Patent Leather Sandals
It’s not the shoes, first, last or in-between. I can always skip the tying and untying by buying the ones with Velcro straps. I can skip the bending over part, too, by raising my leg up and crossing it over the opposite knee to avoid the rush of blood between my head, feet, and face. It starts earlier—when losses can astonish you, when I’m young enough to still turn heads but old enough to know that when I enter a room, it’s not about a dramatic entry but the locations of bathrooms. It starts with compression socks, forced into giving up those Come-Fuck-Me-Pumps, begrudgingly accepting the first indignity of special underwear to catch leakage, only to graduate to adult diapers. It’s not the tying and untying of shoes but when the chilled hands of the siblings Age and Death extend their icy fingers through space and time to caress me, a gentle reminder of what’s to come, the inevitable.
I shuck off that caress and turn away, beating back those icy fingers, knowing that Death while a sibling of Age, works hard, much more hard than her sister who gradually and lazily waits to take action. Death collects us in youth after massacres of war, after massacres of blistering anger aided by machine guns and assault weapons, after long and short illnesses, after accidents, after collusions like suicides. By the time I get to those Velcro strapped shoes, I’ve been at war for a long time, triumphantly beating back those siblings, battle ready against Age and Death, marred by a history of victories and losses. Death collected my two babies before they were born. Death collected some of my nieces and nephews from wars and accidents. Death collected my parents from illness. Death finally succeeds in collecting my husband after both siblings ganged up on him, robbing him of energy and vibrancy after his having cheated Death countless times, after 66 years of marriage. My husband left me to battle alone. I know the terrible siblings will win. Not without a fight, I tell them.
Age attempts to best me, clipping my wings so I can no longer fly up the flights, first, second, third, fourth, fifth of stairs in our apartment building. These flights fail to rob me of my breath. A small win. Instead they attack my bones. Age makes them stiff with arthritis, frozen with stenosis. Defiant, I take one step at a time. I line my groceries on the step ahead, moving them up each step as I rise. The others in the building hate the sound of cans thumping on the steps, followed by the sound of my feet onto the next, a two-step kaplunk, as I force myself up the flights to the fifth. Why did we never move down floors, I wonder. Why did we stay in a five-story walkup in a building without elevators? Maybe we taunted Death and Age.
“Why don’t you ever ask for help?” an irate neighbor calls from the fourth flight without offering any.
“Then what will I do when you’re not here?” I call back, undeterred by the annoyance, and check my impatience. I want to instead shout out for that neighbor to shut up, to mind her own business.
I know I’ve been dying for close to 90 years. We’re dying to live at the same time we’re living to die. I know I cannot avoid Death forever. So, I’ve been playing with her sibling Age, feeling Age massage my body with her chilly fingers while I sleep. She’s attempting to mold my body into the silhouette of a bent tree. Sometimes she’s successful. We torment each other, Age and I, because to be honest, I understand how lucky I am to be playing with Age since her sister collects so many before Age wakes up. Also, to be honest, I’m furious with my husband for leaving me alone in the battle, for surrendering the fight and running away with Death. I visit my anger on everyone I see, especially on those looking happy. What’s there to be happy about when fighting a singular battle in a collective war? I arrive on the fifth floor despite my stiff body and step into my apartment, the one I shared with my husband whose clothes still hang in the closet and whose shoe-stringed shoes still sit in the foyer. In the foyer mirror, I see myself passing by with my bent back, lips covered in Candy Apple red lipstick, and in shoes on my swollen feet that look like patent leather sandals.
© Rosalia Scalia
Rosalia Scalia’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Oklahoma Review, North Atlantic Review, Notre Dame Review, The Portland Review, and Quercus Review, among many others. She holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University and is a Maryland State Arts Council Independent Artist’s Award recipient. She won the Editor’s Select award from Willow Review and her short story in Pebble Lake was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Baltimore City with her family.