Miles From the Nearest Tannery
Church bells rang.
An old man walked the field by his home, admiring his new brown boots. They were imported leather and matched his belt. Head down, he walked and smiled.
Without realizing, he walked up to a circle of children.
“Do you mind if I sit with you children?”
“Sure!” yelled an eight year old with brown hair.
The old man sat.
“So kids, what are you doing out here sitting in a circle so calmly for? When I was your age-“
“We’re waiting for Mrs. Brown. She went back to the school to get her storybook,” the brown haired child said.
“Can you tell us a story?” a little girl asked.
“Um. Well what kind of story do you want to—how about I tell you about these boots?”
“Um, okay,” said the little girl.
“Once upon a time,” the children began to make sour faces at one another. “a middle-aged man saw some boots on the Internet that he thought were pretty dapper.”
“What’s ‘dapper’ mean?” said the little girl
“’Dapper’ means ‘nifty.’” The old man looked at his boots and grinned. The children exchanged confused looks. Suddenly, he heard a cacophony of ‘nifty?’ whispers.
“Are you from another country?” said the little girl.
He shook his head.
“Then why do you say foreign words?”
He shook his head—this time with a furrowed brow.
“Where did the boots come from?” asked the boy with brown hair.
The old man smiled.
When he stopped giggling, he looked around the circle at unimpressed faces.
“Why were the boots so special?” said the little girl.
“Oh, well they’re made of the best leather in Italy?” He grinned again.
“Where do they get it?” asked the boy with the brown hair.
The old man thought about what he should say next. He didn’t want to tell the children about the process of skinning cows or tanning leather. So he made up a story.
“Well children, it all started with a magical waterfall.” He had their attention.
“A waterfall that was the shower that all the Gods used.” He looked to see all the children’s eyes wide and heard an enthusiastic “whoa.”
“Yes and one day when one of the Gods-“
“Nothing. Umm, Well, to answer your question, I don’t know.” She stared. The old man stared back, eyebrows touching. After a few moments, the little girl looked away.
“So anyway, one day Godius, who considered himself to be a God, showered at the waterfall. And he was getting good and clean. And despite his-“
“Gods can get dirty!?” said the little girl.
“Yeah. And despite his cleanliness, Godius didn’t feel quite godly.” The old man looked around and saw sunken faces. Where was this going?
“Godius leapt out of the waterfall and blasted it with lightning.”
“What?! Why?” said the little girl. The children began to laugh.
“Because sometimes innocent things get blasted.” The little girl stopped smiling.
“So anyway, Godius had defeated the waterfall. And he looked at his feet and they weren’t that nice. They had beat up nails and a wart.”
“Ewwww,” the children harmonized. The old man’s face lit up.
“Yeah! A wart! And it was getting bigger and bigger as it got dryer!”
“Godius saw two birds flying overhead, then turned to see a stone. He had an idea. He ran through the field until he got back to his apartment.”
“Whoa, Godius lives in an apartment?” said the little girl.
“Yeah, in New York City! A penthouse!” said the old man.
“Cool!” said the boy with brown hair.
“Godius grabbed his multiplying and shaping stick. And he started-“
“His ‘what’ stick?” said the little girl.
“Multiply and Shaping stick.” The old man looked at the girl, this time with both shoulders shrugged and eyebrows raised. She looked him over.
“Fine,” she said. The old man smiled.
“So he went back out into Central Park — that’s the big park in NY — and found a nice spot. Then he started multiplying and shaping his wart. ‘Bigger,’ Godius yelled. And the wart got bigger and bigger until it was the size of a third foot.”
“Yeah! And then he started shaping the wart. And he shaped it around his foot like a shoe.”
“Oh yeah! And then he started multiplying again. And he mashed his feet together so that the wart covered both feet!”
“That’s right! And then when he shaped it, he shaped it into two shoes. And Godius walked around Central Park feeling quite godly. And it was all Godius could do not to brag to the group of Italians having a picnic on a meadow. ‘Hey there,’ the Italians said. ‘Hey, Hey!’ said Godius. And then Godius couldn’t resist and he said, ‘Check out my brand new boots!’ ‘Bellisimo!’ cried the Italians from their blanket.”
“What does ‘belismo’ mean?” said the little girl.
“That day it meant the Italians approved of Godius’ boots!” said the old man.
“Even though they were made from his wart!?” said the little girl.
“Yes, because he had shaped such nice brown boots.” The old man looked proudly at his own brown boots. He resumed telling his story and didn’t hear the footsteps behind him.
“The Italians looked at their own feet and said, ‘Hey how can we get some boots like that?’ Godius threw the Italians his multiplying and shaping stick. ‘Use my multiplying and shaping stick!’ Godius yelled. And then-“
“What on earth is going on here?”
The old man turned to see Mrs. Brown standing behind him with her arms crossed.
“He told us a story about Gods changing warts into boots,” said the little girl.
The old man began to stand up and Mrs. Brown pushed him back down.
“Get out of here!!” Mrs. Brown pushed the old man and he began running. She ran behind him waving her heavy storybook over her head. The old man slipped and fell into some mud. The children exploded in laughter. “And stay away from these children, lunatic!”
The old man fell twice more in the slippery mud and when he stood, his new boots were caked. “Dammit.”
Mrs. Brown walked slowly back to the children and sat down, recomposing herself.
“Alright, children. Today I’m going to read you the story of Moses and the Burning Bush.”
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Portland Fiction Project
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