My shoes are old and frayed around the soles. A lot like me. Frayed soles, frayed souls, my granny used to say. She noticed a man’s shoes before she noticed anything else about him, his eyes or his suit or even his hair. When I was young, I wore cap toe oxfords, spit polished. Now I wear whatever I can find in the church charity bin.
I’m proud of my hair, though. You got worth if you got good hair, is what I always say. I’m not one of those old geezers who comb a few leftover wisps of sad gray over a bald skull. Not me. I’ve got a full head. Thick and strong. It’s steel gray and been that way since I was twenty two. Haven’t felt a woman’s hands in my hair since…let’s just say it’s been a long, long time. But I see them look at it, the meals-on-wheels ladies, the district nurse. I see their fingers aching to stroke it. Until they look down and see my shoes.
I remember when I had a wife. Her closet smelled of alpine roses, of plums, of something dark and secret, and her clothes were silk, satin and finger-tip light. My closet smelled of leather and wool and my shoes, the measure of a man, lined up like soldiers, the oxfords, brogues, the two-toned. My suits and shirts were sorted by color on their hangers, sharp pressed.
Today her closet is hollow, her scent faded among the empty hangers. Mine’s gone to the dogs and smells like it. One pair of shoes, one sheepskin slipper, the other taken by rats or simply lost. A suit that’s seen better days. Two purple shirts. Purple? Don’t ask me why, cos I don’t remember.
Today they’re coming to collect me. For my own good, they say. I spit on my shoes, rub them on my pillowcase but it don’t make no difference. They’re still frayed and old. I try on one of the purple shirts. Button’s missing. Never mind. My suit is tight across my chest but covers the shirt where it doesn’t close. I toss the single slipper under the bed.
They say there are more women than men in the rest home, Hartley’s Home for the Aged and Infirm. I stand in front of the mirror and comb my hair. Feel the life in it, the iron of it. I form a cowlick over my forehead. Spray on the stuff the grandkids gave me last Christmas. Smells like sea mist.
I hear Sam’s car pull up outside. Footsteps on the path. Sybil’s high heels tap tapping a measure of her spite. Sam’s stride, uncertain and slow. I wonder how he feels. Sad for me? Embarrassed by himself, more like.
One final look in the mirror. My hair’s ready. I’m ready.
I walk downstairs to meet them.
Helen Rossiter was born in Kenya, educated in England and raised a family in New Zealand before immigrating to Canada where she freelances as a business and promotional copywriter. Her first short story was published when she was nine. Fiction awards of which she is most proud include winner of the Alice Munro Festival Short Story contest and winner of the Canadian Authors Association short story contest. Recent fiction appears in Byline, Story Shack Magazine, The Avatar Review and Club House Press.