Another Man’s Shoes
Petersen had been married to Marie Claire for twenty-two years when, one summer evening, over a quiet dinner, he told her he was leaving her to live with another woman. Beck, he said, was her name and from what he could figure she was some ten years older than him.
Marie Claire put her fork down, took a deep breath and she asked him if he would be finishing up the rest of the asparagus with braised tofu and slivered almonds before he left.
Beck was a sturdy Germanic woman, with short blond hair and an intense left-handed kick tennis serve. She lived alone in a bungalow by the shore. Her children had moved away, had no interest in her, and visited her infrequently. Not that she was at all lonely. She enjoyed a beer with friends, avoided gossip, and read the classics. And then, of course there was her mixed doubles. On court, she was the Angela Merkel, the black widow, of the game: dazzling and domineering, surgical in her shot selection and scathing in her scolding of her partners flubs.
She watched Petersen play. He was decent enough. Kept his eye on the ball. He could get down on himself if he missed a shot. That was something she could work with. Better that than the arrogance that afflicted so many men. Made them immune to molding, maturing, or appreciating a woman’s counsel.
When Beck’s last husband, an adequate player, died of a short but painful bout of sepsis from a ruptured gallbladder, Beck asked Petersen, whom she did not know well at all, if he would be her new partner and, incidentally, she asked what was his shoe size. After a few thoughtful moments Petersen answered, “Yes. Ten wide.”
Petersen and Beck had proved to be a good team and one evening after a full Saturday of doubles, they went out for a few beers which she put on her tab at the Oak Beach Inn, and she handed him a nearly new pair of Adidas trainers, ten wide, and asked him to marry her.
Petersen and Marie Claire’s son Matthew had overheard his parent’s subdued dinner conversation. He was, at the time, living in their basement taking another year off to find himself, though Petersen, by his own reckoning, thought the boy had already had ample time to have done so and felt that no further amount of searching would prove any more fruitful than the past 20 years had been.
As Marie Claire cleared the dishes of the uneaten asparagus, Petersen agreed to sign the house over to Matthew, and he asked her if she would be okay, to which she indicated that she’d get by and thought she might now get to do some long put off traveling. They didn’t argue. They hadn’t in all the years they had been married.
Marie Claire was not upset. Nor was Matthew. He adjusted well to living on his own in the house he’d grown up in, now without either parent there, neither of whom had ever begun to understand him nor found the need even to try. He let out their musty master bedroom and bath to a boarder, providing him with the cash to pay off the remaining mortgage. He bought a car and got a job at Ain’t That A Shame, a used record shop where he became the manager and part owner in due time.
Petersen found Beck’s first husband’s clothes to his liking and enjoyed several years of reading Time Magazine in a comfy chair and eating dinners of well-seasoned goulash and spaetzle and sharing a beer with Beck before bed.
Moments after they won the club mixed doubles tournament for the fourth year in a row, Petersen was struck squarely on the forehead by the free-spinning solid iron net crank on the net post. He had thought, mistakenly, that it’d been locked in place after lowering the net. He died instantly. His body lay on the grey clay of the doubles alley. The crowd, which had begun to disperse, gasped as if with a single breath.
Beck knelt at his side. “Oh, my God!” she wept.
Those who witnessed the accident said that before the police and volunteer ambulance crew arrived, thanks to the presence of mind of one of the spectators with a portable phone at hand, Beck had unlaced and removed Petersen’s tennis shoes and picked up his racquet, placing them both into her tennis bag along with the winners’ trophy.
Marie Claire, hearing of Petersen’s ghastly death, sent Beck a lovely condolence note on stationery she’d bought in a small shop catering to American ex-pats living in Nairobi. Having lived there after college for a few years as a communications assistant in a UNAID HIV prevention program serving unmarried, unionized, sex workers and their partners and, the epidemic unabated, she was fortunate to get her old job back.
Beck, the following season, after a thoughtfully appropriate period of mourning, found herself a new mixed doubles partner; a youngish curly-headed, recently divorced man, of Swedish decent with good eye-hand coordination, and a taste for stuffed dumplings, who fit well into Petersen’s tennis outfits and loved to play the Ad court, much to her satisfaction.