“It’s a damned city we’re living in!” Mel said, incredulous. “Don’t embarrass me, put it down, Lana. You can be stupid, it might have bacteria, it’s just garbage.”
As if there was anyone else around who cared. As if Lana didn’t know she was in the city by now. Lana turned over the abandoned black shoe then tossed it back to the grass. How would anyone manage in such high heels? Who would leave a shoe behind, if it just came off? Or what if it dropped from someone’s bag? She wanted to pick it up and put it in her backpack.
Lana had lived there for six weeks now. Her sister could be less irritable with her lack of “citified ways”. That’s what their mother called their Melissa’s mannerisms, her way of talking (and nickname Mel) after nearly two years in Seattle–that is, an old town that was now a new suburb, but by a lake. Their father offered his opinion another way; it didn’t bear repeating so Lana didn’t share it. Mel would just fume and that wasn’t good for her job as a barista. Customers wanted cheerful, attentive.
Lana hadn’t been sure what being a barista entailed. When it was explained, Lana thought it madness that her sister was paid a fair wage for making fancy cups of strong coffee all day long. Enough to pay rent on a place of her own. Sort of. There had been a first boyfriend, it turned out, and then he had left and there had been a girl who stole money and then Mel had to move from a nice apartment to a tiny, shabby cabin on the far side of Lake Washington. The moss colonies were eating away the roof. The owner had gone to New York long ago and didn’t care. Half mile down the road mini-mansions were being built, so they were the poor, lone renters. Mel got a second job at a Kwik Stop on week-ends, her eye on another apartment complex. But she needed Lana’s help.
“I still work like a dog but not much is getting better fast. When are you going to get work, Lana? Or are you running home to the backwoods?”
“It seems like you didn’t ever get too far–look where we’re living. Though I love the lake. And how do I know when I’m getting a job? Who will hire me at eighteen with my skills, as you point out enough?”
“Well, you’re pretty smart and gorgeous, so something is bound to happen. Or we’ll make it happen.” She pulled her sunglasses off her head and settled them on her long nose.
Lana stole a glance at Mel to see if she was being mean or nice. She felt it was the second and wondered just what Mel meant; her ideas tended toward risky. “I tried for that second hand store job but haven’t heard back.”
Mel pulled the glasses down so brown eyes peered out. “You need to set your goals higher, Lana.” She pulled a mouth to show mild distaste. “We both do.”
When Lana had completed her 12th grade schooling, she had the sinking feeling she might never get out. She loved to write poetry, a useless thing fit to cause heartache, her father informed her, half in jest, as he had a sweeter side. Her mother shook her head at him, patted her shoulder. But college was just a dream to her at seventeen with no money. Lana was restless. Her sister wrote a few letters about how much fun they’d have if Lana moved in with her. After a year Mel called, desperate, and asked if she was going to fly the coop or would she be wasting away under their parents rule, living–if you could even call it that–an anachronistic way of life. That was the right word; Mel had looked it up.
Gene and Maureen Hardy, their parents, called themselves farmers. Twelve years ago they had escaped the confines and demands of a good-sized town in Idaho. They had decided to live off the land, forsake the madness and so-called conveniences of society. Gene Hardy did keep an aged, dented but sound green Volkswagen van. He’d been a mechanic and still fixed vehicles as well as other broken machines. On their four acres they grew vegetables for food as well as to sell at a small roadside stand. They had three Toggenburg goats for milk and cheese, and chickens. Gene hunted and taught his girls how (his son was just learning), though Mel declared she was only eating vegetables and dairy so why should she have to do it? Lana excelled at hunting despite not much enjoying her skills. She was good at learning, in general, and had an unusually fine memory. Maureen Hardy had been a teacher into her thirties, so home schooled daughters and young Jeff. There was no television. A beige phone had come with the house. It just hung on a kitchen wall; it infrequently rang.
That day it rang for her and Mel was on the other end, it was like she had been told she had won some jackpot. She left within a week, her mother bawling at the door and her brother Jeff waving and she waved back until he was a speck on the road. Gene Hardy had left to hunt grouse, leaving her with Gus, their old neighbor, to take her to the bus station in the next town. Gus hadn’t said much to her except, “Be good and be careful.” And shook her hand, with a one armed hug.
But it was hard living in Seattle, even if it was on the outskirts with fewer cars, less pollution. The traffic noise still found them all the way across the lake. Lana slept on a worn out couch with a wool blanket pulled over her in the cool nights. When Mel finally got up she took her bed and slept a couple more hours. They took the one morning bus into town together sometimes so Lana could look for work. Otherwise, she was alone. It was not something she was familiar being and found herself thinking of home more than she would have liked.
