The Dancing Shoes

It was 4:25 on a Friday afternoon.  I left my desk, grabbed my coat and headed for the elevator.  I said “have a good weekend” to Marilyn the receptionist and then went down 24 floors to street level.  I left the building, walked over to the corner of Wabash and Adams and waited for the light to change.  An EL train overhead thundered down the tracks as I crossed Wabash.  After the EL had past I could hear a street musician playing Careless Whisper plaintively on a tenor sax.  Down at the next corner a homeless man was selling his art work of color pencil drawn superheroes.  Somewhere along the way I noticed a lone chopstick lying on the sidewalk. I was anxious to get home, eat supper and curl up next to my husband on the couch with my book.  I had it all planned.  I could see the red wine swirling in my glass and taste the ricotta in my homemade dish of lasagna.  I could feel Russ as he snuggled next to me.  Home was over an hour away by train.  I ran half of the way to make the train on time.

 I thought about Russ as I passed a men’s store.  Fine suits and shirts were dressed on the manikins in the display window.  None of the smooth lifeless models had the rugged hewn frame or the silky blue eyes that Russ had or the swagger smile which he kept in the corner of his mouth.  He had you guessing about what he was up to.  I liked his surprises, the good kind, and Russ was full of them.  He made me laugh and he made me think.  I was thinking of him when I approached a corner and stepped out to cross the street as the light had changed to green.  A taxi driver in a hurry to beat the light change didn’t see me or thought he could speed past me and go on his way careened right in front of me.  I fell backwards out of his way losing my balance, my heel caught on a sewer grate.  I whirled and hit my head on a nearby car bumper, whirled again and fell face down onto the curb.  I don’t remember…there was blood by my nose…there was a muffled sound of voices…I saw feet…and then sleep…

 Several days later at the hospital…

 “Jill, honey, Jill, honey, Can you hear me?” Russ touched Jill’s arm twice.

 I could see Russ.  He was there shaking me but I didn’t feel him.   I wasn’t beneath him but somewhere above looking at him through a window. I felt as if time was passing around me and through me.  I saw his beard grow out; his hair thin.  He became bent over.  He still shook me and said “Jill, honey.”  Then he was gone. 

 “Jill, honey, Jill, honey, Can you hear me?”

 “Russ, ah ou, I don’t feel so good.  I …

 “Lay still, Jill, the nurse is getting something for your head.  I’m here. The doctor says that you have a concussion.  You blacked out.  I’m so glad you are awake.”

 “What?…oh my head hurts so much.”  Jill tried to sit up but stopped.  “I am going to throw up.”

 “Don’t move, Jill.  Concussions make people sick to their stomach when they move.  Don’t move.  I’m here.”

 The nurse brought in a little plastic cup with two pills inside and a small glass of water.  The nurse helped move Jill’s head slowly upright so that she could swallow the pills. “The doctor wants you to stay still and not move.  We did a CT scan of your head but these scans do not give the best picture of a concussion.  We are going to do other tests.  We just want to make sure that there is no swelling in your brain.  So, please don’t move.”  The nurse then let Jill‘s head carefully rest on the pillow.

 “I feel like my head was hit with a hammer.”  Jill felt some dried blood in her hair.  The IVs in her arm itched.

 “Yeah, this was a traumatic concussion, you lost consciousness.”

 “I had the weirdest dream, Russ. I saw you touching me but I was somewhere else. I…I don’t feel so good.”

 “Just rest, Jill, I’ll be here the whole night.  I won’t leave you.”

 Jill closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

 Around 1:00 in the morning Russ awoke and heard Jill talking in her sleep.

 “Dancing shoes?” The garbled words came out from under the top of her bed covers.

 Russ sat up and looked at Jill.  Her face was troubled and questioning.  Then she seemed to fall into a deeper sleep.  Her face melted into a serene soft mask.  Russ decided he would try to sleep again.  The nurses had been coming in every hour of the night.  He awoke upon every occasion.  He would try to sleep again.  At least he knew that Jill was talking even if it was only in her sleep.

 It was the morning shift nurse at 5:30 am that woke Russ for the rest of the day.  The nurse, a robust black woman who looked like she just met Jesus, came bounding into the room and checked the IVs.  She moved some bed covers, bunched the pillows around Jill’s head and looked over at Russ who was now sprouting a beard and baggy eyes.

 “How’d you sleep?”

