The Shoes, Part II
He put this to Kat, that the pranks of teenagers tended to reveal themselves. She came back with, Occam's razor. The simplest explanation is the right one!
The simplest explanation is USUALLY the right one, he corrected her, and had not completed the word "usually" before regretting it.
And what about the dickiest explanation, she wanted to know in a super-cooled tone. What does that uuuuuuusually do.
It apologizes for being a big shot, Mike said. Sincerely, it does, but here's the thing, though, is that I think Occam's razor actually argues for it NOT being kids?
YOU'RE a kid, Kat informed him. Life is not a Boy-Scout trip. Shoes don't move themselves. I'm going to lunch. She fwapped through the screen door.
What am *I* supposed to eat?
How about a BOWL OF DICKS? from the driveway. The car vroomed to the head of the cul-de-sac.
Oh what the fuck, Mike asked the rest of the groceries, putting them away, except for two eggs he scrambled and ate straight from the frying pan. He stared out at the shoes and mulled a stroll into town, and as he was putting on his sneakers, his phone rang.
I screamed "bowl of dicks."
Yes, you did.
You should be, Mike said, hoping the prim-auntie tone would land. The shoes were shocked…shocked!
It landed. Kat laughed for a good 15 seconds, the grainy haw-haw-haw he'd loved from the first week he knew her, still tried hard to earn. She proposed they meet at the beach. Mike threw a sixer in a backpack and headed to the dirt path system that would take him down to the sea.
At the edge of the country, they agreed to disagree. Mike pledged that he would do some lurking and try to catch the guilty teenagers in the act. Kat said she'd report any cold patches or poltergeist-y sounds. They said they'd Google the property again when they got home, but the whole ruckus had become an in-joke already, and they didn't bother, just drove into town for lobster tails and more beer at Chappy's.
Mike bought a couple loosie cigarettes — he'd quit, but it was vacation, and Kat was still cringey enough about the bowl-of-dicks thing to let it go, at least for a day or two. At the house, they found a stash of big-band records in a bedroom closet, and put a stack on the record player. They drank beer and read books. Mike stepped out for a smoke at 10:30, about to yawn to Kat that he'd probably call it a night soon, and saw the shoes keeping company with him on the top step of the porch.
Honey, he called in a fakely cheery voice. It's those meddling kiiiiiiiiids agaaaaaain!
Kat tiptoed over like a cartoon thief to stick her head out. Before you ask, Mike said, no I did not move them. I know, she said. You wouldn't have had time to. You were timing me?, he grumped. Kat shrugged. What happened to believing me? I do believe you, that's why I think it's kids doing it, and before Mike could point out the nonsensicality of that statement, she'd pulled her head back in, muttering about bottle rockets.
They also had to agree to disagree on Kat's plan — wait for them to come back, then shoot Black Cats at them from behind the grill — but it didn't matter anyway; they couldn't get the proposed slingshot to work, so Mike's fear of parental lawsuits would go untested. Kat was really angry now, partly from beer, partly from the havoc wreaked on her emotions all day, and when they got in bed, she didn't even open her book. She stared at the ceiling, rigid, listening. Occasionally she muttered, Bastards.
A rustling from the front yard. A mothlike zinging on the bedroom window's screen, and what sounded like whispering through water. Well, shit, Mike said, and Kat grinned and whispered, told you, and yelled towards the bedroom door, FUCK OFF, and kissed him and whipped the sheet off.
She stalked out of the bedroom. Mike felt cold, watching her yanking her nightie around straight, but the foreboding wouldn't take words, and she thumped out through the kitchen and the front door wheezed open and slammed. He lay there for a minute, pressed into the mattress. Then he got up and went into the living room.
The front door was still closed. Faint tinkling fell from the chimes at the side door. Nothing else made a sound. Mike padded through the kitchen and looked through the window of the door.
Kat, he hissed. What's happening.
He didn't see her, just the moon laying along the hood of the car.
He opened the front door and stuck his head out. The shoes still sat on the top steps of the porch. Kat wasn't on the porch, or in the yard from what Mike could see; he eased his torso out and whisper-shouted, Kat, where are you? After a moment, skipping the whispering: Kat, come on, answer me.
Where the fuck, he muttered to himself, preparing to get really angry at her, or at these delinquents, or at himself for thinking the word "delinquents" in this day and age, and he went out onto the porch, around the side where it ended. The moon lit the yard well; he didn't see Kat. Around the other side; no Kat. Angrier and angrier and down to the car to look inside, underneath, in the big fir at the foot of the driveway. Behind the grill. Into the gravel lane, walking like a marionette in his bare feet, then down it to the proper street it met, senselessly, because why would she have just walked off, or hidden, or not screamed or moved the shoes? Who was, or was not, out here? What.
Mike stalked back to the house, livid now, the house which seemed to blaze with light. He had to squint against it, and he almost didn't look twice at the glint he saw inside the left shoe. He nearly missed it, Kat's gold hoop. One of them, anyway, in the shoe.
He tore through the house then, every inch, closets, under beds. He even looked in the fridge. He screamed THIS ISN'T FUNNY, THIS ISN'T FUNNY, THIS ISN'T FUCKING FUNNY YOU FUCKING BITCH, FUCKING KIDS, I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU. He called her cell phone, and of course it rang on the bureau. He called their apartment, and of course the voicemail answered, his own voice, neutrally businesslike. He dialed 9 and 1 and his thumb stopped — what would he report? Where could anyone look? What could he say? Yes, they'd had a fight, a couple actually; no, he didn't think she had any enemies up here; no, he hadn't seen an intruder.
