‘Yes,’ the shoemaker says, placing the boot she’s just handed him on the counter, ‘unusual, for sure.’
But nothing more than that. He’s well used to peculiar requests, having worked in the shop, man and boy, for nigh on fifty years.
‘There was the time in the 1970s,’ he continues, as he rummages around for the pliers, ‘when a sociology professor from Columbia sent students along this street asking us to do all manner of odd things. This young kid comes into my shop, no shoes or socks. “Can you put a leather sole and heel on my bare feet?” says he.’
‘And what did you do?’ she says.
‘I asked him how much was he prepared to pay.’ She looks a bit shocked, but his smile reflected in the mirror, reassures her.
'Ethnomethodology they called it. I like the word … ethnomethodology … it’s got a nice rhythm to it.’ ‘What?’ she says.
‘Ethnomethodology …’ he repeats, relishing the sound. ‘He told me all about it, this kid. You try to disrupt the everyday world. To see how people react. Mr. Tang in the dry cleaners next door. His student came in with a muddy cabbage and asked him to clean it. That kind of thing. But I told my student there wasn’t much you’d describe as an everyday world around here. It’s getting disrupted all the time.’
Then he turns, pliers in hand, and examines the beautifully decorated boot. A surgeon about to perform the autopsy.
When she first got the letter from the solicitor and then went to their offices to collect the old cowboy boot, she was intrigued. But, just like the shoemaker (and the dry-cleaner with the cabbage) she was not that surprised. Her great-uncle was a famous eccentric and she was his only surviving relative. Family stories abounded. Like the rides he used to take on the old steamers in the south, gambling away his gold. His prodigious skill on the stock exchanges. His parsimony, living like a hermit. Travelling in boxcars. A carpet bagger without a carpet. He’d appear at functions, mainly funerals. Tall and gaunt, in his ragged great-coat, grizzly beard and grizzlier greasy hair down to his shoulders. He wore a patch, just to keep one eye spare. And always the same cowboy boots, one of which the shoemaker was now wrestling with.
She watches him as he begins to free the heel from the boot. The sound and sense of it reminds her of the time she had her wisdom tooth extracted. And, like a molar being released, something falls from the yawning jaw of heel and sole and clatters on to the wooden surface of the counter.
The shoemaker lifts the key by the tag and hands it to her. It is cold and heavy in her palm. The string is frayed and worn and the engraving on the metal tag is faded. She squints to read it.
‘What does it say?’ he asks.
‘… Deposit Box 25 … Wells Fargo Bank … Dubois, Idaho …’