Fred wanted new shoes and knew that the best time to approach his mother was about an hour after supper. He had to time things just right to catch that sweet-spot moment when she was starting to relax and let go of her busy day. If he waited too long to the time when she was becoming drowsy, she would be annoyed and unreceptive to anything other than the mundane. On this evening he laid his groundwork well helping with the dishes and purposefully padding around, shoeless. When they sat down before the television, she with some mending in her hands, he put his feet up on an ottoman, in the hope that she would comment and give him a lead into, what he felt to be, his pressing need.
He was disappointed, as she gave the impression of intense concentration while she sewed on buttons and watched a ‘House Hunters International’ episode. They both liked to dream about far off places and to see if they could guess which residence would be selected. At a commercial break he decided to take the plunge, coughed and said, “Ma, did you notice that I need new shoes?”
She looked up at his feet and smiled as if she saw through his intrigue. “No, dear, I didn’t, because you don’t.”
Fred disliked her response but now that he had broached the subject he had to continue “Ma, you must have forgotten. I’m in great need. Wouldn’t it be best if we bought them before school starts? If we buy them soon, like tomorrow, we would hit the before school tax holiday. It ends this weekend.” He smiled weakly, feeling proud of his practical suggestion. His mother didn’t smile; her face remained sad and wistful.
“No, dear, there are no funds for new shoes.”
Fred looked at this mother, this time he saw her, rather than merely knowing that she was there. She looked tired and grey; her face now tightened into a frown, her hair drawn back into an untidy pony tail. He noticed her clothes; a crumpled old shirt over black pants. Her feet were also shoeless. He turned and looked at her shoes, a pair of black pumps with worn heels where they had been scuffed while driving. Instinctively he knew that she was not lying about money, but he also recognized the refrain, which had been ongoing for the two years since his father died. Although he was almost eighteen and had an adult body, Fred still retained a child-like belief that his mother was omnipotent, and that, as a mother, she was required to fulfill all his desires and needs.
“Mother,” he groaned, “Mother, I gave you all my earnings from my summer lawn mowing. There has to be enough to get me some new shoes!
“You forget that the car needed repairs after that little accident which you had at the beginning of the summer. I could go on, Fred,” she sighed, “but you don’t want to hear about all our money troubles such as the rent-hike, or that it has been so hot this summer that the electricity bill was double what I expected. I do my best but there is absolutely nothing left for new shoes.”
Fred was hardly listening. “Mother, there has to be something hidden away somewhere,” he raised his voice, “because I need, not want, mother, need, new shoes. Tell you what I’ll show you,” With this comment Fred moved quickly; he went to his room.
When he got there he gathered his shoes off the floor of his closet. He was surprised to find that he had more of them than he thought, but he decided to lug them all down to his mother. There were his old sneakers with their bright blue tops and dirty laces smelling of sweat and better times; his dress up shoes, the ones which he wore to his father’s funeral – black and shiny and too tight; a pair of brown slip-on loafers very scuffed and worn. Last, there was a pair of sandals that she had bought him last year; they were caked with mud from the time that it rained on the spring picnic. He left his flip flops under the bed deciding that they didn’t count as shoes.
“Mom, here are my shoes.” he said as he laid them out on the coffee table. “Look at them, they are old and inappropriate for school in the Fall. You don’t want your only son to shame you in any of these do you?”
She looked up from her work and gave an almost inaudible sad groan. “What about your walking shoes?”
“Come on Ma they were nines – much too small. Don’t you remember when I had the bad toe a few months ago, and you told me to throw them away. Well I did!”
“So what size do you take now? I forget.”
The question pleased Fred; he saw it as a chink in her armor. ”Been ten since the year after Dad died.” ‘Now she is going to capitulate’ thought Fred, ‘I’m sure that she won’t spring for the boots which I want but I’ll have a try when we get to the store.’ He said, in his sweetest voice, “So we can go to the store tomorrow?”
“No dear, you didn’t hear me – there is no money. But I have an idea. First put your shoes away and then come to my room.” She rose and walked towards her room. As Fred followed he spoke,
“But Ma, I brought them all – that’s everything except the flip flops which I wore all summer at the pool when I was a life-guard.” He felt pleased with himself that he had covered this omission to his inventory.
“All right dear, I know. Just put them away and then come into my room.”
Fred obeyed, He felt slightly anxious. He wondered what she was up to as she generally didn’t invite him into her room. When he entered, he found her standing before her closet holding two pairs of men’s shoes, a black pair of lace-ups and a pair of cowboy boots. She held them out to him smiling gently as she spoke,
“Go on, try them on. They are tens. They were your father’s. I couldn’t throw them out they are so nice, so new. Now is the moment when you step into your father’s shoes.”
© August, 2014, Jane Stansfeld.
Loved this well told story. Took me a while to get to it, but I always save you so no longer it takes I get her, I am never disappointed.
Thank you Valentine. I appreciate your taking the time to comment as well as to read!
A nicely turned tale leading to that moment of the presentation of the father’s shoes–a coming-of-age moment for both mother and son, I think. The question I am left with, this time, Jane, is this: a bedraggled woman who is down at the heels and can’t afford. a pair of shoes is sitting of an evening with her overexuberant teenage son before the TV watching….House Hunters? Really?
Hmm, when you put it like that I agree that ‘House Hunters’ might not be the program of choice. I chose it as it is an almost mindless background entertainment which is popular to many including those who are merely dreaming. The program had to be something which Fred and his Mother could interrupt without apology. I shall continue to ponder on this one and may change it if a better option comes to mind – any suggestions?. Thank you for your visit and, as usual, real criticism
Oh, I see. You were going for “interruptibility.” My own thought was for a woman settling to unwind after a hard day, and looking to laugh or get lost in some really different world. There’s probably only one TV in this house? Then a show to please both mother and son would be a challenge to find…Comedy, History, Animals…..In this instance I get the impression the boy doesn’t care what’s on; he’s waiting for the commercials. The very poignancy of what the mother seems to suddenly decide would probably trump any show anyway.
(I used to watch House Hunters but was soon bored by the predictability of first-time young buyers whose imaginations were limited to the obligatory granite kitchen counters and hardwood floors….you’re right, very interruptible…though I don’t see this woman, or her son, ever turning to it in the first place. Just my own angle….no need to change. It’s your story and, dammit, you should stick to it! 🙂 )
Great story. Good moral. The showing of the shoes reminded me of my days in administration of a college in India. We had a large mixed group of students affluent and poor. The poor were given work opportunities in a number of industries, and apart from their earnings we had a student aid fund. It depended on how seriously they had worked in the last semester as to how much aid was credited to their accounts for the new semester. A Director of Student Affairs administered the fund, which could be drawn on for urgent clothing needs. I remember this Director of Student affairs was a colourful character who used to wear shoes with holes in them to work for specific reasons. When a poor student who was not serious about work approached him for new shoes one day while I was in his office he leaned back in the chair and put his feet on the table revealing holes in his shoes. Then he inquired of the student if he felt his shoes were in better condition? They were not of course! lol. The student silently withdrew much to the mirth of both of us. Serious poor students were well cared for if they worked hard.
Thank you for your visit, Ian, and for adding your poignant tale. You have such a rich repertoire of memories and experiences I’m sure that you will be filling blogs with entertaining true stores for a very long time. Thank you, thank you,