Sowers, walking to the bus stop, did not notice the pair of shoes until he was almost directly under them and happened to look up at a squawking heron. They were scuffed old white canvas hightops with the laces tied together and hanging from a telephone wire. The kind of shoes he wore when he was a youngster playing basketball every afternoon at the park behind his house. He smiled, switching his briefcase into his other hand. He walked this way every morning and didn't notice them yesterday so he assumed someone must have put them up there last night. Probably some kid tired of wearing them, he thought, or maybe a bully who swiped them from another kid and threw them up there as a prank. He hoped not because he detested bullies.
He figured they would be gone by the time he returned from work but they were still there. And they were there the next morning along with another pair of shoes that appeared newer and much more expensive. It rained hard last night but he didn't know it rained shoes.
"I understand they are a sign that drug dealers have moved into the area and are ready to do business," Milt, a colleague at work, said after he told him about the hanging shoes.
"Where did you hear that?" Sowers asked, suddenly becoming concerned.
He shrugged. "I don't recall," he admitted. "Probably something I saw on television."
"There can't be drug dealers in my neighborhood," he insisted. "A few miles east of us, maybe, but not where I live."
"Well, that's what I heard, Dennis. But that doesn't make it so."
He mentioned the shoes to some others at work but no one had any idea why they were hung except for Andrew who speculated that it might be something done by kids graduating from high school.
"But graduation isn't for another three or four months."
"Maybe whoever put the shoes up there is on a different time schedule," he suggested. "I wouldn't worry about it, though."
Easy for you to say, Sowers thought despondently. You don't live in my neighborhood. You don't have to worry about all the damage that would be done by such people.
The next morning he purposefully ignored the shoes, refusing to look up when he walked under the wire they were hanging from, but he was sure they were there. And he was right, as he discovered that evening walking home. Alarmed that troublemakers had entered the area, he spoke to some of his neighbors about the shoes but no one seemed to share his concern. Most dismissed them as some kind of joke. He wished that were so but he was not convinced.
Day after day he passed under the shoes, wishing to God someone would take them down, but no one did to his consternation. Whenever graffiti appeared in the neighborhood, a clean-up crew immediately was dispatched to remove it. He was surprised a crew hadn't removed this eyesore, which he regarded as much more serious than some crude obscenities sprayed on a cement wall.
Finally, early one Saturday morning, he decided to take them down himself and slipped on a pair of thick leather gloves and walked down to where they were, convinced that if they weren't removed others would soon appear beside them. Self-consciously he glanced around to see if anyone was watching him but no one was up this early so he gripped the first bar on the telephone pole and started up it. Not very agile, not someone who ever did well at sports, he proceeded cautiously, concerned that he might lose his grip and fall. When he reached the wire, he paused and took a deep breath, looked around at the sleepy neighborhood, then pulled out of his back pocket a two-foot-long branch and held it out to snare the shoes. Incredibly, he was a few inches short so he leaned out from the pole as far as he could, straining to make contact, but he was still a fraction short and found himself hanging right alongside the shoes.
He felt like an idiot and hoped he got down before anyone spotted him but instead he stayed there as if frozen, cursing himself for being so foolish.
THOMAS HEALY was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His work has previously appeared in SHINE!
I have just always been curious about why people hang shoes from telephone wires and thought I would explore the subject through the eyes of a man who becomes, perhaps, a little too concerned about the matter.