I know you’ve got dreams, baby. I know what you like. They’ve got an open toe that puckers into a kiss and tender silver buckles that drip off the side like tears. They’ve got a canvas skin and a leather heart, a dirty soul that spanks the ground you walk on, a slender spike for stabbing at life. They’ve got your name written all over them, baby. And, on one knee in front of you, they’ve got me at your feet. Shoes, baby. Open your eyes. Wiggle your toes. Slide inside. Feel.
Because I’ve got a dream too, baby. It’s the way you walk in here on a Saturday afternoon. It’s the fluttering bouquet of shopping bags that spray from your wrists, the scythe of hair that falls across your forehead. The way you blow back those strands, blow them back, time and again,; puffing off the fatigue of spending. It’s how you tumble, elegant and tender, into my chair, folding yourself into my store. There you are, as in my dream, baby, looking at me with expectation. Husband at work. Old lovers forgotten. No man satisfying you. The boiling hope in your eyes of what you want, what nobody else can give you. Well, I can give it to you. I’ll give you the walk. I’ll give you the grace. I’ll give you the style. I’ll give you the freedom to be.
We dream together, baby. And this, this is a love story.
I know women. I love women. My respect for them is bottomless. Morning comes. A sunrise of possibilities breaks over the store. I unlock the battered retail door and in they stream. They click and clack, strut and slide, maybe drag themselves, inside. Sale or no sale. Bargain price or full price. Whatever the price, they come.
Floating up to them, I listen. I depart. Then I return. Delivering. Each foot trusted to my hands because the world starts at a woman’s feet and I am the man who places the rubber where it meets the road. I tell the truth. I build the truth from the ground up. I call them like I see them. This one is my princess. This one is my beloved mother. This one is my long-suffering sister who is too good for any man. I know them all. Each toe, arch, in-step and heel adding up to miles of longing.
And that’s where you come in, baby. As if you knew that I’ve been heeding and choosing, sizing, flattering and practicing on everyone else so I would be ready for you. In the moment you arrive, my life does not matter. Not the children I love and leave behind for you in this space and time. Not the wife I respectfully omit from our conversation. None of that matters. What matters is this three-legged stool I allow you to rest your sole upon; the chair that supports the small of your back as if I myself am there kneading your muscles with strong hands. What matters is this sense that as I raise your feet you are being lifted into the clouds, where you belong – where you and I both know you belong. Among the angels.
You are so tired and dragged-down, baby. No amount of money given or earned can ease your bruised essence. No gifts can do it, no jewelry or car, stainless steel kitchen, matching love seats or landscaped front yard will do it. Your husband may not realize that. Even those children you fought to have, those children you tirelessly love beyond reason, even they do not seem to be able to put back the vigor that seeps from you like fresh water from a stream.
On the outside you are a picture. Hair shining, eyes darkened here, lit there, your chin up, your colors done, your clothes pressed – creases only where creases will accent your line. You are pulled together, baby, surfaced and sun-laced and wet-lipped like a creature emerging from deep water. Only I know the cold you feel inside, what you’ve seen at the bottom. And I can warm you.
I can fill you. I can fill your closet. Loafers and riding boots. Patent-leather pumps and sandals. Metalic flats, flip flops and mules. Red-suede slingbacks and satin kitten heels. Aerobic shoes. Driving shoes. Sports shoes. Formal shoes. Shelves of shoes. Shoes that are not what they seem to be.
Your lover, your husband, your boyfriend, your mate, he looks at these shelves of footwear, the rows. Heel to toe, toe to heel, sole to sole, and he knows about us. But he doesn’t worry or care. He’s not jealous. Although he should be. Because we know what these shoes mean to you baby. And we share our secrets.
My shoes are your wedding day, satin pumps tinted to match the blush of your innocence. My shoes are the glass door you nearly kicked down to get that job in advertising, over and over you blasted through, interview after interview, on heels that made you feel taller than the rest, as if you could not be overcome. Kicking them off when you got home if you had to, but standing strong on them because their arch kept your back straight and your head high. Now those were shoes. They are that trip you took in high school, the one your parents didn’t know about, where you met that older guy and then ran with him in airy sandals along the boardwalk at the Cape, the wind at your feet making you feel as if freedom was something you could eat, could order like take-out food whenever you felt the hunger. My shoes are your first day of first grade, Mary Janes Vaseline-bright as everyone told you a little girl’s mind should be. Shoes that are your rocks, your weapons, your shields, your perfume, your sex, your fire, your softness, your hardness, your punch and embrace, your wings and your chains, your day and your night.
So follow me now, baby. Sit down over here and breathe. I know what you want and I’ll be right back with it. I’ll size you. I’ll fit you. I’ll walk you to the mirror. And then you’ll begin to see. You’ll stare for a while, looking at the mirage of yourself, then coyly, merely glancing at first, you’ll look down at your feet and you’ll smile. At me.
And we both know what that means, baby. It means you’re leaving me now. It means my work is done.
Paying, you’ll walk from me. Quiet and firm. Never looking back. Your hair flowing behind you. Your mind poised for the next drama. The next tragedy. The next love story. You’ll float away on new heels that we have made from your faith in yourself. And as you do, I can disappear.
All men everywhere, now, can simply disappear.