Mister Fumble Bumble and The Merry Widow of The Shoemaker

by Bob Thurber

Every Sunday at midnight, when Death needed a new pair of shoes, he went to visit Mister Fumble Bumble, who was not himself a shoemaker though he was married to the widow of one. By luck and pure circumstance, Fumble Bumble, who was a writer and a sometimes poet, had met, seduced, then married the shoemaker’s widow without any idea of the benefits of such a union. In Death’s opinion, Fumble Bumble had no right to a commission on the weekly sale of shoes produced by someone else. But after wedding the shoemaker’s widow, Fumble Bumble had taken complete charge of his wife’s affairs, including these midnight Sunday meetings with Death, during which Fumble Bumble would routinely enjoy a plate of fried food, very often chicken. No matter what was on his plate, he always offered a bit to Death, who routinely shook his head at the offer. Death didn’t really mind having to sit and watch Fumble Bumble eat, though he disliked having to make dull conversation, and he deeply resented the inflated price of new shoes. Overall, he considered the slack and sloppy man sitting across from him somewhat of a pest, something between a propitious entrepreneur and a hoodwinking charlatan.

On this particular Sunday, being in a bigger hurry than usual -- there were at least eight active wars in the world -- Death unleashed a short rant, telling Fumble Bumble exactly what he thought of him. “You’re like a little, trembling bird that just hit a window. You go in circles, flapping your wings on the ground, wavering between being a brainless buffoon and a lucky fool.”

“I’m neither of those things. I’m a writer,” Fumble Bumble said. “Some of my stories have won prizes. I published a book last year.”

“Focus on what I’m telling you,” Death said. “I’m talking to you as a friend, not a customer. We’re not discussing your profession, man. Nor your personality. I’m referring to your nature, your spirit, your true underlying character, which no living creature has ever had the power to change.”

Fumble Bumble frowned and lifted a drumstick to his mouth.

“I know what I’m talking about here,” Death said.

“Life is flux. Living brings about change,” Fumble said with a mouthful. “Our experiences shape us. They define us. Every minute of every day.”

“Does it,” Death said, grinning now as only Death could grin. “Or is that merely part of the wait, how one kills time pending my arrival?”

For a while neither spoke. Fumble Bumble, noticeably flustered, ate slower than usual, while Death watched him nibble and chew.

“You know, there’s a distinct difference,” Death explained, after he realized he had insulted Fumble Bumble. “Between a buffoon and a fool, I mean. There are advantages to each, of course, though being one thing is less tragic and less painful than being the other. You really only need to enunciate each word for your tongue to feel the ache. Say them repeatedly and follow the burning until –“

But Fumble Bumble was no longer listening. Already his head was turned, his oily lips catching the light, his mouth breaking into a polished grin at the sight of his wife, her hair loose and flowing wildly across her white silk robe, looking much like she had on their wedding night. She walked slowly, taking small deliberate steps, presenting a tray on which sat Death’s shiny new shoes.

“Will these do,” she said.

“Ah, you’re an angel,” Death said, rising from his chair.

And it was only then, caught in the blistering crossfire of their passionate stares, that Fumble Bumble realized that his wife and Death were lovers, that there never had been a shoemaker, and no existing inventory of shoes, because everyone but a fool knows death stitches together his own footwear week after week using the beautiful skins he carves from freshly broken hearts.


Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. He resides in Massachusetts. His short story, “The Cat Who Waved,” appeared in Issue #5 of The Cafe Irreal; “Shuteye” appeared in Issue #15; “The Bartender Story” appeared in Issue #32; “You Don’t Belong Here” appeared in Issue #34; “A Woman on the Bus” appeared in Issue #38, and Crackers in Issue #40. Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel, his first novel, and Nickel Fictions: 50 Exceedingly Short Stories, VOLUME ONE, were both released in 2011.