The Shoes, Part I
Mike knew, swore that the house wasn't that cheap for no reason — come on, in Wellfleet? Kat said, of course it's cheaper if you take it for the whole summer. You can't get a cottage in Gary, Indiana that cheap, Mike said. Someone obviously got killed there, or there's a smell, something. Is it near the dump?
But they couldn't find anything wrong with it, and they looked. Well, Mike did. Kat felt that, at that price, she would rather just enjoy her good fortune, but Mike Googled local murders and break-ins, looked at the town on a satellite map, even called Josh Gittelman who had a house in Truro to see if he'd heard about any serial killing going on in the Easthams. Josh hadn't, and the rental contract looked in order, so they took it.
Kat noticed the shoes the first day, the Friday they got up there. She spotted them in the grass by the fence: dark brown men's wing tips, creased at the toe line, pointed towards their cottage. That afternoon, while Kat stocked the kitchen, Mike asked the neighbors' caretaker if the shoes belonged to someone over there.
Well, they're not mine, the man said, squinting and lifting a paint-speckled Timberland. Could they belong to someone over there? Noooo, I don't think soooo, the man said. So nobody's been up here that might have left them here? Noooo, the man mooed. Must be someone's over there, though, right?, Mike said, getting impatient, and the man said, I expect so, yes sir, yes sir, and rubbed his stubble. Mike looked down at the shoes, then looked over at the neighbors' covered porch; the man peered into the middle distance and observed that it was mosquito hour, so finally Mike suggested pointedly that he supposed he'd just put the shoes on the steps to the neighbors' porch himself, then. The man said he'd take care of it. Mike watched him stump away with the shoes hooked over two fingers, and rolled his eyes, mostly at himself for even caring. They weren't his shoes, after all.
With a full afternoon of de-cobwebbing and fridge-door-scouring behind them, they went to dinner. Finding a place that even looked open posed a bigger challenge than they'd expected; they had to go nearly to Truro, and they stayed out some time. Pulling into the driveway, the headlights glinted off something beside the fence.
Mike pointed and grumbled, Jesus, that guy.
What?, Kat said, pocketing the keys.
The shoes. He put them back, I guess?
The shoes were indeed in the same spot as before.
What the hell, Mike grumped.
Mike, Kat said in her don't-start tone.
Well but why, Mike said.
Kat said, who cares, and went to the house.
I guess I don't, really, Mike said, but if we have that guy to look forward to all summer? But Kat had already let the storm door close behind her.
The next morning, Mike couldn't stop looking at the shoes, just sitting there, ridiculously, on their grey patch of grass. Kat came out with a steaming mug and followed his gaze.
It is odd, she acknowledged.
I mean, if they were Topsiders?, Mike said, gesturing. Or further up the fence? He pointed at the compost pile towards the back of the property. And then why bring them back out?
A strange little thing, the kind of thing you turn over and over on vacation, to have something to think about besides whether the previous tenants cleaned the grill.
Mike went for a run. They took lunch to the beach. They had sex and joked about mattress tests. They bought a new fish trap for the grill, and started dinner in the thin June air, drinking red wine. Waiting to turn the fish, Mike strolled down to the fir tree, thinking he'd seen a baby rabbit dash underneath, and he noticed that the patch of grass was bare. No shoes.
Kat, he yelled, and pointed. She squinted, then called back, huh. Guess the neighbors came up? Or Slowtalk McGillicuddy moved them again, Mike called back, peering at the next house, which looked the same to him — dark, the patio furniture shrouded neatly.
They had dinner on the porch; it was really too cold for that still, but they lit a couple of lanterns and braved it, determined to start the summer. Kat had made a cake, a lopsided yellow affair with leftover jimmies she found in a knife drawer, and they called it "The Blob" in old-timey horror-movie-trailer tones and ate a good half of it. Mike was easing his overstuffed carcass into the double chaise longue when he saw them again.
Oh, for chrissake. What the fuck?
Please not the shoes again, Kat said, passing him the almost-empty shiraz.
Mike gestured with his wine glass. Now he's just fucking with us.
It did seem like that. The shoes sat on their cottage's property now, inside the fence, halfway between the property line and an old birch stump.
Maybe the caretaker moved them to trim some branches and forgot to move them b–
But why are they back out here at all? Mike objected. Why not just leave them on the porch?
Well I don't know, Mike, who cares. It's shoes!
I don't care about THE SHOES. I care about why the shoes are out HERE, it doesn't make any sense, THAT'S why I care. You have to agree that it's weird!
I DO agree; I just don't CARE. Paul McCartney!
