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Fiction #311
(published January 4, 2007)
Are These Your Flip-Flops
by Logan Scherer
Last night, after brushing my teeth, I looked into my spit and saw bits of eaten blueberries that I was sure were not mine. And earlier today, at the beach, I put on a pair of flip-flops that were not mine. It was at Cabana Row - a series of adjacent cabanas separated by two thin strips of concrete and a stretch of sand where those who were too lazy to walk down to the beach sat and intentionally spoke loudly about their lives. I had just stepped out of my friend's cabana and found the spot where I thought I had left my flip-flops. But I saw these flip-flops that were blue with white dots and mine were green and black. Maddie said that they were not hers and I looked everywhere. My flip-flops were not inside the cabana and they were not in its vicinity either. Amidst the chattering of the old women and the crises of some children I panicked.

I couldn't walk across the panels of wood because I did not want splinters on my feet and I would not allow myself to wear those strange flip-flops. They belonged to someone whom I had never met and this someone was clearly irresponsible and careless about this situation. "I wish I could wear my sunglasses. It's driving me crazy — I swear. We shouldn't have even come to the beach today." Dr. Huntsman had advised Maddie that she must not wear any glasses for three weeks because they might ruin the nose.

"I still can't find my flip-flops."

"I'm always losing my stuff around the cabana. And believe me I know how frustrating it is. It just makes me want to strangle those loud fat women and I just want everything to be their faults. They never shut up."

A breeze followed. Maddie turned her head as if the breeze was that strong and grimaced at the group whose conversation I had nearly heard. "I really do get worried about him. He only seems happy when he helps me roll the coins." This was a middle-aged woman speaking.

"My son is happy all the time. He loves people and helping people. He's almost finished his training to become an EMT. I'm so proud of him. I think it sounds like Jeff is going through a phase. I mean I always thought of him as a bright, nice boy."

I walked over to one of the ladies because Maddie's face told me to. Thanks, I thought. Their cabana was two over but their voices were here. I held up the blue flip-flops with white dots — they hung off my fingers. "Excuse me, are these your flip-flops?" It was the kindest tone I could come up with. I got three no's and walked away. They did not whisper about me after I left.

I looked down at the sand and I saw specs of deli cold cuts and the paper that holds sandwiches filled with them. A child's unclaimed pail longed for its shovel but feigned satisfaction with dumped salami. I stole Maddie's grimace. "I want my flip-flops back."

Maddie was almost laughing. "I'm sure you'll find them. I usually find what I've lost around here." She didn't even say it in a comforting way. She should have said I always find what I've lost. But she wouldn't and didn't. Thank you so much — you always really make everything easier for me and have never ceased to be an incredibly empathetic friend. She always seemed to be on the verge of laughter. I really did love her though. "I think I lost half of my sandwich. I'm starving and now I have nothing left to eat." She really was complaining anytime that I paid attention to her. I was almost jealous because I really didn't have much to complain about.

"I wonder what he did with the bump. Dr. Huntsman."

"It's probably nowhere. But I would love to hear a really ridiculous story about what he really wants to do with those extra bumps." I think that Maddie really wanted to see the discarded bump because it would make her feel accomplished even though it was Dr. Huntsman who performed the procedure.

"You can try the lost and found — but I rarely find anything I've lost there." I wasn't aware that we had stopped talking about her nose. She gave me a foul look when I laughed at the image of a woman looking in the lost and found for Maddie's bump. I decided that the lost and found would be my last resort. But then I realized that buying the green and black flip-flops had been my last resort because all of the other colors disturbed me and I couldn't see wearing them to the beach.

"Did you hear what one of those fat old ladies just said?" I realized that Maddie had a precise percentage of her aural energy centered on listening to these other conversations.

"No I did not. What did they say?" She would have told me anyway.

She walked me closer to the cabana so we would be far from the ladies. They never listened to us anyway. "The really fat one was saying how her husband snores all night but he snores these hums of musical notes and sometimes snores songs. Someone told me that I do that! But Dr. Huntsman said that after the operation I wouldn't snore anymore since he fixed my deviated septum."

I remembered learning that the septum divided the heart but I guess there is one in the nose too. "That's so strange. I would have thought that you were the only person who did that." She seemed extremely disheartened as I said that but she always had this almost disheartened look on her face.

I told Maddie I was going to go to the bathroom but I walked up and down Cabana Row undressing the minds of possible suspects. I stared them down and attempted to distinguish the altruistic ones. I was unsuccessful because they all seemed so different and at times none of them seemed capable of even stealing my flip-flops. No one was able to look through my eyes. The children were overly loud and it became almost unbearable. And when I saw one begin to cry I thought that it was the most deliberate action I had seen all day. I walked back to Maddie's cabana.

