November 1999

Stephen Dixon

Stephen Dixon Stephen Dixon's newest novel is also his first novel, which he finished 35 years ago, called Tisch, and will be published in the spring by Red Hen Press. He has published 21 other books of fiction, 13 story collections (recently: Sleep, from Coffee House Press), and 8 novels (recently: 30, from Henry Holt). He has published approximately 500 short stories.  "Shoe" is part of an interconnected work-in-progress called I.

Shoe    Click to hear in real audio

This has what to do with anything? He’ll see. It started while he was driving his older daughter to school. His younger daughter looked so grown-up in skirt and high-heeled shoes last night, he said. Those weren’t high heels, she said. They’re platform shoes. "Platforms; okay. But that reminds me of a funny story. Actually, not so funny. But something I probably haven’t thought about for more than thirty years. It concerns high-heeled shoes. You interested?" "Depends if it’s interesting." And then in the short trip he told her the story. A friend wanted to hook him up with what he said was a very good-looking, intelligent woman. I., around thirty-two at the time, said he hated going on blind dates, and his friend said he promises this one he won’t regret. So he asked the friend to call the woman to see if she’d mind I. calling her. "Don’t build me up or anything. I don’t want her disappointed that way if she does agree to see me." She told the friend to have I. call her. So he did. They spoke for a while and seemed to get along and have several similar interests, and made a date to meet for coffee. The woman was as attractive and as smart as his friend had said. She was beautiful, even, and pleasant, and had a lovely slim figure. So they had coffee, a good time talking; he walked her back to her apartment building, and in front of it, he said, "Would you mind if I called again?" "Sure," she said, "that’d be nice." He said "Why even bother calling? Maybe we could arrange right now to meet for dinner or a movie sometime or anything else you might like to do." "Sure," she said. "when’s good for you? I’m not busy Friday." "Friday, then," and they shook hands and he went home—he was living with his folks till he saved enough money from his job to afford to get his own apartment—and started fantasizing: beautiful woman, great figure, gorgeous legs, very smart, cheerful, terrific sense of humor, and interested in so many of the things he was: books, music, theater, art, certain movies, even opera. He saw himself kissing her goodnight at her door after their first real date—they’d settled on a movie. she might even invite him in after that kiss, and then more kissing and maybe some petting. She seemed modern, uninhibited, so who knew if she wouldn’t suggest they go to bed after a lot of kissing and petting, or they just ended up in bed, neither of them suggesting it, most of their clothes off in the living room, the bedroom the next natural place to go to. He didn’t tell his daughter any of that. Nor that he went to the woman’s building that Friday at the time they’d set. A brownstone, not far from his parents’ building. Rang her bell in the vestibule. No one answered. Rang it several times, waiting a minute between each ring. It was ten minutes or so after he was supposed to be there. So what the hell’s going on? he thought. Someone was coming downstairs from the second floor. A woman but not her. He thought she might object if he just walked in while she was walking out, or kept the door from closing, so he said, when she opened the door, "I’ve got an appointment with Susan Geller, third floor, and her bell doesn’t seem to be working, excuse me," and slipped past her and hurried upstairs. He found her apartment and rang the bell. No answer. Rang again and knocked. "Susan, you home?" He heard someone walk quietly up to the door, sounding as if she was barefoot or in slippers. He forgot to mention he’d come with flowers. He didn’t know why he'd brought them. He thinks she'd expressed an interest in flowers the last time, that she was raised in the country and how much she missed flowers not being right outside her front door this time of year, so he thought they’d please her and, lets face it, get him in good with her. Of course that was the reason. Anyway, he said, "Susan, that you? We had a date tonight, don’t you remember?" "Oh... gee," she said, tsking. "I'm sorry; I forgot." Just then someone from far off in the apartment—a man—was saying something I couldn’t make out. "Shh, if you don't mind," she said. "I’m talking." The man got a little angry in his voice and said something about solicitors and canvassers and for her to do what he always does to them through the door and that’s to cut them off fast. "Is there a guy in there with you?" I. said. "What kind of stuff is that? We were supposed to go to the movies right around now." "Listen," she said, "I'll have to break the date. Please call me tomorrow and I'll explain." "Call you tomorrow? You crazy? Go screw yourself," and he threw the flowers at the door and left. What he told his daughter was that he was once interested in a woman when he was thirty. Dated her a couple of times, or maybe just once but with a little coffee date before the first real movie one, when—after it, at her door—she told him she wasn’t interested in seeing him again. "All right, that happens; you can't expect every woman you want to go out with to want to go out with you or continue to after the first or second date. You're lucky, in fact, if one-third of the ones you like or are attracted to and so on—or at least that was my ratio, or maybe a bit higher, since I didn't always go for the ungettable—have the same feelings for you. But I did like this woman and was sorry she didn't want to see me again. And even though nothing ever happened between us, I couldn't get her out of my head and even suffered a bit of heartsickness over her. She was so beautiful and smart