(originally published in Canada by Exile Editions)
Sarah opened the magazine again to the photograph. She slid it across the table for Mitch to look at.
What strikes you most about this? she asked him.
I don't know, it's a dead person, they're dead is what strikes me.
No, she said. Of course they're dead, but look at the shoes.
They're wearing sneakers. So what?
Sarah pulled the magazine back and stared at the picture awhile. Maybe it was just her.
The picture was from a very uncivil war in central Africa. It showed a tall man in ordinary clothes lying on the ground with a puddle of blood around his head. The caption explained that this man was a suspected member of the Presidential Guard and had been summarily executed by rebel soldiers. There was a small crowd of onlookers in the background. It was taken last week.
Mitch looked around the coffee shop and said how much business do you think they do here on a day like today? I bet they do a thousand dollars, fifteen hundred. Not bad for serving hot water and beans.
Sarah nodded, then tried again:
It's just that this man put his shoes on, and then ended up getting shot dead in them the same day.
I'm not getting you, said Mitch, who took a sip of his coffee.
I don't know how to explain it, she said. It's like, look at his shoes - she turned the picture around for him to look again - he laced up his shoes, you see? I mean, that morning, he sat at the edge of the bed or his chair and bent over and made a little bow with one shoe lace and then the other and threaded them. And then ended up dying in them. In those shoes that he put on that morning.
Mitch looked hard at the picture, but he just shook his head. Sarah continued:
I just wonder, if he knew that he was going to die that day if he would have taken such care to lace up his shoes like that. Or if he would have worn different shoes or no shoes at all. Because, I don't know, it just, putting on your shoes seems so, so irrelevant if you're about to die, doesn't it? Isn't lacing up your sneakers just about the most trivial thing you can do?
Mitch said I don't know, maybe you're thinking about it too much, they're just his shoes.
But Sarah said no they're not just his shoes.
Mitch looked at the picture and shook his head again. He felt Sarah staring at him.
What's wrong? he said.
But when they left the coffee shop, as they walked across the parking lot to the car, he knew that things had taken a turn for the worse.