The Tiny Brown Shoe
An Unlikely Find
The Tiny Brown Shoe
Hardly noticeable at first, like a miniature sailboat it rose and fell on the waves of the icy cold north Atlantic.
Climbing down cautiously from the bluffs and over the rocky perches on the shores of Northern Cove, 12-year-old Maggie Murphy made her way to the water’s edge struggling to identify the strange object that had caught her attention. In the distance, Bird Island was living up to its name as gulls, gannets and puffins came and went about their business preparing for summer at the end of a long cold winter. Strings of cumulus clouds scooted across the late May sky and the sun offered the occasional glimpse.
Now at the water’s edge, the object bounced against the hard granite shore.
A tiny brown shoe. No laces, just a strap across the top to hold it in place.
Maggie reached down and scooped it up. It looked very different and way too small to be worn by anyone she knew. Other than soaking wet it was in almost perfect condition, like it had been just placed there.
She shoved the shoe into her waist band and made the slow climb pulling herself to the top of the ridge. Now running, she hurried towards a small brightly painted house. Surely someone there could explain the origin of this lone shoe.
Patricia Murphy, Pat to everyone else, was hanging sheets on the line when her breathless daughter suddenly appeared at her side holding out the single brown shoe.
“Where’d that come from?” she asked.
“Found it in the cove,” Maggie replied.
Pat slowly turned it over in her hands and shook her head. They both agreed that it was a rather odd find and didn’t seem to be like anything they’d seen any other children wearing.
“Let’s see what father thinks,” suggested Pat.
Jack Murphy had the wind-blown hard weathered face of a cod fisherman. Following in his father’s footsteps and those of his grandfather, he had provided for his family by braving the north Atlantic seas. He had just returned from a week at sea and was mending nets when Maggie and Patricia approached.
“What’s up with you two?” he asked, a smile peeking out from around the edges of his pipe.
Maggie held out the shoe and offered it to Jack. In an instant, his smile was gone and a serious stare took its place.
“Where’d you get this?” he asked quietly.
“Down in the cove,” replied Maggie. “It was just floating there, so I picked it up. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” replied Jack, “It’s just so small.”
“Where’d you think it came from?” quizzed Maggie.
“Who knows. Just put it in the house and we’ll ask around.”
With that, Maggie took the tiny wet shoe, wrapped it in an old cloth, and placed it on her bedroom dresser.
Outside, Patricia had noticed the sudden change in Jack’s mood.
“What’s wrong, Jack?” she asked.
Jack had just returned from fishing. He understood as well as anyone how dangerous the sea could be. That late winter and early spring of 1912 had been warmer than normal but that also meant the ever-present danger of icebergs had been even greater this year. Just weeks earlier during an unloading at the fish processing plant, he had heard a report of a giant passenger ship called the Titanic, a so-called unsinkable craft on its way to New York, that had struck an iceberg and sank south east of Newfoundland, killing more than a thousand people, including children.
Jack knew it was very unlikely that a shoe from hundreds of miles away would make its way to shores of Newfoundland. If anything, the Gulf Stream would take any wreckage away and the prevailing winds made it even more unlikely. Nevertheless, it was the kind of coincidence that was deeply disturbing.
By dinner time, the talk at the table was mostly about fishing and Jack’s upcoming return to the fishing grounds and what had to be done before his next trip. There was some planting to do and there was talk of taking a trip to St. John’s sometime later in the summer. The trip to the Newfoundland capital was always exciting. There was ice cream and other local delicacies to be enjoyed, and there was Uncle Steve and Auntie Marianne to visit.
The sun was staying up longer and the air was getting warmer so bedtime came a little later than usual but for Maggie sleep came quickly.
She awoke to the sound of muffled sobs.
It took a moment before she could make out the small figure standing at the foot of her bed. Startled Maggie called out, “Who are you?”
The small voice, still sobbing, replied, “I can’t find my shoe.”
“Who are you? what’s your name?” she asked again.
