Cool Shoes
by Kevin Watson

 

  From the back seat of my parents’ new 1966 Chevy Impala, love was so simple. There I was with Michelle Kelly, her big green eyes and full wet lips begging me to take her in my arms, pleading for me to soar with her to heights of love not yet experienced.

Then an elbow from my little brother Danny shattered the image while he and Greg wrestled for the other window seat. I wanted to smack them both a good one, but didn’t since Mom and Dad were in the front seat.

We were on our way to Jefferson City to shop for dress shoes for us boys. You’d have thought we were going someplace great, like the zoo, the way both of my younger brothers were giggling and poking at each other, hardly able to contain themselves. But not me. I was in control, my thoughts and energies turned inward as I planned the most spectacular seduction a 12-year-old ever devised.

It was October 31st. Halloween, the perfect night for a seduction. There wasn’t another day of the year when a boy could walk up to a girl’s door and ring the bell without having to explain his actions. And when Michelle Kelly answered her door this evening, she was going to fall forever in love with me. She would have no choice. Love would see to that. My being two years younger wouldn’t matter. Love would see to that, too. I knew this because I had witnessed it over and over in my mind. Love.

It was going to happen exactly like this: At approximately 8:30 pm, Michelle would answer the door to her house, which is exactly two blocks away from mine. At first she would see just another Trick-or-Treater, but then she would swoon. Yes, swoon! Through the eye-holes of my mask, she would see nothing but steady browns staring back at her. I am Zoro, dashing and confident, complete with hat, cape, gloves and sword. She’ll wonder who I really am, where I’ve been, and which angel delivered me from her dreams. Then she’ll see my new shoes, my cool shoes: black lace-ups with pointy toes and high tapered heels. Monkees shoes; you know, “Mickey,” “Davey,” “Mike” and “Peter” shoes. Her heart will pound, she’ll bite her lower lip and throw the light in her eyes back to mine.

My gaze stuns her. Love.

Dropping her bowl of candy, she’ll tear the mask from my face and see that it’s me, Kenny Burke, the tall skinny kid who walks the same route with her to school each day, the one with the stupid flat-top hair cut and the cowlick, the same one who smiles like Elvis, only she’s never noticed because she’s never looked at me for more than a second. But that won’t matter. None of that stuff will matter. She will kiss me, our lips fitting like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. A crisp Autumn breeze will whirl around us, bonding our souls forever. Love. So simple, so perfect.

Dad objected when I presented him and Mom with my choice of footwear at the shoe store. “Too trendy,” he said. “Not practical and not enough support.” But Mom, bless her, was less practical: “Let him at least try them on, Larry. What can it hurt?”

Dad, the poor, clueless man in black wing-tips. How he ever got a hip chick like my mom was beyond me. Then Mom whispered, thinking I couldn’t hear, “Maybe once he sees how uncomfortable they are and how silly they look, he’ll drop it.” No wonder she fell for a guy wearing black wing-tips! I huffed at this, the right side of my lip slipping into an Elvis-snarl. It just happened; I had no control over it.

I found an ally in the salesman—his approving smile evaded my parents’ eyes as he took the display shoe from my hand and gingerly placed it back on the shelf. Next, he measured my feet. But this turned him against me—his eyebrows lifted and his mouth tightened, choking out his allegiance. I knew what it was: my feet; they’re narrow. This always scares shoe salesmen. “That shoe only comes in D-widths; he really needs a B,” the cowardly traitor said, winning a nod from my dad.

“I want to try them on anyway,” I insisted.

Grudgingly, the salesman disappeared, and moments later brought out the shoes. They were beautiful—black, shiny and smooth. Very cool. I put them on. They were stiff, digging into my ankles and flopping off my heels when I walked. I tried a shorter pair, but these pinched my toes and still flopped off my heels. I didn’t care. I wanted them. Dad said, “No,” and, alas, Mom agreed.