The day Lana saw the black high-heeled shoe she had applied for a job at a drugstore and the manager had looked her up and down, gaze lingering on her face, then barely glanced at her application and said he wasn’t hiring–try again soon. She figured there was no good reason to return.
As usual she waited for Mel to meet her on a break from the coffee shop around the corner. Lana rested at the city park, watching people rush by with confident strides, their bright spring jackets flying open. She admired how the women held their shoulders back, heads up, as if they didn’t need anyone to help them get by. They looked like beautiful horses galloping off to even better fields. Lana pulled out a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of water. The sunlight poured through leaves and she could smell the scent of a tree’s pink blossoms. A fountain sprayed crystalline water in sheer arcs, then splashed into a pool. She listened to the water was halfway done eating when she felt rather than saw him slide onto the park bench, as if a cold breeze swept up.
“Want to share that?” His voice was husky and low.
Lana pulled back and clutched her sandwich as if it was a fabulous deli concoction. He sat no taller than she but was powerfully built, she could tell that because his shirt was tight on his biceps and shoulders. His blond hair was cut close on the sides but fell forward over heavy dark eyebrows. His eyes, heavy-lidded.
“You don’t have to look like that. I’m just sorta hungry.” He released a sharp laugh. “I’ve seen you here before. I’m Dante.” He held out his hand.
Lana couldn’t stop staring at him. He was a perfect balance of ugly and attractive. His smile was too bright. She didn’t talk to men she didn’t know, not like this. She knew very few as it was.
“I’m waiting for someone,” she said and put down the sandwich.
“Yeah, some girl, I know.” He leaned toward her abruptly. “You are truly beautiful. But you know that. I could help you use that to your advantage. You need a job, I bet. You’re new in Seattle, right? I have connections, I know my way around here, believe me.”
“I suppose you do but I have other plans.” She turned away, shaken. What was he doing, chatting her up like that?
“Girls like you have the advantage, you know that? You could have the moon and stars. You could be a movie star, you’re so great to look at. You want to act?”
Lana stood up and stepped away, chest hot with fear, all senses warning her. “No, I don’t and I have things to do, bye.”
“Aw, sure you do, sugar. Come on–we’ll talk more.”
“Hey, beat it or I’ll call the cops!” Mel ran up behind them, put her arm around Lana; they took off..
“What was that about? I was eating my sandwich, that’s all, and there he was, talking crazy. He was a snake in short grass but I didn’t even see him coming.”
“Sis, he was looking for a new girl to sell…seemed high.” She pulled her close in a gridlock side hug.
Lana stopped and faced her. “Crap, I knew it! I was about to kick him and run like hell!”
“Of course you were. Don’t go there again, wait for me at the coffee shop. I’ll get you a knife to carry.”
“I have mine at the cabin, brought it in case I have to hunt—I know, dumb. But I wouldn’t carry that with me, would I?”
Mel considered. “Man, if he knew what you can do with that and how you handle a 20 gauge shotgun…”
Then they gaped at each other and began to giggle, then chortle, obnoxious sounds pealing out as they stopped at a cross walk. The green “walk” sign went on, but their laughter was so hysterical, pedestrians hurried past.
“It’s not funny!” Lana said as she snorted, feeling half horror, half relief. “And I left the rest of my sandwich.”
“I hope pigeons or seagulls got it. That thug didn’t deserve a thing.”
They crossed a few streets, looking over their shoulders a couple of times to make sure Dante wasn’t following them. Then they doubled back to the coffee shop.
“Look over there, by the grass,” Lana pointed at something dark against the greenery. “Weird. A black high heel.”
And then Mel had told her it was trash, just leave it and soon she went back to work another few hours. Lana followed her in. She was oblivious as usual to those who turned their attention her way, to the luminosity that rose from her skin, that slipped off her person as she passed by. Lana sat at a table for a few minutes, left to her own devices. She studied the street scene closely but didn’t see the man who had accosted her. She felt tired, ready to go back home instead of looking for a job. There was a bus that left in fifteen minutes so she told Mel she’d see her at home and left. She then hightailed over to the shoe, picked it up. Stuffed it in her backpack.
The ride home felt longer than usual. All about her were people dozing or whose glazed eyes were riveted to the passing scenery or to screens of expensive devices. A woman across the aisle who was perhaps her mother’s age gave Lana’s black shining hair an appraising look, then revealed an unspoken question as they made eye contact. She looked at her book when Lana stared back with a small smile. But the woman’s husband glanced up from his newspaper. His red-rimmed grey eyes didn’t look away for a long minute and she sensed his random thoughts, felt suddenly exposed. He seemed exhausted and lonely. She made her body smaller; her mind filled with static. If only she looked pleasant like Mel, just blended in. She put on sunglasses and closed her eyes against the world.
