New White Shoes
By Leigh Goodnight
They missed their bus. The bus was at the stop when they got there, but it sprang away from the curb and fled when it saw them. So the woman and man stayed at the bus stop and waited.
The woman sat down on the bench, whimpering at the heat. The man stood and glared at the blazing sky. A smashed paper bag oozing red and orange lay in one corner of the shelter. The woman noticed it and moved to the other side of the bench.
A young woman with long blond hair came to the bus stop and settled on the end of the bench next to the paper bag. She wore a tight magenta shirt and clashy jewelry. When, a minute later, a blond man stopped next to her, the young woman did not look up from her pink phone. The man, in his mid-thirties, was holding a clear plastic bag full of shoes. The shoes were as white and clean and blocky as marshmallows. Rapper shoes. The blond man stood next to the blond girl and stared down at her through white-rimmed sunglasses. "Having a nice day?" he said, head tilting. He swayed slightly.
"I guess," she said.
The other woman on the bench stared unsmiling at the man with the sack.
"What kind of work you do?" the shoe man asked the pink girl. He grabbed the collar of his sweaty oversized polo shirt and jerked it around as if it were burning his skin.
"I'm a teller," she mumbled, glancing from her phone to the street.
"Cool," said the blond man, letting his bag droop a little but not enough to touch the gum-speckled sidewalk. "Cool. You work around here?"
The girl got up then, her bus approaching. Hissing, the bus sank to the sidewalk and slapped open its doors.
"Nice meeting you," the shoe man said as the girl climbed on.
He sat down on the bench, resting the sack of shoes against his leg.
"Damn, I forgot my sunscreen again." He lifted his sunglasses to squint at the man and woman. His face glowed red. "I meant to pick it up this morning, you know, but I always forget."
"Yes, you must be careful in the sun," the woman said. Her face was flushed deep pink from the heat.
"How's your day going?" the man with the bag asked.
"Well," said the other man, who wore a short beard. His head, like the woman's, bore a straw hat.
"We visited the city today, on the train," the woman said. "We are from Norway."
"Norway, eh?" the shoe man said. He scratched vigorously at his forehead. There were several raw sores there, and a few on his nose. "Downtown is okay, not like the west side. I fucking hate the west side. This is a fucking hellhole." He spread his arms to indicate their current location.
"Oh, really?" the woman said, edging toward her partner.
"Yeah, it's like, just fucking strip malls and parking lots," the shoe man said, leaning toward the couple. "There's nothing here, no culture, no music scene, nothing."
The man and woman grinned as if in pain, chuckling. They exchanged quick glances.
"You are right," said the woman.
A lightning-yellow corvette revved through the intersection and screamed past the bus stop.
"Asshole!" squealed the shoe man. He jabbed his hands in the air. "Man, as soon as I can, I'm leaving this goddamn state. I hate this whole fucking state, you know what I mean?"
"Where will you go?" the woman said, leaning into her partner.
"Seattle or Boston or maybe Europe, like my dad. Anywhere but here. At least in Seattle they don't take away your benefits. And the weather in Seattle is great. People here, they love the sun so much. It goes behind a cloud for one second and they freak. I fucking hate the sun. As soon as it comes out I'm dead, you know?"
The Norwegian couple looked around for the bus as he talked, but he continued as if they were engrossed.
"Arizona takes away your food stamps, takes away your unemployment benefits. I got a full-time scholarship to ASU, but the state says I got to get a full-time job. How am I supposed to work full-time and take classes? No fucking way!"
The Norwegians pushed their heads up and down. "That is terrible," the woman said, putting one hand on her partner's arm.
"Yeah, I fucking hate this place. They don't like good music here. They just listen to dubstep. The industry started pushing it, and cunts like Skrillex, and then all the cunts around here went crazy for it."
The shoe man paused to suck in more air.
"Dubstep makes you want to kill people. Just like boooosh bawaowwaowwaowwaow dddrrrrtttttt boosh makes me want to fucking kill people."
Spray from his sound effects landed on the couple, who leaned away from him. The shoe man scooted closer and continued.
"I don't play that shit. I play trance and house. I deejay at the Moonbow, you know. We have gorgeous raves there, everyone getting into the music and chilling, getting into the good stuff, getting high, you know, not illegally or anything, just the legal stuff. Of course if the cops come, they shut us down anyway, say we're dealing. But we have a real safe rave. Not like some raves where girls get raped in the corner or someone gets knifed or some poor assfucker oh-dees in the toilet stall. I play some real good shit out there. It's going down at the Moonbow this Friday-Friday the 13th."
"Oh?" the woman said, fidgeting her hands.
"Yeah, it's our halfway-to-Halloween rave. You should come out."
"We will be in another city then," said the Norwegian man, taking his hat off and putting it on again. Like the woman, he was young.
"You know," the shoe man said, "my old man taught me everything I know about music. He's from Germany. A couple of years ago he went back with nothing but $51,000 and a suitcase. Said fuck the U.S.A. It's not a free country. Fuck the flag. All that shit. And I agree with him. It sure as hell's not a free country."
He paused to let the Norwegians voice their agreement, but they were looking down the street for the bus.
The shoe man resumed. "Now my dad, he plays bass for a jazz band, the Jelly Rolls, they're real big over there. He never could get a following over here, but in Germany he's got one, two million fans."
Turning her gaze from the road, the woman raised her eyebrows, "Oh yes? I didn't know jazz was popular in Germany."
"Yeah, you know, it didn't used to be, but it really blew up in the past ten years." He fingered a sore above his eye.
"We visited Germany a year ago," said the Norwegian man. "It is a beautiful country."