and funny and lovely, I thought she was perfect and I would have died to have something happen between us. Then, a couple of weeks later, when I’m still pining for her and even thinking of calling her for a date, though I never believed she’d go out with me again—and I should make this short so I can get the whole story in before we get to school—I see her on Broadway in the Theater District. I was looking for a job and she was working as a publicist for a movie director, though I think really as his factotum—someone who does a lot of different menial jobs for someone—who was casting then for a film he was going to direct in New York. A big name too, I remember, though I forget it now. She was standing as if frozen next to a building and not looking too happy. I was about to go over to her and say something like ‘What a coincidence’—not that we were both unhappy, me over her and she I didn’t know what yet, but of meeting her—when her expression changed to anger and then, as if she were about to explode, her body started jerking. She was struggling, it turned out, to get one of her high-heeled shoes—this is where the high heels come in—out of a sidewalk grate it was stuck in. You know, the long thin heel part wedged between two of the bars. First she tried jerking it out with her foot still in the shoe. Then she took her foot out and tried pulling the shoe out by hand. Finally, she squatted down and tried pulling the shoe out with both hands, but nothing worked. I thought ‘Should I help her?’ Then I thought, ‘After what she did to me?’" "Why, what’d she do that was so bad?" his daughter said. "She didn’t want to go out with you. That’s all right, isn’t it?" "Of course, and what I immediately thought too. So I started over to help her, if she wanted me to. But just then she got the shoe out—she never saw me, you understand—but the heel part separated from the rest and stayed stuck in the grate. That did it for her, and she raised the bad shoe over her head as if she wanted to throw it someplace. Well, I don’t know if I remember all that exactly, but something like it, and then calmed down. I think she tried dislodging the heel part from the grate again, couldn’t, and walked lopsidedly to the curb—because she only had one shoe on, you see—and stuck her hand out for a cab. People were staring at her walking in this funny way and then standing there, one side of her a few inches higher than the other. She was fuming again, so nobody dared, it seemed, to say anything to her or help get her a cab. Me, I ducked aside because I knew she’d never want to know that someone she was acquainted with and had been introduced to by a fairly good friend, even someone she probably didn’t think much of—I’m sorry, I don’t mean to flail myself like that, but that’s what I felt then and still do—had observed all this. Then a cab came, she got in and drove away, and that’s the end of the story. And right on time, too," as they just then pulled into the school driveway. "But what was your reason for telling me it?" she said. "Shoes. Or that’s what started me going. So maybe it was just that seeing her looking so awkward and even buffoonish, though that might be too hard a word for it—her foot stuck in the grate at one point before she pulled it out of the shoe and then hobbling to the street carrying the broken shoe, and with a briefcase and in a good suit—sort of made me feel better and helped me get over her from that moment on because I never again thought of her in a romantic or even a positive way after that." "Why didn’t she take the good shoe off and walk in her feet on the street? And how come she didn’t put the broken shoe in her briefcase, if it wasn’t too stuffed up, so she wouldn’t look silly? But that’s mean what you said, using her trouble and then her being embarrassed for your own benefit like that." "You could be right. And also about the shoe in the briefcase and walking with both feet instead of a shoe and a foot. I don’t know why she didn’t do either of those. But you’re definitely right about my wrong attitude at the time. What I should have done then was help her get the shoe out of the grate, if she would have let me, and why wouldn’t she have? Or at least the heel after it had separated from the shoe. A shoemaker could have put the two parts together easily, I’d think, while without the heel, she probably had to throw the shoes away or just hope that a shoemaker or the store she'd bought the shoes at could send away for a new heel, not to say all the time she must have spent cabbing home to get another pair that day or to a store to buy a new pair. And think of the money she could have saved if I had retrieved the heel, and certainly the whole shoe intact, which is what I should have thought of then instead of taking whatever pleasure in her predicament. Also, for whatever it would have been worth, she would have thought of me better too." His daughter smiled, as if she liked that he thought she was right, and he kissed her goodbye and she got out of the car. "You have your lunch?" and she said, "You asked me that when we left." "Right, I did, and besides, I can’t even remember the last time you forgot it. So I’ll see you at 2:20. Don’t be late because I have a class at three," and she waved and went inside the school. Driving home, he thought he wished Susan had seen him staring at her while her foot was stuck in the grate and then when she tried to get the shoe out and hobbled to the street and later when her cab pulled away. No, he did the right thing by making himself invisible. It was enough the incident got him over her, and who needs revenge? He heard from that same friend about a year later that she moved to L.A. and got a good job in publicity for a movie company. Then he never heard anything about her again or even, he thinks, thought of her till he was in the car with his daughter.



Stephen Dixon: Fiction
Copyright � 1999 The Cortland Review Issue NineThe Cortland Review