New shoes – a short story

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.