It’s been awhile since I have posted any updates. As some of you may know, I started grad school back in the Fall and, unfortunately, have not had much time to update my website. Or write for that matter. During the past two semesters, I have thought about it often and have longed to work on my novel (which I failed at completing before I started grad school).
Thankfully, I’m in-between semesters now and, with the pandemic, have had ample time to continue work on my novel. To that end, I wanted to post a short story that I’m removing from my novel that has no other home. The story that I will be sharing with you was meant to be the prologue for the novel, but upon re-evaluation I felt that it no longer belonged. I still love it, however, and wanted to share it with you all. Proof that I have been writing! Haha!
So, enjoy this short story that is probably too short to even be called a short story. Hopefully, I will get to update you all at least once more before Summer semester begins!
A Story Without an Ending
The man with no shoes ran every morning. I saw him every day, Monday through Friday, on my route to work. It was a long stretch of road, there was often traffic and I would just sit in my car and watch him jogging past all the cars until he took a right into the sheltering neighborhood. Seeing him was the highlight of my morning and if there was ever a morning that I was running late and would miss him, it would put me off. I never took a picture or recorded him, I never put him on social media, though of course the thought crossed my mind. But then I would think, would they understand him? This man who just needed to go for a run, rain or shine, without his shoes?
I moved. A new city. A new job. There was no man with no shoes jogging his way along the highway during my new commute. I knew he was where I had left him. I had left but he was still there, diligently trekking along. Nothing had changed in his world. Everything had changed in mine.
Two years after I moved, my job sent me and another coworker to a seminar. Eight hours to sit in a conference room and listen to someone drone on about something I could care less about. My manager was excited for me to get the training and I was excited for a whole day that I didn’t have to spend at the office.
When my coworker and I arrived, we were ushered to a small, dingy conference room. It was so cold I could see my breath and I could certainly see the bucket in the middle of the room catching the slowly dripping water coming from the ceiling. I sniffed and the undeniable odor of mildew hit my nose.
“At least they have tables. The last one of these things I went to we had to sit at desks like we were in school,” said a male voice behind me.
I quickly spun around and noticed a gentleman clipping a nametag to the pocket of his shirt that read “Allen.” My eyes moved from the nametag to his face and I suddenly found myself speechless. It was him. The man with no shoes.
My eyes darted to his feet. Shoes. Well-worn loafers, in fact.
“You like them?” he asked.
I tore my eyes from his shoes and glanced back at his face. He was grinning and his kind eyes were resting on me.
“To be honest, I’ve had these shoes forever. Can’t find it in me to buy new ones. I don’t like shoes. I try not to wear them when I can get away with it,” he shrugged and started to move past me, “Unfortunately, these things have a dress code.”
I was about to follow him when he turned back around, “I know you saw the nametag, but I like proper introductions. My name’s Allen,” he said and stuck out his hand.
I returned the smile and took his hand, “Judith.”
“Nice to meet you, Judith,” and before I could reply he turned back around and took a seat at the front of the room.
My coworker leaned into my ear and whispered, “That was weird, right?”
I lowered my eyes and shrugged, “Where do you wanna sit?”
We took a seat in the middle of the room, somewhere we would get lost in the sea of faces, but also somewhere that I could keep an eye on Allen.
The Presenter introduced herself and made us go around the room to do the same. Allen volunteered to start and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat.
There was nothing extraordinary about his introduction – “I’m a manager for a company that sells fleece blankets. Don’t ask me why a fleece blanket company is based in Florida, the owners like the irony I guess,” the whole class laughed. “We ship blankets all over the country. My god people love blankets. Honestly, how many of you own a fleece blanket?” the entire class raised their hands. “See? All you fine people are keeping me employed. Isn’t life funny?” he grinned over the entire class before turning back to the Presenter who, returning the grin, took the cue and moved on to the next person in the room.
