Henry worries about his shoes, gloss-black Berluti oxfords that click and grind on the concrete garage floor and slip silently onto the soft car mat. He grunts, pulls on the steering wheel. Puffs of breath escape as he evens out the parka and anchors his long body into the tan leather that will be warm in less than a minute.
“Can you go?” Deirdre had asked, leaning in her Sunday sweats against the mahogany trim at the entrance to his den, her long honey hair wild and loose around her face, as it always was on weekends. “Can you?” She needed tomato paste for tonight’s dinner — something with beef and an abundance of paprika. She’d cocked her head just a little, eyebrows rising. Henry stood up immediately, nodding, leaving hurricanes and job losses flat open on his desk, the only sign of disorder in the room.
He’d kissed Deirdre’s cheek, grabbed keys from the telephone table in the hall. The oxfords had been easy to slip on — they’d been out in front, as if asking to travel on a dull weekend afternoon, their usual excursions limited to carpeted offices, plush board rooms. Now he fears their fine leather isn’t up to the salt and slush of melting winter. It isn’t worth fretting, Henry thinks. For God’s sake, a little exposure won’t ruin them and, anyway, I can always buy more shoes.
He drifts down the driveway, past buttoned-up houses, their brick and double panes making them seem, to Henry, afraid. Weren’t they built to look foreboding? Looming? Two doors down, Charles smashes the ice on his drive, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Henry has always liked Charles, an anomaly in this place, where people have the means to keep shovelers and trimmers and window washers in business. “I pay a man to mow and trim in the summer, I pay a woman to clean all year,” Charles told Henry last fall. “I figure, what the hell. I’ll shovel the goddamn snow myself.” He laughs, coughing. “I mean, who the hell do I think I am?”
Notes from Paganini swim through the leathery Lexus air. Henry inhales deeply, puts his blinker on for the right turn into Lunds and takes stock of the crowded lot, the layer of sludge he’ll be walking through. He imagines Charles scoffing at his shoes, laughing carelessly about his problem, telling him to live a little. Henry’s toes crowd together, his feet in thick, weekend socks.
He could park far out — maybe there is a dry spot — but that would mean a longer walk. He could park at the curb, dash in and out. It’s a fifty cent can of tomato paste — thirty-five if he buys the generic. He lowers the violin, shakes his head slowly, pulls in to a space between a Chevy Suburban and a Volkswagen Jetta. Walking across the lot with his eyes ahead, Henry takes pains to step carelessly.
Juror comments: Novelist David Oppegaard (The Suicide Collectors; Wormwood, Nevada) selected Bethke’s short for the 2009 cycle of miniStories. He says, “Henry’s Shoes shows, with effective detail, the inner life of a man struggling to find excitement in his comfortable world. The author shows us how even going to the grocery store can provoke a small, existential struggle.”
About the author: Amy Bethke has been writing for most of her life and enjoys working in all genres. She is a 2005 Augsburg College graduate. Her work has appeared online at literarymama.com and in Murphy Square, Augsburg’s literary journal. She received The Loft Literary Center Mentor Series Award for Creative Non-fiction in 2008. She lives in Maple Grove, Minnesota, with her husband, two children, and a very old dog.
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