If black, as a color, could be smelled, then I guess it would be the same as the air in Nick’s shop, Claire mused as she entered. The thick waxy odor hung heavily in the confines of the four walls, despite the continuous efforts of the oscillating fan. The glue scent lingered–as permanent a fixture as the earsplitting finishing grinder and the rattling stitching machine.
Passersby gave the little stucco building hardly a second glance, the words “Shoe Fixer” scrawled in black lettering above the door. Claire had discovered Nick and his talents a few summers ago.
He raised his stained left hand as she entered.“'ello Dolly.” No matter their ages, Nick greeted every girl, ‘Dolly’ and every guy, ‘Bud.’
His black curly hair fell over his right eye. A fit and handsome fifty-something man. Claire estimated he stood a tad under six feet tall. Bits of dry glue clung to his fingers. His soiled apron hung loosely around his neck. He attempted to mask his quizzical expression and glanced briefly at the rack against the wall. Eyebrow raised, he pondered for a moment before she rescued him, “No, Nick, nothing to pick up. I just wanted to say hello.”
“So 'appy to see you,” he said cheerfully. His thick Italian accent gave no hint as to how long it was since he left Sicily. “What do you think about this heat?” His forehead glistened with sweat.
Claire eyed the jar of red licorice and smacked her lips. The cobbler smiled at her child-like gesture and pushed the candy jar to the edge of the stained center, more within her reach.
She popped the candy into her mouth. "It's a scorcher for sure," Claire said between chews. "The shelter needs more fans, I'm on my way to buy a few at the hardware store."
She knew not to ask if he'll install an air conditioner in his shop. Claire had been bringing shoes for long enough to know that Nick thrived in the heat. It was the reason the south-facing window of his shop remained uncovered. He would never be comfortable with iced air blowing around him while he worked. The temperature inside his shop discouraged customers to linger, but Claire enjoyed talking with Nick, so she ignored the heat.
Claire modestly adjusted her damp blouse and said, "Mrs. O'Donnell said to say 'thanks.' She said she hated the thought of tossing her most comfortable church shoes."
They both chuckled. Everyone knew Mrs. O'Donnell walked across her street and sat in her pew at St. Christopher's whenever the bells rang.
“That's what itza all about.” Nick observed as he took a sip of water, “People now-a-days waste a lot of money on new shoes when all they need to do is fix up the old ones. New, new, new; always wanting new things.” He shook his head and adjusted his apron.
The little bell above the door jingled. “Hey-there, Nick. Claire.”
Claire acknowledged her neighbor with a smile and nod. “Hi, Joe.” She moved back to give the large man space as he bulldozed toward them.
“Can you fix these?” Joe placed a pair of badly worn loafers onto the counter. A dirty penny was in the left shoe. Joe's soiled shirt stretched on his frame.
Nick studied the shoes. “Your girl shoulda go to a foot doctor. Looka here, the wear, itza uneven. She may have flat feet and may need to be wearing different shoes or supports. She needs to do this before she gets any older, then itza too late.”
The heavy man scratched his thick beard uninterested in Nick’s diagnosis, “But can they be fixed?”
“Leave them a few days.” Nick wrote out a little red ticket, handing one end to Joe and sticking the other into the right shoe.
Claire knew that when Nick finished, the shoes would look new, with a shiny new penny in each, and Joe’s daughter would never see a foot doctor. She also knew that Nick didn’t need a ticket to remind him whose loafers were in his shop.
“Thanks, Nick.” Joe put the ticket in his shirt pocket and allowed the screen door to slam shut behind him.
Nick gave Claire a wink and offered her another piece of candy. "Ya know, Dolly, a polished pair of shoes does wonders for a person's self-esteem." He popped a licorice square into his mouth before tightening the lid. "So, how are things at the shelter, aside from needing fans?"
"Every bed is full, Nick, and I have two people to interview later for the waitlist. The good news is, remember Tom I told you about? Well, he qualified for the apartment, and the hardware store gave him work; so, one-by-one, we're seeing positive changes."
"There's a lot more to do it, then just fixin' shoes or giving a person a bed. You gotta feel, in here (taps on his chest) the real needs, you know?" Nick gave the loafers another glance before setting them on the workbench. "That is knowing your customers."
Claire said, "Remember little Billy Cunningham. You noticed his shoes wearing out abnormally and suggested to his mom that he see a foot doctor. Then you made arches for him – no cost to his mom. And you got him walking straight as an arrow. You are amazing, Nick.”
“Well, I don’t know about amazing.” He grinned sheepishly. "Like you, I just do my small part in this world."
Eager to tell a story, Nick picked up a pair of high heels. “Now these will kill you.” He chuckled and gave the shoe a brisk shaking. “What people do in the name of fashion. And looka, looka at these scuffs on the sides. I'll bet she don't even wear these shoes outdoors. Maybe the most she walks on a carpet in the office. But the shoes are all scuffed up just from being on her feet under the desk and in her drawer at the end of the day.”
Claire nodded and wiped the perspiration from her upper lip. “I should get going. I'll see you later in the week, there are some shelter residents whose shoes need work."
“Sounds agood.” Each of us, we fixa what we can." Nick came around from behind his counter to open the screen door. He unplugged his fan and carried it outside. He patted Claire's shoulder and stepped in front of her, "I'm agonna put this in the back of your van, the shelter needs it more than I do." He stepped away from the van, "'Ave a good night, Claire, thanks for the visit."
Claire waved goodbye as Nick returned to his workbench. She wheeled herself down the ramp and onto the handicap parking slot. Claire hoisted herself onto the driver's seat, pulled her chair up, and placed it against the back seat. She half-smiled as she looked at her motionless feet: five-year-old shoes with original heels and soles, and scuffed.
Claire's smile widened. As she drove she thought, "Tomorrow I'll take my shoes to Nick for a polishing."
The Fixer is based on a dear friend and
owner of Nick's Shoe Repair,
Drinker St., Dunmore PA.
word count: 1185