issue 48: May - June 2005 

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On the sole of a Nike: Tomi ShawOn The Sole of a Nike
Tomi Shaw

I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
                 --Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

An urn gets all the wrong looks as a carry-on. Because I’m a chick, it’s my shaved head that draws looks that say "freak," and I’m all about that. I had no idea what a pain in the ass it would be to lug Keith’s ashes around, through the terminal, rushing from gate to gate. I chose a cheap urn too so it’s heavy and not very attractive. I wish I’d left it, but that didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

My ticket says I have an aisle seat, but the guy by the window seems like an agreeable sort. If I ask to sit by the window, will he jabber at me the whole way? He looks the type. "Would you mind…?" I point at the window, "My first time." We shuffle around each other and the urn. When I sit it between my feet, it thuds. I do a rolly-eye smile thing. He smiles back, has a dimple in his left cheek. I settle in and flip through the pages of an old journal I brought with me, thinking to fill up the last half with my adventures from this trip.

I have to laugh at the picture I drew on two consecutive pages of the car Keith and I would have built if we had NASCAR money. We were at the raceway in Bristol, the night race. Most every memory I have of us is at night. Makes me wonder what happened to our days.

The guy next to me keeps tilting his head like that Dalmation puppy in the RCA commercials. He’s going to start jabbering any second now. I rustle the package of peanuts. I turn the pages in my journal. Face doodles, big eyes and lips, huge lashes. A phone number. I don’t recognize it.

He clears his throat. "Where you headed?" He’s staring at the doodle of a boy with a sailor’s cap and glasses I made from the letters b o y. It’s silly.

"Ticket says Aruba."

"This time of year?"

I shrug. "I could afford it."

"Oh." He nods, turning his attention back to the GQ lying across his knees. A Jaguar’s grill lunges from the page. The ad reads: Demoralize every other car on the road. Along with their drivers.

"Nice." My sarcasm escapes his notice.

"I’ve always wanted one," he says. "See here?" A long tan finger points to the small print in the corner. "Says the blending of Art and Machine."

"Hard to imagine."

His gaze comes back to me, and his brow creases causing a deep line to appear. He’s caught the tone of my voice. "What’s your dream car?"

"One that was made after I was born and runs."

He doesn’t know what to say. He changes the subject. "You a writer?" he asks, looking at my journal.

"No. I’m a reader. Poets mainly. You read?"

"Just junk," he says, holding up the magazine.

Turning my head away from him, I look out the window. Everything seems so clean and organized from up here. The clouds aren’t fluffy though. I thought they would be. Maybe it’s just the wrong kind of weather. They remind me of night mists rising off the creek Keith and I used to fish.

I want to cross my legs, but the urn is in the way. I had to bring him. You don’t ask acquaintances to keep your dead husband’s ashes. Our lifestyle hadn’t been conducive to friendships; we lived each other. A weird relationship by others’ standards, one understood by only us. Man, how our parents hated our choices. We did whatever we wanted as far as sex was concerned, but loving was limited: him to me, me to him. When he found out he was dying, he begged me not to mourn.

I glance at the journal. January, no date other than month. Sometime in January, I wrote: It’s his mouth. On the next page it says: No, it’s his hands. I can feel the engines in my seat.

The guy is turning pages, stops to finger a Hermes tie. His suit is good, looks good on him, but I can’t tell the difference between designers. Could be Armani, Versace or Lazarus for all I know. He smells good, too, like spice.

"Are you married?"

He jumps a little. I guess he didn’t expect me to jabber at him. "No."

"How come?"

"Why is that the first question someone asks when someone says they’re not married?"

I nod at him; I don’t know why. I can’t answer his question so I open the bag of nuts, smell preservatives. I shuffle my legs. The seat is too soft or big which doesn’t make sense because no seat on an airplane is soft or big, but I can’t sit still or get comfortable. My butt doesn’t feel right in it, like it’s lost or too little or just plain wrong. And the engines are humming right through the upholstery. "I need a cig."

"Those things’ll kill ya." He smiles. One of his front teeth laps over the other one, but they’re super white.

"Why is that always what someone says when someone says they want one?" I glance at the urn. "Yeah, I know."

"Sorry." He rubs his hand down his thigh, twirls his pinky ring.

"Do you bleach your teeth?"

He chuckles. "No, my dentist does."

"Ha ha."

"It was his joke."

"I used Clorox on mine once. Blistered my gums."

