Did you ever stop at a traffic light, look out the window, and see a shoe lying in the gutter? It’s always just one shoe, never a pair. And it happens time and again. It bugged me so much, I decided to ask my friends if they’d noticed this phenomenon.

“Karen,” I said one day over coffee, “did you ever notice one shoe lying in the road as you were driving?” She blinked at me over the rim of her cup.

“Well… now that you mention it, yeah.”

“Why do you suppose that is? How do these shoes get there and why is it always a single shoe?”

Karen chalked it up to teenage pranks.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “Wouldn’t that involve one teen taking the other’s shoe off and tossing it out the window? How would they get their friend’s shoe off while they were driving in a car? One kid isn’t going to hand his shoe over voluntarily. And if they were stupid enough to do that, wouldn’t they retrieve it at some point? Mom and dad aren’t bottomless pits of cash and to me, some of those shoes look pretty darn new. In fact, the shoes I commonly see are sneakers, construction boots, and sandals. And always men’s shoes. Never a Jimmy Choo or a Manolo Blahnik in sight.”

Karen quickly changed the subject. If there wasn’t a hunky guy actually in the shoes, she couldn’t care less about whom they might have belonged to or how they got tossed.

Sometimes it pays to get a male opinion. Sometimes. When I asked my friend Tom about shoe litter, he came up with this brilliant response: “They fall off garbage trucks.”

Well, duh, what doesn’t fall off a garbage truck now and then? But do shoes escape more than, say, bras or hats or other discarded clothing items? I don’t see them lining the highways. No, this explanation didn’t satisfy me.

I was forced to let the preponderance go for the time being. But every so often I’d be reminded when I spied a Nike, a Timberland or a Teva sitting forlornly by the wayside, separated from its mate.

Then one day, for some unexplained reason, I had one of those “aha” moments. My own driving destinations produced such a clear answer to the puzzle, I wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. The shoes were a secret code! They weren’t randomly tossed from cars. No, these shoes served a purpose.

How do I know this for sure? Let’s start with the Timberland. I spotted it on the way to the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park. Yeah, I might have been going there to walk my dog. But the park also offered hiking trails and horseback riding. And a short distance from the hiking shoe, lay a cowboy boot. Hmmm.

Another day on my way to the shore, I spotted a Teva on 571E going through Hightstown, a second one near the turn off for 33E. A third sandal appeared about 50 feet shy of the turnoff ramp for the beach exit. And what kind of footwear is worn at the beach? Could it be a coincidence?

As for the construction boot. I kid you not. It conspicuously pointed in the direction of the Home Depot on Nassau Park Boulevard. Do you see a pattern forming here? These shoes didn’t fall prey to teenage pranks or errant garbage trucks.

These shoes were intentionally left on the roadside by men. I bet Tom was in on it, too. His brothers-in-crime probably swore him to secrecy.

It’s common knowledge men never ask directions. What better way to mark your trail than the tried and true Hansel ’n Gretel method of leaving bread crumbs . . . er, footwear along the way. And how clever to use a different type of shoe to get you to your desired location!

I have to hand it to the guy who first thought of shoe markers. They are cheaper than a GPS and, considering it’s a group effort, much less expensive.

Now that I think back on it, the answer to the shoe mystery should have been simple. What I can’t figure out though, no matter how much I try or who I ask, is why two socks go into the wash and only one comes out.

Martin’s stories have appeared in U.S. 1 Summer Fiction and many anthologies nationwide, including Small Crimes and Fedora III by Wildside Press; Crime Scene NJ by Clued In Press; Gone Coastal and Never Safe; and Murder NY Style, PMS: Poison, Murder, Satisfaction, and Romance of My Dreams. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Cassell Network of Writers.

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