In the town of Basingstoke, population 3,482, including the Lithuanian couple that had moved there in 1992 seemingly by accident, there are mostly houses, a few farms, and one rather beige apartment complex where everyone hangs a rainbow wind chime off their balconies. There are also five restaurants, a pizza place, a library, an adorable red brick primary school and a less attractive crumbling high school building, and a fish hatchery. If you wander down main street you will find a florist, a hairdresser, a consignment shop, three stores that sell various soaps, candles, and handbags, and a grocery store that has a display in the very front of beautiful wedding cakes that they themselves do not make, but instead can be ordered from a young woman named Holly Darling who lives in the aforementioned beige apartment building. Her wind chime, incidentally, is only one color and that color is blue.
Ethel Clement is pretty much dead. She isn’t breathing very well and there is a lot of blood around her head. If she could think, she would probably suppose that in a few minutes everything would go black and then it would all be over. Unfortunately, she isn’t thinking much at this moment and instead her brain seems to be projecting weird pictures of a girl dancing with a flashlight against the back of her eyelids. Ethel can’t think straight at all, because she is in awe of this girl, this pretty girl dancing in the dark, waving a flashlight against the walls like a homemade strobe light and she doesn’t know that this girl is her. Ethel at age fifteen, Ethel with long hair and tiny breasts and no hips and a giggle because she is fifteen and not thinking anymore than Ethel, dying at 86 with large hips and sagging breasts and a wheeze, is thinking because she is dying.
There is a trail of broken dishes around her and a mound of chocolate cake settled on the floor. There should be a cat in this picture, licking it’s whiskers. Instead there is a single red Chinese shoe, angled like art, near the dying woman’s ear.
When I was eight years old, there was an old woman who walked by my house everyday, at four o’clock, with a shoe on her head.
She baffled me: she didn’t look homeless and drunk and messy. She looked like a very normal 70 year old woman with thick black orthopedic shoes, tan panty-hose sagging slightly at the knees and a gray suit and jacket, white flower at the lapel. Her spidery gray hair was perfectly coiffed into a high bun and her lips coated with a sheen of coral that screamed Revlon, 1968.
But there, on top, nestled in that bun was always a shoe. This shoe would change- some days it was a silk Chinese slipper, bright red with golden flowers, other days it was a 1940’s T-Strap, and on a rare occasion it may be a beaten up Converse sneaker, pale and white and ghostly, good for playing b-ball on a phantom court.
Laying there, stomach flat beneath me, my chin in palms, my feet kicked back over my head, watching her from the family room’s window seat, the cat would crawl over me, purring and rubbing her head against me, begging for attention. But for the fifteen minutes it took the shoe lady to walk by and out of sight I could concentrate on nothing else.
It was the shoe that had drawn me in; I had caught her making her way down the broken sidewalk by accident one afternoon while waiting for the postman, but there was also her walk. An amusing side shuffle, with toe to toe stumbling. She almost fell forward with each step, but she still kept her spine stiffly erect so that her body looked like a T-Square wrapped in gray flannel, tottering ever forward. She looked different from the other slow paced grannies, they clutching big floral bags with knitting needles poking out from the top and their eyes squinty, hidden behind spectacles. She, who wore no glasses and her purse, a shiny, almost waxed, black leather clutch resembling a doctor’s bag more than anything else. She looked like Jackie-O, aged to perfection, but with that shoe above her brow.
I have been working on so many different projects for a while now that it sort of seems that none of them are ever going to be finished. That can be very overwhelming. Especially because I recently started a job that promises to be very time consuming, although very rewarding. I was beginning to sort of…go limp. Too many things does make a person shut down. And I think, for months now, I have had far too many things going on.
Last night I had an odd experience where I had a very random conversation and it meant a lot to me. And so I think I am going to start posting chapters, which are more like completely self contained short stories, from something I have been lovingly been working on in my spare time for years. Nick Holdstock and Ryan VanWinkle and Ronan Ryan and Jason Morton, some of the best writers I know, have read these stories and chuckled out loud at them– in a good way. I think they are all very funny and I hope others do as well.