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Published: 29 March 2024.

by Gerry Gaffney

This story contains a little bit of swearing.

Line drawing of a pair of shoes

"Wingtips? Are you making model aeroplanes or what?" Martin asked his brother Derek.

"You know, those two-tone dress shoes. Also known as brogues."

"Also known as 1920."

"They're coming back into fashion."

"Well you'd know I suppose. Who said that fashion is something so ugly it has to be changed every few months?"


"If you want brogues I guess you'll want an AK-47 as well, to complete the outfit."

At the mention of a gun they both looked towards the window. The city sounded quiet.

"Wrong era, if you're thinking of 1920's. American prohibition and all that. In which case an appropriate gun would be a Thompson sub-machine or a sawn-off shotgun. AK-47 was much later. Wouldn't want to be anachronistic."

"Okay, so for your birthday you want brogues."

"Wingtips. Sometimes known as brogues. But other types of shoes are also known as brogues."

"Jesus, don't make it complicated. Gangster shoes. What size are you?"


"Coincidentally also a gun. Is that African or European?"

Derek laughed. "44 is the European size. Nine-and-a-half Australian."

"Okay, as long as they're not wildly expensive."

"Quite reasonable I would say, especially if your big brother is paying for them. But you might have trouble finding a pair, what with riots and curfews and shootings and them not yet being the height of fashion. I'm happy if you defer the purchase until this is all over."

"If it ever is."


A few days later Derek was making his way through Chinatown with groceries when a car bomb detonated. Martin heard the distant explosion from their flat. By then such things had become almost commonplace.

A few hours later, just as he was starting to become concerned, he answered a knock at the door. There were two police officers.

"Are you Martin Fleming?"


"Can we come in?"

"We have bad news," said the policeman. "Your brother Derek was killed in a bomb blast in Haymarket today."

Martin stared at the police. He sat heavily into a sofa, colours fading from the room around him.

"Is there somewhere you can go to be with family or friends?"

"No. Yes, friends, neighbours."

"I'm afraid you'll have to go to the morgue to identify your brother."

Martin looked up.

"There is no doubt about his identity, I'm sorry," said the policewoman, "but it's a legal requirement that he's formally identified by someone known to him."

They didn't stay for long. It was a busy time.


His neighbour Janice spoke to him, gave him a meal, told him he would have to arrange the funeral. He didn't know anything about that, he was only 28, he'd never had to think about those things. And Derek was only 24. Janice rang a funeral director for him.

The undertaker was a quiet helpful man. He came to the flat late in the evening, sympathised, sat down with him and explained the process. They would collect Derek's body from the morgue when it was released, organise a coffin. Did he want a burial or cremation? Was there a family plot? Would there be a religious service? Did he want a notice put in the papers and socials? When he didn't know any of the answers, the undertaker helped him make decisions.

He asked whether he had clothes he'd like Derek to be dressed in.

"Does it matter?"

"To some people. Not do the deceased, but it can bring comfort to the family."

"Can you give me a couple of minutes to pick out some of his favourite clothes?"

"Of course." The undertaker seemed unhurried although Martin imagined that they must all be busy.

In Derek's room Martin went though the clothes in the wardrobe and dresser. He picked items that Derek had worn often and presumably favoured. He folded them neatly, put them in a holdall and gave them to the undertaker.

"I want to get him new shoes," Martin told him. "He wanted particular shoes for his birthday next week."

The undertaker nodded, though he did point out that few shops and stores were currently open.

"If I can't get them, I'll pick a pair he already has and bring them to you."

The following morning, Janice drove with him to the morgue. They stood behind a window, looking into a barren room with a stretcher on a trolley. Someone pulled the curtain aside for him to confirm it was Derek. He could only see the side of his face, the rest of the body covered. He guessed the covering was a courtesy or to avoid drama. They told him they'd notify the funeral director that the body was ready for collection.

As they left, Martin said he was going to buy shoes for Derek.

"I think you should go home," said Janice, "it's too dangerous on the streets."

"I'll be quick. Just check a few shops and if I can't find what he wanted I'll go straight home."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

"No. Thanks."

Janice looked relieved.

The buses weren't running so Martin took a share bike and rode into the city centre. The streets were quiet. Pairs of soldiers stood at the major intersections. There were army foot patrols on the streets. Many shopfronts had broken windows and there had been fires and looting. There was a burned-out 440 bus outside Museum railway station.

He left the bike on Pitt Street and continued on foot.

David Jones was closed. The Westfield shopping centre escalators were running but it was deserted, the shop shutters closed. The Strand Arcade was shuttered.

On Hunter Street the underpass was open. He went down the steps into the silent arcade. All the lights were on and the mirrored ceiling, usually crammed with movement, showed strangely static shapes.

Opposite a closed Banh Mi shop there was a sign for shoe repairs and sales. The window display was old-fashioned and he imagined he could smell cobblers' glue. Among a neat assortment of shoes in the window was a pair of wingtips, tan and cream. The shop was closed. He tried the door anyway but it was locked. He was turning to walk away when he saw a movement inside. A white-haired bearded man was sitting behind the counter working on a shoe repair. He shook his head. Martin put his hands together as if praying, then spread them apart. He mouthed "Please."

The old man came to the door and carefully looked left and right. He glanced at Martin's shoes before opening the door and letting him in.

"I am closed. Why are you out on the streets?"

"Do you have a pair of those wingtips in a 44?"

"You are not a 44."

"No, they're not for me. For my brother."

"And he sends you out alone into the dangerous streets?"

Martin turned away to hide his tears.

The old man went behind the ancient wooden screen. He returned with a shoe box in hand.

"Here," he said, "44."

"Thank you." He took out his phone to pay. "How much?"

The old man shook his head.

"Who would sell shoes at a time like this? Take them, take them. Go."

In tears, Martin thanked him and left the shop. He heard door lock behind him.


The day of the funeral he got to the undertaker's with time to spare. The undertaker had placed an announcement of his brother's death in the usual places, and Martin, with Janice's help, had called or contacted as many friends and relatives as they could. But he didn't imagine many people would make it. The notice period was too short, and the streets were dangerous. There had been more shooting and fires overnight, with sirens wailing and police, army and medics rushing about.

"I have the shoes," said Martin. He handed over the box. The undertaker opened it and looked at the shoes.

"Very nice," he said. "He liked these?"


"And socks?"

"Oh fuck." He felt a sense of panic. "He'll have to use mine."

"It is not a good look for you, the principal mourner with no socks. Usually we have such things on hand, but lately of course..."

The undertaker looked at Martin.

"If it not an offence to you, I can do without. Mine are good quality. Warm, merino, very good quality. They would match such a pair of shoes." He smiled. "Very gangster."

He bent down to undo his shoelaces.


In the church, Martin gave a brief eulogy to the small crowd who'd managed to attend.

When he was finished talking about his brother, he said, "You know, in these times, when it seems we're tearing ourselves apart, I met a lot of kindness over the last few days. I wish Derek was here to tell him."

He told them about the old shoemaker in the Hunter Street arcade. He told them, to laughter and tears, of forgetting to bring socks for his brother. He told them about undertaker who had donated his socks instead.

The undertaker looked down at his shoes. His naked ankles were almost unnoticeable.

Copyright © Gerry Gaffney 2024