“Been away so long, I hardly knew the place…”
I’ve not participated in weeks, but I must acknowledge three years of OLWG prompts! I pulled prompts from this post and the subsequent one, plus added one other. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a clue: What gift do you give for a third anniversary?
Along the old Lincoln highway in the heart of the industrial district, the Harvey Tannery and Shoes factory stretched all the way between Gower and Terracotta Avenues. The giant brick facility had been there practically since the day the city was a city. Its tannery days were long over, of course, and the manufacturing of shoes moved out about 60 years after that to wherever cheap labor could be found. What was behind the dirty shop windows was anybody’s guess. For the last several decades, people only knew it as “that giant brick building”, a relic of bygone days.
Dilapidated as it appeared, it was built to be a fortress. A century and a half of epic winter storms, floods (before the dam was built), a couple earthquakes and decades of Halloween pranksters who swore it was haunted, or drunk college boys on a Saturday night throwing rocks at the windows had not degraded its stalwartness, nor penetrated its walls.
Malcolm Dixon, a sixth generation Harvey on his mother’s side, depended on the building’s fortitude. It had been his home for some forty years. The original arrangement with the members of the Harvey family that still owned the property—-rent free residence in the apartment on the top floor that once was the factory foreman’s overlook, in exchange for turning the place into an event hall—-proved a pipe dream. Every effort to rid the place of the smell of curing leather and shoe polish did not work. The stuff perpetually emanated from the old brick walls. Not wanting to have to find another place to live, Malcolm suggested opening a shoe repair. He set up shop in what once was the entry lobby and administrative offices. He hand painted a marquee across the lobby windows in Robin’s egg blue that read, “Harvey Factory Shoe Repair”. In the decades since, the lettering faded to near white, but it still proudly announced that a shoe repair service was alive and well.
Not that Malcolm was not a cobbler. Never had been, and never wanted to be one. He just figured a shoe repair an obvious choice for an old shoe factory. Malcolm took the shoes and boots dropped off for repair out to the son of an old friend who actually was a cobbler. Once a week, Malcolm hopped a bus to the man’s shop in the suburbs with whatever had come in and returned the next week to pick up the repaired shoes. No one was ever the wiser. The warehouse shift workers, truckers and sometimes police officers who came in were just grateful to have a place where they could leave their expensive work boots to be resoled or patched for far less than the price of a new pair.
Primarily, Malcolm was a barroom fixture at The Factory Floor Bar & Grill. Part biker bar, part happy hour joint for shift workers, the place had been in the industrial district possibly as long as the Harvey factory. There was always a small crowd of bikers and drifters from opening to closing, but each weekday around 4:00pm, the place filled with tuneless rock-n-roll from the old juke box and guys and gals taking a load off of a long day before heading home. Malcolm would be in his spot at the end of bar closest to the door, greeting all the regulars as they came and went, sometimes collecting shoes for repair and payment for work completed, like some sort of side hustle.
On this day, when Malcolm came in at his usual time, the bartender, a tattooed toughy named Angel, uncharacteristically greeted him with a smile as she handed him his usual.
“So. Word’s goin’ ‘round,” Angel began, “and hey, that’s tough news. I’m really sorry to hear. You OK? I mean, where will ya go?”
Malcom took his boilermaker from Angel but hesitated a moment before he downed the whiskey and took a draw off his beer.
“Hmm?” he questioned, a bit confused.
“Um, we were just wondering…”
“Wait, wait … what’a ya mean, where will I go?”
Angel refilled Malcolm’s shot glass, “On the house.” Malcolm tossed the second shot back but kept his eye on Angel, who continued to give him a sheepish smile. As he set the glass down, he glanced around the room. A couple of the regulars quickly looked away.
“Angel? Why’s everyone’s lookin’ at me? What do you mean, ‘where will I go’?” Malcolm asked with some force this time.
Angel chose her words carefully. “OK. So, we heard…the old factory? Your building? Sold. Everyone’s talkin’ about it. People been askin’. I…we…just…are concerned, ya know? Anyway, I’m just sayin’. If you need a place, Bob said, if you want, you could stay in the studio back of the kitchen while you look for another place…”
Malcolm had been alone for so many years, with nobody to talk to but the crowd at the bar, that he had long been in the habit of not answering his phone in the shop. It suddenly occurred to him that lately, the phone had been ringing off the hook. He assumed it was robocalls. He never checked voicemail.
His mind was running like a gush of water down a gully. “What’a mean, you heard it sold?!”
- run like water
- barroom fixture
- that song needs a chorus
- Gowers Avenue
- dirty windows
- robin’s egg blue