Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2014 Results




The Clumsiest Person I've Ever Known

Copyright © Edward Burger 2014


I was fed up with Johnny’s clumsiness. He was always knocking things over, spilling things or breaking things. Couldn’t he for once just watch what he was doing? He was the clumsiest person I’d ever known, and I was going to tell him so, but then I recalled the proverb ‘Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes,’ and it occurred to me that perhaps I had better walk a mile in his shoes first. So I chose a day that he wasn’t working and might not be so needy of them, then I asked him, "Do you mind if I borrow your shoes for a little while, Johnny?"

"What’s wrong with your own?"

"Nothing. I just need to walk a mile in your shoes before I can feel justified in judging you?"

"Are you nuts?"

"No. I really need to borrow your shoes."

"Which pair?"

"The pair you"ve been wearing the most lately."

"That's the pair I'm wearing now."

"Can I fetch you another pair? Perhaps you"d like to wear your slippers. They're nice and comfy. You're not going out anywhere, are you?"

"I"ll be heading out soon to meet a friend for coffee."

"Please, let me wear your shoes!" I wailed. "I'm begging you!"

"All right, all right!"

He took off his shoes and threw them at me. I put them on but they were way too big for me. I'm a size six but these shoes must have been a size eleven. I felt like I was wearing clown shoes. They were particularly loose around the ankles. I opened the front door and stepped out but my foot came right out of the shoe. I put my foot back in the shoe and shuffled out.

"You're such a freak," Johnny called as I shut the door.

Funny that he should feel justified in calling me a freak when I was going to all this effort just to feel justified in calling him clumsy. And it was an effort. I had to slide the shoes along the ground while curling my toes so they wouldn't come off. I"d likely get cramp in my feet and calves before I"d walked as far as a mile. The fact was, I wasn't even sure how far a mile was but I figured that if I walked to a particular park and back, that would surely be over a mile, and just in case it wasn't I could do a circuit or two of the park while I was there.

But what should I find when I reached the end of my street and entered the main road? There was a street party in progress. It was packed with people. I shuffled my way through with crowd, getting my heels constantly trodden on, stepping out of my shoes and stumbling into people. Then I stumbled into a stall that was selling glassware. I fell right onto a trestle table which collapsed and knocked over a shelving unit. Luckily the stall keeper had laid carpet on the ground.

"You break, you pay," she said, highly agitated. "You break, you pay."

"Well, I don't think anything has broken."

I blundered about trying to stand the trestle table up again as more of what was on it fell to the carpet, then my foot came out of my shoe in the middle of a tricky manoeuvre and I kicked over another shelving unit.

"You leave now, ok," said the stall keeper. "You leave now."

"But I should at least help you put some of your glassware back on its shelves." I raised the unit I had kicked over then started picking the items up off the floor and putting them on the shelves, but then I stepped on one of my heals, overbalanced backwards and countered it by throwing my bodyweight forward, but then I stepped on an item of glassware, immediately raised my foot again, which left me suspended in midair, and I completed the movement with a somersault. I succeeded in knocking over every shelving unit and trestle table still standing.

"You leave now or I call the police!"

"All right already. No need to get your knickers in a twist."

So I shuffled out of there and rejoined the crowd. As before, I kept stepping out of my shoes, getting my heals trodden on, and stumbling. Then one of my shoes flew off my foot just as I was passing an Indian food stall. It flew through the air, about to land into a vat of coconut curry sauce. I reached out but then I stubbed my toe on the foot of a trestle table leg and fell across the food servery, knocking it onto its side. I fell down beside it then curry puffs and pakoras fell right into my startled open mouth, followed by a quantity of coconut curry sauce, garnished with dried fried onion sprinkles.

"Goodness me!" cried the stall keeper. "What are you doing falling all over my food? You have made a terrible mess everywhere."

"I"ng vewy sowwy," I said, though I had trouble speaking with my mouth full. "I wouw wike oo ay you orw wangages ut I ohn hawe any woney on we."

"Goodness me. What language is that? I cannot understand a word you are saying."

"I ohn hawe any woney."

"I hope you have money to pay for all this wasted food."

"I ohn hawe any."

I had by now actually finished swallowing all the food in my mouth but I pretended it was still full. I really didn't know how I was going to get out of this situation. I picked up my shoe from the ground, which was covered in sauce, and wiped it clean using the stall keeper"s apron, which he happened to be wearing at the time. He didn't look very impressed. I took off my other shoe and held them both under my arm. "What's that over there," I cried, pointing in one direction, then I dashed out the stall in the other direction and ran.

I didn't have to run far to become lost in the crowd, and I made much better mileage without the shoes on. What wasted effort, I thought, given that it couldn't count towards the mile I was endeavouring to walk.

I put the shoes back on and continued as before, stepping out of my shoes, getting my heals trodden on, and stumbling. Then I encountered a crowd crowded around a busker who was playing a guitar and singing. Johnny also occasionally busked. I knew that one of the interpretations of the proverb about walking a mile in someone"s shoes meant that one should experience what it is like to be that someone before one can be justified in judging them. Thus I decided that I should try my hand at busking in order to experience that side of Johnny"s existence. When Johnny busked, he usually tap danced, so I took up position beside the busker and started tap dancing. Immediately both my shoes flew off and hit people in the crowd. I grabbed them from the ground, apologising to the people they had hit. I put them back on, tried tap dancing again, and again they flew off, one of them knocking off someone"s spectacles and another hitting a baby. Again I apologised, put them back on, tried tap dancing yet again, and again they flew off, one of them hitting the busker in the nose and it started bleeding.

