A piece of flash fiction published by Drunk Monkeys – written a long time ago but seems quite relevant during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You can read it here, or visit Drunk Monkeys and check out their other content.

WordPress doesn’t like the Drunk Monkeys URL so I can’t embed it. A simple link will have to do.


If I ask about your shoes, there’s a reason.

I was sitting in the waiting room – I’d driven a long way to see this one particular doctor – and I knew I had a long wait.

There was an elderly gentleman sitting alone when I got there. I checked in, then sat down near him.

I was filling out a stack of forms – I was a new patient and I had to tell them my life story. Do they think I remember the date when I had my tonsils out? Let’s skip that line.

I sit down, start filling in lines that are too small for my handwriting, and this elderly gentleman compliments my shoes.

I’m deliberate about my shoes. I have shoes for every occasion. As a bonus, my shoes last a long time. I have some I’ve never worn. I’m convinced one day I’ll be in a forest with an axe and those steel-toed shin-high American-made Red Wing boots will say “I told you so.”

“Those are nice shoes you have. One must have good shoes, and those you have are very nice.”

He says this with a German accent. I know this because I’d just spent the summer in Germany, and, yes, I speak German.

Everybody in Germany wanted to speak English. Everybody except the people protesting against the US military. What did they expect? We send plane-loads of 18 and 19 year-old kids over there and you think they’re all gonna behave? No way.

That didn’t have anything to do with me. I was there with my backpack kicking around while the Berlin wall was being broken down into a billion little pieces. I got bored after a while, so I hopped a train to Greece while I waited for the guy I met in Italy to meet me in Belgium to go to a concert. I thanked God, and my parents, every day I was there for the Unlimited Eurail Pass.

I speak enough German that I knew his accent was German.

I thanked him in German, which is easy, and you woulda thought I handed this man a bucket of gold coins. He was really happy. Which, to be honest, made me happy.

Since we didn’t have anything else to do, we talked about shoes. In German. Well, not entirely in German. My vokabular was pretty good, but it wasn’t that good.

He believed shoes were important, that you could learn a lot about someone from there shoes, and even more from how they felt about their shoes.

Maybe it sounds weird or crazy, but the alternative was to sit there in silence and wait to get called back to see the Doc. Why not have a conversation in German about shoes instead?

I don’t remember every word, but we kept at it until his grandson sat down next to him.

This is when things got interesting.

His grandson, a handsome dark-haired thirty-something with a lovely smile and a beautiful soft baritone voice, sat down after finishing up at the check-out counter. Is that what it’s called? I don’t know, the place in the office where you pay and set your next appointment, if you need one.

The handsome grandson sits down and listens to us talk in German then gives me this big perfect-white-toothy smile before he introduces himself. For the barest of seconds I thought about hitting on him, then I checked myself. Grandson wore a ring.

I asked grandson if he spoke German too, and he laughed and said “No way, my grandmother forbid it. My dad doesn’t speak German either.”

Oh. That’s curious. What’s up with that?

Grandad sees the look on my face and starts to explain.

He told me how he fled Germany as a young boy, when the Nazis took over. He escaped, his future wife escaped, and both of them lost their entire families to the concentration camps.

They each, separately, made it to England, with lots of help along the way, especially in France. Their paths didn’t cross until they were placed with two different families on the same street in London. Then they had to get out of London because the verdammt Nazis where bombing the hell out of the place.

They met, they fell in love, they survived the war, and they had not a penny to their names and no relatives left alive. They did what anyone back then would do – they went to America.

“Wir haben das Memo über Israel nicht erhalten,” grandad said, with a smile that looked a lot like grandson’s.

Once again they found themselves living with two families in the same neighborhood, this time in New York. They found jobs, saved up their money, and when the time was right, he proposed.

She said yes, on one condition.

He said “You name it” and she said “We will never speak German in our home, only English, and our children and their children and all the children that ever come after will never speak German.”

Grandson confirmed this, so I know it’s true.

Grandad agreed, they got married, and grandson was the son of their first child. They had five children and twelve grandchildren, so far.

Not one of them speaks a lick of Deutsch.

We went on like that until they finally called me back.

There was something peaceful and sweet in his manner, and about our talk, that caused time to stop for a while. I think other people were listening. In fact, the receptionist sent somebody back before me that should have gone after me. I was fine with it.

In the short time we had together we conversed about shame, hatred, family, love, country, forgiveness, a few other things you wouldn’t expect, and shoes. Sometimes indirectly, when to be direct wasn’t possible.

From this conversation I learned an entire philosophy of shoes, which I believe to be solid to this day.

So, like I said, if I ask about your shoes, there’s a reason.