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MUSED Literary Magazine.

Sylvia's Shoes

Barbara Taylor

My friend Sylvia and I wear the same size shoe. She hates to return merchandise and money is no object to her, so when she ordered a pair of expensive European shoes and UPS delivered two instead, I got the extra pair. These shoes are designed to mold the arches and correct aching backs. They work wonders with spider veins, too. At first, the round soles made me feel as if I was on the deck of a boat in a storm. After adjusting to the sensation, it was more like making my way over cobblestones in spite of the fact I was on a totally flat surface. It was impossible to slump while attempting to walk. If I didn’t stand up straight, there was the possibility of falling forward and crashing face down onto the pavement.

The shoes are gray and have wide straps across the top like fabric handles on a cooler. Manmade materials, of course. No animals lose their lives in the manufacturing process. I stopped wearing attractive American shoes and wore these exclusively; without socks in summer and with socks in winter. They project a sporty appearance at dressy occasions, hence the idea of another pair with plain black straps I could glamorize with tights. The investment seemed worth it. A sporty pair for everyday and a nicer pair for evening.

“Surely anyone can find $250 somewhere if the health of their feet is at stake,” Sylvia reasoned, baffled as to why these shoes can’t be found in every store in the U.S.

Nevertheless, venues are limited, and this leads me to the problem of getting a proper fitting. This step is crucial. Balance is completely thrown off with dangerous, improperly-sized shoes. It’s also a fact our feet get larger and wider with age, as do our noses. One must be constantly vigilant about fluctuations in size.

After some research, I located not one but two purveyors in a city about fifty miles away. This trip wasn’t out of the question for such amazing shoes. I tried calling the store to inquire if they had the particular shoe style in stock, but I kept getting the answering machine. Finally, I had to take my chances and go, because there was an important event to attend—a gallery opening for Sylvia, the generous person who had given me the original pair of sporty shoes. It was an exhibition of photographs she had taken of her children during an especially dreadful teenage period. I was counted on to be supportive and bring an appetizer in the "cheese group." Sylvia was depending on me as a friend to dress appropriately and tastefully. She planned to wear a cut velvet dress that showed off her body to its best advantage. The least I could do was appear in a pair of black shoes instead of my everyday gray sporty ones.

Due to my busy schedule, I was forced to travel for the shoes the day of the opening. I didn’t foresee a problem with this plan. It would take around two hours to get there and back. I knew exactly what I wanted. Searching was unnecessary, leaving plenty of time to return home, pick up the cheese ball I’d made, and get myself to the opening.

The ride was uneventful except for cloudy skies. I found the store right away, but there was no predicting the complication of a time-consuming shoe salesman who just couldn’t seem to stop talking. He related his entire life history including where he had lived and when, details of his failed marriage, and his ten-year-old daughter’s inability to keep quiet. Meanwhile he kept urging me to try on a variety of shoes, including a pair that made a rude sound when I walked in them. He insisted the solution was orthopedic insoles and talcum powder. I wasn’t interested in buying these shoes, but he powdered and wrapped my feet anyway to prove he had all the answers.

It seemed my feet had, in fact, expanded somewhat. The size I needed wasn’t available in that particular store. I now knew the reason I had been unsuccessful in getting through to the man by phone to check on this very thing. He ignored ringing telephones. Imagine my distress over the thought I’d driven there for nothing. The salesman agreed to check at the second store and, miracle of miracles, they had my size. One of the clerks would run right over and deliver them.

“I’m in a hurry,” I said, interrupting some comment the salesman was making that had nothing to do with my shoes. “I have an event to attend this evening.”

“Don’t worry. Your shoes will be here shortly. Now, where was I?”

I went into a kind of fugue while being bombarded by countless subjects of no interest to me. It crossed my mind the talking might never end; that I’d be trapped forever in this time warp as my sanity unraveled. My final memory would be of the shoe salesman’s voice and the smell of garlic. People like him often think odorless garlic capsules are beneficial but, as we all know only too well, they aren’t really odorless. I don’t understand why stream of consciousness talkers and garlic are connected, but this does appear to be the case. By the time the delivery person arrived in a turquoise Toyota, it was no mystery to me why otherwise non-violent people are driven to murder. The salesman carefully removed the shoes from the box, chatting on as he smoothed the tissue paper in slow motion.

“We must move along,” I said, a bit testily, glancing at the clock on the wall.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “My wife—my ex-wife, I should say—had a thing about moving things along. ‘Move it along, will you? Move it along.’ Ha ha.”

The shoes felt fine. But there was a rather large bright red emblem on the sides. This was distracting and unwanted. My other shoes didn’t have the emblem.

“It’s something new,” he said. “But if you can’t live with it, there’s always a black Sharpie marker. I think I have one around here someplace.”

“The red thing can’t be cut off?”

“Oh, no. It’s sewn on there. It’s not going anywhere.”

I sighed. Why couldn’t things be like I wanted from the beginning? Why was there always some little nagging detail to contend with? Constant, unrelenting compromise was a fixture in my life.

