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Contemporary Inspirational Fiction

People often described Noah as a trouble-maker. Or at least a problem. No one disputed his fierce independence.

He held high standards for himself. To quote Winston Churchill, “There were things, up with which he would not put.”

His exacting standards often confused those offering assistance. His curt responses to such offers earned him a variety of nick-names. Noah felt such names reflected more upon those naming him, than upon himself.

In short, Noah didn’t respect people giving orders, or those offering a ‘helping hand.’ Even when for ‘his own good.’ Only Noah determined ‘his own good.’ The rest, and their rules, ‘could go to hell.’

Noah carefully chose what, up with which he would put. Those crossing his invisible line never forgot the outcome.

For instance, his relationship to soap, water or a razor was, at best, casual. Being homeless, he might not bath for weeks or longer. His torn, grimy clothes and dirt caked face made some believe he could not care for himself.

These concerned soon discovered Noah chose, and cultivated his appearance. He fiercely defended his sartorial rights. With bemused respect, a few described his style as ‘protective coloration.’

Often seen rolling slowly up the sidewalk in his wheelchair, Noah sought no pity. People offering help were roundly rejected. And not always politely.

Regardless the season, he rarely wore shoes. Sores on his swollen and street blackened feet, were painful to see. He never complained.

~

Ross had his own style too. He considered himself stylish, though he’d heard ‘dandy’ said behind his back.

‘What’s wrong with looking nice?’ he thought to himself. He’d devoted his life to cultivating a signature look, unstudied but eye-catching. Careful never to go into hock, his job afforded him an ample budget for indulgence without insanity.

He exited his favorite shoe store energized by his latest find. Wearing his new shoes, he stepped into the sunshine. Hopping up, he clicked his heels together, Fred Astaire style. Landing gracefully, he stamped his feet twice to the silent orchestral crescendo. With a flourish, he jammed his old shoes into a trash bin, spread his arms and bowed for imaginary applause.

These shoes were made for stalking… they followed me across the store.

He set off down the street with barely contained ebullience. Every few steps he glanced at his classically styled shoes, gleaming in the sunlight.  

Within a block, he felt a pinch. Ross suppressed any negativity. He told himself, ‘new shoes need breaking in.

Despite their perfection, these could be no different.

Why didn’t I try them longer, in the store? A half size larger might have fit better. ’

He argued with himself. ‘Because these are perfect. You’ll see…’

Now they felt too large. It seemed his feet could stroll about within the shoe while his body remained stationary. ‘How can I swim in them, yet they pinch?

Feeling a blister forming, he stopped. Glancing about, Ross casually leaned on a lamp post and slipped his left shoe from his foot. Making two sharp, downward gestures, he saw a pebble bounce and settle in the heel. ‘Of course… always something.’ Sending the pebble into the gutter, he returned the shoe to his foot, and resumed his walk. He resisted the urge to limp.

The thought flickered that tossing his old shoes had been rash. ‘No turning back.’ His feet hurt too much.

~

Noah paused from his efforts at moving forward in his wheelchair. Rhythmically pushing the large wheels, and pulling it forward with tiny steps proved exhausting. He rationalized it as good exercise. A motorized chair would clash with his image.

He saw a well-dressed, slender man limping toward him.

Oh, no. What fresh mess is this?’

Ross noticed the man in the wheelchair. He’d learned as a child to mind his business. It’s rude to stare. Whatever a man’s lot, he has the right to the dignity of his own privacy.

About to pass, their eyes met and they nodded. Each had wondered what purpose nodding served. ‘I see you. I won’t kill you,’ summed it up. ‘Well, of course…’

Ross saw Noah’s red, swollen feet. He stopped. Noah tried to keep going but Ross stepped into his path.

“You okay, man?”

“Except for you blocking me…”

“I’ve got something for you, friend.”

“No you don’t. And I’m not your friend.” Ross pulled his shoes off and held them out. Noah balked. “Not in the market for whatever you’re selling...”

“Not selling, really. Check ‘em out.”

Noah refused to engage. “Back off. I’m late for an appointment.”

“All but brand new.”

“Stolen?”

“Bought at that store back there.”

Noah made a cursory glance. “Nice shoes. Not interested.”

“You sure? I’m offering them to you.”

“I don’t need shoes, man.”

Ross stood back and smiled. “Get serious. Have you seen your feet lately?”

“Yeah, they keep my legs from fraying.”

“I hurt, just looking at them.” Ross held his shoes out. “Here, try them.”

“Don’t need to. I’ve got shoes, man… Sneakers, clogs, boots, thongs, brogues, platforms, wingtips, moccasins, loafers, ballet slippers and freakin’ Birkenstocks. What I need those for?”

Ross shrugged. He shifted in his stocking feet.

Noah said, “Ain’t this a beach town? Some law ‘gainst goin’ barefoot?”

Ross shook his head. “No offense… I’ll even throw in the socks.”

Noah scowled. “I don’t want your filthy socks. They’re so great, why don’t you keep these wonderful shoes? You bought them. They’re your taste…” He nodded at Ross’s clothes.

Ross hesitated. “Well, I’m sorry. I guess I over-stepped. I thought you might want... That you could use them.”

“You bought them minutes ago. Why give them away?” Ross’s stayed silent. Noah nodded at his fresh understanding. “What’s wrong with them? You’re limping…”

Ross said, “They need breaking in. But that’s not the point.” Noah laughed. “No really. I saw your feet and…”

“You thought I should wear your uncomfortable shoes. How can I ever thank you…?” Noah held his gaze. “Excuse me? I don’t want charity and I don’t need your freakin’ shoes. Look, they’re not my style.”

Ross looked down.

Noah said, “Hey!” Ross looked up. “Take off your socks.” Ross pulled them off and looked at Noah. “How you feel?”

Ross didn’t know what to say.

Noah said, “Wiggle your toes. Feel that cool air flowing over them?” Ross followed orders. “When was the last time you went barefoot, man? Feels good, right?”

Ross nodded slowly. A glimmer of a smile formed.

Noah grinned. “Don’t like the shoes? Return them. Or leave them on the curb. But don’t foist them off on poor ol’ me, okay?” Ross nodded. Noah rolled his chair forward. “I gotta go.”

Ross stepped back as Noah rolled by.

He said, “Thanks, man.”

Noah waved and continued working forward.

Ross sighed. He looked at his new shoes and shook his head. He stuffed the socks into them and carefully propped them against the building. ‘Someone’ll want them.

Stepping back, he felt the warmth radiating from the gritty sidewalk. He shifted from one foot to the other.

Noah, receded up the block.

Ross turned and hopped up to click his bare heels together, Fred Astaire style. Landing a bit clumsily, he recovered and laughed to himself. He continued on his way.

His limp had gone.

June 23, 2022 15:39

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