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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

‘Your recent donation has been issued to Stepping Hill Hospital. Every donation counts’

Frank’s boots were a donation. Whoever had worn them previously had not known Frank, but had wanted someone like Frank to have his hiking boots. Someone like Frank? Did the donor hope the man might be honest, kind, clean of drugs and alcohol, a romantic wanderer broken by a lost love? Or someone simply in want of boots, his feet entitled to aid regardless of the virtues or roguishness of their owner.

Maybe the donor had not been the wearer, but his surviving partner, who in grief allowed the boots another trek on the roads and hills, laced to new feet. Maybe the dead man’s heart, kidneys and liver had been given away too, in the hope that the deserving sick would achieve great things with his innards – or the undeserving would be saved and turn around their lives in awe at altruism and modern medicine.

There again, perhaps the boots were given out of spite, in the scattering of a faithless lover’s wardrobe. ‘Oh, he’d hate to think some dosser was wearing his precious, bloody boots. Well, sod him.’

The night shelter spiffed up the boots with laces in green and yellow stripes. Frank swore you could see them in the dark, swore that they were radioactive in the way of old alarm clocks, swore they were a secret tracking device – featuring on a map of the city as a blinking red dot inching along the canal towpath or pausing under bridges. (Frank swore a good deal in the other way too, all day and in his sleep. Bugger was his favourite word. It suited his West Country burr better than fuck and fucker. It was a less harsh term, with a range of meaning that, for Frank, included affection.)

On the soles of the boots, the treads were all but gone, though Frank could trace the zigzag pattern, and the remaining rubber was sound. The heels were worn on the instep. Frank thought that odd. For an hour he practiced a gait that could bring such wear about, but it set his knees off. ‘Funny bugger,’ said Frank.

The leather uppers were in good nick except around the toes, which were liberally scraped. Frank imagined a devout pilgrim on a track across the Pyrenees, praying on the rough ground in front of successive shrines; because of the delay, putting up at hostels late, and missing out on hot water. Not that Frank was much acquainted with hot water nowadays, except for a recent shower he had been urged to take. It felt invigorating in the old way, and he wished he had company, though that had set his knees off too, the last time.

His luck changed. Mornings after too much cider – most mornings – he woke dry, sometimes even comfortable. This had not often been the case in wet weather, and Frank attributed his improved fortune to the boots, laces notwithstanding.

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