The Physics of Shoe

by Glenn A. Bruce

Fabrice stood still, staring up at the dozens of pairs of shoes draped over the sagging black wires above. Something was wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. This would take some serious observation and further cogitation.

Concentration.

Fabrice was nine, but had already witnessed seven attempted murders; three were successful. She watched her cousin Sherone bleed out at the corner of whatever-it-was and whatever-it-was. Street names had no meaning for her since they had never existed in her lifetime. Gangbangers had taken them down decades ago so that Five-Oh wouldn’t know where they were if they got in a situation. GPS had greatly mitigated the problem for the po-lice, but rookies sometimes still froze up in a crisis and became disoriented, allowing their prey to escape.

Becoming prey, themselves.

In these neighborhoods, shoes dangled in great clusters from power lines across every street, at every corner—always in pairs. Some people said the shoes indicated that “the drugs are in,” and it was time to buy. Others said the shoes represented gang symbols, tangible “tags” for the ‘hood, for one gang’s territory, which ranged from a single street to several blocks; and on rare occasions, an entire neighborhood, or half a designated “city” within the city: Boyle Heights, Inglewood, Compton.

Fabrice stood at the corner, looking up. She tried not to think about the baby she had seen shot and dying right here, dead before the EMTs arrived. Standard call time on this street was somewhere between 20 minutes (once) and eternity—usually about 90 minutes, plenty of time to let someone die so that no transportation or treatment was necessary. That’s the way everyone on Farbice’s block calculated it: White people wanted her people dead.

Fabrice stared up at the old, scaly power line and she had it: a shoe was missing. Just one. All the others were wrapped around the tarry wire in pairs by their laces, black angular shadows against the always blue Southern California sky. She had heard about the drug angle, but she wasn’t into drugs yet, so she didn’t give that explanation much thought.

She knew damn well which gang ran her street though. They had beaten up her brother when he was 11 and threatened him with death if he didn’t join. They ordered him to steal a car to prove that he was worthy. The only reason he got out of it was because he convinced them he didn’t know how to drive.

That made Fabrice laugh, even now.

Her brother got lucky when the leader of the 27th and Crowley Crips was shot in the head at his dinner table by a drive-by and died in the ambu-lance. The next boy in charge was so shaken—he had been eating dinner with the older boy’s family—that he left Los Angeles to live with relatives in Phoenix and never returned. Quit the gang life for good.

The Twenty-Sevens were never the same, and Fabrice’s brother was allowed to live without stealing cars. He even got Cs in school. He would probably graduate.

Why was there only one shoe?

Fabrice was stumped. She had never seen one shoe alone, without its mate—whatever it symbolized. Yet here was this one shoe, this lone survivor, this rebellious yellow sneaker in the woven matrix of threat and danger, constantly hanging over their heads. Maybe it had its own meaning, some singular message no one understood. Maybe she would find out someday; maybe someone would tell Fabrice what it meant before she died here, too.

More important to her:

How did anyone get it to stay up there without the other shoe as a counterbalance to bring about the necessary fling up, whip over, and spin around the buzzing power line where, because of Newton’s First, Second, and Third Laws of Physics and all that, the second shoe provided inertia (and stability) while the wire provided pivot (and stopping power) for the pair as they looped a few times (the best shoe-throwers could get five or six rotations) before the objects came to rest, spent of energy, swinging a few seconds, then remained, static, without falling back to Earth?

Fabrice would have to ponder such an impossible equation after homework.

She looked at the naked street sign pole but saw nothing other than the lone shoe in her mind. Fabrice Carter knew where she was and she knew how to get home.

———

Glenn A. Bruce has an MFA in writing, was associate fiction editor for The Lindenwood Review, and has published nine novels as well as two collections of short stories. He wrote the movie Kickboxer, as well as episodes of Walker: Texas Ranger and Baywatch. His short stories, poetry, and essays have been published internationally, as well as numerous American publications. Glenn won first place in the “Down and Dirty” short story contest at About That magazine, was a final judge for the Brilliant Flash Fiction annual short story contest in 2016, and has been judging for Defenestrationism twice a year since 2016. He taught screenwriting at Appalachian State University for a dozen years and now concentrates on writing fiction.