 “I get more sleep on Sunday morning during the sermon.”

 “The woman laughed and said, “The Lord knows what you need before you axe Him.”

Russ let out a short laugh and said, “Yeah, I guess He does.”

 The nurse left and Jill began to stir her feet beneath the covers.

 “How are you doin’ Jill?”

 “I think I slept through the whole night.  I never slept so much.  I guess I am feeling a little better.  Can I have some water?

 Russ went across the room and got the water pitcher and poured her a cup of water and handed it to her.  “Do you want the straw?

 “Yes, please.”

 Russ handed her the straw and sat down on the side of the bed.

 “You were talking in your sleep last night, something about dancing shoes, I think.”

 “Huh.”

 “You must have been dreaming.”

 “Yeah, I remember some of it.  I had died and gone to heaven.  I was standing before God but I was looking at my feet the whole time.  I didn’t have any shoes on my feet.  God says to me, “You must return, suicide is not your skin.  Find your shoes.”

 “Wow, that’s quite a dream.  What were you thinking before you fell asleep?”

 “I guess I was thinking that I could possibly die just laying here in the hospital with these things in my arms and my head hurting and all.”

 “I could see that you are doing better. Aren’t you?”

 “Yeah, I feel a little stronger today.”

 “Good.”

 “Yeah, I feel better, anyway.”

 “When you are all better, Jill, we can start the ballroom dancing lessons.  I was excited last Friday about going with you.”

 “I can’t wait but right now the room is moving and I feel like sleeping again.  Jill dozed off holding Russ’s hand.

 Biting his lower lip, Russ held back his concern and his tears.

 ************

It was almost two years later that Jill and Russ decided to take the Ballroom dancing classes that they had intended to take before her accident.  Jill now felt able to move freely without feeling nauseous.  In fact, she felt a new impulse to live and do the things that she had wanted to do but had kept them putting off because of the business of life.  Russ registered them for the Tuesday evening class.  All that was needed were dancing shoes – leather soled street shoes – with a small heel for Jill and a regular heel for Russ.

 “Russ, I need to find these shoes before Tuesday evening.  I’m not sure where to start looking.”

 “I’ll go online and take a look.” Russ replied.

 Jill set about cleaning the house as she usually did on Saturday afternoon.  She carried a bag of old toys out to the garage.  Goodwill would take them, she thought.  And, then she had an idea,” I’ll go to St. Vincent de Paul Resale shop and see if there are some shoes there.”  Jill told Russ her idea and then she headed off with the bag of toys to look for the shoes at St. Vincent de Paul.

 The resale shop on Saturdays was always filled with people looking for bargains.  Today was no different.  Jill pushed her way past the cash registers and the lines of mothers with tugging kids and walked over to the shoe room on the side.  The air was stagnant with an overwhelming smell of stale old shoes.   Jill found the women’s shoes on two tall racks in the corner of the tiny room.  She found the seven-and-a half sizes and there were three pair of shoes her size.  One pair stood out from the orange Keds and the emerald green open-toed 4” heels:  a pair of black Cuban 1-1/2” heels with leather soles.  Jill gasped when she looked at the price of only $2.00.  These shoes looked and smelled like new.  There were no marks on any part of either shoe.  The soles were not dirty with street use.  Jill tried them on immediately and then walked and then sashayed around in front of a tall mirror leaning against one of the shoe racks.  Her feet felt the tempo of her heart and her heart was beating fast.  She said to herself, “If I’m going to cha-cha-cha these are the shoes to cha-cha-cha in.”  So she paid the two dollars and tax and left the store forgetting to look for her husbands shoes.  She caught herself and turned around and there he was, looking at her.  She gasped and then smiled up at him.

“Look at these.  Aren’t they grand?”

 “Wow they sure are kiddo. Did you try them on?

 “Yeah and they fit perfectly.”

 “Then they are heaven sent, my tiny dancer.”

 “Oh yes, they are. We need to find you some shoes, too, Russ.”

 “I was hoping to meet you and tell you that I found some on a web site and ordered them.  I will get them on Monday.”

 “I hope they fit.”

 “Me, too.”  Russ replied.  “I’d hate to have blisters after one dance class.”

 “I’ll care for your feet, m’ love.” Jill purred, “Let’s get some lunch while we’re in town.

 “Yeah, let’s.  Let’s” walk over to Andy’s Diner while I can still walk.”

