She drew in a deep breath and pushed the glass door open. Covered in sweat, her hair pulled into a careless bun, she did not blend into the chic environment the boutique owner had created.
A woman cleared her throat. Julia looked up from the assortment of shoe candy.
"May I help you?" asked the woman behind the counter. A name tag adorned her tight black jacket. The name Cam was printed neatly in the center. Below a title could be found: Manager.
"I'd like to try on the red Jimmy Choo's in the window."
"Oh. . . Hmm. You do know that those are very expensive. In fact, they are the most expensive shoes we have."
"Yes, I do."
Cam's eyebrows drew together. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather these?" she gestured towards a display of simple low-heeled pumps. "They are more practical."
Without a glance towards the display, Julia said, "No, but thank you. The Jimmy Choo's will be fine. I'm a seven and a half."
An exasperated huff escaped the manager's lips as she strode to the backroom. "I'll see what we have."
Julia sat on the wooden bench. Her muscles ached, but she embraced the cool air-conditioning. She peeled off her running shoes and socks. Free, her toes now stretched and flexed on the soft carpet. She had never received a pedicure. It always seemed frivolous when piano lessons and ballerina costumes consumed the monthly budget. She would make an appointment next Monday.
The manager reappeared and knelt in front of. Julia felt like a child. A smile crossed her lips as she remembered the last pair of shoes she had purchased, Emma's first toe-shoes for her ballet recital. The sales associate had knelt in front of Emma the very same way.
Cam slipped each shoe onto Julia's feet with the care of handling glass slippers. Julia walked to the short mirror leaning against the wall. They were flawless. The shoes lengthened Julia's legs making them stronger. The snakeskin twisted along the toe and then made a quick escape along the sides, emulating racing stripes. Although the heels stood almost four inches high, Julia was walking on a cloud. They would have been ideal for Ben's attorney parties.
"I'll take them," Julia said.
The manager gaped at the reflection of a woman in jogging shorts and flaming red pumps.
"We have a no-return policy on all shoes. . . just to let you know," the manager said in a puff of air in obvious concern that Julia would regret her purchase.
"Thanks for telling me," Julia said, giving her a reassuring smile. "I won't want to return them."
A page turned in Cam's disposition. Where her former reluctance to assist had resided, she was now enthusiastic and chipper.
"These must be for a very special occasion," she said while quickly pounding keys on the large register.
"Not particularly. I've just always wanted a pair and there's nothing holding me back anymore."
"Oh. Well that's great. Did you get a promotion, or something?"
"Or something," Julia said quietly as she made out her check. She glanced into the upper left-hand corner. It was strange seeing her name alone. It looked incorrect.
"Is there anything else you need? A handbag?"
"No thank you. I think I've spent enough today," Julia said with a forced laugh.
"In that case the total is $764.50."
With delicate cursive, Julia wrote the amount on the check and signed her name.
Julia walked out of the store hearing Cam celebrate her successful sale over the telephone. Julia wished she felt as content. She shoved the box under her arm like a football and headed back towards Meeting Street. The box gained an ounce with each step, becoming a heavy burden under arm. By the time she reached Tradd Street the joy of the purchase had disappeared, leaving only guilt.
Although the beautiful Jimmy Choo shoes could not be more perfect and just what she had always wanted. . . they weren't what she needed.
The leaves had started to change, lapping at the sky with waving fire. Only the evergreens remained the same. Julia always felt akin to live oaks. They were stoic, never changing and never ceasing.
Her home, a white single house with Charleston green shutters, had been in Ben's family for almost a century. When they moved into the beautiful home some twelve years before, they gutted the inside. She remembered the emptiness of the house when they were only newlyweds working one room at a time. The now familiar house watched her from the street with the same lonesome dark windows.
She walked to the side porch and sat on the dark green swing. She opened the box and examined her investment. A tear trickled down her check falling onto the soft tissue paper the shoes nested in.
She did not regret spending the money. Money was no longer a problem. The shoes simply couldn't fill the void.
Julia gathered her composure and went into the house. She walked first through the kitchen. The remains of her breakfast still sat next to the sink. Ben always hated her messiness, but forgave her, knowing that cleaning came second to Emma.
She walked into the dining room filled with Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthday memories. Garbage bags spilling over with clothes cluttered the floor. Julia walked to the dining room table and placed the Jimmy Choo box on top of the many other boxes stacked in piles over the gleaming mahogany. She lifted the lid off of a pink box and touched the soft silk toe shoes. She picked up one of the small silky shoes and held it to her face.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the large mirror over the piano. A metal clothes rack held Ben's finest suits. Julia reached her hand out and stroked the smooth gray wool. His favorite cologne, and the scent of the cigars he offered clients when they had won a case, still lingered on the lapels.
She took a deep breath, attempting to fill herself to the brim with their smells. Her efforts were in vain. She was not full.
It was time to move on. These things would not bring her the life she needed. No amount of Jimmy Choo shoes, or Kate Spade bags would bring her the life she had lusted after for all those years. The time had come to start a new life. She may not have the life she now wanted or the life she had always desired, but it was a life nonetheless. They would have wanted her to live it.
Julia walked back into the kitchen and picked up the phone.
"Suzanne, it's Julia." Julia plowed through normal conversation etiquette and said, "I'm ready. Could Bill come and get their things. I was thinking the Salvation Army."
"Of course, Julia. Would tomorrow be okay?"
"Yes, that would be fine."
"It's been a year, what made you change your mind?"
"A pair of shoes."
"Souls of the Shoes" was first published by Foliate Oak Literary Magazine in November 2007.
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