The Lonely Shoes
by Carol Edwards
Once upon a time, there was a shoe maker. He was a very talented shoe maker. People would come from many miles to see his creations, to admire and praise them, and to buy and wear them.
One day, a rich man from the city stopped at the shoe maker's store with his wife. The rich man's wife fell in love with the shoe maker's shoes, and bought many pairs. The rich man, knowing his wife had excellent taste, told the shoe maker that he wanted to mass produce his shoes, so that people all over the nation could admire them, and praise them, and buy them, and wear them.
The shoe maker liked the idea of many people enjoying his shoes, so he agreed to the rich man's proposal.
Months later, in a factory in no place in particular, a pair of shoes emerged from the depths of machinery. A woman standing by the assembly line said, "Oh, what a pretty pair of shoes!" The shoes liked this, and glowed for her.
Another woman further down looked at them, and also said, "How pretty! I do love red." She carefully closed the lid of the shoes' box, whispering to them, "I hope you find a good home someday, and that your owner will love you."
The shoes smiled to themselves. Why, yes. We are pretty. We will be loved by everyone. Surely we will be purchased the first day people see us.
The day came when a shopkeeper proudly opened the shoes' box and put them on display in his store. "These are very nice shoes," he said. "I will sell many of these."
The shoes sat smugly on the shelf, near the center of the store. We are the prettiest shoes here, they thought. Those other shoes are so bland, black and brown and tan. No one will want those shoes when they see us.
The first customer walked in. "How delightful! A pair of red shoes! I wonder if they fit." She took one off the shelf and put it on. "They're a little tight." She took the other off the shelf and put it on. "No, these shoes are too small. Perhaps the shopkeeper has more."
The woman took off the shoes and set them back on the shelf. The shoes felt disappointed, but one cannot expect to fit every foot. Someone with the right size feet will find us, they thought. We will be purchased and worn and loved always.
Another customer walked in. "Oh my, how daring, red shoes! They look my size. Just trying them on won't hurt..." She took both shoes off the shelf and tried them on, but they kept slipping off her heel. "Oh dear," the woman said, "These are too big, even though the tag says my size." She took them off and put them back. "I'll just get a normal pair of black shoes. Black goes with everything." The woman moved away down the aisle, a disappointed expression on her face.
The shoes felt equally disappointed. That's okay, they thought. Not everyone with this size foot has the same width or length. There will be someone else, surely.
Days passed, and many people tried on the pair of pretty red shoes, but always with the same result: too small, too big, not wide enough, not tall enough, not low enough. The shoes started to feel stretched and worn and tired. And sad. Is there something wrong with us, they wondered. All these other shoes are being purchased. Were we made wrong?
Many more days passed, and people stopped trying on the pretty red shoes. A few customers here and there would glance at them, and maybe one would say, "Oh. Red shoes."
One day, the shopkeeper took the shoes off his display shelf and put them back in their box. "You're the last ones," he said to them, "and nobody seems interested."
The shoes lay limply in the tissue paper. It's not our fault, they thought. We really thought someone would want us.
The shopkeeper slapped a sticker on the side of the box, and put the shoes under a red sign at the back of the store.
The shoes lay in the box for many weeks, consoling themselves, thinking, Just because we're at the back of the store doesn't mean we won't have a home. We're still pretty, and who doesn't like red? Red means fun. We're fun, right?
Customers came and went from the rack at the back of the store. Sure, several people tried on the shoes, but never with any admiration or praise. They simply analyzed according to price and fit, and then moved on.
One afternoon, the shop keeper put another sticker on the side of the box, but the shoes couldn't see what it said.
The next day, a tall man came into the store. He wore a grey suit and a dark blue tie, and he fidgeted nervously.
The shopkeeper approached him and asked, "Is there something I can help you find?"
The man nodded. "I want to give my wife a birthday present, and she just loves shoes. I know her size, and I have a general idea of what she likes, but I’m a bit out of my depth, here." He gazed around the store, overwhelmed.
The shopkeeper nodded knowingly. "I understand completely, sir.”
