The Tin Man

Emilia Kirstein


When I get home from the murder of my wife, my little girl’s shoe is waiting in the hall for me. I haven’t bothered to pay the electric bill in ages so the lights don’t turn on, but the scuffed red sparkles glint in the light of the streetlamp and the snow falling outside. The tiny shoe is tipped on its side, the bow across the front bent. I stare at it as the snow packed into the soles of my boots pools onto the ratty brown welcome mat. How the hell did that get there? I can’t remember. My brain feels like it’s stuffed with cotton. Or straw. If you only had a brain, my wife sings in my head, the words carried on a gust of freezing wind. I clench my fists.

“You shut the fuck up,” I snarl. My Bud Light breath billows in front of me, turning to steam and disappearing. I slam the door. I need more beer. Now.

I stomp down the entryway, kicking off my boots. One hits the wall, leaving a wet beige smudge on the white paint. The other hits my girl’s shoe, and they skid down the hardwood floor toward the living room.

“Shit.” I stumble after them. When the shoes stop moving, I pick up the red flat and cradle it between my palms, just like I cradled my little girl after she was born. She was so small and light in my large hands, born a bit too early. The shoe is smeared in muddy slush.“I’m sorry,” I say. My voice wobbles. I’m far too drunk, talking to a damn shoe, but the words spill out. “Look,” I reach into my pocket of my thick trashcan green coat, and pull out it’s better looking twin, “I brought this back for you. Together again at last, eh?” Red glitter flakes off into the folds of my knuckles, almost matching the pink scrubbed rawness of my finger tips, bright against the faint browning redness still trapped in the wrinkles of my hands and under my nails. It will probably be there forever.

I had bought the shoes for my little girl a few months before everything went to shit. The Wizard of Oz was her favorite movie . Five toy dogs, all named Toto, shared her bed. Drawings of all the characters lined her walls. The book version, never returned to the school library, had a place of honor on her bookshelf. She demanded to watch it nearly every day, and would dance across the rug in front of the TV singing in her warbling, off-key voice until I swore my ears would pop off if I had to listen to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” again. Joy of joys, her elementary school decided they would put on a production of it for their annual play. My little girl was so ecstatic for auditions that from then on she only spoke in a Judy Garland impression and wore her blonde hair in braids everyday. She even tried to get us to call her Dorothy, but my wife and I had to draw the line somewhere. When the cast list revealed she had been cast as a background munchkin, she had thrown such a tornado of a fit that my wife had had to pick her up from school. The next morning, she had woken up with a pair of ruby slippers by her bed. She had worn them everyday after.

With my hands still cupped around the shoes, I fumble in the dark around the beaten leather couch. I set the shoes down on the coffee table in front of the TV, sweeping off the mountain of rotten cartons of chinese food and crumpled cans of beer until the only things remaining are the shoes, sticky splotches of sweet and sour sauce, and ring-shaped coffee stains.

I built the table just after my wife and I got married. Cut the tree, sanded the wood, hammered the nails, everything. My wife used to like to watch me work. She’d stand at the kitchen window while I was out with my axe and when I was finished she would step out, bare painted toes on the saw dust coated grass, squeeze my arms and tell me I looked like a sexy lumberjack. She liked it less after our daughter was born.

“Eddie, don’t you think you should get a job?” she had asked. Her flat straw hair hung limply around her cheeks as she held our month old daughter to her breast.

“I have one,” I said. “My woodwork brings in money.”

“You need a real one, Eddie. We barely afford food right now.”

 I gritted my teeth and growled. “I’m trying my hardest to make it fucking work, okay? I can earn my own money without some asshole ordering me around!”

“Eddie,” she snapped, her pale thin brows coming together across her forehead. It made her look ugly. “Do you want me and your daughter to starve? Is that worth your stupid pride!”

The baby had begun to wail as we continued shouting at each other. I think it ended like most of our arguments did — I’d go out to the shed and chop firewood, she’d threaten to leave her idiot husband but wouldn’t, and the whole affair would end with a night on the couch and the argument left unaddressed.

