Another trinket in the display window
of my father’s shoe repair shop, I am
an unkempt preschooler in bell bottoms
and T-shirt sitting among upside down
armadillo shells stuffed with buckles,
rows of handmade leather sandals,
puck-shaped tins of shoe polish. Above
me, leather jackets on hangers dangle
from a bull whip of braided rawhide.
In the store front, suede hip-huggers
in coffee and cream circle clothing racks,
squeezed between tie-dyed Tees and
tank dresses. Forming a capital L,
blond wood showcases house vials
of patchouli and lemon oil, wood pipes,
flavored rolling papers, roach clips.
Behind the gold curtain to the workshop,
my father, black wavy hair and round
eye glasses, denim shirt sleeves rolled
to the elbow, hunches over the last,
a foot-shaped hunk of iron standing
high as his chest. He paints barge cement
onto shoe soles, fuses them to the welts,
pounds with an iron hammer—he clangs
metal against metal, as if he were beating
the hell out of life itself, his pizza from
Mario’s on the sewing table growing cold.
My father throws all his strength into
his work, and in my youthful ignorance,
I somehow believe he likes to fix the stinky
shoes of the rich. Years from now he will
tell me he dreamt of being an astronaut,
exploring space, looking down at the
earth from above, the wish stolen by
allergies, poor eyesight, hungry kids.
I crouch beneath my father’s workbench,
hidden among piles of broken shoes,
work-order tickets, the air stinking
of mildew and feet. My father, biceps
muscled, his smooth face the color
of Spanish olives, sips from a bottle
of over-the-counter cough syrup,
smokes one Marlboro Red after another,
swallows aspirin with cold coffee.
In the distance I hear the jingle of the bell
on the door—one more customer, one more
pair of shoes, one more break in the day
my father and I should be spending together,
maybe on the banks of the Susquehanna River—
we cast our rods into murky water, steal
sunfish and perch from their dark beds,
yank crawdads from under rocks
to use as bait. We pee behind trees, end the day
with burgers and fries from McDonald’s.
But we’re days from the weekend, and
the phone keeps ringing. So, I open the box
of rolling papers I’ve lifted from the showcase,
tear out a leaf and savor the tart sweetness
of strawberry melting on my tongue.
Then I reach in for another.
Return to Volume 3.1