Born in Northern California, M. Gail Moore graduated from San Francisco State University, and then ultimately joined the faculty of a community college on the West Coast in the late 1990s. She has written book reviews and several non fiction articles about her travels in Mexico, Thailand, Guatemala, Belize, Brazil, Canada and the U.K. This is her first piece of fiction. She divides her time between Washington State and California with her husband, daughter and six potted plants.
by M. Gail Moore
It had not always been, but now was the time when Kate avoided Nike. The emblematic swoosh, the resonating motto, they were too much memory. For her, avoidance served as mercy to denial. So when she saw the newspaper lying askance at the coffee shop, the events of five years ago, of last week, piled up on her. The paper was folded long and to a page. There, in grainy black and white, appeared Zach in uniform. The caption below his picture read:
Pfc. Zachary Thomas was killed on the Saturday
before Easter in a roadside blast in Afghanistan,
while distributing shoes to a school outside
Bagram Air Force Base. He was with the 176th
Company from Fort Lewis.
Their fight had been about nothing. Kate wasn’t even sure how it started. All she remembers was grabbing them, his shoes, while awful words swept out of her mouth, cursed by a north wind and a sophomoric heart.
If only the moment before could be different, when they were walking away from the beach and Zach had jauntily slung the new Nikes, black with a white swoosh, over his shoulder. They were both laughing. Laces looped a white bow tie over his right index finger, hooked backwards and pointed at the sky. The shoes bumped lightly against his shoulder blade. Their argument began moments before they reached the pavement. It was then that Kate snatched them from his hand and sent them arcing above his head with her strong tennis arm. Love perfected. They landed each one astride, bound by their laces to swing, footless wanderers, over the power line twenty feet above the road. The left shoe rode a foot higher than the right and there they swayed and bobbed, rocked and dallied before settling in for the long dangle.
Zach’s anger found refuge in silence. Kate tried many times to apologize for the shoes, for her words. He refused her texts, her calls, her appearances at his door. School began again and the Puget sky clouded with winter storms. The shoes whipped in the wind and filled with rain water, spilling onto the roofs of passing cars, splashy memorials to remembered resentments, baptisms of unforgiveness.
After graduation, Zach joined the Marines. He went through boot camp and shipped off to Afghanistan, semper fi to his own hurt. Some weeks later Kate happened to see Zach’s mother at the grocery store. It was there, on the yellow mustard and red ketchup aisle, Kate learned of his deployment. She tried again with letters, hand written and pleading for absolution but the mail carrier would not, could not, return the favor. Zach’s exile was complete.
Not a day went by that Kate didn’t look up at those Nikes. When it rained, she thought about them water logged, swollen and alone, suspended immutable and beyond reach. In summer, they hung parched and cracked, powerless, their logo of action a mockery to her deed.
One day she spotted a sea gull sitting on the left shoe, riding it gracefully on the wind. After that Kate used binoculars to watch for signs of change amidst the bird shit and mildew. She wished she could walk back the words, return them to the unuttered depths where they belonged, place the shoes on Zach’s feet and bring him out of his wandering exile. But words like shoes once worn can never be new again.
After Kate finished college, she found herself still living with her parents on the island, still crossing the bridge to the mainland, still driving under the archway made by Zach’s shoes. Those shoes, they were hardly his anymore, having hung on the wire years longer than he had ever owned them. Now they were the island’s shoes, the gull’s lair. Riding lifts, spotting road kill, the bird’s claim more immanent than a lovers’ spat. After all, O-Chem and calculus, cumma sum and Kubla Khan had dulled Kate’s resentment to the low throb of a senseless high school prank. The shoes meant nothing.
The day before Easter, Kate’s mother asked her to run an errand off-island, last minute supplies for tomorrow’s big dinner. As she neared the bridge Kate noticed the pavement, slick after a night of spring rain, splashed rainbow grease arcs where the shoes hung. That’s when it happened. Those shoes, they landed flatly with a dull double thunk on her windshield, laces rotted, lifeless, a pair of gray refracted hopes. They had not been this close in years. She grasped the Nikes, recalling the first time she held them, briefly, before the toss. And then she remembered the words that had meant nothing: “One of us will die before you’ll touch these again.”