My daughter liked my work. She used to say I was like the Tin Man.

My hands tremble slightly at the memory, curling with the urge to hold my axe and swing, to forget the world except the crack and split of the wood.

 Swiping my hands together in a futile effort to remove the sparkles, I step around the couch again to enter the kitchen. Like everywhere else in the house, it’s dark and cold as hell, the chill of the checkerboard tile seeping through my damp socks. The fridge is broken, but I still store my beer there. The crayon drawings stuck on the door flutter as I take a bottle and open it over the sink — it’s lukewarm and utterly disgusting, but it tingles my throat and loosens the sore muscles in my shoulders.

When the last bottle is empty I pull it back from my lips and sigh, swiping my hand across my mouth. It comes away flaked with earthy scarlet. I drop the bottle, letting it smash to shards on the floor, and pat my cheeks. On the right one, I feel the peeling crust of blood. At the back of my mouth, there is the faintest taste of pennies. The beer in my stomach sloshes. I swallow and stick my hands under the faucet. The water is icy cold when I turn it on and just a few seconds under the stream sends pins and needles up my limbs, but I scrub furiously at my cheeks.

Forget. Forget. Forget.

It had been the night of the play. My little girl had been wearing her frilly blue munchkin costume with rounded circles of blush painted on her cheeks, her red shoes on her feet as always. My wife told her she couldn’t wear them during the play, but compromised she could wear them on the car ride over. We were running late, and we all were screaming at each other. I hadn’t noticed the yellow light I had been rocketing towards had turned red. There was a screech, a scream, a crash, and a splash of sticky wetness against my cheek. The back of our car had been T-boned in the intersection. My head was bleeding from smashing into the window. My wife’s arm had snapped. In seconds, my little girl…was gone. A month later, my wife left me, and took one of my daughter’s shoes with her.

When I turn off the faucet, there are sirens in the distance. Those must be for me. Or they’ve only just found her. I should feel remorse. I should be getting in my truck and running from the police. But my heart rate stays steady. If anything, it feels strangely slow. The room tilts and shifts around me, the checkerboard floor spinning. I can’t tell which squares are supposed to be black or white. My legs are moving but I don’t feel my steps touch the ground. I blink, and I’m lying down on the couch in the living room, staring down my daughter’s ruby slippers.

They were silver in the book, Dorothy’s shoes. I remember when my little girl came home from school one afternoon and shoved the book into my hands. We read it together as a bedtime story for a while, until we got to the chapter with the Tin Man. The Wizard of Oz book is fucking messed up. The Tin Man tries to build this house for this munchkin woman but gets his limbs systematically chopped off by his own axe, until every bit of him is replaced with tin, and he is left without even a heart to love the munchkin anymore. I couldn’t finish it, no matter how much my little girl wanted the rest of the story.

I think of that chapter now, as I look at the shoes. Red on silver, Dorothy’s shoes. Red on silver, my axe lifted and coming down again and again and again and —

My wife had blamed me for my little girl’s death, just like she blamed everything else on me. Little by little, she took every little piece of me, until I couldn’t even bring myself to love her anymore. And when I had looked at the lonely shoe, early in the afternoon when I had started my drinking, I realized I didn’t want her to take anymore from me. She didn’t deserve that last remnant of my little girl — I needed it back. I had wanted her to know what it felt like, to have bits of yourself hacked away until there is nothing left at all.

I pick up my daughter’s shoes, and hold them high above my head. Fingers hooked into the heels, I click them together three times. A strange sort of giggle bursts from my throat. When the heels come together, glistening with red, it almost looks like a heart.

The sirens are getting closer now. They’ll find the bloody axe in the truck, the splattered clothes under my coat. I won’t run. I deserve it. But I don’t regret what I’ve done. I bring the shoes together again and again, creating a new heart beat for myself.

Click. Click. Click.




Emilia Kirstein graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in English. Her story, “Quarter Values” appeared in North Seattle College’s Licton Springs Review. When she is not reading, writing, or drawing, Emilia is busy taking care of her cat, the emperor of her house.