Fiction: The Boot
By Mason Yates
John stood beside the window with both hands on his hips, his eyes peering outside at the landscape-painted walls in the distance. From his position inside his practice, he could see a few of them: one long horizontal wall painted to look like rolling hills, then two shorter vertical walls painted to resemble cornfields and mountain ranges. The fourth wall—the second horizontal one painted as an oak forest—resided behind the practice, out of sight. Each barrier stretched skyward, their bodies so high they disappeared into the clouds and glare that reigned from above. All in all, they created a massive, rectangular box large enough to house a functioning town with over two thousand residents. John gazed at the behemoths for a short time, his thoughts rampant, asking himself how the unknown artists had painted so high, then wondering whenthe landscape works had been completed. But John did not see a point in his questions. He lowered his gaze to the bustling town outside, everyone in the happiest of moods as seen by the smiles and infectious laughter.
“Coraline,” John said as he watched the townspeople walking and shopping and laughing, “how many more patients do we have today?”
“One more,” Coraline, the assistant, said from behind her mahogany desk across the little waiting room. She sat close to the wall and faced the entire room. Part of her face was bathed in an unnatural glow thanks to the computer to the left of her. Despite it being a newer touchscreen device, she preferred to use the keyboard. She typed something. “Ann Fiddler is coming in later for a routine appointment.”
“What time?” John asked as he continued to stare out the front window, this time glued to the mom-and-pop grocery store across the street where a handful of people entered and exited all at once. An old lady packed plastic grocery bags into the trunk of her car, while a gentleman not even a foot beside her stood with roses in hand.
“Looks like at five,” Coraline said with a grin spread across her pale face.
“That’s not for another hour,” John said and turned around. He sighed, shook his head in disgust, and frowned. “Call her and make an appointment for tomorrow morning. I’m going out for the day. It’s a nice afternoon. I’d hate to waste it.”
Coraline frowned. “You don’t want to spend another hour with me?”
“It’s not that. It’s just a nice day.” John chortled. He ambled toward his assistant’s desk, untying his tie as he did so. “Do women really like roses or is it just the thought that counts?”
Coraline blushed. “Yeah. All girls like roses. Why?”
John turned back to the window across the room and nodded in its direction. “There was an older gentleman out there with roses in his hands. It gave me the idea of getting some for my wife. I was just curious if women actually like them or just say they like them.”
“Oh.” Coraline sighed. “Yeah. They like them.”
“Good.” John took off his tie. He unbuttoned the top button of his dress shirt. It felt lots better. He scratched his five o’clock shadow and ran a hand through his slicked-back blond hair. “I think I’m going to go home early. Surprise her, you know?”
“Good idea,” Coraline said with a tone of indifference. She refocused on the computer.
John smiled. “Thank you.”
He disappeared into the dark hallway attached to the lobby to grab his stuff (a duffle bag filled with supplies he used around the office) from an exam room and reappeared no more than half a minute later. He strode over to the front doors, but before he pushed one open, he glanced over his shoulder and said, “Don’t forget to give Mrs. Fiddler a call.”
Coraline shot him a thumbs up. “Got it.”
John stepped out of his practice and walked across the tiny parking lot. He stopped at his car long enough to throw his duffle bag and tie in the backseat, then walked across the road to go to the market, passing his practice’s sign (a flat marble slab beside the street that red “Dr. Alston, Gynecologist” in etched letters) as he did so. The moment he made it to the market’s parking lot, someone honked behind him. John turned just in time to catch a friendly wave.
Mrs. Ellie Dandy, the mom-and-pop store’s fantastic owner, a woman in her early sixties, greeted him the moment he stepped into the building. She stood behind the front counter. “Hey, Dr. Alston! Welcome in!”
“Hi, Mrs. Dandy,” John called back. He waved. “How’re you?”
“Aw,” Ellie started with a shrug as she helped a customer check out, “I guess I can’t beat it. I woke up this morning. That’s all I need.”