 *********

 Jill and Russ went to the Tuesday evening Ballroom dancing classes.  Russ’ shoes finally fit properly during the fifth lesson. Jill had to massage Russ’ feet before and after he put the shoes on each Tuesday night.  The shoes broke in during a lesson of the foxtrot.  Jill was relieved to find out.

 It was on this fifth night of dance lessons that Jill and Russ met a couple, Todd and Angela.  According to their dance instructor, this couple had been dancing for many years.  They looked smooth and flowing whenever they danced.  They came this night to help the instructor teach the students the tango.  It was at the end of that evening as Todd and Angela watched the students mimic their movements that the Angela made an observation to Todd:

 “Todd, those shoes Jill are wearing look exactly like the ones Amy bought before the accident.

 “Yeah, they do?”  Todd replied, not really sure about the shoes.

 “They look exactly like Amy’s dancing shoes.  I saw them in her closet after her funeral.  I gave them to St. Vincent de Paul’s resale shop.”

 “Really?”  Todd questioned, looking at Angela.  He remembered his daughter in her eyes.

 The music stopped and the dance instructor said that the class had done nice work.  She said that next week the class who also to be about the tango and she dismissed the class for the evening.  As they were all getting their coats on, Jill and Russ were approached by Todd and Angela.

 “You dance pretty well for beginners.”  Todd greeted them.

 “Thank you.  And, Jill’s feet thank me.”  Russ replied with a smile.

 Angela leaned over toward Jill and looked down at her shoes as they came off Jill’s feet.

 “I’m Angela and this is my husband Todd.”

 “Hi, I’m Russ and this is Jill. Nice to meet you both.”  Russ put one hand on Jill’s shoulder and stuck his other hand out to Todd.

 “Same here.” replied Todd, shaking Russ’ hand.

 “I noticed those shoes, Jill.  They are just my like my daughter’s dancing shoes.”  Angela said.

 Jill looked up at Angela and said, “Oh, does your daughter dance, too?  She must be as talented as both of you are.”

 “Our daughter, Amy, died in an accident before she could ever use them. She loved to watch Todd and I dance together and she wanted to do the same thing with her husband so she bought the shoes.  She was going to start the lessons but then she had a terrible accident.”

 Jill looked over at Russ with a stunned amazement and said to Angela, “I am so sorry to hear about your daughter.  That must have been unbelievably hard on you.”

 “Yes, it is,” Angela whispered straining to hold back a sob.  A tear formed in the corner of her eye and then it hugged her cheek before it left her face.

 Jill stood up and gently put her arms around Angela.  Todd and Russ looked over at them mournfully.

 “Angela, when did this happen to your daughter?”

 “It was two years ago.”

 Jill looked over at Russ while embracing Angela, her eyes searching his face for the dream she had while she was in the hospital.

 “What happened to your daughter, Angela?  What was the accident” Jill asked loosing her embrace to look at Angela’s face.

 “Well, it wasn’t an accident.  The witnesses said that she committed suicide.”  Angela started sobbing.  The rest of the students who hadn’t left for the evening saw Angela weeping and came over to her.   The women began to comfort her, gently stroking her back and giving her Kleenex.

 “It is so sad.  Amy took her own life.  I know she had been depressed.  She had lost her new job. She had lost a child.  She had gone through a divorce. It was too much for her.”  Tears flowed from between the fingers Angela held up to cover her eyes.  “She was trying to get her life back, to get her step back by going to dancing classes.  She was trying…”

 “What happened to change things?  To make her depressed enough to…” Jill asked quietly.

 “I don’t know.”  Angela replied, staring blankly.  “She just snapped, I guess.  Everyone there said she must have seen the taxi coming and she went ahead anyway.  They said that the taxi pushed her back and she fell and hit her head on a car bumper and then she fell onto the curb.  They couldn’t bring her around.”  Angela sat down and put her head into her hands and sobbed.  Todd came over and put his arm around her.  Tears were in his eyes as he buried his face in her hair.

 Jill stood there wide-eyed looking down at the shoes she had placed on the bench.  They fit her perfectly and so did the dream…the taxi…the ballroom dancing lessons.  Russ put his arm around Jill’s waist.  He caught her when her legs gave out and she fainted.  When Jill came to she looked up and saw faces staring down at her.  She was laying on a street curb.

2010 Copyright Sally Paradise

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