The Man with the Red Shoes
Blood and dead bodies aren't like what they are like in the movies. Not in real life. Not car wrecks. Not even how you feel about them. There aint no music or screaming ladies and there aint no cops running into a fire to rescue babies. Mostly its slow and people just watch and don't do much but shake their heads and say its awful but they don't stop watching.
The one that happened on Moore Road that day was the first one I ever seen. First dead body and first car wreck but not the first blood. I reckon nobody who's been alive very long gone without the blood. Blood's just part of being alive far as I can tell.
I can tell you what happened straight out and I know you'll know that it was a bad day for that ol' boy under the truck and I aint even got to tell you the details. Don't even have to mention the blood or how it looked or that it meant he was dead and you'd know there was blood and there was death and why my sister Gale got so upset to where she was crying all night long about it. Even a special dinner wasn't enough to make her happy. Even me letting her have the top bunk like I never do wasn't enough to stop her sobbing and having nightmares and waking us all up all night long.
What happened was a big ol' eighteen wheeler turned right over on top of another car right there in the middle of the road and I don't know if the boy that ended up dead under it all was in the car or not but he was the one that ended up dead. The one I could see anyway. The truck was hauling eggs and they were busted everywhere too. Gale says all them eggs were little baby chickens and each one was a live baby chicken so I reckon there were lots of things died that day. If you believe what Gale says. If you believe that sort of thing. I aint too sure I do. Hell. That would mean a whole damn city of chickens died that day and that was just one truck so I don't think an egg is a baby chicken and they all died there.
We were all playing in the back yard but I can't remember for the life of me who all it was back there playing. I know Gale had to be there because she was always out playing when the rest of us was. Lee was probably there too because it was summer and summers he stayed with his grandma and grandpa and they was our neighbors back then. I'm almost pure certain the twins that lived in the house on the other side of our house was there because I remember we were playing baseball and those boys loved playing baseball, so they would have definitely been there. Maybe the game hadn't started yet or we was just standing around arguing about where the baseline was because when we heard the crash wasn't none of us that didn't hear it or stop to look at another one of us to figure out what it was we just heard. Had them big eyes like we knew what we heard wasn't good, like was very very bad, but didn't quite want to say what it was we heard. Then right after, had to be just seconds, there was another crash that was more glass and breaking than metal crunching and turning hot and somebody yelled out "Car Crash!" and just like that we was all running around to the front of the house. I expected the whole thing to be right out front there because of how loud the sound was but when we got around front of the house the street was clear. We all stopped running right there and looked around like where the hell is it, and being all confused like maybe we just imagined it but then I seen some folks coming out of their houses and walking down the street and I knew it was on down there and we all took off running again.
People really come out when there is something bloody to see. Might not ever see some folks step outside their door less they got somewhere to be but you get a situation where there could be some blood and some misery and they'll stick their head out like a groundhog sniffing the wind. Even the old folks that got the biggest house on the block and think their shit don't stink come out arm in arm in pretty clothes like they was heading to church. Didn't take us no time at all to get to the corner where it all happened but already there was a whole line of folks waggling their heads and covering their mouths and not doing nothing but eyeing the whole thing.
"That truck done flopped over," somebody said and I was about to talk about how dumb a truck driver had to be to just turn a big ol thing like an eighteen-wheeler on its side like that but then I seen the car up under it so I just kept quiet.
Its like nothing else happened that day. Up to the point that I heard the crash is completely pulled from my memory and burned up in the hellfire of the rest of the day after. Washed away in my tears, and believe you me, I shed many tears that day. I'm sure most people didn't because they didn't know who it was that died. I didn't know who it was that was sent into death under all that broken glass and twisted metal, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel the pain and the sorrow any less. For me it doesn't make it any easier and any less horrible. Death is death. Pain is pain. Just because I don't have a name or a face or history to put with it doesn't mean that I don't feel that sorrow. That's because I have a soul, and all souls are linked together under God's hand. They are all one thing under heaven. If one perishes, a little piece of us all goes with it into the judgement. Maybe there is a lot of people who don't feel that way, or maybe they think I am just too sensitive and being a little girl, but that is how I feel and I cannot deny it.
First thing I remember on that day is standing in the front yard. It was summer and it was deadly hot. I remember I felt so lost. I was confused. There was a screaming in my ear and the whole world was rushing around me. It was my own neighborhood. It was my own home where we had lived for as long as my memory was able to hold, but that day, at that moment, I didn't know where I was. We were trying to figure out where the crash was, but we couldn't see anything. My eyes didn't rest until they rested on old Mrs. Gilbert coming out of her house. She always had a look on her face that is how I feel when I am scared, but that day, it seemed to be in the right place. It wasn't like most times when she called up my daddy because she heard a noise and wanted him to come check it out. When that happened we all knew it was nothing. But my daddy is a christian man and he knows his duty so he goes over every time she calls. Usually, if its not too late I go too, and she always has that look on her face. Scared and shaky like she just might fall apart. But that day after the crash, it was a real look, and I felt just like it inside me. I was a hundred years old that day just like old Mrs. Gilbert. I watched her cross her yard. She clung to her flowered house dress at her chest like she usually does. She was humped over her own belly like usual too. She got out to the end of her sidewalk and put one hand on her hip and one on her cheek and looked up and down the road. There was an awful confusion on her face. I decided I would go to her and talk to her and make her feel not so confused. To tell you the truth, I wanted her to make me not feel so confused either.