John chuckled. “That’s always a good start.”
“Indeed it is.” She recommenced scanning groceries.
John strode through the grocery store clogged with customers, most of whom—except for the men, that is—were his patients. Several women gave him a smile or a nod. He returned each one. He started down the candy aisle first and made sure to pick up a heart-shaped chocolate box (dark, not milk; his wife preferred the bitter rather than sweet) off the top shelf, despite it being a full two coins more expensive than the rectangular dark chocolate box beside it. Maurine always deserved the best. With it under his arm, he strolled to the produce section. A great arrangement of flowers sat in the middle of the fruits and vegetables. He eyed them all: the red roses, the pink tulips, the yellow daffodils, the orange marigolds. Each one pleased his eyes, but he chose roses.
Like normal, the checkout line stretched several yards away from the cash registers, more than a dozen waiting. Two women—Mrs. Dandy one of them, of course—helped ring up customers; the other girl, a new employee, much slower than the more experienced Ellie. John, a little anxious to get home, watched the items get swept across the scanners. He had an extra hard time keeping surprises. Each time he planned one, he gave it away before he got through with it. It seemed like every holiday—especially Christmas—he ruined surprises by giving his wife gifts a week earlier than expected. Maybe, he suspected, he loved her too much. Every single day, he looked forward to getting home at six on the dot to wrap his arms around her. But he planned on getting home two hours early today, a big surprise. He fought himself from giving her a call. He yearned to tell her the news: “Honey, I got off work early today!” Yeah, this time John would be able to contain himself—or he hoped, at least. Today he would keep the surprise to himself so—
“Next!” Mrs. Dandy called. “You’re up, Dr. Alston!”
John blinked out of his thoughts and looked around himself. He stood yards from Dandy, an empty space between them. She stood behind the counter with an I’m waiting expression stamped on her face, and John had to laugh off his embarrassment. He started to the register.
“Stuck in your thoughts?” Mrs. Dandy asked and smiled at him.
John chuckled. He put his items onto the counter. “I guess so.”
Ellie picked the roses first, scanned them, then reached for the chocolate. “For the wife?”
“Yeah,” John started. “I got off work early today, and I thought I would surprise her, you know?”
“Good man,” Mrs. Dandy told him. She leaned over, bosom on the counter. “I’ve got an awesome treat underneath the register that I think is even better than the chocolate, though. Your wife would love it. Do you know Farmer Thomas?”
John nodded. He raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. What about him?”
“Well,” Mrs. Dandy started and lifted herself off the checkout counter, “he’s an awesome winemaker. Here”—she brought a bottle out from underneath the table and set it on the polished surface in front of him—“give this a look. You have to try this. To be honest with you, doctor, I have a hunch this wine is going to be sold out as soon as the public catches word of it.”
John glanced at the wine bottle. A cork had been shoved halfway into the neck, and three red bows were wrapped around the top as if the bottle presented itself as a gift to humankind. An elegant paper wrapped around the bottle’s wider part read: Thomas Winery. Its dark red content, though murky, harbored golden flecks, sparkly objects, that swam lackadaisically back and forth. A few floated near the top.
John leaned closer. He pointed at the specks. “What is that?”
“I have no idea,” Mrs. Dandy said. “I know they taste good, though.”
John squinted and peered through the murk. He tapped the glass like a fishbowl, and the golden flecks swirled, collided with one another. One, the shape of a cowboy boot, bumped into one shaped like a star. At the bottom of the bottle, heart-shaped specks refused to move.
“I’ll also tell you this,” Mrs. Dandy whispered and leaned closer. “I tasted it yesterday.”
“Not only was it good, but after I had a glass, I found myself in a heavenly state of bliss.”
“You got high?” John questioned.
Mrs. Dandy nodded. “Can you imagine me high? I’m an old lady. But, yeah, I got high. My husband did, too. We both did. It was great. I tried marijuana before, you know? This wine blew that outta the water.”