A truck jacked up on monster wheels roared past, its stereo shaking their teeth. "Motherfucking shitface!" the man screamed, jerking his bag of shoes into the air. "Makes me want to fucking kill people." Cords in his neck stood out as he glared down the road. The truck had kicked a deflated Wal-Mart bag a few feet above the asphalt. The bag spiraled for a second before drifting back to the street.
The man with the sack shifted on the bench, leaning closer to the couple. "Yeah, my dad taught me you gotta do what you love and love what you do. He's gonna die of lung cancer any day now, but he's happier than he's ever been. Told me, 'son, you gotta to rely on God, he's the only one who's gonna look out for you'."
He leaned back to stare at the couple as they bobbed their heads doubtfully, shooting nervous glances at each other.
He jutted his jaw and pushed his scorched lips out, as if he were speaking German. "You know Linkin Park?"
The couple shook their heads.
"Well, the frontman, we used to hang out. He grew up here and we would hang at the same clubs. We worked together for a while, too. Real crazy guy, talented as shit."
The Norwegian woman tapped her partner on the wrist. He leaned over as she whispered something in his ear. At the same time, a tall old man and a young woman, child on hip, arrived at the bus stop. The Norwegians glanced at the new, dark-skinned people.
The Norwegian woman stood up and turned to the old man who had just arrived. "I was sitting a long time; she can sit here now." She pointed to the young woman and child. The old man, whose face was a brown, pockmarked shield, looked down at the woman from high cheekbones and said nothing. He shuffled to one side of the bus stop and propped himself against it. The mother lowered her child to a grassless spot between the bus stop and a Wendy's drive- thru and ignored everyone.
The sun was losing its heat; shadows stretched across the street and groped people's legs. The Norwegian woman craned her neck at an approaching bus.
"Is that our bus?" she said, her voice yearning.
The old man suddenly leaned over the shoe man and asked him to change a twenty.
"Sure, man, sure, no problem." The shoe man grabbed the side of the shelter and swung himself awkwardly to his feet, keeping the bag next to him. He stood, legs far apart, his torso see-sawing back and forth as if he had just gotten off a tilt-a-whirl and was catching his balance. He pulled a fat wallet out of his loose, black pants and tried to count twenty dollars in bills.
The bus stopped in front of them; the mother and child boarded. The Norwegians did not because it was not their bus. The old man stared at the bus as the shoe man tried and retried to count his wad of bills, swaying and stumbling. By the time the man with the shoes had thrust a handful of dollars at the old man and taken the twenty, the bus had slammed its doors. The Norwegian woman waved at the bus to reopen, but it began to pull away from the curb.
A horn blared close by: bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
A swerving Dodge van rushed toward the bus stop, honking a continuous note. The old man raised his hand and the van leapt across several lanes of traffic into the Wendy's drive- thru. The Dodge looked as if it had escaped from cinderblocks in someone's front yard. A few flakes of tan paint still clung to it, like scraps on a gnawed bone.
The old man pulled himself into the van, which lurched back into traffic, weaving crazily and squealing its bald tires.
Shadows were reaching further now.
The shoe man wobbled closer to the couple. He held the old man's twenty dollar bill up to the sky and stared through it. "Man, that does not look real."
He waved the bill in the couple's faces. "Hey, does this look real to you?"
The woman glanced at it.
"Maybe it looks strange," she said, wrapping her arms around herself, "but I do not know American money very well."
"Shit! What am I gonna do with a fake twenty?" the man said, sticking the bill in his wallet and shoving the wallet back in his pants. He tipped toward the Norwegians, who stepped back. He was rocking wildly, grabbing the waistband of his pants and jerking it downwards.
"Hey, you know, you should take the train down to Tempe lake. It is fucking beautiful." Both hands gripped his waistband. They jiggled it up and down, then tugged it further down. The Norwegians stared at the pants. A knife hilt peeked out, near his navel.
The shoe man's body waved like a palm tree in the wind. "Hey, nothing beats riding the monorail down to the lake. Take a few shrooms, sit back, get mellow, look out across that luscious water."
After a pause he said, "You can do it sober, too, of course." He sounded as if this would be a bad idea.
The Norwegians wrapped their arms around each other and looked desperately down the road.
"Yeah, you just take some shrooms and chill and it's great, out there at the lake." The shoe man yanked his pants down further. The knife, sheathed in a leather scabbard, danced along the waistband.
The woman said, "Excuse me, I am wondering, why do you have the bag of shoes?"
The man grabbed the bag with both arms, glaring at the couple. "The landlord at my motel asked me to get them cleaned for him," he snapped. He began edging away. He held the bag as if nursing it, rocking back and forth to some jittery tune in his head.
The bus groaned to a stop.
It gurgled and sighed open its doors. The Norwegians got on and fled to the very back. They pressed against each other and tried to shield themselves with their hats.
As the shoe man started to climb in behind them, a weedy young man with wild hair and ripped clothes appeared from nowhere and cut in front. He jostled the bag of shoes and knocked it onto the gum-stained sidewalk. A single white shoe spilled out of the sack, like a still-born calf. The shoe man cursed loudly and pounced, shoving the shoe back into the bag.
"Fuck it!" he screamed, and the Norwegians heard him through the bus windows. "Fuck it, motherfuckers! I don't wanna ride your fucking bus! I hope it fucking crashes and burns! You can all blow up in a fireball and die shitting yourselves!"
He cradled the bag close to his chest and sprinted down the sidewalk, back the way the bus had come.
lives in the Phoenix metro area and writes stories about odd people and strange situations.