The witch said, “I will give you what you want.
All you have to do is wear through seven
pairs of shoes.” “Which shoes?” she asked. “Oh, any.
But the number is important.”
The first pair, she was wearing that day in the woods:
red Keds. In them, she would ride her bike down the road,
hike along the top of the ridge to a tree
where an owl was nesting, wade through the rocky stream,
until her mother declared they were beyond help.
But each time, they revived in the washing machine.
She would wear them to go hunting for dragonflies
and minnows, or up to the attic where she kept
her favorite books. Finally, the soles split
while she was climbing over slick, wet rocks.
She almost fell into the muddy water,
not that she would have minded.
By then, they had faded to a dusty pink.
The second was a pair of flip-flops bought
for a dollar at the bait and tackle shop
next to the lake while visiting her father.
By the end of summer, they were getting moldy
from all the times she had worn them in the canoe,
rowing along the banks through lotus flowers,
leaving a path of dark water in her wake.
Finally, on a fishing trip, the strap
broke, and she walked back barefoot,
carrying the trout in a basket, almost sorry
it would be her dinner that night,
with butter and parsley.
The third was a pair of silver sandals, worn
to the spring formal with a long blue dress
the color of the sky that reminded her
of both Amelia Earhart and a princess.
They only lasted an hour: the buckle snapped.
After that, she danced barefoot in the gym,
holding hands with her friends under basketball hoops
decorated with paper streamers.
The fourth was a pair of black patent pumps she wore
to her law firm internship, running up and down
the internal staircase, taking notes at meetings,
sitting in on conference calls, making copies.
One day, while she was hurrying to the deli
to pick up sandwiches, her left heel caught
between two bricks of an ancient city sidewalk.
She twisted her ankle and laddered her pantyhose.
The patent leather cracked.
The fifth was a pair of sensible boots that lasted
through four New England winters while she trudged
along a familiar track from dorm to classrooms
to library, and back.
By the time she graduated, the leather tops
had separated from the rubber soles,
so water seeped through and soaked both layers of socks.
But the degree was worth wet feet.
The sixth pair were white satin and cost as much
as her dress, which she had found in a second-hand store,
real silk, probably from the 1950s.
She danced in them carefully, they felt so delicate,
and made her feel delicate too. Later, she wrapped them
in tissue paper and stored them beside the veil
of antique lace, the bouquet of silk roses.
They were shoes for just one day. As in a fairy tale,
they had served their purpose.
The seventh was a pair of bedroom slippers.
She wore through the soles by walking back and forth
in the apartment until her daughter was sleeping.
Then she would sit at her desk beside the crib
and work on her dissertation while the words
swam in front of her eyes, she was so tired.
Like minnows in a stream… She wondered where
that image had come from. One day, she realized the slippers
had worn right through: there were holes under her toes.
She had not even noticed.
By then, she had forgotten the witch in the woods.
One day, as she was walking through the campus
where she was now a professor, she met a woman
who asked, “So, have you started writing your stories?”
“Sort of,” she said, wondering how this person,
dressed in a raincoat, with a colorful kerchief
over her head, very Eastern European,
knew that late at night when the papers were graded
and her daughter had gone to bed after finishing homework,
she would sit at her computer, trying to write.
That morning she had put on a pair of red Keds
that for some reason always made her happy,
even though the weather channel had forecast rain.
“I’m working on a novel,” she replied.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since
I was a little girl.” “Good,” said the woman,
patting her on the arm. “You’re ready now.”
(Editors’ Note: “Seven Shoes” is read by Amal El-Mohtar on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 16B.)
© 2017 by Theodora Goss