‘Old Boots with Laces’ by Van Gogh:
Old Boots are always better than no boots.
Freda lived a long life, and in fact it could have been longer if I had been stirred to describe her life sooner than now. You see, when I first put pen to paper with the words ‘Old Boots’ she had only died a few minutes before my doing so. She died with a broken heart when the nurses took her old boots away as being such very old boots that feet could not be consigned to their cavities, they said. I disagreed but too late to mend Freda’s broken heart, or to assuage her dark daydreams or to mop up the dribbles dribbling down her chin…
I sat down, took up her old boots and now tried to refit them on her increasingly cold feet at such a distance from the death of the rest of her body. I wept real tears, as I tied the laces tightly. In some strange way, I thought this would help restore the heat that a living body normally possesses. The others laughed at me. It was a pity that I had not taken up the pen for my story when she was still alive – with such a well-meaning action on my part hopefully then kick-starting her old heart before it gave up its final ghost. Writing about her old boots, her sad daydreams, even her dribbles, might have changed the sluggish tide of general cause-and-effect. We shall never know.
Or shall we? Just as I finished off the last paragraph, Freda seemed to stir – or at least I felt one of her feet twitch within its newly fitted boot. So worn thin was the leather that I imagined I felt through it a faint pulse. The others laughed even louder when I told them about what I had felt. Even the two young nurses – seemingly meek and mild – jeered at me as if they had gone back in time to their high school to taunt a weak teacher.
I stared at Freda’s eyes to attempt discovery of new tears. But they were bone dry, yet I was sure I could see moving images across the upper spheres as if to indicate new daydreams. More dribbles from her mouth, but that probably didn’t prove anything. So I noted down, meanwhile, what I could remember of the faint visions I saw in her eyes, visions skimming the fragile spheres like tiny skaters from the mind rather than normal floaters that often beset our sight.
I could see myself leaning over her face, the two nurses behind me and the others in the room bearing various uncharacteristically gruesome stances that would probably get them imprisoned if this had been real life rather than daydream images in a dead woman’s eyes. But the saddest moment was when I glimpsed myself in the act of glimpsing, in her eyes, the old boots that she had loved so much during her life but had abandoned finally as useless, when the many leaks through their soles became tantamount to a single huge leak.
Most boots are discarded when our feet grow larger between childhood and adulthood. But in Freda’s case — I learnt from the images in her eyes — she had used the same pair of boots throughout her whole life, with the leather expanding to the shape of her feet. Perhaps this explained the attenuations through which I had sensed a faint pulse.
At that point I was stirred from my own daydreams by one of the nurses pointing and screeching in obvious distress, despite her earlier schoolgirlish jeering. She was pointing at where I had tightened the boot laces, so tight it seemed that a dark fluid was dribbling through the eyelets. Not Freda’s blood, I somehow knew, but some syrupy substance that the boots themselves had harboured since being hammered into existence by one of the old-fashioned cobblers who now tend to live only in daydreams.
The other nurse, meanwhile, seemed relatively unperturbed as she sneered at me with a silent “I’m not bothered” expression on her face. Nothing I could write about daydreams would alter the reality of which she was certain she inhabited. But the others in the room had thankfully faded back into the shadows whence they had first emerged during my earlier attempts to resuscitate the Freda who was still wearing her boots in contrast to that heart-broken Freda who had already abandoned them.
Hence, I wonder if the derivation of the word ‘reboot’ lay somewhere within this very story, a new story that has gradually become an ancient fable with a bespoke moral. Written specifically for each reader. Even for a reader like Freda.
See #DFLewisThingie on Twitter for other old unpublished pieces.