A few months ago, I was in my dad’s garage. I was looking for something; what that was I can’t really remember. I rooted around the rickety shelves and dodged the old rucksacks hanging from the wooden beams away from the clutches of the local wildlife looking for a fancy home. In the corner next to paint tins and camping gas I spotted my dad’s boots. I sat on the bonnet of his car to look at them. The car bonnet was cold and covered in a layer of silent dust; ironic in some ways as I’ve learnt that grief never seems to allow the dust to settle and is the loudest of companions. I lifted the boots from the shelf and inspected them. To my surprise, I found a single stone sitting in between the grooves in one of the soles. It dawned on me that this stone was probably a stowaway from the last walk he ever did. Where was that walk? Who was he with? What had he been thinking as he walked? I sneaked that single boot with that single stone out of the garage and took it home.
Protecting that stone from falling out or removed by someone who hadn’t considered the enormity of it suddenly became one of the most important things in the world to me. That stone coming free or being taken away seemed like it would mean that the kingdom would fall. My own equivalent of ravens departing the Tower of London.
The boot lived in my rucksack, like a secret note in a schoolboy’s pocket, hidden away through embarrassment and checked from time to time that no one had uncovered it.
It’s been with me on every walk I’ve done since and when I’ve dug in my bag for a flask or glove, my hand has traced its way along those empty river beds on the sole to check the stone is still there.
Holding on, is a heavy burden. My father’s ashes remain unscattered and I never thought that this would be an issue but perhaps this story of the boot and the stone shows it is. A friend of mine shared the following words with me – ‘There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.’
Over the past year I have found myself being drawn to the hospital where he passed away. For me, this is where he is. I know he isn’t but it’s where I come. I have sat in the cafe or anonymously left tins of biscuits for visitors on those seats that I spent so many hours waiting on.
Perhaps his boot, and the stone, need to find their own place of rest in the mountains and maybe then the magnetic pull of the hospital will fade. Perhaps, I’ll make my own cairn somewhere and place the boot beneath it so that his last walk is preserved. Perhaps the boot needs to be put in a lake he loved so that the undertow decides when that stone comes free and not me.
Read my other Tales from the Outside here.