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standing in his shoes
by ellen marsh

Thump, thump, thump. Someone was pounding on her door. Her heart beat rapidly. Who could be at her door in the middle of the night? She took a deep breath and crawled out of bed, struggling to find her slippers with her bare feet on the icy floor.

As she walked from her bedroom into the hallway, she realized that someone was knocking, not at her front door, but at her kitchen door off the driveway. She made her way to the kitchen window, and pulled the curtains slightly apart. Parked in her driveway was a bright yellow-green VW beetle. What was Bill doing here in the middle of the night? He was supposed to be in Minneapolis, eight hours away by car.

She quickly went to the kitchen door and unlocked the deadbolt. Bill towered over her in his thick parka and heavy gloves. His head was bare and snowflakes were accumulating on his thick reddish hair. His eye-glasses were also quickly icing over. He stepped into the mud area at the top of the basement steps and shook the snow off of his clothing and brushed it out of his hair. He took off his glasses and stepped into the kitchen, where he grabbed a dishtowel to clear his thick lenses.

Bill had a shell-shocked look.

She began, “What happened? Why are you here?”

He responded in a flat tone, “I can’t talk about it. I just need a place to sleep tonight. The police in Minneapolis told me to get out of town for a few days.”

She noticed that his hands were shaking, despite the fact that he seemed to have recovered from the cold.

“Okay, you’ll have to take the couch. I don’t want to wake Amy up and move her. We can talk in the morning. Let me get you some sheets and a comforter.”

He sat down heavily in the lone armchair in her tiny living room. He removed his size 16 shoes and unwound the scarf that was still around his neck.

She returned with a pile of bedding. “Do you want me to help you make up the couch?” She knew his feet would hang over the end of the sofa. “You can put the cushions on the floor if you want. You might be more comfortable.”

“I’ll be fine. You go back to bed. I’ll tell you everything in the morning.”

She returned to her bed, which had already lost her body warmth. She shivered for a few seconds and then began to relax. She was very drowsy and fell asleep quickly. As soon as she was asleep, she began to dream. Her dream became unexpectedly vivid and played out before her like scenes from a movie.

She found herself in a downtown urban landscape. Snow was falling around her, and the icy wind was piercing. She was walking, approaching the parking structure. As she walked, she noticed a human form, lightly dusted with snow, curled up in the gutter. Surely, the person lying there wasn’t naked. She quickly approached and saw a man, wearing only jockey shorts and shivering in the cold. She knelt. She touched his back. He did not respond. She gently rolled him towards her. She knew he was alive, because he continued to shiver. Then, she saw his face. As she observed him, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his head lolled back. Now she could see warm blood streaming from a wound, which extended ear to ear, in his neck.

She woke abruptly and sat up. She was breathing rapidly and sweating. Her heart beat too fast. She took a deep breath. What a terrible nightmare! She hadn’t had a nightmare that vivid for a very long time. She lay back on her pillow and attempted to replace the memory of the dream with images of ocean waves. Gradually, her breathing slowed, and she relaxed. She fell back into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, she got out of bed still feeling tired. Thank goodness it was Saturday! She didn’t have to go to work. Putting on her robe and slippers, she remembered that Bill was sleeping on the couch.

Moving quietly to the kitchen, she carefully measured coffee into the automatic percolator. She opened the refrigerator, trying to figure out what they would have for breakfast. Bill was known for his healthy appetite. Her normal breakfast of toast and coffee, or Amy’s of cereal and milk, would not suffice. French toast. She could make French toast. Satisfied, she poured herself a cup of coffee with lots of milk and went into the dining room.

She heard rustling from the living room. Bill was stirring. Soon, he joined her at the table with a cup of coffee in his hands.

“I need to tell you what happened yesterday before Amy wakes up,” he said. “I don’t think she needs to hear this.”

“What happened? Why were you talking to the police?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you the whole story. Late yesterday, I was headed to the library on the U of M campus. I found a free parking spot on the street just beyond a big parking structure behind the library. As I passed it, I saw a body in the gutter. It was very cold, and snow was falling. I knew the person would freeze to death without help. So, I started toward him. As I approached, I could see that he was naked except for some underpants and a coating of snow.” He paused.

“He was shivering very hard. I thought, ‘He’ll freeze to death in a few minutes.’

“I rolled him over and saw that his throat had been slit. I couldn’t do anything for him except cover him with my coat. There was a pay phone nearby so I called an ambulance. The police and the paramedics were there within minutes, but he stopped shivering and stopped breathing before they got there. He died with my hands on him.

“The police took me to the police station for questioning.

“When it the police were finally convinced that I was not involved, they told me that I had probably come upon the scene minutes after the man had been thrown out of the second floor of the parking structure. They’d found evidence that he had been assaulted there. Their best guess is that is was either a gang killing or drug-related execution.

Because I arrived so soon he fell, the police thought that I might have been seen by his murderer. They also told me that my VW was too easy to identify, because they had seen few, if any, other fluorescent green VWs in the area. They suggested I leave town for a few days. So, I got in my car and just drove and drove until I got here. I guess I’ll have to go back tomorrow though. I have to present at a seminar early Monday morning.”

I’m really hungry. Do you think I could have some breakfast?”


Ellen's recreational writing relieves the stress of working at an insane biotech company. She has too to do (and re-do) every week, because of the knee-jerk, fire-fighting mentality of the management team.

more about ellen marsh


celebrating a life
by ellen marsh
topic: writing
published: 12.30.99


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