No More Heroes

Entry by: jaguar

19th June 2017
Walk On By

Was that a knock on his door? If so it had been very gentle, quite unlike the hectoring rap of the courier firms. Norman couldn’t see a shadowy presence through the glass. He opened the door. There was no one there, not even at the end of his overgrown path. He looked down. A parcel.

Norman picked it up. It was light and warm to the touch although the doorstep was in shadow. He took it inside, checking the name on the label as he did so. Yes it was for him, Norman Cruikshank but the address was unrecognizable. The Dark Cottage, Valley of Despair, Hopeless Town, Divided Nation. Unrecognisable yet close enough to his view for this to have been sent by a friend. Close enough for the delivery person to have found him.

Curiously cheerful he put the kettle on, felt something like relish as he ripped into the box to reveal a pair of shoes. They were soft leather loafers, waltzing black, nothing like the scuffed trainers he tended to wear. He turned the box inside out but there was no note, no hint of who could have sent them.

He remembered he hadn’t bothered to shower that morning, hadn’t seemed much point. Get a grip on yourself! He went upstairs, found clean clothes, his best socks and went into the bathroom. It was so dirty he’d probably come out grubbier than he went in. Nice 'n' sleazy. He got the miracle clean-up spray out, nuked the toilet with bleach, scrubbed at the mirror until his image was no longer obscured. He found himself whistling and, for once, it seemed he could hold a Stranglers tune even if it was Hanging Around, his least favourite.

After his shower he got dressed and went to try the shoes on. He’d buried his doubts about whether they were for him even before he discovered they were a perfect fit. More than that they were sublimely comfortable. It felt like his feet were being cradled by warm, loving hands. He could see his mother holding his feet when he was a baby, cuddling them to her.

He had to go out in them. Did he need shopping? He opened the fridge, went ruthlessly through its contents, binning anything out of date or that he had no appetite for. How long had he lived like this? Grey leftovers in plastic containers, mean little mouthfuls of strained and drained food. The cupboards were full of cardboard too. Something better change. He wanted fresh vegetables, juicy meat, tempting treats. Peaches. Look how thin he’d got, how starved he suddenly felt.

He took the secateurs out with him and hacked the shrubs back so the light spilled up the path to his door. He threw the cuttings into his green bin, so long unused it puffed dust when he closed the lid. Norman looked down to see if any had landed on his shoes but they were pristine, gleaming, ready for anything. He walked into town, greeting everyone, neglected friends or perfect strangers. His smile was so broad it seemed to be contagious. Mrs. Ruddock next door even giggled at him.

He had no idea where he was going, hadn’t brought his bags for shopping, wasn’t heading for the supermarket. The shoes seemed to be taking him somewhere but he didn’t mind, he wanted to go there, to see what might happen. Somehow he sensed the people before he turned the corner, he heard the noise of air being consumed before he was in earshot. The precinct was on fire. There were so many people, huddled, shouting, some screaming, gesturing inside.

His feet kept walking forwards even as his mind urged him to go home, move away from this, some people were dangerous, not all of them would smile back at him. He was in the shopping centre entrance oblivious to the arms that clutched at him, pulling him back. He heard yet didn’t register the muttering about terrorists, guns, you never knew what you’d find in there. What he could hear was a single cry, like distilled loss.

His feet stopped at the first staircase and he looked up to locate the noise. A strange little girl holding hands with a prone woman. As he watched the woman’s hand dropped to the floor, bounced and lay completely still. The girl’s face crumpled further, her eyes screwed up. The heat was so intense it was painful to go further into it but Norman did. He climbed the stairs not touching the searing handrail, not breathing in the scorched air, not allowing himself to think, just moving fast, faster than he’d ever gone. His feet still felt cool.

There was no time to reason with the child. He picked her up and cradled her to him. She made a sound like she’d been punctured, a hiss, an escape of air. Norman turned and ran down the stairs. The entrance was now a wall of fire, a weaving, awful golden brown wall but his feet ran him straight through it and he was on the ground. People covered him and the girl with coats, putting the fire out instantly although the heat clung on, digging into his skin.

‘You’re a hero, mate.’ The ambulance-man put a hand on his shoulders. ‘There aren’t many who would do what you just done.’

Norman gestured at the little girl as the female paramedic fitted an oxygen mask and took the child onto her lap. ‘Will she be OK?’

‘Bound to be smoke damage. We’ll take you both in, get you checked over but looks like you got there in the nick of time. ‘

They watched as the firemen walked into the building using their hoses like weapons as ‘No More Heroes’ blared out and the crowd broke into applause. Norman almost told the ambulance-man about his shoes. How he hadn’t been brave, not really, he’d been led by a gift that made him think he could be better than he was.

The man probably wouldn’t understand, Norman wasn’t sure he could explain it properly. How, somebody giving you something, showing some care, could change your view of your prospects. Particularly if it was unexpected or came from a stranger. How much difference silly things like well-fitting shoes or bothering to shower made. He looked down to check how his shoes had fared in the fire and froze at the sight of his scuffed trainers.