Most shoes have voices, some are more interesting than others. Some call out and wave. Some squish and whisper. Finger snaps, squeaky wheels. Lots of bravado but throw a good walk in front of them, and then you see what they’re really made of. Listen to them whine. Listen to them chortle arrogantly at the challenge. The pair that belonged to Colleen, age nine, became a matchstick when they struck the footpath.
At first, Colleen said nothing to her grandfather Hank as they started walking. The car ride here had been full of talk and the change between wheels and feet muted her words. If Colleen had been paying close attention to her breathing, she’d have counted one hundred and twenty nine breaths before she spoke. Counting naturally happened with her, she did it often without even noticing. Nine years old. Sixty two brown puddles. Eighteen lavender flowers. Ten fingers wrapped up together; five small, five large.
“See that color?” Colleen asked.
Eight heartbeats. Then, “I noticed.”
“Are you tired?”
One pause. “I’m completely awake.”
Through a smile, “me too.”
The color, although it was the first thing mentioned, although it was a bright golden yellow and was practically singing, although it would inevitably be blown away over Colleen and her and Hank’s heads, was forgotten along with the other maroon and spiced orange leaves spinning and pooling around them.
“Aren’t you going to tell me a story?” Colleen prompted.
“A story?” One story.
“Yes. I’m sure that’s why you wanted to come just us.”
Hank stopped to pick up a gray flecked stone considering which story. He felt the stone in his hands, rubbed a thumb over all sides and looked upward. The leaf waved and raised it’s eyebrows but wasn’t seen. “Well, if you’re sure,” he said, and dropped the stone. His shoes kept talking; the ground beneath him crunched like nuts between teeth.
No ‘once there was a man’, or ‘a long time ago’ or even ‘there used to be a girl of nine’. But there was a letter. One letter.
“I like receiving letters.”
“Me too. But I didn’t like this one.” Erased words, rubber eraser pollen, careful spelling.
“You didn’t? Why?”
“I didn’t like the person who sent it.”
“He always showed off, like he was very important.”
“Have you received many letters?”
“Do you like most of them?”
“Are you very important?”
“Everyone is important to someone.”
The letter had a cherry red old fashioned automobile stamp and a wrinkled corner with a poorly stamped postage date. Only the automobile was on purpose.
“So you weren’t happy about the letter.”
“At first. When I got it, I grumbled,” Hank said, then gave a good obnoxious example of what his memory recalled of his reaction. “Then, I read it.”
This time of year, while others are feasting on turkey gravy I like to think of the people of whom I am grateful for, and you come to mind. As you know, I recently sold my Chevelle. I was never driving it and it was the right decision, I think. I hated keeping it in the garage like a dog always on a leash. But it broke my heart to do. I admit that the day I bought it, I did it only because I thought you were impressed by it.
“I had saved up for over a year to buy that thing, and then this guy is there, once more sticking his big, fat nose at the one I was ready to take home! I usually hated seeing him and it goes without saying, he was the last person I wanted to see near my cherry red baby.”
“Mom says saying fat is mean.”
“His nose looked like an apple. Big and fat. There’s no other way to describe it.”
“I forgive you,” Colleen offered.
I spent every dime I had on it, and then once I got it home, I panicked. But I thought of how you would have cared for it, and driven it, and made sure the oil was always changed, and so I made the effort to do what you would have done.
There was a little smudge where something had been erased. Or wet and then dried.
I was surprised and honored that you allowed me to buy it. Honestly, I’ve always admired your opinion and have sought out your approval.
Mustard seed path. Shoes walking and chatting away.
I want to thank you for being patient with me over the years. Your patience with my not too subtle efforts to impress you helped launch me to take better care of myself. There are a few people who leave a good impression on you, and at this time, I think about how grateful I am for them.
Enjoy the ride, your friend,
“You said you didn’t like him,” Colleen reminded her grandfather.
“I didn’t, until the letter,” Hank said.
“Why?” Colleen frowned.
“I guess he changed the way I saw things.”
“Like this?” Colleen asked, picking up a dandelion leaf and spinning it between her thumb and index finger. Back and forth, three times in a row.
“Not unlike that,” Hank conceded.
Colleen continued holding the stem of the leaf for fifty four more minutes of conversation, accompanied by under the breath commentary, some from her shoes, some from his. She released it when Hank pointed out they had made it back to the start.
“Thanks for the walk,” Colleen said. Thanks for the story, she meant, as they got back into his red Chevelle, crumpling bits of leaves onto the floorboards.