There was a sweet almost soapy scent
that drifted around the sixth step
down into the basement;
you could hear the furnace
switch on and roar within its asbestos coat,
sending hot water up the pipes
into the kitchen where mama baked,
and the upholstered, chintz-lamped,
antemacassared living room
where papa read the paper
and smoked cigars after supper.
The sixth step was his.
Here he had, every night for years,
polished and shined papa’s shoes.
After work, Papa would place his shoes
on the floor of his closet,
Sonny would glide in after supper,
insert the wood and metal shanked shoe trees,
and bring the day’s pair down to the sixth step.
He would spread a newspaper on the step,
take down the shoe kit,
sit on the eighth step,
and first scrub the dust
off the shoes with a soft bristle brush.
Then he would wipe each shoe with a cloth
dampened with his own spit,
then pry open the can of wax
which would flood the sixth step with
its heady sweet nasal tune,
and with a soft flannel cloth,
he would dab into the can, and carefully
spread the willing wax over the shiny leather.
As he waited for the wax to give its oils to the shoes
he would hum quietly to himself
steeping in the satisfaction and anticipation
that flowed around him sweetly like spring sap.
He would take out the soft polishing brush
and buff the shoes quickly until they gleamed.
Finally, with the clean polishing flannel
he would finish them off,
put away the kit and the newspaper,
and place the shoes in his papa’s closet.
His papa never said a word about his shoes,
but each week, on Saturday, a quarter
of a dollar would appear beside Sonny’s plate