Read Old Man Scanlon


06 October 2014

Apparent train-kill, a sparrow lies contorted on the commuter rail platform, only nominally three-dimensional, his days of scavenging fast-food french fries over and done. The soaring vultures don’t deign to look down on this nugatory morsel. Nevertheless, as days pass the corpse looks less and less like a once-living thing. Smaller recyclers, the insects and single-celled organisms, effective but less majestic than vultures, have been gorging on bird flesh.

During these days of the sparrow’s dwindling, shoes appear on the premises. On the bench, Baby Koala, brown, size 1, right foot only. Atop the salt storage chest, a pair of men’s Dexters, size 13, black, only four of their five eyelets laced to accommodate the extra depth of orthopedic inserts. I know that their presence, like the crushed sparrow’s, is transitory, but their provenance lets me indulge in Sherlockian speculation.

I doubt they were discarded on purpose. After mature consideration it seems unlikely to me that a man and child got blown out of their shoes upon being hit by a train or struck by lightning. While not as attractive as such force majeure, simple forgetfulness is the parsimonious explanation. Set down shoes. Light cigarette craved since leaving Boston an hour ago. Answer phone. Walk away without shoes. And an infant, burning calories at its exorbitant waking rate, thrashes off a shoe, then squalls at some random stimulus before its sleep-deprived parent can even register the hurled footwear.

One day soon the shoes will disappear. I fondly imagine, though, that even in the face of a prodigiously malignant culture, grace will out. A high school coach forfeits a state title by correcting a scoring error. Coins placed on veterans’ gravestones do not walk away. Although the sparrow was fair game the instant its heart stopped, it is possible that human scavengers will grant the shoes a decent interval before invoking salvage rights, during which time an owner might well remember, return, and retrieve.