"I think I'm going to go around and just ask everyone I see if these are their flip-flops."

"Why don't you just put them in the lost and found?"

"Because you told me that you usually don't find anything there." She didn't answer me. I proceeded toward the sand and the army of chairs that faced me. I decided that I had to find the owner of these flip-flops because finding it might lead me to my own.

The pair of blue and white-dotted flip-flops rested on my fingers. No one seemed to notice me as I trekked the mini beach. Almost immediately I found myself lost in conversations.

"You know what's weird. Every night before I go to sleep I plan what songs I'm going to listen to the next morning when I go on the treadmill. It seems like a very daunting task to pick exercise music at the last minute." The words came from a woman who looked about forty. She sat with two other couples that both looked married. Maybe her husband was in the bathroom. When I asked them if they owned the flip-flops, they all shook their heads and one of the men gave a communal no.

I remembered that tonight Maddie would be able to sleep on her stomach. For the past two weeks she had had to sleep on her back, which she constantly complained about. I don't think I'd ever be able to sleep on my back.

I saw two men and a woman sitting in bulky chairs. Before I would ask them about the flip-flops, I tried to hear what they were saying. It really was not a warm day. I was surprised that this many people were here today — it was too cool out to sit at Cabana Row. One of the men was talking about how he had wanted to take karate but couldn't because all of the classes he found were given at night and his bartending duties prevented him from being able to enroll. The way he spoke about karate made me want to enroll in a sewing class.

"Are these your flip-flops?" It looked like I was only referring to the karate man but I was speaking to all three of them.

They understood because I received three no's with an especially generous one from the woman.

The breeze seemed to bring additional throngs of sun worshippers and I was partly disgusted as I watched them in their revelry celebrating each other. I looked over at this group of nine people and was very intimidated at the sight of people engrossed in a story. But the story really did seem fascinating.

"There was this woman standing near the entrance of the library and she looked at me with this clearly affected innocent look. She started to tell me how she had her son waiting in the car and she was really in a hurry. She didn't have time to go in and return this book so she asked if I could return it for her. I felt for her so I said I would.

"I go to the Return Desk and give the lady the two books that I was returning and then the other book and she asked me if they were on time and I said yes. So I started to walk away and then she yelled, 'Excuse me Sir!' So I go back and she says, "This book was due four months ago, you owe the library twenty dollars. I couldn't believe it. So we argued for a while and then I just gave her the money. I can't believe the nerve that some people have. I should have known that that innocent bitch couldn't be trusted."

These people seemed really involved with the story. Almost everyone commented on it.

"I can't believe that."

"I just would not have paid for it."

"I'm not surprised."

"I'm not sure I would have agreed in the first place."

"If people just learned to return books on time there wouldn't have to be late fees."

I was noticed at just the right time. I held the flip-flops up. "Are these anyone's flip-flops?"

No one spoke. The nine people just shook their heads and the storyteller received affected glances from his listeners as if I were a desperate library-rule-breaker who needed some cash. I should have known by looking at them that they wouldn't own a pair of flip-flops that were blue with white dots.

The sun came out again and it made me want to walk down to the beach. I had this desire to stay and listen to more conversations while I inquired about the flip-flops, but I ignored it. I walked past Maddie without her asking me where I was going and I wasn't extremely worried about splinters on my feet. And then thinking about the long trail of wood that led to the beach made me breathe a little harder, but not so much that one of the fat old ladies looked up at me. I don't think they ever looked up at people.

"I keep telling him that he's too smart to be a musician," I heard one of them say. I followed glares of sunshine toward the wooden path.

I always try to stop myself from looking down at the ground as I walk but as I walked to the beach I forgot to. Each plank of wood had tiny ingrained streams that really made me uneasy. Sand and the grass that grows near dunes surrounded me and as I walked, with the flip-flops still hanging from the fingers, I began to slowly jog.

The slow jog became a sprint. I think, at the time, I blamed it on the sun. I liked a good sweat.

I kept running and I stopped just where the ocean seemed to begin. I dropped the flip-flops and watched them float out to the horizon and I thought that maybe some tribal people living on an island would get them and make interesting use of them. Or maybe tomorrow the tide would bring them back and some fat ungrateful person would wear them.

I walked back to the cabana barefooted and I went home with nothing on my feet. Maddie didn't even question me. She drove me home and a couple of hours later I felt a rash on my right foot. I called the podiatrist after I realized that Dr. Huntsman specialized only in rhinoplasty, and we made an appointment for tomorrow. That night I knew I was going to have trouble falling asleep with my infected foot but I knew that Maddie would not and that she would probably breathe a sigh of relief as for the first time in two weeks she would be sleeping on her stomach. And I know that I will never know what it's like to sleep on my stomach for the first time in two weeks.

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