Exciting for me this is my first fictional short story that has been published! I was not sure what to write so I Googled “trigger words” and picked the word “sneakers”. I hope you enjoy the story.
by Mark LaGrone
Standing next to the trashcan, his hand hovered above the dark hole. How could he just nonchalantly drop them into the bucket like leftover coffee grounds? He looked intently at the shoes. He remembered the first time he pulled them from the box. They were bright and shiny and had that awakening smell of new leather. Now they looked more like a shoe version of the velveteen rabbit. Why was this so hard? They were just an ordinary pair of sneakers, nothing special. His mind drifted back to the day he first saw them.
He had seen them in the window. Nothing in particular made them stand out. They were dull by some standards. Yet, something triggered a feeling inside him. Maybe it was a throwback to his childhood or some form of subtle advertising that reached only his subconscious, he did not even remember. But oh, that feeling of oneness and comfort; it was like meeting someone for the first time, yet feeling like you’d known them all your life. He just knew he had to have them no matter what they cost.
Five years out of college and he still dressed like he was a sophomore: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Who needed more than that? Change and growing up was hard. Not wanting to conform, but still not wanting to stay the same. A lot of life had happened since the first day that the shoes came out of the box. Gradually his peers had transitioned their wardrobes. His best friend from high school, Toby, was not even recognizable. He always had longer hair, not quite ponytail length, but longer than the average man’s. He looked as if he should be on the cover of a Nashville music album, scruffy stubble on his thin muscular face, ripped jeans and shirt halfway tucked into his jeans. After graduation, Toby had landed a job in a law office, and suddenly he changed overnight. Toby became Tobias. The hair, corporate cut; face, clean-shaven; nails, manicured; clothing, Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss. His friends were making changes and growing; why did he hate it so?
His sneakers were still new and could be worn to events, especially by a recent college graduate. Getting married seemed to be the only traditional thing he was doing in his life. The ceremony was a casual affair held in the park where they met. There were no creases in the leather, yet somehow it seemed appropriate to start their marriage relationship together wearing his sneakers. He looked at his bride and wondered how God had blessed him with such an unbelievable person. They had started dating his senior year in high school and continued their relationship through college. She was a vital part of everything on campus: cheerleader, Editor of the paper, and high-ranking member of some sorority whose Greek letters he could never remember. She was outgoing and the exact opposite of him. He preferred to stay in the shadows. He only had three real friends growing up, but they were closer than brothers were.
Now he was standing across from her in his new pair of sneakers, jeans that were dark, and a starched shirt. Wearing a white summer dress, she looked more beautiful than ever. They were starting their new life together. The minister finished the ceremony, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Six weeks later when he was interviewing for a new job, he woke up that morning and laced up his sneakers. If his mom knew he was wearing sneakers to a job interview, she would have killed him. He did not care. It was a casual environment, and he thought if they wanted him, it needed to be based on what he could bring to the job, not what he looked like. Besides, when he dropped off his application, he had seen some guys around the office wearing Khakis with sneakers.
He always thought that was a weird look, but he thought he would give it a try since it was an interview. When he walked into the office he began to feel out of place, but it was too late now. Everyone had on a coat and tie. He gritted his teeth and walked into the interview. They glanced down at his shoes as they were making notes. Forty-five minutes later, he walked out with the job, shoes and all. It was a good feeling. After his marriage and the job interview, they had become his “lucky” shoes.
Three years later as he was walking down the hall of the hospital, his shoes squeaked and made light noises. He turned into the room where his wife was laying. There was a slight noise like the cooing of a dove. He looked down at his new, healthy, infant daughter. Thankfully, she looked more like her mother than him. They both looked beautiful as the baby snuggled next to his wife. They had been trying to have children for two years, and when he got the news, he was both nervous and excited. People asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” all the time. Truthfully, he did not care; he only wanted the baby to be healthy. Now in this moment, he realized that he did not know anything about girls. He was raised in a family of boys who wrestled and punched each other growing up. His thoughts were every parent’s first thoughts. “I hope I don’t screw her up.” Yes, they were his lucky shoes.
The shoes ran out of luck two years later as he sat beside his dad in the hospital. Of course, even lucky shoes could not overcome bad eating habits, two packs a day, and no exercise. Still, hope lingered. His dad had been his mentor, advisor and friend. He was always vibrant and full of life. Now he lay here in the bed, pale and drifting in and out of consciousness. For the first time in his life, his dad looked helpless. The two of them had always been able to fix any situation and problem. This time there was no fixing. You just had to accept. All he could do was pray and trust God. He knew that one day he would see his dad again in heaven, but it still hurt to lose someone you loved and admired.
He thought about the day they buried his father. He endured the pain of the tight dress shoes that were appropriate with a coat and tie. Funny how he felt numb everywhere except his feet, they were in pain. How did people wear this kind of shoe every day? All he could think about was getting out of these shoes and back into his sneakers. Finally, after the last person left he made a quick exit. He laced up the shoes that, after five years, perfectly outlined his feet, imperfections and all. Together they raced out the door, running with no particular direction except only to escape. Twenty minutes, thirty, forty-five, he kept going. Tears streaming down his face and the cold wind blowing, he just wanted to keep going. When he could run no more, his lungs burning, out of breath, he bent over at the waist looking down at the shoes that had been his daily companion for so long. They were becoming worn and scuffed.
His wife said, “Things don’t last forever, you need to replace your shoes.” Yes, he knew that—just as he knew they had developed a “certain smell”, but still they had been through so much together. How could she suggest that he throw them away? Did she not know they were his lucky shoes? They had been together through their marriage, his job, and their child. All of that was due in part to his lucky shoes.
Looking down at the dark hole once again, he began to notice the fading whiteness, the numerous holes, and the paper-thin rubber soles of his shoes. Thump! The sound seemed so loud when the shoes hit the bottom of the trashcan. Maybe they were like a certain Velveteen Rabbit from a children’s story where they were worn down by being loved too much. Crazy to be an adult and miss a pair of shoes; yet, to him they were a friend and a constant companion.
There was a pair of leather Alden shoes that had caught his eye in a window yesterday. They cost more than four pair of his sneakers added together. Maybe it was time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to grow up and change.