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Verge 2013: Becoming

BROWN BOOTS

Nicola Kilpatrick

He walked along the winding pebbled path that threaded its way through the park. It was a strange park—no flowers, no trees, only a few shrubs dotted throughout the uneven, rectangular patch of ground.

He reached the end of the path, which stopped abruptly a few metres from the crooked wooden fence that divided the park from the grey suburbia beyond. His feet felt heavy in his brown leather boots as he navigated his way across the yellowed grass.

He only wore the boots on weekends. When he had seen them on display in the shop window of an establishment that boasted a connection with the outdoors, he’d walked in, hoping no one would notice his grey suit and grey hair and his polished black shoes. He purchased the boots, blushing under the skeptical gaze of the shop attendant. He hoped the boots would connect him to something that existed outside plasterboard walls painted in nondescript colours. But, so far, they had only connected him to the park, a park that few people attended because the Council ran out of money before it was completed.

He walked towards a large, flat rock embedded in scraggly tufts of grass. A small, shy smile played on his lips as he lowered himself onto the rock. Smoothed by years of wind and rain, the rock was both familiar and strange—nature’s seat, comfortable but unyielding. He glanced around: the park was deserted. He took off his boots and placed them beside him on the rock. He removed his socks, tucked them into his jacket pocket and placed his bare feet on the ground.

He felt the grass between his toes.

*

He watched the glaring red numbers of the digital wall clock turn over and signal the end of the day. He picked up his briefcase and began to put little things inside it—pens, paper clips, his stapler. He had always packed, unpacked and re-packed his briefcase each day, working on reports that had seemed so important. The outer wall of the office now had his name on it, so he wasn’t expected to work late anymore. He’d been told many times that he wasn’t expected to come in to work at all, but the office was familiar and it provided a little variation from his spacious, silent house.

He looked across at a photograph in a silver frame beside a computer that he didn’t use. He studied the faces of a pretty, middle-aged woman and a lad of about seventeen, frozen in time inside the frame. The photo was old. His son was an adult now, an adult with a family.

‘Robert?’

He looked up to see the tightly smiling face of one of the newly-appointed managers. They always smiled at him. The younger people in the office treated him like a great uncle to whom you spoke nicely at Christmas.

‘We’re just about to lock up. Are you finished for the day?’

He nodded and finished packing his briefcase.

That evening at home he stacked the dishwasher, which was only a quarter full, and walked into the lounge room to sit on his couch with cushions so large they dwarfed him. He blinked at the big flat-screen television. He felt nervous about programming it, so instead he watched only one channel. He glanced at the old, corded telephone mounted on the wall.

He eased out of the sunken couch cushions and walked to the phone. After pressing the numbers that he knew by heart he listened to the dial tone for a few moments. Then a child picked up and started babbling excitedly. He overheard a brief tussle for the phone before a man came on and hurriedly said hello.

‘Er—Jeffrey?’

‘Yes, who’s this?’

He cleared his throat. ‘It’s Robert. Er—Dad.’

‘Oh.’ There was a pause. ‘Is everything all right?’

‘Yes.’ He twirled the phone cord around his fingers. He could hear the sound of laughter in the background. ‘Is everything all right with you?’

‘Yes, we’re fine. Look—Dad, now’s not really a good time …’

‘Oh, sorry.’

‘That’s fine. Good talking to you.’

‘Yes.’

‘Goodbye, Dad.’

He heard a click and then the customary beeping sound. He looked at the handset and wondered what the sound was for. Perhaps some people needed a reminder that their conversation had ended.

*

He hadn’t planned to go to the park that day. He listened to the scrape of his polished black shoes as he walked along the pebbled path. He was surprised to discover that he missed his boots. They didn’t make his feet more comfortable, but they made him feel comfortable, almost as though they helped him to belong, to become a part of the park.

He left the path and walked to the rock. He took off his shoes; they didn’t match the rock—they only matched the office, full of people doing things for other people inside other offices.

The following day he handed over a single sheet of paper marked with a single sentence. He watched the young man grimace as he scanned over the sentence. ‘Are you sure about this?’

‘Yes, I’m sure,’ he replied. ‘It’s time.’

The young man nodded, then gave him a smile, a real smile this time. ‘It’s been a pleasure working with you, Robert.’

*

He felt his feet sweating in his boots as he stood on the porch, holding a shoebox under his arm. He reached out his hand and knocked on the dark wooden door. He heard a child call out, and then the door opened. His son stood in the doorway.

‘Dad?’

‘Er—this is for you.’ He handed over the shoebox. Jeffrey raised his eyebrows before he opened it. Inside was a new pair of brown boots.

‘I was wondering if you wanted to go on a hike with me. Well, not really a hike—it’s just a park.’

He studied Jeffrey’s face. It was unreadable.

He watched his son put on the boots.

Verge 2013: Becoming

   by Peter Dawncy and Camille Eckhaus