“Is it safe?” John asked. He picked the bottle off the counter and flipped it over. As soon as he did so, the golden flecks inside the bottle spun out of control. He noticed a handful stuck to the bottom, so he tapped there and watched the heart-shaped flecks undo themselves. The shapes drifted into the dark liquid until they disappeared. John put the bottle back on the counter. “This looks peculiar. What even are those things?”
“I don’t know if they’re safe, but I tried them. I’m fine.” Mrs. Dandy looked down at the bottle and shook her head. “But I tell you. You won’t regret tasting it. It’s really good.”
John glanced at Ellie. “I’m a doctor, Ellie. I can’t just get high.”
Mrs. Dandy chuckled. “Up to you, Dr. Alston. Your wife would love it.”
“I bet she would,” John said. He nodded twice, then flung his hands up in defeat. “Fine. Scan it before I change my mind.”
Mrs. Dandy smiled and scanned the bottle. “Good choice, Dr. Alston.”
John pulled into his driveway at four-thirty in the evening, an hour or so before the world would descend into rapid darkness. On normal days, he arrived a half an hour after dark, usually at six on the dot. He would come home to an illuminated house, a fresh dinner, and a movie. To arrive before the standard five-thirty daylight cutoff felt peculiar. The house did not radiate light from the curtained windows, and John could not smell anything cooking from where he stood. It smelled like fresh grass, nothing more. He stepped out of the car with a bagful of goodies, and in a curious manner, looked around him. His house sat at the end of a neighborhood cul-de-sac, the last house before reaching the outskirts of the town. Large oak trees loomed behind the home. It was a forest, actually. A small one. In fact, it was only ten acres deep. After that, it stopped at a wall—a vertical wall painted to look like a mountain range. John glanced at the large illustration before turning the opposite direction, north. Downtown dwelled more than two miles away from him, yet he could still see a few large buildings peeking over the neighborhood houses. Then, he glanced at the sky: a ceiling of light shining down upon the rectangular world.
John did not stare into the heavens for long. He used to gaze into the sky as a child, but it no longer felt like a pleasant pastime anymore. He had learned to push all his stupid questions to the curb. No more “why is the world a rectangular box?” or “what is above the sky?” or “how’re we here?” Nowadays, he focused on his practice or his wife. He locked the car with his key fob, then walked to the front door with his house key in hand. Faint music drifted down the stairs like a fluid the moment he stepped inside, an old Neil Diamond song called “Holly Holy” that piqued his interest. John grinned, shut the door behind him, set the groceries in the kitchen, and climbed the stairs. Neil Diamond grew louder with every step, and when he reached the second level, he found that the music emanated from the master bedroom down the hall, the door cracked open so nothing much could be seen inside other than clothes piled on the floor and daylight streaming in through an open window.
As soon as he pushed the door all the way open, John did not know what made him sicker: the sight of his wife in bed with another man or the mere idea of his wife having sex with another man. Maurine had her eyes closed, her face contorted into an expression of absolute and pure pleasure. The bedsheets were under her, while her legs were spread open, bare feet high up. A younger man stood in front of her, his back to John as he thrusted his hips against Maurine. A grunt sounded from the stranger’s throat.
Neither noticed the unwelcome guest.
“What the hell?” John muttered in an attempt to break his silence. “What’s going on?”
The man tossed a glance over his shoulder, a hideous expression—a mix of horror, shock, and embarrassment—written all over his face. He shrieked like a wounded feline and pulled out of Maurine, followed by a whimper. Then, he grabbed a pillow to cover his privates. As he flew off the bed, he bumped into the record player. It screeched to a halt.
An annoyed expression, on the other hand, stamped itself on Maurine’s face. She sighed, sat up, and pulled the bedsheets over her naked lap. Her breasts, however, stayed exposed. Both nipples were erect.
“What the hell are you d-doing, Maurine?” John asked and stepped into the bedroom. He glanced over at the fellow with the pillow over his crotch. “Who the hell are you?”
