I visited my friend and we talked about shoes instead of about dying. I wanted to talk about dying, but she’s the one who’s dying and she wanted to talk about shoes. We looked at the three shoe boxes lined up on the carpet next to the couch where she was. The boxes were open and I saw the tips of three new pairs of shoes.
There was that faintly sour smell new shoes have that reminds me of going with my mother into a shoe store, with her holding my hand and telling me, all right, all right, you can have a new pair of Buster Browns.
I wanted to tell my friend anything that would sound to her the way Buster Brown used to sound to me. But we’re grown women, with grown children and mothers who are dead. I can’t take her hand and say, “Listen, don’t walk out on me, not yet.”
I used my excited voice. “Who bought these?” I picked up a shoe box. My friend hadn’t left her house in two months. I knew she hadn’t gone to the shoe store, but it was a way to get into the conversation without saying, “Why do you need so many new pairs of shoes?”
“I called Macy’s and told the sales woman what I wanted, and asked her to send them. I said I had parties to go to, a wedding, I was too busy to shop.” She shrugged.
“You are too busy,” I said.
She looked pretty. Her dark blonde hair was fluffy and long, and flattering bangs fell like a soft curtain across her forehead. But it wasn’t her hair. I couldn’t say, “I like your hair,” so I said, “Then you’re going out. That’s great.”
I took out a pair of black patent leather shoes. They had narrow grosgrain bows across the instep, and low heels. They looked like a little girl’s party shoes. Once they walked out of the house and into the world, wonderful things would happen.
“This isn’t your kind of shoe,” I said. “Your shoes have heels like skyscrapers.” I
outlined two high, narrow shapes against the empty air, as though I had to show my friend what kind of shoes she wears.
“Not anymore. High heels are bad for my health, like wine when I take my pills.” She was smiling; her mouth was, her eyes were sad.
“Well…” I held one shoe up and squinted at it like a jeweler checking a gem. “What’s so wonderful, anyway, about walking around on stilts? I hate them.”
“So who says you’re the perfect woman?”
“I do,” I said, and brushed my hand against her cheek. “You’ve got some of your lunch on your face. How about a cup of tea?”
“Everybody who comes here,” she said, “wants to boil water.”
I lifted a pair of beige silk pumps from another box. They were perfectly plain, with square heels. I wore this kind of shoe in college. “My God,” I said, “remember these? Remember how we wore white gloves and had to sign in at twelve-thirty?”
”Ten-thirty,” my friend said.
“I mean on Saturday nights.”
I put a hand in each shoe, and walked them across my lap. “Can you believe how green we were?”
“What did we know?” She leaned her head against the back of the couch, and closed her eyes.
“Kiss me quick!” I said.
My friend sat up and stared at me.
“That was the name of that little foyer inside the front door of our dorm, don’t you remember, the kiss-me-quick, because that was all the time we had for necking after a date? Remember how the damned bell always went off, and the housemother came down the stairs hollering, ‘Time, girls!’ just when we were warming up?”
We both laughed; laughed so hard, we began to cry, and had to wipe our eyes on our sleeves. Then she made a face, and I knew her ribs hurt.
“Try this on.” I pulled her house slippers off and tried to slip her foot into one of the beige shoes. It didn’t fit. The shoe was too small, or her foot was swollen, or I was trying too hard.
“It’s no good,” she said, “we can’t make it work.”
“My God, oh, my God,” I said, “nothing the hell works anymore!”
“What’s the difference?” my friend asked. “It was a crazy idea, I don’t need new shoes.”
“Jusr push,’ I said, forcing her foot downward, and the shoe upward, gripping her ankle so hard, my fingers left red marks on her skin.
© Rochelle Distelheim, 2008
This story originally appeared in Visiting Hours, an anthology published by Press 53 in October 2008.
Rochelle Distelheim has had short fiction published in The North American Review, Nimrod, Confrontation, Other Voices, StoryQuarterly, The Mississippi Valley Review, Salamander, and PersimmonTree. Her fiction has also been published in anthologies, such as Jane Stories, West Side Stories and Visiting Hours, as well as in the Chicago Tribune, She has been awarded The Katharine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, Finalist in Press 53’s Open Awards, Finalist in Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Short Story Competition, Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and Fellowships in Fiction.
Her novel Jerusalem as A Second Language was awarded 2012 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.
Most recently she has been nominated for a Pushcart Press Prize for her story “O, Thou, Whom My Soul Doth Love” which appeared as fiction finalist in the latest issue of Salamander.