“Never mind, they’ll do,” I said. “I’ll wear them out.” I stepped over the shoe boxes stacked around my chair and headed to the counter so there was no doubt he needed to get busy and ring me up without further delay. Instead he strolled leisurely over to the door.

“Wow,” he said. “Look at that rain, will you? And the traffic. Maybe you should wait until it lets up. Safety first. I’ll get us some coffee.”

“No, thank you. I must go.” The water was coming down in sheets, all right. At this rate, there would be no time to stop at home before the opening to collect the cheese ball. “Is there a place around here that sells cheese balls?” I asked, digging around in my purse for a credit card.

“Cheese balls?” he repeated. “You mean those crunchy doodle things in a bag?”

“No. Cheese spread in the shape of a ball with nuts stuck all over it,” I said in an irritated way. Really. Who doesn’t know what a cheese ball is?

“What kind of cheese?” he asked.

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” I said. “Cheddar.”

“Cheddar,” he said, stopping what he was doing to think about it. “Well, let’s see. There’s a Food Lion down the street here. They have cheddar cheese. I know that for a fact because--"

“There’s no gourmet market nearby? A Dean and Deluca, perhaps?”

“We have the Food Lion. And the Quickie Mart,” he said, as if I should be satisfied with these choices.

“All right, then,” I said, jingling my keys to remind him once again I was in a rush. Sylvia had given me her extra pair of $250 shoes and I’d be bringing some commercially prepared cheese ball to her opening. A substandard Food Lion cheese ball. Maybe seeing the new special shoes I’d gone to such trouble to get would make up for this faux pas.

Sure enough, after finally getting out of the shoe store and into the Food Lion, the one cheese ball they had was shocking pink. “Port Wine Cheese Ball," the wrapper said along with a yellow sticker with “1/2 OFF!” I swallowed my pride, paid for it and got on the road.

The drive back turned me into a nervous wreck. Visibility was terrible. There was no way I would make the opening in time to hear Sylvia’s speech. I would miss hearing my name called as one of her primary inspirations and the applause for my selfless friendship. What a blow. The rain kept pouring down. When I finally reached the vicinity of the gallery it was dark and there was no parking whatsoever. I hadn’t counted on this. After circling the block several times, I was forced to park on the street some distance away. I fluffed my hair in the rearview mirror and applied my lipstick. The cheese ball and my umbrella were enough to keep track of, so I left my purse under the seat.

First, I stepped out of the car into an ankle-deep puddle. Then I leaped a little too fast in my effort to get into shallower waters. The momentum sent me hydroplaning on the new shiny soles and I landed on top of the cheese ball, breaking the wrapper and grinding the cheese into the front of my blouse. I was relieved to hear the sound of running footsteps. Someone was coming to my rescue, I thought. A knight in shining armor.

“Give me all your valuables,” a deep voice said above my head.

“What?” I panted. I couldn’t believe my ears.

“I said, give me all your valuables, lady,” he repeated. I looked up. Here was a man wearing aviator sunglasses at night and a green army-type jacket. I held out my empty hands to show I didn’t have a purse. I didn’t even have a cheese ball anymore.

He sniffed the air and eyed my blouse as if I’d thrown up all over myself. “You must have somethin’,” he said, stepping back. “Jewelry, maybe.”

I wasn’t wearing jewelry. All I had were my shoes. I lifted a foot.

“What are those?” he asked, peering down.

“Very expensive, difficult to find shoes.” I sniffed.

“They got round soles,” he said. “When I was in ´Nam we used to make sandals like that out of old truck tires.”

“These are $250 shoes! They’re brand new!”

The mugger stood there for a minute, deep in thought. “Okay,” he said. “I guess I’ll take ‘em. Whatever. But hurry up, will ya? There’s some place I gotta be.”

I unfastened the straps and handed him the shoes. He shook his head, muttered something unflattering, and wandered down a side street. There wasn’t a soul in sight. Everyone was at the gallery opening, I guessed. I couldn’t make an appearance in such a condition; soaked, with pink cheese all over my clothes and no shoes.

I was a little surprised not to be jolted awake early the next morning by an angry call from Sylvia. Only after a long hot shower, two cups of coffee, and the newspaper did I collect myself for a confrontation. Knowing her, she was bound to have taken it personally that I didn´t show up for the reception. Then there was the scathing review of her photography exhibit that appeared in the local section. The article featured a photo of her son wearing green makeup; an unfortunate choice that made me flinch. Poor Sylvia.

Once I explained about the black shoes, the pink cheese ball, and the robbery, we´d probably both have a good cry and move on. I was even prepared to say the reviewer must be childless and therefore didn´t understand the first thing about the unconditional love I assume her photos are meant to convey, yet the phone never rang. Wasn´t my friend the least bit concerned about what had happened to me? I could have been in intensive care for all she knew.

I´ve left a number of messages for Sylvia this week, outlining everything. After several days of talking to a machine, I pointed out that it was really her gift of the gray sporty shoes that started the whole chain of events and I would appreciate an apology. I expect to hear back from her any time now.