with a three-inch heel—he lifted them with care. They weren't designer, but they were still fresh, still lovely. They would make up for the skates he'd been forced to throw away, the white leather ruined by dime-sized drops the color of brick. The man had been right; the blades were sharp.
Owen hugged the gold stilettos to his chest as he navigated the tracks back to his truck, his Ferrini Hornback alligator boots tapping out a neat rhythm with every tie they struck. Stylish. Elegant.And they fit perfectly.