Filling My Mother's Shoes
Suzanne Nielsen
My mother wore heels to bed. Size 9. Medium width. She wore heels every day of her life, even when she and my father'd go fishing on the great northern lakes of Minnesota the third week of August. Not flashy heels by any means. Mostly muted taupes, browns, and variations of black. Occasionally she'd move into red hues, but not often. She was not a proponent of polishing shoes, only wearing them.
How could she sleep in heels, you might ask. Since I can remember, she and my father slept in different corners of the house. The Pomeranian shared her bed with her for six years, but avoided her feet, always curled up on the satin pillow next to her head.
The thing I remember most about the size 9's was the perpetual sound of being under construction. The bungalow style house we lived in had bare maple floors throughout with the exception of vinyl floor covering in the bathroom and kitchen. In high school I moved into the basement, away from the yipping dog and heavy smell of Opium cologne. The hammering of the heels echoed through the floorboards until the black nights faded to gray mornings, seven days a week. Following the hammering was a trail of clickity-clicks, the sound cards make stuck in the spokes of your bike wheels. That was the Pomeranian, dutifully following her around.
She never slept much. One day she discovered her leg had swollen and her heeled shoe was permanently planted on her left foot. This was the beginning of a series of unfortunate events.
Nine months later, my mother lay in a hospital bed spitting up muted blood. Her feet were bare, swollen and blue. I was shuffling cards for my next game of solitaire. A week earlier I watched a team of medical professionals hold my mother down as they gently made incisions along the sides of her leather shoe and lifted it off her foot. It was as though she was giving birth through cesarean, and the fetus was still born. That was the day she unwillingly surrendered her dignity and her mind turned to Jell-O.
For a moment in time, the shuffling of the cards sprung her back into action. "Where's my shoes?" she said. "In your closet," I answered. A red seven on a black eight, the luck of an Ace, click, click, click. "Get them and put them on my feet." I walked over to the closet in my rubber-soled Doc Martin's and reached inside for the pair that she wore walking into the hospital just seven days earlier. The left shoe mutilated and deformed, like her foot now naked. "Let me see," she said holding her hands out to grab the shoes from me. "Did Sy chew this up like this?" "Must have," I said. "Nasty little dog," she said.
I worked the shoes, shoving her swollen feet into their confines. She was the princess of the ball, and she was late to get home.
Suzanne Nielsen, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, teaches writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and at Metropolitan State University. Her poetry, fiction and essays appear in literary journals nationally and internationally; some of these include The Comstock Review, The Copperfield Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Foliate Oak, Juked, Identity Theory, The Pedestal, Pindeldyboz, Rosebud, Rumble, Thunder Sandwich, The 13th Warrior Review, Word Riot and 580 Split. Upcoming work will appear in Banyan Review, R-KV-R-Y, Lodestar Quarterly and Gin Bender Poetry Review. Nielsen was recognized by storySouth's Million Writers Award in 2005 for a notable story. So'ham Books released her collection of poetry titled "East of the River," in December 2005. So'ham will publish her collection of short fiction in December of 2006, titled "The Moon Behind the 8-Ball & Other Stories."