by Mandy Foster
She found your shoe this morning.
It might have been a snake, for how I shivered and held her back. I knew it was yours, lying amid the poison ivy growing along the path to the riverbank. I knew it like I know the diagonal part in her hair and the shape of each of her pink toes. I knew it because it was missing your shoelace.
We stopped to pick it up. She called the green moss growing on the heel “fairy carpet” and went to look for the other shoe. I doubted she would find it. The river has crested five times since that night in late spring. Your shoe should be out at sea now, or caught in a fisherman’s line, or resting beneath the mass of a beaver’s dam. It stunned me to see it in her hands.
That long ago day, the sun played with the clouds while we lay with our feet in the river, me in a bra and underwear, you shirtless in your slacks. You skipped rocks and I clapped when the biggest one skimmed the water four times. The blonde stubble on your chin rubbed me raw and when you pulled away you asked me a question.
“Will you move to New York with me?”
I tried not to blink as I met the yearning in your gaze. I said you were crazy.
“I’m not. You can finish high school there, or get your GED.”
I stared at your white graduation cap resting in the river grasses near our shoes. I asked what we would do for money.
“I’ll take care of us. I’ll work in between auditions. We don’t need much.”
I pictured a one-room apartment, a mattress on the floor, a lamp shaded with a colored scarf. I wanted that. I wanted you.
“There’s nothing keeping you here,” you said. Your eyes were tender, just as soft and green as they had been at my mother’s funeral. Still, I didn’t answer. You looked back at the river while I pulled at my hair, feeling the ends flick up as I threaded the strands between my fingers.
Later, I found a garter snake. I coiled it around my upper arm like a bracelet. The bite sent me crumpling to my knees.
You untied your shoe and wrapped the lace around my arm as a tourniquet, even though we both knew there was no danger. The sun had made us tragic and giddy. As you finished tying the knot, you stood over me, your head blocking the glare as the cold river water gushed around our ankles.
“I love you,” you said.
“I’ll go,” I said.
Your kiss was as deep as the gully where we swam naked in the darkness that night.
In the half-moonlight, we couldn’t find where our bodies had scattered your other shoe, the one without the shoelace. I said I would come back for it before I met you in New York. The rains came and the river rose before I remembered.
You left the next day, driving away in your third-hand Volvo. I promised to follow a month later by train.
A month became two months. I started school again. You wrote letters, so many letters.
I kept telling myself I would tell you why I couldn’t come. The months got heavier, my appetite growing and my nights more restless. But the words never came, and then it was too late.
“I’ve met someone,” you wrote. “I’ll always love you.”
I have that letter, along with all the others, in a wooden box under my bed. Someday I will show them to her.
She came back to me with the shoe.
“Look, Mama,” she said. “There’s a worm in the shoe, we have to help him.” I looked inside, and saw the wriggling brown creature, a piece of dried grass looped around his middle. I unlooped the grass, which fell to pieces in my fingers. She took the worm and let him go in the damp soil near the bank. She laughed as he squirmed away.
Her laugh reminds me of you.
We visit you sometimes. She likes to gather flowers before we go, and she puts them one by one on the stone. I think this time we’ll bring something else, something you’ve been missing. Maybe you wanted us to find it. I’m still keeping the shoelace, in my box of letters, growing the moss of memories.
Mandy Foster is a recovering lawyer living and writing in New Orleans. When not writing, she bakes cakes and chauffeurs her two young sons.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'I Wish I Were A Shoe'