In the snapshot, I wear purple Converse tennis shoes with reinforced toes, faint bell bottom jeans spilling over their sides. Our yellow lab ignores the lanky arms I wrap around her. It’s the shoes that stick out, too purple despite my pride in them. Teachers note their strangeness; grade school friends grin and point at their unlikelihood. Mom thinks they’re unique.
An art instructor finds the same magic in these shoes that I do, has me draw a new picture in gentle charcoal lines. I sit in my socks and sketch, think of trees scaled on a brother’s dare, icy creeks forged. As if they’re still walking, the shoes appear on starched paper, shoelaces draping free of my feet. Eyelets gape open, shoe tongues voice their remembrance, purple shoes roam eternal through childhood forest journeys.
A luggage carousel in Dublin snakes around the terminal. I watch bags tumble when the handlers let out too many at once, then laugh once I spot my own broken bag, its sides and zipper burst at last from age. Only airport duct tape keeps the contents intact; one black suede shoe tries to escape. From the carousel’s edge, I claim the mangled bag and shoe while others stare. Mom would’ve laughed.
The left black shoe stays behind in Dublin. Dissatisfied with adulthood and agendas, it roams, most likely to the corner pub where I drank velvet Guinness or to rest in St. Stephen’s lime-bright grass. It might venture another look at Yeats’ scribbled manuscripts in a hidden museum, or relive the tang of fish and chips on greasy paper. Choosing a random door in the afternoon, each knocker a different bronze animal, it joins whoever answers for tea. At night, it finds a bed and breakfast and keeps my travels endless.
I place Mom’s brown boots, fresh moss in their tread, outside the door. She died in the house where I grew up, surprising us with sudden departure and no goodbyes. Who knew if she might need the boots for a forest, maybe one with our usual clouds and rain. Trilliums would open for her, white petals like stars, or fiery vine maple blazing if it were fall. Dad sees her boots waiting outside and asks me if that’s realistic, the right thing to do. I consider his words, but leave the boots there just in case, while summer’s warmth lives on.
Gail Folkins' essays have appeared in Lifewriting Annual, The Fourth River, and other journals. Her creative nonfiction book Texas Dance Halls: A Two-Step Circuit (Texas Tech University Press) was a finalist in the popular culture category of ForeWordMelusine's Magazine's 2007 Book of the Year Awards. This piece first appeared in Summer 2009 issue.