The rest of the introductions went by quickly and without flair. When my turn came, I glanced at Allen to find him attentively watching me, like he had watched everyone. In my quick glance, I thought I had noticed him wink at me. It did nothing to change my boring, standard, introduction that didn’t make anyone laugh and no one remembered as soon as I stopped speaking. When I was done, I snuck a glance back at Allen and found that he had also moved on to the next introduction. I was slightly disappointed in both myself and Allen. I’m not sure sure what I expected; maybe a joke at my expense or possibly, probably, most definitely, for him to stand up, kick off his shoes, and announce, “I run without shoes and you can’t stop me,” as he ran himself right out of the conference room. That didn’t happen and, instead, he listened to the rest of the introductions and politely paid attention to the Presenter. The Presenter whose presentation I already forgot.
I’m not exactly sure when, but at some point during the presentation I made my mind up to ask Allen to lunch. I knew it might be a slight annoyance to my coworker to have a third wheel and a stranger no less, but there was nothing in that moment I wanted more than to spend time with him. At that point, when I decided to invite him to lunch, I think I may have vaguely realized that I was obsessed with this man. This man who I knew, though didn’t really know, was the man with no shoes. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how badly I needed to know for sure that I was right.
As soon as the Presenter announced that it was time to break for lunch, I made my way across the room and around the bucket to Allen. He smiled at me as I approached the table and, collecting his things, he stood up and waved.
Waving back I asked, “I noticed that you were alone and was wondering if you’d like to join me and my coworker at lunch today?”
The smile on his face spread wider and he replied, “I would love to.”
My coworker and I rode together. The spot that we had picked out was only five minutes away and we rode in relative silence. I thought she might ask me why I had invited Allen to join us, but she knew I was relatively outgoing and would occasionally make friends with strangers when we went out together. She must not have sensed that this was any different; even if it seemed glaringly obvious to me.
By the time we had gotten our food and found where he was sitting, he had already finished eating half of his lunch. I couldn’t figure out how he had gotten so far ahead of us, but before I could ask he asked first, “How long have you ladies been in Florida for?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” my coworker replied.
“Ah, a native. You don’t meet too many of those.”
“I’ve been in Florida for almost eight years.”
“Eight years, huh? What brought you here? School?”
I had just taken another bite of my sandwich, so I responded with a nod.
He rubbed his chin.
“Well, I double that. I’ve been here for sixteen years. I moved here from Michigan. It’s so damn cold there. You gotta wear shoes all the time. And the worst kind of shoes, boots. I remember it clear as day when it was that I decided to move down here. I had just gotten home from work in the middle of January and tore off these big clunking boots. My feet were still so cold that I immediately sat down and wrapped them up with a fleece blanket. My wife came with a cup of hot tea and I told her, ‘Lorraine, we need to move somewhere warm. My feet are too cold here and I don’t think I can take it anymore’ and right when I said that, I kid you not, I noticed the tag on the fleece blanket that said ‘Made in Florida.’ The very next day I called the company to see if they had any openings and then a week later I was moving my family down to Florida and throwing those boots in the garbage,” he paused to take a sip of his water and then continued, “My wife, well, she liked the cold. After a couple of years in Florida she decided she couldn’t take it anymore and moved herself and the kids back to Michigan. I never visited them up there and now they never ask me to.”
My coworker and I quickly exchanged glances.
“I’m sorry,” we both responded.
He shrugged, “I used to feel sorry for myself, but then I gave a dead man my shoes,” and then he slowly wiped his mouth with his napkin, let the napkin fall from his hand to his plate, and stood up from his seat.
“Well, ladies, I’m gonna get a move on,” he said as he grabbed his tray and started pivoting toward the door.
My coworker and I exchanged quizzical glances, he hadn’t finished his food and we had another thirty minutes before lunch was over.
As we watched him walk out the door, my coworker muttered, “Judith, this is why you don’t talk to strangers.”
I ignored her and watched Allen as he left the restaurant. Once he was outside, he stepped to the side of the entrance, slipped off his shoes without bending over, and then walked away.
That was the last time I saw the man with no shoes.