Color No. 8
Here’s a change of pace from the usual poetry.
One of the only times I feel like a human being is when I’m polishing my shoes.
My collection is respectable. I tend to go English for boots, Italian for shoes. Kiton, Santoni, John Lobb, Edward Green. Always handmade. A lot of people don’t like the narrow toe box of Italian shoes. I am not one of those people.
This morning, however, I’m wearing American. By Alden of Middleborough, Massachusetts—shell cordovan nine-eyelet boots, cap-toe, plain, plaza last, Color No. 8.
Though I’ve spent time abroad, I consider myself quintessentially American.
I keep my shoe care supplies in a WWI-era ammunition box which my grandfather some decades ago had fashioned into a shinebox—complete with a cast-iron footrest fixed to its weathered hardwood lid.
From the box I retrieve his ancient horsehair brush, made by Melco of New York. I’ve never found another horsehair brush which could compete with his. I don’t know if that company still manufactures them, or even if it still exists, but a legacy of a kind lives on in this brush.
I generally don’t even need to buff my shoes with flannel after hitting them with the brush—that’s how good it is. I would peel the skin in strips from your screaming flesh before I’d let someone take that brush from me. Gripping the worn-down wooden handle I begin to brush about the toe-cap of the right boot, side to side in swift soft strokes, working back toward the laces with a careful methodical rhythm. Next, across the outside of the fine horsehide upper, pitch purple-brown patina coming closer to patent luster with each successive pass, rapid small oscillations as though the brush were borne by a piece of intricate clockwork machinery manufactured under the strictest mechanical tolerances.
The brush as though it were being borne by a machine, and not by a man.
Not a human being; not a man.
I replace the brush, dose up, and note down the time. Four eighteen in the morning.
I retrieve the pistol. Its blued steel back-strap is metallic cold to the touch and it feels like shaking hands with a loyal old friend after a long period of separation. I check the magazine, slam it home, rack the slide, and de-cock the hammer before slipping the familiar frame into its shoulder-slung carriage, obscured by a very fine bespoke wool overcoat, impeccably cut to my concealed-carry figure earlier this year by Brioni of Rome.
This morning is frigid January, clear but moonless—a glassy sky casts faint ethereal starlight from the immaculate white, its shimmering specter out upon the snow as though it dances for an audience of dead glass eyes frozen into gaping sockets whose dead gaze shreds the air silent beyond silence.
I’m coming up.
The pistol grip feels warm in my hand now. I’ve been walking for an hour but I’ve seen not a soul as yet. Christ the anticipation—there’s nothing quite like it—my God!—this morning I am not human for only god can give or take life and this morning I am going to take it.
Take it. I am going to take it.
I am a machine.
I am God.