"Harry," I said, "you're sharing your shoes with me?" I turned my head and looked into his eyes—her eyes, noticing how much she was blinking. False eyelashes fanning the air between us, eyelids shimmering in the late afternoon light. I shook my head and he was Harry in a wig again.
"I... I thought I should come in regalia," he said, reaching a finger to the corner of his eye, "but maybe... maybe I didn't think through the makeup." Tears started squeezing through the thatch of his lashes, and he sniffed. "No, I'm okay." He took a deep breath and squeezed my hand. "Yes, I can't really believe it myself. But when you said you could wear your dad's shoes last night, I...well, I remembered we have the same sized feet." He reached down and picked up the trainer I'd taken off, sparkling white, and his makeup started to run freely. I reached for a box of tissues.
"I have the same ones. We bought them together a few years back...a few months after your mom passed...? I don't know, it's been so long, but it seems like it was—this sounds cliché—but like it was yesterday. Mine are still white like this, too. We never did go running." I put my hand on his back. A wry laugh sounded from his chest. "He met Sylvia.... Oh, I miss him so much." Now the tears demanded release, from his eyes and from mine. We wrapped our arms around each other and let the emotions come. It felt so good to share the pain with someone. His arms were so strong, and I felt safe for the first time since... well, since Dad.
He laughed into my shoulder, then pointed out the swirl of colors on my skin. "Oh, but this will never do," he said, dabbing me with Kleenex. He grinned foolishly, one of his eyelashes sticking out at an odd angle. "You have a ball to go to, Cinderella, let's get back to work." We looked over our shoulders at the avalanche of shoes. "You'd better get busy," he said. "Here, try these." He chose a right green suede pump and a left yellow lizardskin sandal.
I didn’t have a mirror in the room, so Harry was my mirror. He’d choose two different shoes, and I’d put one on the right, one on the left, and he’d cock his head, squint his eyes, and purse his lips. Then he’d point at the best one, and I’d take off the other one. I tried on pin-up pumps, pumps with pointy toes, flats, slides, stilettos, and espadrilles. For the first time since I was a kid, I thought my feet looked pretty when I looked down, down below the swirling colors of my beautiful dress.
Harry talked a blue streak, all the way through, ticking off his talking points for each shoe on his fingers.
“Consider the virtues of the evening shoe. A stacked heel or stiletto elevates your view, so you’re looking over the heads of normal, puny humans. Your legs grow longer, you look leaner, your curves are accentuated, and when you walk… when you walk, your hips swing a little, mmm-mmm! Makes men want to glorify your charms, darling! Oh, those gladiators! Strappy, sexy sandals! Men will want to lick your toes, darling. Lick! Your! Toes!”
“Harry, that’s disgusting,” I laughed, and he slowly raised an eyebrow, ‘oh, really?’ I shook my head and stared at my feet, but my mind turned to Jeff. I imagined him touching my toes, and I felt my cheeks flush.
"That's a nice color," Harry teased. "Oh, I know." He turned and scanned the pile of shoes and pulled out a pink pair. I laughed and flushed more. "Wait, these might be better..." He held up a red ankle boot. "I'm sorry! I'm just kidding. But tell me...," he touched my shoulder, "Is there someone waiting for you tonight?” I shook my head no, but couldn't stop smiling. He slowly nodded and said, "Ah."
Finally, it was down to two pairs. I liked the one on my left foot, a very elegant-looking spike-heeled sandal in the same green as the flowers in the rustling dress—but Harry thought it was too sexy-grownup. He liked the one on the right, a velvet pump with a peek-a-boo hole in the toe and a bow that he thought made my large feet look ‘cute.’ I closed my eyes and walked around. The truth was, they both hurt. A lot. I sighed, and plunked down on the bed amidst the footwear. I was ready to give up and be thankful that we had gotten this far, when Harry opened his other bag. His face was silent, even reverent.
“I had a feeling it would come to this,” he said. He pulled out a box, and unwrapped yards of white tissue from a shoe so shapely and it seemed alive. I put my hand on his and peered into the tissue at what I thought at first might be a sleeping animal from another dimension. It was so divinely crafted it did not seem suited for the foot of a mortal, especially one as mere as me. But soon strips of soft green and violet suede cradled my foot like a slipper, curving upward in elegant spirals that twisted sensuously around my ankles. Glass beads were embroidered into the edges of the suede in a feather-like pattern that made me think of angel's wings. My foot balanced on a pad of clear Lucite shaped like a wave that swept my heel up a few modest inches above an intricately carved scroll, like the feet of a translucent antique chair. My toes peeped out modestly between two overlapping bands, topped with two pinched glass buttons like tiny candy kisses.
“It's a genuine Arpad concept shoe, recreated illegally by a Balenciaga craftsman for himself...in his own size,” Harry whispered. “Nineteen thirty nine. He was a wizard with early plastics and all sorts of materials, sought after by all the great designers of the time. A real eccentric, who cherished the independent life. You should have seen his collection. He gave me these shoes on my twenty-first birthday. I lived with him for a year in Barcelona after....” Harry's voice trailed off. “Here. Put the other one on.” He slipped it onto my foot.
“Are you sure?” I could see how much these shoes meant to him.
“It’s meant to be, darling,” Harry said, choking up. “You can't fight the magic.” I stood up and looked at him with surprise.
“They’re comfortable. How can that be? My feet look so... so curvy in them.”
“They’re not shoes, they’re art,” he cried. Then we both stared silently at my amazing, sexy feet.
“Now STAND UP, girl, confident.” Harry’s voice rose again, full of passion. “You’re radiant. You’re the woman of the hour.” He clutched his chest and swooned. “They’re so dramatic! Ah, glorious! Magnificent!” I spun. I felt gorgeous. “Don’t forget the source of all your power now—it’s not the shoes, it’s Mother Earth. Nature’s gift to you. And all who know you! Draw it in, girl, from the souls of your feet!”
I felt tingly all over. He grabbed me and we danced a few steps toward the book shelves. “What I learned in Spain,” he crooned, “is that when you’ve got a great pair of shoes, you don’t have to worry ‘bout nothing.”