"Probably not the smartest move."

"Indeed." We flip pages.

The second of February entry says: We made love under an apple tree. It didn’t feel so good, but it was sweet. Before I even know I’m going to say it, I hear myself, "Would you like to go to the bathroom with me?" I’m staring at him staring at me.

"Won’t prove anything." His green gaze shifts to the urn, his eyes full of pity. "You’re alive—"

"Save it. The clichés ran thick the day of his funeral." I take the pen from behind my ear and write: The fields in their neat little squares and rectangles mock me. The guy leans his head back and closes his eyes. "I just wanted to join the mile-high club."

"That’s urban legend." His voice is so bored.

"It wouldn’t be if you went with me."

"You’re one sick little puppy aren’t you? You’ve got your husband’s ashes sitting between your feet."

I huff. What does this guy know? I fucked strangers before Keith died. So did Keith. We did together, too. "How do you know they’re my husband’s?"

He reaches over and slips the ring dangling from my necklace onto his fingertip. "My grandmother and aunt did this when their husbands died."

"Well shit, look who’s the cliché now." I feel myself droop, a frown pull on my lips.

He touches my thigh. "Still want to go to the bathroom?" His hand is warm.

"Yes." While he talks about going first and me following a few minutes later, my mind flashes images of us. Pulling this little T-shirt over my head, he’ll quip about the hair under my arms or the belly-button ring. He’ll tell me how small I am, wrapping his fingers nearly around my waist. Either trace, lick or kiss the tattoo across the small of my back. I’ll watch him in the mirror. In that tiny space, he’ll bend me over as far as he can and enter from behind. I’ll see the sweat bead and roll and drip off the end of his nose. It’s a long nose. The sweat will splash between my shoulder blades, and it will be warmer than the hand on my thigh is now. I can’t stand that thought. I won’t come. "Wait." I trap his arm as he starts to rise. "No."

He slides back into his seat. He’s annoyed. "You’re a package." He shakes his head and his gaze travels all over my face, landing on my hair or where my hair used to be. "What’s up with the buzz anyway?"

I let go of his arm and sit on my hands. "Easy."

"Did you do it because?" he asks, pointing at the urn.

"Yes. The one cliché I understood. I mean not understood. I mean made sense. To me."

He scans the plane as if he’s looking for someone, like he’s in a dance club or bar. Maybe he’s looking for the exit.

"Is it still a cliché if I had to buy the ring and necklace myself…after?"

He doesn’t even look at me. "No. It’s weird."

The silence starts pulsing, the engines have died somewhere. At least they aren’t singing to me through my panties anymore. I close my eyes, willing myself to fall asleep. My ears are hot.

"Did you buy them?" There’s a different tone to his voice now, gentler. Tender even.

"Yes. Now be quiet."

The dream doesn’t finish, never finishes. I’m trying to see a movie. I’ve already paid, have the ticket between my lips, popcorn and Diet Coke in hand. I head toward the door the usher indicated, but each time I start to enter, there’s another hallway. So I go to the next door and it turns into another hallway and I go to the third door and it goes on and on and over and over; I just keep rounding the corner, walking, rounding the corner, walking…The Coke grows warm and the popcorn gets cold.

The flight attendant wakes me, telling me to fasten my belt. I buckle up.

"You snore." He’s chuckling. "We’re landing. I hate this part."

"You’re sweating," I say and, "I do not snore."

"But you do drool."

I stick my tongue out at him.

"Just a few more minutes and we’ll be getting off." He really does look uncomfortable.

"Oh we will, will we?" I try my best to sound sexy. I wiggle my eyebrows.

His laugh is nice.

"Do you believe in fate?" I ask.

"You’re trying to distract me aren’t you? Right now, I’m trying not to think!"

"Two deep breaths. There ya go."

"No. I don’t believe in fate, but I bet you do. Next thing you’ll be telling me what sign I am."

I lean over and make sure the urn is wedged tight between the curves in my feet. "Not something I usually do, no. But you’re a Leo."

He snorts. "Damn."

I smile and turn my head to wink at him. Then turn away. "What color are my eyes?"

"Light green."

"Some people say peridot," I tell him, "like the one in your ring. August birthday. I used to do jewelry, not astrology."

"Telling secrets," he says. "How long is your lay-over?"

"Couple three or four hours."

"Want some food?"

"I like food."

"With me?"