Four stores and eight more failed attempts later, Dad finally put his wing-tips down and demanded that I wear a pair of “solid shoes with good support,” forcing upon me a pair of brown, square-toed, low-heeled “dork” shoes. I tried imagining Zoro in brown clodhoppers, but even in my thoughts he refused to wear them; instead, he rode away laughing, brandishing his sword and slashing my amorous plan to shreds.

On the way back to the car, my brothers reminded our parents to check out the costumes at the dime store. There was a “50% off!” sign in the window. Greg chose “Batman,” and Danny, “The Hulk.” I checked out the selection, hoping to find some way of salvaging some part of my Zoro plan, but all the costumes bore animated, brittle plastic expressions. I told myself that all Michelle would see were the eyes of some geek wearing dorky brown shoes.

I gave up. As we walked back to the car, Mom told me to button my jacket, but I didn’t, refusing to admit that it was too windy and cold for the Halloween I envisioned.

We were almost home when common sense dealt me a blow. I was too old for costumes, and Michelle was too old to fall for a guy wearing one. Then, like a scene from a James Dean movie, I saw myself standing on the curb in front of Michelle’s house in my Levi’s, a clean white tee, the collar turned up on my jean jacket, my thumbs hooked over my front pockets, my hands hanging nonchalantly. When she comes to the door for the other Trick-or-Treaters— the little kids—there I’ll be, on the curb. Cool. Very cool. Her eyes will connect with mine, and I’ll smile, slowly, ever so slowly. She’ll see me. The real me. James Dean. Elvis. Me.

Love.

I stared into the window, studying my Elvis-smile in my reflection, practicing, perfecting it. Then, just as we hit the Morgan Grove city limits, it started to sprinkle. Then it poured.

A poet once wrote: “There are two pains in every heart: wanting and letting go / I felt them both for her today, but she’ll never know.” When I read the poem in college, some eight years after that cold, rainy Halloween, I thought again of Michelle Kelly, as she was the first to introduce me to those “two pains.” And tomorrow at the bank where she is now president and I but one of her many customers, she will smile a “Hello” and thank me for my business, as always. She might even ask me about pruning her Dogwoods, or when to plant tulip bulbs, or when the bank can expect this year’s shipment of poinsettias from my nursery. But she won’t ask if I ever loved her, if I ever felt the pain of wanting her as I walked past her house on a Halloween night thirty years ago, and if I ever felt the pain of letting her go the day I saw Dean Northbridge walking to school with her, hand in hand. She doesn’t know, because a young, shy boy, and the man he became, keeps the past pain of his wanting tucked safely away, hoping the girl who captured his heart will return to him a single glance and, in doing so, recognize the truth of the moment: that their eyes, their very souls, were drawn together by love.

Tonight the moon hangs full and bright, obscuring all but the most radiant of stars, those holding the wishes of lovers, while a crisp Autumn breeze dances with fallen leaves. It’s the perfect night for a seduction.

My wife Karen, the last to inflict upon me the first of these “two pains,” whose tender touch and reverent eyes assure me daily that I will never suffer the second, is tonight escorting our middle and youngest children around Morgan Grove, “Leo the Ninja” and “Katrina the Clown.” Our fourteen-year-old daughter Adele is standing at the front door, wicker basket in hand, doling out treats to this year’s band of Trick-or-Treaters—the little kids. She is a beautiful young lady, with her mother’s auburn hair and my brown eyes. I want to be at the door with her, but it could spoil the night for some young romantic. So I sit at the dining room table, remembering that Halloween long past, glancing up when she opens the door, half-expecting to catch a glimpse of a boy with a “pain” in his heart. I wonder if Adele will notice him, if she will notice his shoes.

Kevin Watson is a freelance writer.  Cool Shoes (dedicated to the author’s seventeen-year-old daughter)  is part of a series of short stories that all take place in the fictitious Missouri town of Morgan Grove. Excerpt from the poem “On My Ex-Wife’s Wedding Day” by Mark A. Hurt used with permission.

Copyright © Kevin Watson, all rights reserved