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Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr


Shoemaker by Taduesz Makowski


Let’s start with the ones you wear in autumn. At work, unassuming black flats from a brand you didn’t know of until you turned fifty and then suddenly it became your favorite. For concerts, Doc Martens boots, laced only part way because the leather takes ages to soften. For rainy walks, Nikes with GOR-TEX printed across the toe box. For somber occasions, the black flats.


In summertime, as a kid, you didn’t like to wear shoes. Even sandals were too much confinement. Your house had a lawn that wasn’t a bad lawn, but wasn’t great, either, because there were patches of clover. Bees liked the clover, and they extracted a toll for your pedestrian abandon. Barefooted, you’d run in the yard, or wade in the creek. You wanted to feel the dewy grass of the lawn and the slimy silt of the creek beneath your toes. The beestings were worth it. You’d run and run and run.


Let’s move on to winter. One good pair of boots, watertight and warm, is sufficient to get you through the worst days winter throws at you. When the tread wears, replace the boots or have them resoled. A good tread is essential. Take the black flats with you to work. Change back before facing the weather again.


If Mom said okay, you’d head to the pool. If your feet were dry and the concrete was hot, then, sure, you’d want a pair of flipflops on to protect you from the hot coal feeling. Otherwise, you’d kick those things off. You jumped into the deep end, paddled, and climbed back out. You started running, but the whistle blew and the lifeguard shouted “Walk! Don’t run!” The concrete felt rough underfoot as you walked to the diving board. Whoosh! Another jump into the water.


Before spring and summer, or, perhaps, rather than, an interlude. We turn to the pairs in the back of the closet. You know, the specialty items. First, the cleats you wore to play sports in high school. You’ve kept them, all these years later. Is there still soil caked on? You think so. You imagine a forensic assessment. Next, the black leather Anyi Lu heels with gold accents. The ones you couldn’t afford, never wore, and will never toss away. Those shoes were a shoe store purchase. Shoe stores encouraged adventure. And last, high on a shelf, a pair of ice skates that haven’t been touched in a decade. On the frozen pond, he holds onto you and races you around much faster than you could skate on your own. It’s exhilarating. Back indoors, your face flushes and your glasses fog. You’ve got the skates tied together at their laces and the blades covered with plastic protectors. You think you’ll wear the skates again. Will you?


You wore black patent leather Mary Janes with white tights and dresses. Or ballet slippers and a pale blue leotard. Keds, moon boots, huaraches. Strappy Roman sandals you tied up around your ankles. And hiking boots. The good ones are Vasque and Merrell, they said, just get whichever pair fits your feet. You did, and you broke them in, and you climbed so far up from sea level your breath caught. You were so far from home. And then you returned, and it was over.


Where are the black flats? Oh, there they are, over there. Take those. Or the running shoes? No, not those. You don’t dare risk it.


Sneakers with soles so thick they force you to face your age. Eighty? How can you be eighty? A blink ago you were fifty. A young relative sent the socks you have on. They have a design. A holiday motif? A school mascot? You can’t recall. You can’t even put a name to the color. You stand in the middle of the room a moment, trying to figure out if there’s a difference between “aqua” and “turquoise.” They’re both words and both colors. The same color? Words and colors dance around you these days, as if to confuse you. But, still, you’ve got those socks on your feet, and they’re fuzzy, which feels nice, and even if you can’t remember what they’ve got on them or who gave them to you, you know someone sent them to you, which feels nice, too, and the name will come to you eventually. Maybe the name is a color.

Later still

The moment you reach paradise, you spot a bench inside the gates, sit down, and remove your shoes. You don’t know if that’s allowed. You don’t care. You risk your soles to feel the dewy grass, the slimy silt, and the rough surface of the cement around the pool. You jump into the pool, paddle, and climb back out. And then you run and run and run.

About the writer:
Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr is a scientist and writer based in Massachusetts. She has studied creative writing at GrubStreet writing center and elsewhere. Her essays have appeared online at Cognoscenti and Orion Magazine.

Image: Shoemaker by Taduesz Makowski (1882-1932). Oil on canvas. 41.5 x 32 inches. 1930. Public domain.

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