I have to chuckle since I thought he’d already asked. "Yes, as a matter of fact I think I would like that too."

"Good. Shut up now. I have to go to lala land now. I hate take-offs and landings." He shudders and squeezes his eyes shut, fists his hands together in his lap. His lips start moving. He’s whispering something. He keeps on until the plane touches ground and starts to taxi.

I have to know. "What were you saying?"

He shrugs.

"Were you praying?"

"No." He blushes, and his gaze won’t settle down. Finally, he picks a spot outside the window behind my head and says, "Mommy."

I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I do.

"It worked running hurdles. Why not airplanes was my thinking. So far so good." He’s found my eyes again.

When he stands, I bend to get the urn.

"Want me to get that?" he asks, reaching his hands toward it.

Feels kind of funny for someone I’ve been hitting on to ask, would feel funnier to actually let him carry Keith. I shake my head, "Thanks, but I’ve managed it this far."

He lets me step into the aisle ahead of him. "So an ash ceremony in Aruba?"

"Not really. I just didn’t have anywhere to leave him, didn’t want to leave him alone." I stop while a little old couple get their overhead bags. "Any more questions?" I look over my shoulder at him, make sure he can see the play in my eyes.

"Yes I do," he says, warming to the tease. "How come you chickened out?" He gestures toward the rest room.

A half smirk lifts one side of my mouth. "Thought you’d suck."

He throws his head back to laugh. "You might have been right too," he says. The couple have moved on ahead. "Now get along there." He pushes his bag into me.

The sun is nice and hot when we step into it, pops goosebumps up my arms, and I shiver. Walking side by side across the tarmac, he looks at me and finally introduces himself, "I’m Bill, by the way. And you are?"

"I already told you." His baffled look makes me smile. "I had outta-time hippie parents. They loved each other until the day they died, together. Always together. They named me Fate."

"Ouch. One of those names people expect things from."

"Exactly." The urn is heavy, and the creases of my arms are sweating. "At least it wasn’t Charity."

"Uh oh," he says, "I said I don’t believe in Fate."

I wink and shrug. "Everybody says that nowadays. No one believes—"

The urn slips and I try to catch it but my arms are sweaty and it’s slippery and it’s heavy and I’m not fast enough and it falls and I hear the lead hit the pavement and it tings or kinda thuds and some of the ashes have spilled and some are in the wind and some are still inside that stupid ugly freaking urn and there are chunks of bone.

A guy stumbles between us as we stop dead, his foot landing in the ashes. A Nike tennis shoe and ashes stuck to the sole. We stare at him, and people are walking around us now. Someone clucks an "aw." There’s a footprint. Ashes here and there, in the pattern of that Nike sole. I watch until the guy enters the airport. I can feel Bill watching me.

"Oh my God. It’s Whitman!" I say.

Bill doesn’t know what to do, what to say. Probably doesn’t know Whitman either. "You okay," he asks finally, probably not really expecting an answer.

I squat so Bill does, presuming I intend to sweep up the ashes. That’s not what I intend at all. I turn the urn over and dump what’s left of his ashes on the tarmac. Standing, I pull my purse tighter on my shoulder and dance in the ashes. Bill’s eyes bug out. Checking the bottom of my shoes, making sure they’re thick with what’s left of Keith, I take Bill’s hand and make sure he steps in the ashes several times. I walk away from the ashes backward, noting each foot that steps into Keith’s remains.

"You’re just going to leave it…him—?"

"Yes. Someone’ll get the urn." I link my arm through his and pull him toward the terminal. "Do you know Walt Whitman?" I ask him.

"No." He’s gaping at me.

"Then we’ve got something to talk about over dinner."

As I walk away, I watch the trail of ashes I leave behind with each step I take.


© Tomi Shaw 2005

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author bio

Tomi ShawTomi Shaw lives in Kentucky, late of the woods but now in the big city lights. She loves the sound of rain tat-tattering on a tin roof. Summer weekends find her at the drag strip in a bittersweet-colored Mustang, cutting killer reaction times and putting guys on the trailer home. Her work has appeared in Absinthe Literary Review, Outsider Ink, Pindeldyboz, Smokelong Quarterly, Snow Monkey, Penthouse, Literary Mama and elsewhere. Coming soon to The Rose and Thorn, Gator Springs Gazette and The Dead Mule. She is co-editor of Prairie Dog 13 Magazine and working on her first novel.

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issue 48: May - June 2005 

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