Penny Loafers

All we found left of the orthodontist were his penny loafers. The rest of him must’ve been eaten by catfish or gar. We knew they were his shoes. We had seen the worn pair many times before. Our town had an unusually high rate of malocclusion. He wasn’t hurting for cash; that wasn’t his problem. He was in despair—you could see it in his eyes as he dug a finger in near your molar. He had thrown himself into the Mahoning River, and for days we believed he was simply lost. Once we found the penny loafers, we knew otherwise. And afterward—after all the details were released in the local papers—a number of the orthodontist’s neighbors began to claim they heard him that night, walking slowly to the river with cinderblocks tied to his ankles, the bricks scraping the sidewalk as he dragged them along. They say their dogs went crazy, howling until dawn, woken, they swear, by the noise. But this doesn’t make sense, logistically speaking. Logistically speaking, wouldn’t you wait until you made it to the bridge before tying bricks to your ankles? Wouldn’t you hoist yourself up on the guardrail and take one last look at the predawn stars before tossing the weight over, before allowing the weight to take you down? Still, these people—these neighbors—stand by their story. I heard what I heard, they say when we press them. They are adamant, they are steadfast, and we only halfway believe them when the wind in the valley is still and the nights seem long and quiet, as if in need of a break in the silence.

Andrew Brininstool has work forthcoming in New South, Quick Fiction and Best New American Voices 2010. His stories have also received the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award from Mid-American Review, the Editors’ Prize from /nor and have appeared in numerous journals. He is currently at work on a novel—a fairy tale about professional bass fishing.