I'm Wide

Gordon Lish


My wife and small son were away for the week, having removed themselves from the day-to-day predicament for a brief travel to a place of better weather. I was fine the first night, and remained equally fine the second and third, feeding myself from the cabinets and cupboards and pantry and doing what seemed expectable in the way of tidying up. Yet each night I would put off my hour of retirement a trifle longer than that which had found me seeking the sanctuary of my bed the night previous—so that by the fourth night, it was virtually daybreak when I sought the security of blankets and pillow. Mind you, I was not passing the sleepless hours in any particular fashion, aside from the regularity of those few moments that saw to my nutrition and the succeeding clean-up of the premises. But I cannot tell you what precisely I was doing, save that I think I spent the greater particle of the time moving from room to room and regarding the objects that adorned them. At all events, it was during the course of the fifth night of their absence—of my wife and small son, I mean—that I was suddenly, in my meanderings, captured by the sense that I had happened to come upon the thought of my lifetime. It was while beholding the seat of a wainscot chair of the Jacobean period, and while losing myself in the patina my week-by-week waxing of its surface had achieved, that I thought, “Why wax?” I mean, it was utterly stupefying, this notion—Why wax? Why, indeed, wax anything ever again, when one could instead coat a surface with—ahh—shellac!

I was positively beside myself with excitement, gripped by a delirium of a quality I am not competent to describe. I remember thinking, “My God, just look at me, an ordinary fellow abandoned by wife and child, now exalted in his possession of a piece of the most exquisite invention!” I was quick to consider the punishing labors of all those persons who, for years by the eras, had applied themselves to the rude practice of spreading on and then of rubbing and buffing, this when one layer of shellac could end such brutish industry forever.

I went first to the shelves that we used for the storage of all flammables, took what I wanted in the way of a can and a brush, and then made haste for my closet, there taking up the two pairs of shoes I then owned and carrying them into the living room, stopping en route to gather several sections of the Sunday paper from the stack it is our habit to keep accumulating from Sunday to Sunday.

Oh, you goon! Did you honestly think it was the furniture I meant to have a go at? Great heavens, no. Shellac on wood has been done and done—whereas who’d ever thought of shoes!

I arranged things.

I laid out paper.

I pried off the lid of the can.

I inspected the brush for dust, for hairs.

Have I said that wife and son are endowed with hair of the finest filament? In any case, I went to work, and left my efforts to dry, sleeping more satisfactorily than it had been my fortune to do in years.

But when I returned from my office the following evening, both pairs of shoes were still wet—two nights thereafter (I was appalled), they were no drier. It was only then that I realized I had been wearing galoshes.

I went at them with a razor blade, the shoes, scraping. I scraped and then I tried a solvent. I admit it—this time I didn’t bother myself with newspaper. I no longer liked the floor any better than I liked my shoes.

I won’t make this last forever.

I murdered those shoes.

I hacked at them—I dug and delved at them, and stabbed and stabbed.

Towards dawn, I dumped them in the trash, and got out the vacuum cleaner to suck up the shreds of leather. But I could see there was no repairing the floor by such measure. The solvent had eaten holes through the varnish. It was festered, the floor. It was an infestation.

I skipped my office after scrubbing off the stain on my hands. I went in galoshes straight to a shoe store, took a seat and stuck out a galosh, said “Nine-and-a-half, E. Give me a brogue.”

“You mean a blucher?” said the simp.

“That’s it,” I said. “E. I’m wide.”

“In a jiffy,” he said, and the purchase was made, the whole ugly affair accomplished in minutes.

I was fine. All the way home, I was fine. For the rest of the day I ate biscuits and tidied and waxed those shoes. It was not until the new shoes seemed as shiny as they would get that I left off and squatted there gazing at things, studying the chairs and the tables, all the surviving surfaces that gleamed. It was then that I was willing to reckon with the rest of what I had said to that fop of theirs when he had asked why in the world I was wearing galoshes now that the streets were bare of snow.

Oh, listen to me listening to myself!

“Listen,” I said. “I got this boy, God love him, he’s seven, and all he wants to do is do for me. So what happens? So when I’m not looking, what happens? Listen,” I said, now and raising my voice for them in that whole shoe store to hear, “that kid, that wonderful kid, he takes a can of shellac to every last one of my shoes to put a lasting shine on them!”

I even laughed when everybody laughed.

Do you understand what I am saying to you?

I winked my goddamn head off—me, a man.