“I… I didn’t…” the man started, but his voice trailed off, unable to find the correct words to express his mix of emotions.
“John,” Maurine started, annoyance found in her tone, “why are you home early?”
“I didn’t have any patients.” John shook his head. “That doesn’t matter. What the hell’s going on here, Maurine? Like, what the hell are you doing?”
“I… I’m sorry,” the man said and scooted to the bedroom corner. He bent and snatched a pair of pants off a pile of clothes. “I didn’t get a chance to ask if—”
“Andrew,” Maurine cut him off. She turned to face him. “Just go home.”
She waved a hand at him as if to say get out of here, then returned to John, an expression of utter annoyance still splattered on her pale face.
“Why did you have to come home so early?” she asked. “You always ruin a good time!”
“I… what?” John retaliated. He scoffed. “I’m r-ruining a good time? Your legs were all spread open for another man.” He flicked a hand at the half-naked guy in the corner. The man’s hands trembled as he tried to throw his shirt on. “How’s this my fault that you were… fucking… another m-man in my house?”
“It isn’t your house,” Maurine sneered. “Both our names are on it. Plus, don’t spew that. We both know that you have women spread their legs for you all day at the office. You are some jerk.”
“Whatever.” John flung his hands in the air as the man in the corner snuck out and ran to the stairs. The front door opened and slammed shut no more than fifteen seconds later. “Is this, you know, normal for you? Are you even sorry about this?”
“No,” Maurine said and crossed her arms. “Why should I be sorry?”
“No,” Maurine repeated. “You are the one that should be sorry.”
John scoffed again. “You aren’t serious.”
“I am,” Maurine told him. She uncrossed her arms and pointed at her husband. “You are the one acting so irrational right now. Stop making a fit over completely nothing, John. You are always like this. You act like a… like a fucking child sometimes. You know that?”
“Huh?” John backstepped to the door, taken aback by the situation. “It’s my fault?”
“If anything, yes!” Maurine shrieked. She ran her fingers through her brunette hair. “My only time alone just has to be interrupted. You should have stayed at work until after dark.”
“I bought wine and chocolate and flowers for you,” John spat out. “I thought it’d be—”
“You eat the chocolates!” Maurine yelled. “And while you’re at it, get out of the room so I can get dressed. Gosh, you really act like a little kid. Why do you have to ruin a good time?”
John leaned against the doorframe and lifted a hand to rub his forehead. “I can’t begin to believe all this.”
“Well,” Maurine started as she tossed the covers off herself to get up, “you better start to. And I don’t want to hear you pouting about it for the rest of the night. This is your fault for—”
It happened with an instant, too fast for either of them to comprehend it: a loud crash and an explosion which rumbled the earth (or, in other words, the contents of the large container that they lived in). John fell to the floor, while Maurine grabbed mattress. An aftershock thundered, a weaker vibration than the first but still powerful. The house trembled, and somewhere, a piece of glass shattered and tinkled. A sudden gust of wind slammed into the house.
John struggled to his feet after the softer second explosion, then stumbled to the bedroom window. He threw the curtains aside. Never in his life did he expect to see what he stared out at. A giant brown boot had crushed downtown, along with his office and Mrs. Dandy’s store. Trails of smoke rose to the sky, as well as the leg attached to the boot, the pants-covered stalk somehow vanishing into the unnatural bright light above. Neighbors erupted out of their houses, figures all over the cul-de-sac now, their eyes directed on the human foot that had plummeted from the pale, shattered sky. John smushed his face against the window and squinted to see the object better. It did not move.
“What is it?” Maurine asked from the bed.
John gulped. “A boot.”
Mason Yates is from a small town in the Midwest, but he currently lives in Arizona, where he graduated from Arizona State University. He has interned with the magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and has served as the fiction editor for ASU’s undergraduate literary magazine Lux during the 2021-2022 school year. His works can be found in magazines/webzines such as Land Beyond the World, Scarlet Leaf Review, Fabula Argentea, Idle Ink, Pif Magazine, and others.