Old Boots

Pamela Goddard

The most noticeable thing about him was that he was never there. He left traces of himself behind; a tin can from lunch, maybe a dropped rag, a sparse trail of cigarette butts. One time it even happened that way with his boots. He just walked out of them along a twisting highway. By the time anyone noticed any of these bits of debris, he was long gone.

He was a drifter. A loner. He'd been drifting so long, he could no longer recall when or why it started. There were vague memories of a family, or something like a family. But really the memories were constructed out of a sense for a need of logic in his life. People come from other people. Every person is born of a mother, so logic dictated he must have one somewhere. But who this woman was, or what she looked like, he could no longer recall.

You wouldn't think it to look at him, but he was very formal in his mind. He'd never phrase his though "don't remember", but rather "could no longer recall." While he was walking he had very formal conversations with the company he kept in his mind.

He walked every where, drifting aimlessly up and down rivers, along mountain highways, from town to town. He mostly visited towns at night, when he could. His eyes were very good in the dark. He would walk along the quiet streets, picking things up and putting them down. It was a good time to catch up on yesterday's newspaper by street lamp. He picked up ideas and left them behind as easily as he did cigarette butts and food wrappers. He liked the still company of town streets at night, knowing that families were companionably sleeping in near by houses. He liked people, but found he somehow made them nervous. So he'd visit, and leave a little something behind. Some of the housewives knew his kind were around, especially those who lived near railroad tracks. The kind hearted ones would leave a little food on the back steps. A loaf of bread, or some cans of tuna fish. He'd leave some lines of poetry, or a quote from the newspaper, chalked into the paint of the back door. By the time they were up in the morning, and read what he wrote, he'd be long gone.

As the years went by there was less and less that he could recall of his early life; who he was, or where he'd come from. His education, for example. Logic told him that he must have gone to school somewhere. He knew how to read and write. He knew about poetry, and would sometimes recite to himself; Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Robert Frost. But where he had learned the works of these poets, and others, he could no longer recall. He assumed that he'd either been formally educated, or he'd picked up the words of these poets somewhere on the road. The poetry was a comfort to him during long stretches when he didn't see another face. The books, which contained those words, well after he'd committed them to memory he must have left behind, for someone else to enjoy. He was always picking things up and leaving them behind. Maybe he'd left the pages behind with some housewife who'd put out particularly good food. Just now, he couldn't recall.

He knew he was different from the other men of his kind whom he sometimes met along the road. Their minds didn't seem so logical, or so formally trained, and he found it hard to talk with them. So he mostly avoided the settlements of drifters which seemed to spring up near railroad stock yards. And he avoided cities, unless the weather was particularly bad, for the same reason. Although they were good places to pick things up.

He was going to have to pick up another pair of boots. He sometimes thought about how odd it was that he'd walked out of that old pair. They seemed to fit well, whether with two pair of socks, or no socks at all. Worn in enough, and in the right places, they hadn't made blisters on his feet the way some old boots did. The soles had been worn enough that he could feel the texture of the ground beneath him, and yet hadn't worked through to holes yet. He'd made something of a study of found foot wear. It would be hard to find another pair of boots that suited him so well. It was a good thing he'd picked up a pair of sneakers somewhere.

As he walked he set his mind to unraveling where and when those boots might have left his feet. Maybe... Maybe it was on that bit of winding road which looked out over the Hudson River. He'd walked that road before. It was a highly busy road during the day, with sudden, unexpected spectacularly views of the river valley. But at night, late, late at night, it could be quiet and sublime. The recent night when he had drifted up that road, the moon was full and the stars were multitudinous. He just stood there, leaning up against the rock face on the inside edge of the road, and stared up at the stars and out at the dark expanse of the Hudson River. He couldn't recall how long he stood that way. But he had a vague recollection of his feet feeling hot in those old boots. So he stepped out of them, and took his socks off. The soles of his bare feet enjoyed the sensation of the warm sand and rocks cooling in the late summer night air. It felt so fine. He didn't always take the time to appreciate such things. Thinking back, he could now well recall how, for a time that night, the logical chatter in his mind became still. He was lost in the wonder of the feeling of his feet in the sand, the river before him, and the multitudinous stars stretching on above. The clear light of the full moon reflected brilliantly off the stone wall across the road, and, farther away, off the river's rippling water.

Then, with startling speed, the stark beams of car headlights came seeking him out around the edge of the road. He was brought back to himself and to his need to move on. He must have left his boots behind in the warm curve of that rock face. He really could not recall. The rest of the night was lost in the pure beauty of that short moment. He was not really concerned. He would surely find another pair.

© 2001 Pamela Goddard