Flash Fiction by R. S. Stewart

The shoe shop had been empty all morning, and now that it was nearing noon, I decided to close while I ate my usual brown bag lunch packed the night before. I looked about me as no salesman would at the lessening inventory. Shoes, I mused. How did a promising mathematician wind up buying a shoe shop in a dying mall? I tried avoiding this question and its answer while I slept, but it haunted me in my off hours as well. I dreamt about shoes day and night–elegant shoes to wear in a society higher than I would ever enter, dancing shoes, shoes for climbing, sliding, riding, and painting houses and canvases both. What activity besides sleeping was there no shoe to compliment? I myself slept in my slippers just in case I had to dash out of bed to stop a robbery and save my toe from being stubbed.

“How much?” I heard a voice behind me just as I was about to bite into my red pepper, cucumber, and tomato sandwich.

“I thought I locked the door,” I said.

“I walked right in.” This customer was now leaning his arm on my counter, staring at my sandwich.

The sensory bell had stopped working months ago. I delayed its repair because of shrinking business. Between my dreams, I wondered if humans were plotting a barefoot existence.

“How much what?” I asked the man who had yet to look me in the eyes, finding my sandwich more alluring.

“The shoes in the window.”

“Which ones?”

“There’s only one pair there. A nice black loafer. Have you got my size?”

“I’d have to take your measurement, but right now I’m eating my lunch.”

“Say! What kind of a salesman are you?” He said this as if he wouldn’t mind an answer.

“I’m not a salesman except when it comes to numbers. I’m a trained mathematician. Calculus. Trigonometry. Simple subtraction. Not so much addition. I don’t even need the cash register you see before me.” I pushed on the slide drawer, and it opened before his widening eyes. I closed it with a banging thrust.

“Eat away,” he said. And had to add, “Funny name for a shoe shop.”

“Whose Shoes? No worse than the shop a few doors down called Just Canes. Specializes in canes. All kinds, colors, shapes, needs. Walking canes, dancing canes, canes for show off. Canes for the lame. Everything there except candy canes.”

“What’s this mall coming to?”

“Give me all day and I’ll tell you. Right now give me five to finish my delectable sandwich and I’ll fit you to a pair of black loafers, the likes of which you’ve never felt so close to walking on air. In the meantime browse. If you can find your way through all the stacked and thick inventory.”

I watched him browse, and he knew. He touched a shoe or two, held it up to the poor lighting, slid his hand inside. All the while watching what he couldn’t.

I finished my sandwich and went into the backroom, bare as the showroom. I fumbled around some boxes. The lighting was poor here as well. A box tumbled on my head, and a pair of shoes slipped out. I went to the entrance and watched the customer still pretending to browse, glancing around the room as if not alone.

I watched him for some minutes more and then departed by the back exit.

R. S. Stewart’s poem “And Counting” appears in the new issue of The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.