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WE CLEAN UGGS by JP Sortland

Yes. No. Hand washed. No machine.

He was the only man who shined shoes at George’s Shoe Repair. The tiny refuge was located below ground at the 51st and Lexington subway station.

Yes. Hand. Wash. Personally. You’ll like.

There were two or three ladies of an implacable foreign origin who also shined shoes in silence. Customers predicted the mystery women came from Bolivia to Tajikistan and everywhere in between.

Buddy’s origin was clear as mud too. But wherever he’d come from before ending up at George’s had made him an amicable fellow. Unlike the shoeshine girls, the patrons of George’s never wondered where Buddy was from. Instead they wondered how anyone could be so nice.

Friendly like a Canadian, one customer said to his coworker. German maybe? Yeah, kinda I dunno. Except a different accent and everything.

The leopard coat girl had little faith in Buddy and therefore she had faith in nothing.

His hands rested carefully atop her Uggs. His fingertips ready to pluck them off the counter with a gentle squeeze of his fingertips into their furry insides. To Buddy, this exchange should already be done. Those soft boots should already be in line with the others.

You’re sure you won’t like ruin them, right?

Buddy gave her a smile to deflect the insult. Hidden behind his friendliness was a plea for understanding and trust.

Clean Uggs every day.

And you’re not gonna throw them in a washing machine right? Because the tag says spa-cifically they have to be hand washed.

Yes. No. Hand washed. See? Wash by hand. Stuff with paper to keep good form. Help dry. Protective spray for leather. Good care.

Um. Okay?

The leopard coat girl released the boots. The cynicism however, her lack of faith in Buddy and therefore mankind, stayed with the Uggs.

Buddy handed her the ticket and the leopard coat girl hesitantly took it. Her face twisted in confusion and looked like written information had never been conveyed to her.

Buddy wanted nothing more than for George’s shop to be profitable. A busy shop meant money for Buddy. However, a crack in his resolve made him wish the leopard coat girl had never stepped foot into that business. Into his consciousness.

I need those by tomorrow.

*

Yes. No. I don’t know. So sorry.

Buddy shook his head at George. His arms fell to his side.

I have the ticket? They were here yesterday?

The leopard coat girl snapped her gum. Buddy silently thanked her for it.

He knew how George loathed the sticky substance. He had seen more gum on the bottom of shoes than anyone in New York City.

I’m real sorry, miss. We’ll compensate you for the loss.

They were like two hundred.

George winced.

Two hundred new. How about one-fifty?

Fine. Whatever. I’m never coming back here.

Understandable, miss.

Buddy remained quiet at George’s side. Obediently bearing witness to the berating.

You sure you didn’t see them nowhere?

Yes. No.

Buddy shook his head.

I like just don’t understand how you lose boots?

Buddy looked down at the floor.

He’d be paying for those boots unless George found forgiveness in his shoe polished heart. It was the price he had to pay. It was a fair price.

Someone could’ve run in and snagged em. Buddy here turns his back for one second and that’s all they need.

George handed her the monetary apology.

Buddy weighed the relationship he’d built with his employer. This was a setback, but it was repairable.

He’d looked high and low but the boots were nowhere in the shop.

He knew because the last time he’d seen them they were flying off the Queensboro Bridge into the East River.

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