By David R. Stookey
Copyright 2016 David R. Stookey
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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When I first got the call about Cecil Bingham’s passing, I felt both surprised and saddened at once. Saddened, of course, because he had been a long time friend of my parents, but mostly surprised to hear he had died only recently. In truth, I thought he had already died a few years earlier. With a young family of my own, I guess I hadn’t done a very good job of keeping up with old friends of the family.
My mother described the details of his passing over the phone but I barely listened; remembering dozens of childhood fishing trips with Cecil and my father. Though my folks really liked him and his wife, I remembered him as somewhat mean. I could practically hear his mocking laugh as he would whack me with my own ball cap. He always enjoyed antagonizing his own son, Adam, and me. My own father would kid around with us too, but Cecil’s teasing often seemed insulting and hurtful.
The tone of my mother’s phone call turned from grim to mildly upbeat as she mentioned that he’d left behind several pairs of shoes that he “probably wouldn’t need anymore.” This seemed an odd thing to bring up, but she reminded me that we wore exactly the same size shoe and had given me other pairs of his shoes when he first became ill.
A week later, I had completely forgotten about the shoes when I found them bagged on my front doorknob. The note on the bag read “Cecil would be glad to know you have these now – Love, Mom.” I chuckled to myself, trying to imagine the conversation that must have taken place between my mother and Cecil’s widow. Did the widow just offer the shoes up, or did my mother somehow broach the topic as some kind of weird ice-breaker at the funeral? I just could not picture the awkward discussion. When I go, will the placement of my shoes occupy the thoughts of my surviving loved ones as a high priority?
The shoes themselves screamed “unremarkable” in every way. Brown and somewhat clunky-looking, they plainly represented the generic average guy shoe. That’s perfect for me. I typically wear the same pair of loafer-type shoes every day until they literally fall apart.
As I tried them on and stood in the kitchen with obvious contentment, my wife just rolled her eyes. After eighteen years of marriage, she had evidently resigned herself to the fact that she had not married a very fashionable beau.
“Did Dad get new shoes?” asked my daughter, pining that she may have missed out on a visit to the mall.
“Grandma just dropped them off,” my wife explained. “They’re from some dead guy.”
“Eewww – that’s creepy. Was he wearing them when he died?” She crinkled her nose in disgust.
My wife shrugged and returned to her e-mail. I started to laugh, but had to admit that the thought did slightly unsettle me. Could these leathery soles represent the physical embodiment of Cecil’s eternal soul? Wow, that even sounds too corny for a late night B-movie theme. I could picture the trailer in my head, though, “…the evil, possessed shoes, driven from beyond the grave to avenge the brutal death of their former owner…” What haven’t they tried as a horror movie plot?
Risk of possession aside, I decided that these new shoes were well-timed replacements and promptly chucked my worn old loafers in the trash.
The next morning I again thought of Cecil when I grabbed his shoes for work. He had already retired from the Army before our families had ever met. He shared my father’s love of fishing, so both dads spent many weekends boating around the bay for all kinds of fish. We’d catch bluefish, trout, flounder, and even blue crabs for hours on end. Ol’ Cecil considered himself quite an expert at all kinds of angling, and he never held back on criticizing me or his son when we didn’t precisely follow his advice. Not surprisingly, his son had eventually drifted out of his life, while my dad and I remained quite close. I wondered if Cecil ever regretted being so hard on Adam over the last few years.
As far as I could tell, Cecil’s shoes did not affect my workday at all. The usual crisis and mundane work carried on without regard to my new shoes. In fact, the only time I even thought about them was when my cube-mate whistled and exclaimed “Hey, big spender, what’s up with the fancy new shoes?”
I laughed at my own expense and started to tell the whole story. I usually found Bill’s wisecracks aggravating, but I felt compelled to explain. Just as I got to the part about my mother practically taking the dead guy’s shoes during the funeral service, his cell phone rang. He fumbled with the tiny phone and dropped it. It continued ringing on the floor.
At the same moment, I inexplicably lost my balance and slid across the desk I’d been leaning on. I lurched forward to catch myself, and my left shoe squarely pulverized the little phone. The last ring ended in a final, distorted “squawk.”
“My God, Bill, I’m sorry!” I gasped.
Bill tried not to look upset, and waved his hand dismissively. “Not to worry, I was waiting out this last month to switch to a new plan. The damn thing was a piece of crap anyway. “
One other strange event took place that day, though I did not directly attribute the situation to the shoes. On my drive home from work, I noticed with mild annoyance that another driver had crept up in the outside lane. Despite ample notice that the right lane would end shortly for construction, it seemed that this joker intended to take advantage of the more timid drivers and blast ahead of the main stream of traffic. I generally deferred to these selfish speedsters in the interest of world peace and my own self preservation. At our current speeds, he would have comfortably passed in front of me well before we reached the first orange cones. As the driver came alongside, however, my foot suddenly stomped on the accelerator. I hadn’t really intended to race, but now backing down was unthinkable! The startled driver glanced my way, then sped forward himself as the cones drew nearer. Even the car behind me joined in the attempt to shut out the offending right-lane sneak. I hunkered down and pressed on. At the last possible second, my rival lost his nerve and slammed on his brakes. I noticed with great satisfaction that the traffic behind me snaked on endlessly. It would be quite a while before this guy got back in the moving lane. That’s what the signs are for, jerk!
Over the next week or two, I noticed that I had progressively less and less patience for people who had wronged me in any way, no matter how trivially. I had always considered myself a gentle and forgiving soul. This creeping pattern of vindictiveness felt alien at first, but now seemed as comfortable as… an old pair of shoes? I couldn’t help but correlate my new mean attitude with the arrival of ol’ Cecil’s shoes. Did the shoes serve as my portal for some Walter Mitty-like urge to lash out for justice in a cruel world? Just coincidence? Or, my original theory, could Cecil’s sarcastic spirit possess the shoes and their new owner to do his evil bidding? As ridiculous as this sounded, the thought at least reminded me to pay a visit to Cecil’s son, Adam.
I’d heard Adam needed to work a business deal right here in town. Since I hadn’t done more than send sympathy cards, I felt I at least owed him a brief visit. We met in a coffee shop at the very pier that our fathers used to rent boats for our fishing expeditions so many years before. We exchanged family pictures and recounted dozens of fishing adventures.
“You know, I always thought your old man was kind of hard on you,” I finally said.
Adam and I stood to leave. “Yeah, I definitely picked up on that, too. Nothing I ever did was good enough for him. After high school, I did everything I could just to piss him off.”
“I know he loved you, though. Just had a lousy way of showing it,” I said, trying to sound supportive.
“Well, I got the last laugh,” snickered Adam. “You know what I just did? The old bastard bought out that boat rental place a few years back.” He nodded to the aged bait and tackle shop on the opposite side of the pier. “I guess he planned to run it himself. Well, I just sold it to a developer. He plans to level it and rebuild this whole pier,” he chuckled as we stood to leave.
Adam stooped to tie his shoe. I still don’t know what came over me, but I wound up and kicked him right in the ass.
Other titles by David R. Stookey
Bad at Math
The Helpful Neighbor
Punch and Parry
The Last Survivor
A Curse Eternal – The Tragic Account of the Flying Dutchman
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