“I’m Davey, Davey Murdock.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“The boat,” replied the small voice.
“The big boat. I can’t find my shoe.”
Maggie, still groggy, had almost forgotten about the shoe. “I’ve got your shoe.” She reached to her dresser and grabbed the cloth wrapped package.
“Thank you,” came the small voice.
Maggie slowly unwrapped the shoe and turned back to the small figure, “Here it is.”
But the boy was gone. It was the middle of the night, too late to wake mom and dad. Anyway, it must have just been a dream?
Maggie woke the next morning to the sounds of screaming gulls soaring and diving with the breezes along the bluffs. Still disturbed by the night’s events, she found the shoe and the cloth wrapping lying on the floor at her bedside.
At first, she hesitated to say anything but as the family gathered around the breakfast table, Maggie told them about her visitor. Probably just a very vivid dream brought on by the finding of the shoe, they all agreed. But it was so real. She could still picture the little boy dressed neatly in a white shirt with a grey coat and matching pants with cuffs folded into long black socks. And where had the name Davey Murdock come from? No one had an answer for that but all once again agreed that the finding of the shoe was the only logical explanation for the dream.
Summer in Northern Cove came and went. The trip to St. John’s was the best yet. Lots of ice cream and even some extra shopping. The visit with Uncle Steve and Auntie Marianne was a special treat and Maggie learned she was about to have a new cousin.
Fall brought a whole bunch of new chores. Mom had begun canning vegetables and the last of the garden crops were being harvested. Dad was splitting wood for the fireplace and preparing for some winter work. Maggie was getting ready to begin her first year of high school.
The tiny brown shoe, light dust settling on it, sat almost completely forgotten on the top of Maggie’s dresser.
Not sure if it was the sound of the September wind whipping off the bluffs or that small voice that woke her but Maggie was now wide-awake. Once again, the small figure stood at the end of her bed.
“Davey, is that you?”
“Yes,” replied the little voice.
“What is it, what do you need?”
“I need to go” came the reply.
“Go where?” asked Maggie.
“Home, I want to go home.”
Maggie could feel her tears welling up and reached to rub her eyes with the sleeve of her night shirt. Once again, the small figure had disappeared. She felt a deep sadness as she lay sleepless in the darkness of her room struggling to understand what had happened and trying to imagine what she could possibly do to help her small visitor. After what seemed like hours, she began to feel the exhaustion of a sleepless night and found herself drifting off. It was then, almost out of nowhere, she suddenly knew exactly what she needed to do. With the comfort of knowing, she fell into a deep sleep.
Maggie awoke, warm sunlight caressing her face. She scrambled from under the covers, quickly dressed and then stood for a moment starring at the tiny shoe on her dresser. Picking it up, she hurried outside. It was a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky and much warmer than normal for this time of year. The ocean itself was a restful dead calm, almost milky, with smooth round waves like delicate fingers rolling to and from the shoreline. She carefully climbed over the rocky edge down to the water and then ever so gently placed the tiny brown shoe into the surf. She watched it first pause and then ever so slowly begin to drift away, once again appearing like the miniature sailboat she first saw.
In the weeks and months that followed, she often thought about her small visitor but never saw him again.
The following April, she and her family made another trip back to St. John’s to visit Uncle Steve and Auntie Marianne and her brand new cousin Joseph. The ice cream shop had just opened again for the season and the trees were starting to bud. The family enjoyed their walks downtown and all the sights and sounds, so different from life at Northern Cove. As they made their way toward the centre of the city, they came to a small park where a gathering was taking place.
A sign bearing the words, “God Bless the Victims of the RMS Titanic,” hung above a make-shift board holding pictures carefully cut from newspapers of the men, women, and children who had perished that fateful night of April 14, 1912.
As the crowd stood in quiet prayer, Maggie scanned the many faces on the board. There, almost calling to her, was the unmistakable picture of a small boy. Beneath the grey and cracked image was the name - David William Murdoch, age 3.
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