"What on earth was that sound?" she asked.
"I think there was a car wreck, Mrs. Gilbert," I said.
I got right up next to her and the hand she had on her hip she put around me and held me close. She smelled like roses and liniment.
"I don't see anything. Are you sure it was a car wreck?"
"No, ma'am," I said. "I just think it was a car wreck," I said.
"Oh, dear," she said like old people always say. "Is your father home?"
"No, ma'am, he's still at work," I said, and before she could ask, I also said, "So is momma."
"Oh, dear," she said.
Thats when I saw Thomas and the twins, Sam and Eric, go running down the street. Mrs. Gilbert raised out her hand and called after them to not go running in the street, but they kept on. I called out Thomas' name and yelled for him to wait, but he wouldn't. He just yelled back, "It's down here, come on!"
That's when we saw that there were other people heading down the street too, but not running like the boys. Mr. and Mrs. Addams walked arm and arm down their driveway even though going through their yard would have been faster. But anyone who knows the Addamses and how they are know they would never walk on their grass. One time I got in trouble for running through their yard and I asked my daddy why they got so mad about it. Its only grass, I said, and he said that it was far too green and way too expensive to be just grass. That's just the way my daddy talked.
Mrs. Gilbert was still looking up and down the road like there was going to be somebody to come along and help her. Maybe to explain things, but everyone had their eyes on down the road and didn't have time for old Mrs. Gilbert. Usually people took their time with her because she'd been in the neighborhood longer than any of us. I think she had been alive longer than anybody in the whole world. On that day, they just didn't have the time. There was something else to see.
"Do you want to go see, Mrs. Gilbert?" I asked, though I knew she would not go. She never went one single inch past the edge of her yard, except on Sunday when the church bus came to pick her up for the 11:00 service. "I'll hold your hand," I said. I said it because I thought that it might make her feel better. Safer. But I also said it because I wanted to have a hand to hold on to. I had a little bit of an idea about what I was going to see, and I knew I was going to go see it no matter what Mrs. Gilbert or anyone else might say, and it would have been nice to have a hand to hold onto.
Mrs. Gilbert only shook her head with her hand on her cheek. She patted me closer to her and she leaned out past her grass to see if she could see anything without taking a step out.
"Do you want to go, Mrs. Gilbert?" I asked again.
"No, Dear. I don't think I do."
It was a truck full of eggs. All spilt across the street like that. I remember the smell. Like grease. Like somebody put out a bunch of cigarettes in a greasy ashtray. Like melted plastic but thats how raw eggs smell to me. Then you cook them and they smell like something worse I wont say.
I remember them slimy all across the road and their shells floating hard in the yellow clear through broken glass and motor oil come run hot out the truck's engine block. All those things, different feels and smells and none of them nice. It was a like a whole slew of things that shouldn't be mixed together come together and the only way it could was that something unnatural happened. Something that had to bring along with it pain and probably death. And most likely a death. Last thing I even seen was the death, and before that the blood. The yolk from the eggs run into the gutter like a snotty river. The water and oil running across the overturned truck engine hissed like steam. When I followed the egg running and mixing in with the dark fluid along the gutter that I slowly realized was blood, it was that steamy hiss was all I could hear. It took over everything. I don't even think it was blood what I thought the darker stuff was, but like my body knew. Like it knew its own without me even having to have the thought in my head. Hell, I can't really say what was the first thing I knew against the first thing I saw. We was in such a hurry to just see something that its almost like all of a sudden we were into a thing we probably shouldn't have never seen. Not that young anyhow. I didn't think that at the time, but I think it now. Took a while to come round to knowing it. Seemed like Gale knew it right off, the nightmares and all, but I didn't.
Fact of the matter is it was the legs. Like everything was leading right to them. All the oil and the egg stuff and water and the pitch in the road that ran to the gutter to where it got dark with blood. My eyes just followed it cause I wanted to see something. See something I aint never seen. Hell, I wanted to see blood but not blood like that. Thinking back on it nowadays I wanted to see blood like in the movies. Not blood like it really is. Blood like it really is is dark and it runs thick. It aint red water like the movies. But what really was the kicker was the legs. Everything was confusing and unreal til I seen them and then I knew what it all was. Where the truck had turned over, under it was a car. Station wagon, and it curled up and squashed flat so you could hardly see it and under that, a pair of naked, white legs with red running shoes. They didn't look dead. They didn't look alive either. I think I was trying to tell myself that I was not seeing what I knew damn good and well I was. The skin was white and like see-through with lines of dark blood running through the hairs. No, not like the movies, and not really like when it comes out of me. Not red. More like black barely stained red. That skin right up to where the running boards of the car lay pressed into the flesh. Right there was a faint line of blue. I remember looking for so long and telling myself what they were, legs, almost like I had to talk myself into it. Like there were two people standing right there in the same spot looking at the same thing. One of them saying what it was but the other not believing. The one part of me just staring saying to the other part, "Those are human legs. That is a person under there and thats their legs and they are dead." What kept happening was I kept running my eyes down to those red shoes. Looked brand new. Tied tight in a double knot. In all that, them shoes was the only thing thats real.