"Jesus!" said the busker.

"I'm terribly sorry about your nose," I said.

"What the hell are you doing throwing your shoes around?"

"I was busking."

"Since when is shoe throwing classified as busking?"

"I was tap dancing."

"Is that what you call it? What are you doing invading my turf, anyway?"

"I thought you wouldn't mind the accompaniment."

"Can you play guitar?"

"Yes."

"You can accompany me for a spell on the guitar if you don't expect a cut of my earnings."

"But my housemate Johnny doesn't play guitar."

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"Everything."

Then I put my shoes back on and shuffled my way back into the crowd, getting my heals trodden on, stepping out of my shoes, and stumbling. I shuffled past a number of cafes and bars that had outdoor seating. A waitress was carrying three plates full of food to a table that was already crowded with drinks. But then one of my shoes flew off my foot. I reached out to grab it but tripped on my other shoe. My shoe hit the waitress in the head as I fell onto the table. Mugs of coffee and glasses of alcohol were thrown against the five people sitting around the table. The waitress"s plates went flying and splattered food all over their clothes, though some also flew into my startled open mouth again. I got a serve of gado gado as well as some tofu and a falafel ball, followed with a beer chaser. Meanwhile the waitress fell against another waitress who spilled all her food over another set of diners and that waitress fell against another waitress who spilled all her food over another set of diners and that waitress fell against yet another waitress who spilled all her food over yet another set of diners.

"So what's hor essert?" I said.

"Dessert?!" exclaimed one diner who sat at the table I was lying on. "You spilt food all over my new dress! I hope you're going to pay for the dry-cleaning bill!"

"I hope you're going to pay for all this food!" said another.

"You spilt coffee all over my phone!" said another. "You're going to pay for a new phone too!"

"This place is a circus!" said a diner at another table.

"I demand to see the manager!" said a diner at another table.

"Who is responsible for this outrage?!" said a diner at yet another table.

"That man over there is," said the waitress, pointing at me. "He hit me in the head with his shoe."

I swiftly got up from the table.

"Don't let him get away!" cried one diner.

Several diners reached out to grab me but I ducked, dived to the ground to pick up my fallen shoe, took my other shoe off and ran into the crowd.

I soon slowed. I put the shoes back on and shuffled along as before, getting my heals trodden on, stepping out of my shoes, and stumbling. Then I saw Johnny sitting at a table outside another cafe, meeting with a friend, just as he said he would be. He often met with friends at cafes. Here again was another opportunity to experience what it was like to be Johnny. I slowly approached the table, careful not to lose my shoes. "Do you mind if I join you?" I asked.

"Must you?" said Johnny.

"Yes."

"Well, you can join us for a little while. I came here particularly to catch up with Michael."

"I want to catch up with Michael too."

"But you don't even know him."

"I would like to get to know him as well as you do."

"Anyway," said Johnny to Michael, "you were talking about your trip to Wilson"s Promontory."

"Yes. There are little jellyfish that wash up on the Tidal River beach. If you accidentally step on them at night they glow blue."

"How fascinating," I said. "I've been to Tidal River on a number of occasions but never encountered such jellyfish. Perhaps I've been at a different time of year. When did you go?"

"In December."

"The holiday season. Oh, the Tidal River camping ground gets so busy during the holiday period, doesn't it?"

"I went in early December. It wasn't so busy then."

"How fascinating."

"What's so fascinating about that?" said Johnny.

"Well, I didn't realise it wouldn't be as busy in early December."

"Just because it's something you don't know doesn't make it fascinating."

"Go easy on him," said Michael.

"You keep out of this," said Johnny. "You don't know what it's like to live with this guy."

"Don't make such a big deal out of it," said Michael.

"Yeah," I said. "Maybe it's time you left, Johnny, and let me a Michael catch up properly. We don't need your negativity."

Johnny stood up. "How dare you! Michael's my friend! Get lost, you freak!"

I stood up and started to shuffle away but then Johnny noticed the shoes. "What the hell have you done to my shoes?!"

"They're a bit big, that's all."

"Give them here!"

I took them off and handed them to Johnny. "I've never seen them so scuffed!" he said. "The heels are practically destroyed! And what's that stuff on one of them?"

"It fell into a vat of sauce. I managed to wipe most of it off."

"I've got a good mind to make you pay for a new pair. You're certainly not going to wear them again. You can walk home in your socks."

"But I must walk a mile in your shoes!" I wailed.

"Bullshit you do."

I hadn't even notched up half a mile yet, but then it occurred to me that if I added my attempt at busking and my meeting with Michael it might work out that I had come to know Johnny well enough. And my opinion of him had not changed. Thus I decided it was time to confront him. "Johnny," I said. "I have finally reached a stage where I know you well enough to judge you and there is something I need to tell you."

"What is it now?"

"You are clumsy, Johnny. You're the clumsiest person I've ever known."