After the cobbler made his final pronouncement, I had to accept the situation. With one so mangled, the other was useless. As heartbreaking as it was, the shoes would serve no further earthly purpose. I squeezed my eyes shut and turned away as I gingerly dropped them behind my back into the kitchen garbage can. Two weeks after their sad accident, I had finally put them behind me.

Or so I thought.

Non, non, non, they wouldn’t have it. All that night, I couldn’t sleep, tossing, turning, sweating, finally realizing that sound from the kitchen was not the possum breaking in to eat the cat food again but their little voices, screaming for help. Get us out of zees trash can, you beetch!

And so I picked them out from the butternut squash peels and the coffee grounds, brushed them off and set them on the table. Where is zee bag? they demanded.

The bag, the bag. I retrieved their lovely printed pouch and draped it beside them. Pah, they said. 

This is where they have been for weeks now, an altar to my shame. And yet it is clear they are not satisfied. They want more. They want their story told. Okay, you crazy French chaussures, here you go.

Once upon a time, a cheap old woman had nothing to wear to a fancy party in New York City. Well, not “nothing.” She pulled a few items out of her closet. A floor-length blue gown she’d bought for her son’s wedding: too dressy. A vintage prom dress with gold beading she’d inherited from a dead friend: too depressing. And probably too small. Another sparkly Goodwill number: maybe? With the right jewelry?

The cheap old woman decided to take all three dresses to the castle, i.e., the home of a good and generous friend with an extensive wardrobe who had helped her out with accessories in the past. As she stood in the mirrored dressing room attempting to wriggle into the vintage prom dress without detaching its dangling beads, her friend was struck by a thought. After briefly disappearing into the upper reaches of the castle she returned with an outfit so lovely the cheap old woman gasped. It was a beautifully tailored sleeveless sheath with a matching coat, both in an iridescent green-gold fabric with a blue floral pattern, purchased in a Paris boutique in the early 90s. 

Would it fit? Yes it did! 

Was it too long? Not too too! 

What about jewelry? The two friends oohed and aahed over several stunning necklace options. And there was a bracelet, too. Yes! said the munificent señora, stuffing the jewels into a black velvet sack. Wear all this to the ball!

But what about shoes? By this time the event was only two days away. I’ll go to DSW tomorrow! the cheap old woman cried. Wait, said the friend. What size are your feet? 

She produced from her magic closet a pair of elegant, high-heeled navy blue Pas de Rouge sandals with fuschia insoles and snakeskin heels. They’re a teeny bit tight on me, she said. Try them.

Though her toes did not quite emerge in the cut-out at the tip, once strapped on, the shoes were easy to walk in. The friend dropped them into their custom-printed coral-and-white drawstring shoe bag with a smile.

Disguised as an elegant countess, the cheap old woman had a fabulous time at the party, though she regretted having brought no baggies to take home the magnificent leftovers. Her glamorous outfit elicited much acclaim from the New York literati in attendance. In a video clip taken late that night at a midtown Korean karaoke club, the beautiful coat, with its wide lapels and slash pockets, is still going strong. You can hear the tapping of the blue high heels on the hardwood floor beneath a vigorous rendition of Little Red Corvette.

And so to bed, on a couch in Queens in the apartment of a sweet lesbian couple and their little dog Violet. Who unfortunately is the villain of this story. For in the morning, only one sandal lay beside her suitcase where she had taken them off. When the other was found, it had been chewed to bits in three different places. 

Violet’s owners were stunned — though she was known for carting things off, she had never destroyed a shoe before. Everyone regarded the wreckage of the delicate suede straps with horror. Gloom descended on the apartment as the woman steeled herself to write the awful text to her generous friend and offer to Venmo her the hundreds of dollars she knew the shoes had cost, based on a Google shopping search.

Of course the friend was kind beyond belief, reminding her that the shoes had been a little small anyway, In my world, she wrote, the loaner assumes the risk! She urged her friend not to worry about it anymore. And added a heart emoji.

This was of course impossible, as it has been since Shakespeare’s time. Quoth Polonius to Laertes: Neither a borrower nor a lender be, For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

And sanity, too, apparently, once you’ve got talking shoes in your kitchen trash.

For about two weeks after the party, I tried not to think about any of this. Then on the day I took the beautiful dress to the dry cleaner, I also took the shoes to the Russian shoemaker down the street. Just in case.

The shoemaker looked at me incredulously, his long-lashed eyes wide under the brim of his cap.

“Surry, dere’s nuttink to do,” he told me in his thick accent. He turned the torn sandal this way and that, fingering the areas of devastation. “First uff all, dis blue suede—”

I cut him off. “I understand,” I said, shrugging miserably. “I knew there was no hope.”

That night, I put them in the trash. And took them out again. And so began my penance. Though they have issued no further instructions, I plan to leave them on display in my living room indefinitely — art installation, cautionary tale, muse. Or as my friend Jim Magruder said, nodding knowingly when he heard this story: grist.  

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *