The Society Of Shoes

When I was three, my mother caved in to the pressures of vaccinators because my daycare threatened to excommunicate me if she didn’t get me immunized. Consequently, I found myself time and again in the doctor’s waiting room, aptly named, as I waited to get stung.

The first time I was eager, my experience of doctor’s appointments consisting of—as far as I remembered—the jelly beans I got at the end of the visit. After that, however, I was less eager. And I hid under my mother’s chair, thinking that if I couldn’t see the nurse who usually brought us into the inner horror chambers, neither could she.

I remember the feet. I remember the smell of the feet. It isn’t necessarily as one would think, that the nicer the shoes, the nicer the odour. There was one pair in particular, high heeled and strappy—it must have been spring or summer—that smelled of a particular odour that I’d be hard pressed to identify except that at floor level it had great potency. Another pair, entirely odourless, was torn. I could see the sock inside it, grey. The shoes were nondescript runners, also grey, probably from age, rain, and mud. But no smell emanated from them. So surprised I was that I crept out from under my chair to sniff closer. The owner of the runners crossed legs and I scurried back. The nicest, I thought, were a pair of pink running shoes that lit up when the shoes started moving, induced, I’d guess, by the nurse. Those shoes were not going to be happy that the owner obeyed, I thought.

The most interesting was the shoe next to the cast, not only because of the pairing. The cast had drawings on it that continued onto the shoe, so you had to look at the shoe and the cast together to follow the story. The shoe was as large as the cast, which didn’t at the time seem to me in any way strange. It had an extended floppy toe, so there was plenty of room on which to draw the pictures. From above this odd couple, came an occasional honk, and I was tempted to come out to see where that came from, but I held my ground.

My mother’s shoes were delicate. She didn’t like heels, but she liked beauty, and her shoes were intricate concoctions of straps and bijoux. She was a tiny woman. Her feet didn’t reach the ground, and she would swing them back and forth. You wouldn’t think she was the kind of woman who would be stubborn, and she resisted the vaccination cult as long as she could. But she had to work and support us, and so she had to have daycare.

The vaccination changed me, she said. I had never had an obsession with shoes before it. Afterward, I drew pictures of shoes, I talked about shoes, and I played with shoes instead of my dolls. For hours, I would stay in my mother’s closet and created a whole society with her shoes, of which she had many. From the days when my father also had a stake in the closet, she had high heeled shoes, and from the days not long after he vacated it, she had construction boots. Mother never gave any shoes away, though she threatened to if I didn’t stop playing with the shoes. It was the shoes, however, that made her realize I was colour blind, as my society of shoes was initially organized by colour, and all the red and green shoes—as she claimed—were together.

If there was a shot for that, I’d take it, but as there isn’t, I organize my three hundred pairs of shoes by date, and all I need is sixty-five more. Then my closet will be a place of real equality.


Author: Lilian Nattel

Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

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