I wished I hadn't waited for Mrs. Gilbert to come with me. I knew the entire time she wouldn't come along, but I really wanted someone to hold my hand. I wanted it so bad that by the time Mrs. Gilbert got tired of me asking and suggested I just go inside and wait for my father, everybody else was already down the road and there was no one else to ask.
I walked back to our yard and I sat on the porch steps and watched Mrs. Gilbert go back inside. She still had her hand on her cheek and she shook her head and had that worried look. Hunched over and slow and still she clutched at the chest of her flowered house dress. I waited until she went inside and I waited longer still because I knew she would take one or two more peaks through her living room window.
I waited too because I didn't have a hand to hold. There wasn't anyone to walk with. I sat on the porch steps daring myself to go. I dared myself and called myself names like chicken and scaredy cat like Thomas does because when he does those things I'll do whatever I'm scared to do just to prove he's wrong. I guess it only works when Thomas does it, because still I didn't move. I heard the sirens come and all kinds of commotion, but I couldn't go. I couldn't even stand up.
I prayed for the strength to go. I wanted to go. I wanted to see the... and then I got a flash in my head about what it was that I was asking God Almighty to let me go see. Right then and there I felt such a shame I cried just a little. I thought of all the things people need the Lord's help with and here I was asking him to make me not a scared little girl. I was asking him to go gawk at the pain and misfortune of others. What kind of person was I? And to think I tried so hard to talk poor, little old Mrs. Gilbert to go too, even though I knew right from the start she didn't want to. Just like the little girl I am when I want a toy or candy and I do that thing where I ask enough and ask and ask and ask so that my momma will get tired of the asking and give me what I want. I was that way for Mrs. Gilbert. And for what. Finally I just prayed for God to forgive me for praying for such an awful reward, and for being that kind of little girl.
I decided what was best for God was for me to be brave and for me to stand up and walk down the road all on my own, with my own hand to hold, and see what I wanted to see.
I stood and so many of the steps were easy. They were easy out of the yard and past Mrs. Gilbert's yard where I kept my eyes straight ahead in case she was looking out her window. I didn't want her to see me seeing her when I was doing something I knew she didn't want me to do. It was easy steps past Mr. and Mrs. Addams' house and the house of the weird sisters whose parents didn't let them play with other children and made them all have the same haircut and wear those strange shorts that looked like a skirt when you stood still. It was easy until I saw all the people at the intersection and the red and the blue lights flashing over them and I could smell a very strange smell.
"You boys need to go on home," Mr. Addams said to us.
I only looked up for a minute and then away. I tried so hard to connect those shoes with the legs and the dark, swirly sludge of blood and oil and yolk collecting at the curb right at our feet. Them other boys kept pulling at me trying to get me to go off with them and then there was Mr. Addams but I couldn't take my eyes from it. I even wanted to reach down and feel of it. Feel the legs. I knew if I did I would see that they were plastic. I could tell everybody just go on home cause it was all a joke. Somebody done set us all up. Damnit, boys, we been fooled. But then them boys kept pulling on me and Mr. Addams was getting down right insistent like I was just supposed to do what ever he said to do cause he was an old man even though he was standing there doing the exact same goddamn thing I was doing.
It was right then with old man Addams barking in one ear and them boys pulling on me and my eyes glued to that horrible thing in front of me that I done went cold. Felt as cold as them legs looked and everything got real bright. It was summertime and damn right at high noon but still it got brighter and me all cold. The sounds all around me seemed shot off way in the distance like I was at one end of a tunnel and the sirens and the chatter and old man Addams way off at the other end. It was like I was cold and all that blood and goop down on the street was the only warm thing, but then getting away from it, running off with them boys was the only other warm thing and I could either jump into the bloody street or I could run. One or the other but which ever it was I better do it right then or I was going to freeze solid and not draw another breath again. And it wasn't just warmth I was aching to get to but like there was a song in it. Some kind of sound that could keep me warm but keep me safe too and it was way down deep in the middle of that unreal darkness in the blood. A place that wasn't just seen but had to be felt too. But that wasn't the only place. There was somewhere out away, maybe at the other end of the tunnel-like, where I could go off with them boys and I could get to that sound and that feel. Like either way was the right way and I better make that choice fast. I tell you, and I know now I made the right choice, even though really it wasn't no choice but what I just went ahead and done, but I went off with them boys and we barreled through that crowd of people and didn't go back and I can say I didn't need to because what I seen was something I'll never get out of my head till the day I die. On that day I'll trade death for death and I hope seeing as it is a death of my own it won't leave me like it done when I saw the man with the red shoes.