Mike felt strongly that "people" are too hard on Paul McCartney — that there's in fact nothing wrong with bubblegum as a genre, and that McCartney leavened Lennon's self-seriousness in a way that proved crucial to the Beatles'…whatever. Identity. Kat concurred, but without intensity, and at some point "the cute one" had become their shorthand for topics about which one of them was passionate, while the other didn't see a need to shout.
Paul McCartney's shoes, Kat added, to soften it. Mike sighed through his nose. It's not as though you'd planned to stand right there yourself, is it?, Kat asked.
Not the point, Mike said.
I know what the point is, Kat said. Not long after that, Mike lied that he was tired and went to bed, where he stared first at a book and then into the rustling, cheeping dark for hours before he could sleep.
Tati, the housecleaner, was scheduled to come and tidy up the next day at eight, and she arrived right on time. Kat left shortly afterwards for Stop 'n' Shop, ostensibly to get out of Tati's way but, Mike sensed, really to get out of HIS way, so that he could care about the shoes on his own and not give her guilt for not giving a shit. Mike sat at the dining table in a weak sunbeam, resentful, staring at the crossword as Tati sloshed and clanked. Fine, he thought to himself over and over, the thought not getting any further. …FINE.
After an undetermined period he slammed the paper into a hat shape and stormed towards the front door, still thinking it — "FINE" — on his way to move the shoes himself, just hurl them over the fence and out of his mind, but going through the kitchen, he noticed Tati at the kitchen sink, motionless, staring out the window that looked over the side yard. Well, not entirely motionless. She was quivering.
She put a soapy hand on his forearm and clamped it down.
Those are not your shoes.
She wasn't asking. She was terrified, too, and trying to break through her dread almost prevented Mike from seeing that the shoes had moved further into the yard, past the birch stump. Almost. Tati was talking, not in English, the volume slowly increasing, the speed slowly increasing, building to a chant, as Mike tried to see out of the corner of his eye if the grass around the shoes really looked freeze-dried or if he was just imagining that.
Tati turned from the sink at last, to hurl her things into her straw bags. She didn't even dry her hands. Kat pulled into the driveway in time to see her rushing from the house.
Tati, are you fini– Tati? Mike, what's going on!
Tati waved over her shoulder in the general direction of the yard and said, cannot stay. She took Kat's arms, leaned right into her face, said, go, no waiting. She scrambled into her car and peeled out, steering (you could call it that) with her left hand, yanking at the crucifix that dangled from the rearview with her right.
Kat looked angrily over the top of a paper grocery bag and demanded to know what Mike had said to her. Nothing, Mike squeaked, I was reading the paper and she freaked out!
"Just freaked out," right. YOU filled her head with — Kat paused, seeing the shoes in their new spot closer to the house — AND you MOVED the SHOES.
Kat, I did not move the shoes. Why would I move the shoes. I want the shoes off the property, why would — okay, dust them for fingerprints then!
Why is it so important to you to have something weird happen? Do you think we don't have anything to talk about, is that it? Kat was slamming vegetables into the crisper, making her mind up.
Oh, please. Why does everything you don't care about have to turn into something about Us? It's fine! We're fine! I did not move the shoes! Why would I move the fuckin' shoes!
SO WE HAVE SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT! Kat hurled the celery past him and it crashed onto the door of the stove and fanned out on the floor. She burst into tears.
You think we don't have anything else to talk about? Mike was baffled. Was he comfortable, while she was bored? When she seemed to want him to shut up, was he not then supposed to? Was the occasional pause the end of everything? He thought they were just pauses.
He said, sometimes there's nothing to say. He thought quickly before adding, but there's nobody I'd rather have nothing to say with than you?
It worked. She plaintived, really?, and laughed at herself, and then there was post-outburst canoodling while Mike waited for her to ask. After about five minutes, she did, from under a Kleenex.
So (hahhhhnk) you didn't move the shoes. (Hahhhhnk.)
Swear to God.
So, what then.
So, either the caretaker guy moved them –
Which makes no sense.
Which makes no sense; the neighbors arrived at some point and THEY moved them, which –
Makes no sense either, because why wouldn't they just take them inside.
Right. Or they…moved.
Moved themselves. Mike scratched his sideburn.
That's ridiculous, honey.
I know it is! But –
It's kids, obviously, she said. From town, kids fucking with us.
Isn't this the kind of thing you'd do as a kid? To fuck with adults?
It was the kind of thing Mike had WANTED to do as a kid, but hadn't, because he'd never thought it would work — he'd never thought anyone would look upon his handiwork and NOT know it was him, not pity him instead.