After a moment’s conversation, the shopkeeper smiled. “Come with me." He led the tall man to the back of the store. "Back here is where we keep shoes that were on the shelf for too long, or were replaced by a newer style.” He pulled the red shoes' box off the bottom. “I believe these are the size you need.” He handed the box to the tall man. “Would these be the sort of thing you’re looking for?”
The tall man stared in awe at the shoes. "They're lovely," he said. “They’re exactly what I think she’ll like. Thank you so much!"
Finally! thought the shoes joyously. We will have a home! We will be loved!
The shopkeeper wrapped the shoes inside their box and put on a pretty bow. The tall man tucked the package under his arm and went home, and late that night, he sneaked the gift in his wife's shoe closet as a surprise.
The next morning, the wife opened her shoe closet and gave a shriek of delight. "Honey," she exclaimed, "you didn't forget!"
"Of course not, my love." The man sounded pleased. "Open them. I think you'll like them."
The shoes waited impatiently as the wife tore the wrapping paper off their box. Almost, they thought. Almost...
The wife yanked the lid off the box, pulled back the tissue paper, then stopped. She just looked at them and said nothing.
"Darling? Are you alright," the man asked, suddenly sounding nervous.
"They're red," she replied. "I never wear red."
"But… you said the other day you wanted a brighter pair, that you have so many dark ones -"
"I meant white or tan, not RED." The wife tossed the box back on to the floor and sighed. "I don't suppose we could take them back."
The man shook his head. "There was a no refunds or exchanges sticker on the box," he replied. “I thought you’d really like them…” The man’s head drooped dejectedly.
The wife felt bad. He had tried – he’d remembered her birthday, even personally gotten her something. She stood up and went to sit on the bed by her husband. "Let's go out today, spend time together."
The tall man brightened. "Really?"
The wife smiled. "Of course, darling. Spending time with you makes me happy." She kissed his cheek, and the tall man stood up. "I'll go get dressed," he said.
After the tall man left, the woman approached the closet again, glaring at the shoes. "I'll deal with YOU later," she grumbled. "Stupid garish, last season pumps. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing you."
The shoes lay in despair on the floor of the closet. We're ugly, they thought. We're outdated. No one will love us.
After a few hours, the wife returned. She picked up the box without so much as a second glance. "Off to the donation center for you," she muttered.
The shoes tried to stop caring. They tried not to notice being lumped in a bin with dirty work boots and torn flip flops. They tried to think of their days in the fancy shop as they were shoved unceremoniously on a metal shelf next to grubby sneakers. They tried not to feel lonely when other, more abused shoes were grabbed and thrown into baskets and taken home.
The shoes stopped paying attention to anything. Their toes smudged and their edges flagged, their heels scratched a little here and there. Kids played with them, threw them, tromped in them. Surely, they thought, surely we will leave even here, unwanted, and end up in a garbage heap.
But then, one day, a young woman entered the store. She didn't act like other customers. She handled things carefully, like they still had value. She would admire the pieces she picked up, and every so often, put an item in her basket.
All the shoes perked up. It's her, they thought to each other. It's her. Someone who still cares about us.
The red shoes lay on their sides, unconcerned with the general excitement in the shoe aisle, especially among the shoes in their size. They didn't want to get their hopes up, didn't want to be poked, prodded, examined, and rejected yet again. No more, they thought. Just go away.
But the woman stopped in front of them, gazing at the shoes. "Oh," she exclaimed quietly. "It can't be."
The shoes became curious. They listened.
"I always wanted these shoes, but I couldn't afford them." She picked them carefully off their perch, brushed off the dust and dirt. "They still look beautiful."
The red shoes perked up a little. We're beautiful?
The woman took off her brown sandals. "I hope they fit."
We hope we fit, thought the shoes.
She slipped in one foot. "They feel so soft."
The shoes beamed.
She slipped in the other foot. "I've wanted red shoes for so long."
The shoes practically glowed with happiness as the woman turned and twirled in front of the mirror. "They're perfect."
We're perfect, thought the shoes.
The woman took them off and held them to her chest. "I've been looking for you for so long. You'll come home with me now, and I'll wear you, and love you always."
And they lived happily ever after.