Hadn't seen anything.
It was kids. It wasn't kids.
He fixed coffee, strong as molasses, and sat with it at the table. He wanted to go out for more cigarettes, but he wanted to be there if Kat came back, too, to hug her, to bellow, to hear the unlikely tale. WHEN she came back. When, of course. He decided he would call Tati in the morning, as early as he could, and until morning he would write everything down.
He waited for Kat and dawn, and wrote in a warped spiral notebook he found in the bread drawer, using a mini-golf pencil he had to pare to sharpen several times. Kat's purse had pens, but something kept him away from them.
The sky began to lift. The clock said 5:55. Mike tried to make a wish and look away, but didn't know precisely how to word the wish, and anyway, he kiboshed it by looking back at the clock before it had turned 5:56. He began to cry; this would ruin him, this wish that had no letters in it and would not come true now. Twitchy from coffee, disoriented, he could not stop crying, his legs jerking from it, until he wailed OKAY and STOP and began to rehearse his call to Tati out loud, to fill the time, to calm the heaving of his diaphragm. He would call at 6:30. No: 7. No: 6:45. 6:45.
Birds chattered. 6:12. 6:18. 6:27. He went to the front door with his phone, thinking to photograph the hoop in the shoe, but then thought, why. What would it prove. He pocketed the phone and looked out the window, not really at anything, not at the shoes…the shoes that were no longer there.
He whipped open the door. The top step stood empty, lightly pressed with dew. No shoes. Mike walked out into the lawn to look around again, just in case — for something he hadn't seen, a hole, a branch she might have tripped over. There was nothing, of course, until he turned back to the house and saw them there, lined up neatly beside the planter just to the right of the door. Mike felt himself liquefying and coming to a boil, terror microwaving him. Stupid thoughts flung themselves against the inside of his skull, chief among them that all that coffee was going to make him shit himself, and he lurched inside, past the shoes, which he did not check for the hoop this time. On the toilet, he stared at the tile and thought, well, this will fill some time at least. I will shit. I will wipe. It will be 6:45, and I will have some fucking answers.
He cleaned up and rushed for his phone to call Tati at 6:48. His breath doubled back on itself somehow and he struggled for a full lungful as Tati's phone rang, and rang. And rang. The voicemail came on; Mike ended the call and redialed. Again it rang and rang, then voicemail. On Mike's fifth attempt, a man picked up and growled into the phone in what Mike guessed was Czech. Oh, Mike said. Oh. Excuse me. Can I please speak to Tati?
A silence unfolded. The man whispered, who. Where is Tati. I, Mike began. What? Is Tati not there? The phone was grabbed then by a younger man with better English demanded who is this, WHO IS THIS. Mike stammered, Tati's the, uh, the, she's the housekeeper here, I needed to ask her —
WHERE IS SHE.
I…no, I called HER, so I —
WHERE IS SHE, YOU —
Mike hung up and carefully, absurdly, placed the phone on the table as soundlessly as he could manage. That seemed important. Shortly thereafter it began to ring and ring, and stop, and ring and ring, and stop, and to get away from it, or so he said to himself, he went next door and found the key he knew would be under the mat, and fished around on a top shelf for the cigarettes he knew someone had hidden. Jackpot: a nearly full pack of Merits. He grabbed matches from the fireplace and went back to his own house, footprints behind him, through the grass in his soaked-hem pajamas, not caring. He could explain it later.
He sat on the porch, looking at the shoes, smoked three cigarettes, and went inside to start making calls. There was no point, he had started to see, and yet it had to be done. He had to pretend she'd heard a noise, or they'd had a fight, or they'd had a fight about a noise. He had to keep calling their apartment; he had to phone her parents, her friends, all of them, even bitter yoga Julie who disdained him and his grilling. He had to pretend he thought Kat could be found. He called around, emoting, waiting for someone to tell him he should call the police, and it took a dozen calls, but at last that round, brisk Latin-teacher bridesmaid he'd always liked ordered him to call the cops, do it now, and hung up so that he could. And so he did.
He sounded hoarse by then, which helped his case. He could also point to the fact that it looked like someone might have broken into the house next door, which "someone" had. A radio car appeared shortly after 9, two middle-aged patrolmen who looked like Kennedy cousins. The three of them went through the drill together, 24 hours, did you have an argument, where's her pocketbook. Mike noted aloud that Officer Brogan seemed too young to use that word, "pocketbook." Brogan blinked. Most people would say "purse" or "bag," Mike said. Brogan wrote that down. Then a detective arrived, Hanrahan, Hinneman, something with an H, and asked all the same questions and looked around at things without commenting on them.
By 11:30 everyone had gone, including Mike's new best friends the cigarettes. The house felt full, though — pressurized. The sun had gone in some time before, and only occasionally did a shadow become distinct in the gloomy shade outside. Mike put his phone on the charger and went into the bedroom to put on proper pants, and sitting there on the bed, tired beyond sensation, he fell asleep sitting up, into a dream where Kat was asleep beside him and he wanted to touch her, rest his hand on her hip, but he couldn't move. He could only sit, one leg out of his pajamas, and strain to lift his arm, the heaviest thing in the world.
The front door woke him. At last. He yanked the pajama leg back on, eyes sandy, and pushed himself to his feet, deciding between anger and relief, and the shoes were in the bedroom doorway. Somehow there was no stepping around them; there was no stepping over them to get to the front door, which was closed, or to the living room, which was empty but for his phone and his keys, things that seemed to belong to a man in a book. There was only looking at the spot where eyes might once have been and saying, please, and this is what Mike did.