We moved into the same office when it was discovered our old building was riddled with asbestos. Every full-time staff member was given their own office, except Mervyn who had to share with me, the part-timer. At the time I thought it was curious, particularly as he was from executive, but I didn’t ask questions.
Mervyn moved in and claimed his desk in the eastern corner and then left for a conference. I moved in shortly after and unpacked papers, books, a box of tissues and a coffee cup. I knew little about my new roommate but it only took two steps to investigate.
Mervyn’s side of the room was decorated with an old lacrosse stick, a display box of old coins and medals, Aboriginal artwork, baskets and wood carvings. There was an antique electric aromatherapy diffuser, dried flowers, wall hangings and masks.
I lifted ornaments and ran my hand over different textures, wondering about the personal value of each piece. His attention to design and detail was impressive, right down to a checked cloth that covered his computer monitor when he put it to bed.
There was one item I didn’t understand. In the middle of Mervyn’s space was a pair of old suede shoes. Curled and empty. Throughout the day I would swivel my chair to look at them, trying to determine whether they were part of his exhibit, or whether they were functional. I also tried to figure out if they were the cause of the musty odour in the room.
I put Mervyn’s shoes in a drawer for a few days and the smell improved, but then I worried Mervyn would return at any minute and be offended. So, reluctantly and slightly vexed, at arm’s length I pulled them out by their curled tips and put them back on the floor.
When Mervyn returned from the conference, we got to know one another. I never found the courage to ask about the shoes but we talked of books and writing and interests. I learned that Mervyn got busted for possession of marijuana in 1972, that he collected old typewriters, that he was once an architect. I also learned that he spoke quietly, close to a whisper.
It was only two weeks after the conference when Mervyn was called into a meeting by management. He didn’t return that day, nor for the next few weeks. I would often swivel and look at the empty suede shoes, wondering where their owner was. One day I arrived at work and Mervyn’s side of the office was completely empty. I looked at the bare carpet that had once been home to his shoes. I missed the smelly old suede and felt shame that I had once banished them to a drawer.
Linda Martin lives in Perth, Western Australia, where she teaches creative writing at the School of Indigenous Studies at UWA. She is also a PhD student, writing a publishing history. But in her spare time, she reads and writes flash fiction.