Valentine’s Day may have gone by our Pete-less household without a celebration of love and romance, but it was not without drama.
There were no hugs, kisses, flowers or chocolate, but there was an attempt at compassion and caring, though the outcome of this effort ended up with pain, suffering, remorse, and a deadly hangover, it was all unintentional.
It all started the evening before V Day; I’d gone to the recycle centre to do my good green thing and, when I’d finished, I noticed the sheepskin boots in the share shed. They looked new, and they looked to be my size. Scarcely believing my good fortune, I tried them on and there they were – a lovely Valentine’s Day gift from the universe; a reward for being an eco-conscious householder.
When I got home I gloated over them; they were indeed new, and fashionable, with studs in a design on the front. I had seen Brittany Spears, that embodiment of all that is cool, wearing this very style of boot in a photo in People magazine. I decided to take them out for a walk.
It’s been mild for this time of the year; the melting resulting in very slippery surfaces everywhere. Though I was cautious, I didn’t even make it to the gate before feeling my feet go out from under me. I landed hard, but luckily on my butt, which meant no serious injury but a guarantee of some bruising. After crawling into the house, I examined the soles of my new footwear and discovered them to be smooth as glass. Clearly, these boots were made for walking on LA pavement, or carpets, but not on snow and ice. Feeling as ripped off as if I had bought the boots, I jumped in the truck and took them back to the share shed.
I think it was about 3 a.m. when I was hit by the thought that I had been a poor citizen and a lousy human being. Instead of destroying the boots or at the very least leaving a note of warning on them, I had thoughtlessly passed them on to some other unsuspecting person. I spent a black and dismal hour imagining different scenarios involving the boots: a senior, falling and breaking a hip, getting pneumonia and then dying. Or a young mother, falling down her stairs with her baby in her arms, both of them seriously injured and then dying. I saw a pretty teenage girl, her whole life ahead of her, sitting in a wheelchair; the innocent victim of this deadly footwear. Out of despair at her changed circumstances, she committed suicide, or so I imagined.
Finally I got up, resolved to go and get the boots and bring them back. I would take them to the dump and throw them into the burning pit; an appropriate ending for the boots from hell.
For some reason, probably a feeling of guilt and shame, I garbed myself all in black for this return trip to the share shed. I looked like a cat burglar; I’d even pulled a balaclava over my head and grabbed our big emergency flashlight on the way out the door. I parked my truck in front of the hardware store and walked to the recycle centre, nervous of how well my black outfit showed up against the snow. When I got to the shed I realized I’d forgotten the black packsack in which I was to bring the boots back to my house, an oversight which necessitated another drive. The second time, I left the truck behind the Northern Lights Centre where it could not be seen unless someone were to drive right into the parking lot and I could think of no reason why anyone be doing that at 4 in the morning. This time, with the knapsack on my back, I was in the shed when a police car cruised by, causing me to feel positively faint with fear.
I could not imagine what the fuzz were doing riding around town at this hour. Had someone called to report my truck? Or worse, the sighting of a black figure behaving in a furtive manner at the recycle depot? I crouched in the shed, heart hammering, until the car had gone back the way it’d come. My search for the boots was hurried, but with the aid of the powerful light, it was thorough, and I was forced to acknowledge the boots were gone. Sick with remorse, I drove home.
The next day was Valentine’s Day and I went to the recycle centre again, with a mission; I would persuade Barb to help me track down the boots and I would phone the new owner and warn them of their peril. The following events could only occur in a small town, and I swear, Uma, I am relating to you exactly what happened.
The woman who’d picked up the boots was known to Barb, and she was able to also tell me that the new and unsuspecting potential victim of the boots did not have a telephone. Further sleuthing found the location of the woman’s house and I drove there right away, fired with the determination to be a do right citizen.
Unfortunately, the woman was not prepared to hear me out. She was of the firm conviction that I was a Jehovah Witness and stood in her open doorway berating me in a language most colourful, and loud. It wasn’t until I spotted her freshly bruised cheek and hand that I was able to get her attention. Pointing at the injuries, and hoping they were what I thought they were and not the result of a marital dispute, I yelled “Boots! Boots! You fell wearing the boots!”
This had the effect of striking her dumb, and she regarded me with a growing wonder, as she gestured me inside the house. I think she was preparing to ascribe me with true religious power, so amazed was her expression; like someone who was seeing miracle healing, or a winning lottery ticket. I hurriedly explained my mission.
“Goddamned boots nearly killed me,” she said “I give ‘em away. I ain’t givin’ no room to shit like them boots.”
Aghast, I asked who she’d given them to. It took some persuading to get her to tell me who she’d chosen to be the recipient, but finally she admitted she’d taken them to her mother in law. It took even more cajoling to get her to come with me to her mother in law’s home and get the boots back. On our way, she told me her name was Bev, and that ‘the old bitch’ would never give us the boots.
Bev was right; once again I was taken for a Jehovah’s Witness, and once again I was loudly abused. When Bev was able to say what we wanted, the curses only got more creative. We ended up going back to Bev’s to have a beer and talk about mothers in law, a subject in which we found we had much in common.
At some point I remembered the Yak Trax. I’d bought a pair in Whitehorse, that place of icy streets and sidewalks, and after wearing them a couple of times, tossed them in a corner of the porch at home. I didn’t like sounding as though I was walking on Cheerios whenever I wore them. This was the solution to the boots, I told Bev. We would gift wrap the Yak Trax and leave them on ‘the ol’ bitch’s doorstep.
Bev drove us to my place in my truck where we had another beer as we wrapped the Trax. She then drove us to her mother in law’s house where, giggling and falling about, we knocked on the door and ran, leaving the gaily wrapped package on the deck. Driving away, I realized the house was next door to Cee; I recognized the six foot fence between the two properties.
Back at my place, Bev and I had more beer and then I think she took a cab home. I think I paid for it.
Too early the next morning I was awakened by the simultaneous sounds of Cee’s voice and Cheerios being crunched underfoot. She was standing in my porch demanding a cup of tea, and as she removed her boots I saw a familiar arrangement of rubber and coils of wire. “What on earth is the matter with you? You look like hell,” were my friend’s first words to me, and “When did you get the Yak Trax?” were my first words to her.
“Oh, that old bitch from next door threw them over the fence,” Cee said, “For once she threw something useful; aren’t these great?” I remembered then the stories about Cee’s neighbour and the various items she’d thrown over that fence; moose ears, a bag of dirty diapers, a can opener, and once, her husband, though he’d not made it all the way over but had hung like a sack of grain over the fence until Cee’d gone out and pushed him back.
Sitting at the table she said, “Did you hear the sirens last night? The ambulance was next door at that old bag’s house, but I heard this morning that she’s not dead; just broke her leg
falling off her deck.”
Sadly my first thought was not of the pain of the mother in law, but “Could this accident be traced to me?”
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.