At the lake shore below the old cabin was a dock barely holding together. They had no brightly painted boat to take them out,and skim over the undulating green surface, only an empty boathouse. Lana sat on the end of the dock often. She figured if it collapsed she would land in the water and she knew how to swim well. Beside her were a notebook and pencil and the black high heel. The shoe wasn’t trash. It was clean and newer and stood empty on the dock, wishing to be worn. She began to sketch its outline in loose strokes and set it in a shaded background.
On the opposite page she wrote about the shoe. Who it may have belonged to, why it was worn that day or night–probably a night shoe. If it had been a good night or a bad night. Lana imagined it was a splurge as it was a good brand, Mel had noted in the coffee shop. The woman might have been meeting with a girlfriend after too many drinks first after work. She might have been leaving a restaurant in a hurry, trying to get a cab. So exotic to Lana, a cab hailed by a woman in black heels in the glittering night, perhaps in a slim blue dress, hair pulled back in a sleek bun. It might have come off as the heel caught in the door and she laughed as the cab sped off. Or it was a woman wearing fancy jeans with a leather jacket, her fingernails long and some interesting color, dark green or purple, and she and her boyfriend were arm in arm, coming out of a movie. Then she turned her ankle since she wasn’t that good at walking in them. She got so mad she took off the shoe and threw it, then he happily carried her home. Or someone who’d always been afraid of heels so why did she ever wearing them? And on a blind date. So she took them off, walked barefoot to meet the someone at the park and realized too late she had lost the left one. So then she met him barefoot and it was okay.
Or someone was running and she kept going until her ankles hurt, they wobbled then the toe caught on rough sidewalk and it came off and she kept on. Maybe she was chased, just could not stop.
Lana’s heart was thrumming again, faster now. She looked behind her at the ramshackle cabin and lush trees crouched around it. No one else was there, no one was coming. Not ’til Mel arrived. She was still scared when she had never been out there. Lana took slow breaths. She examined the shoe she had kept for no good reason. It was a little scraped on the toe. She tried it on and it was too big. She laughed at herself. Why did this even matter? Who cared about an old shoe? The waves slapped against the muddy shoreline and the dock. Lana looked up at the bright deep sky and shadows on sluicing the lawn; it must be about four thirty. She wondered what her mother would be doing, but knew. She’d be finishing weeding or taking down clean clothes from the line, thinking up dinner plans based on what they had, what her father had hunted. He would be working in the pole barn and Jeff would be at is side.
Lana knew so little, Mel was right. She had no idea how to prepare for a life beyond the Hardy homestead, how to discern things correctly, how to fend for herself. Her sister was struggling, too. They were fools to be there. And yet. Mel wanted to make her own rules, and live her way. Lana wanted…she longed to be a poet. So much so that every feeling, every idea inside her gathered around that need, camped out as if around a hypnotic fire, waiting. How could she be one if she never moved beyond what was familiar? Took risks? Learned how to live richly, with different strengths? Didn’t she need all this otherness, the zigzag byways through life, the strange marvels of people and places? It’s danger? Even that. She had to face the dangers; everyone did. Her parents had tried to hide but the world was all about them, still.
“But I miss the ways I know…” she said aloud and her voice startled, brought a smile.
The silence around her was listening. It was spring air that moved her, the watery music and urgent scents of damp earth and grass, the promise of another starry sky. Her mind gentled and freed.
But today there was the small mystery of the black heel, too. And the man on the bench with that awful made up name and terrible intentions. And coffee drinkers who sat by windows keeping watch from their perches and Mel’s easy banter with customers as she worked to pay bills. To shape a life of her own.
Oh, the world was a maddening, breathtaking place and Lana wrote of it, a convergence of feelings, subtle beauty she recognized everywhere. But then she puttered around outdoors until dusk fell. She went inside and wrote her brother a short letter. And signed it with a big red heart because she missed him so.
“It’s for you, sounds official.”
Lana took the old-fashioned phone receiver, one much like their parents’. “Hello?”
“This is Hallie from Villager Vintage down the road. Are you Lana Hardy?”
“I’d like to hire you as soon as you can make it in. My long time gal finally quit and there’s no one to fill her hours.”
“You want me to come in for an interview? That’s great. When?”
“No, honey, I’d like you to just come in and work. I’m sure you’re fine–you turned in such a nice neat application and you were friendly, so bright-eyed. Listen, you live a mile away and I need someone right now. We’ll give it a couple of weeks, see how it goes, okay?”
It had been over a month since Lana started at Village Discount. She had settled in as if meant to be there. She always had appreciated old things, used clothing was all she wore, anyway, and there were dishes, furniture, odds and ends. Some of it looked valuable but all of it took work to sort and catalog, to display just right and sell when a customer was on the fence. Hallie liked her, said she had a knack for it. Lana found the older woman too open personally and prone to cussing but they somehow fit like opposites often can.
Lana loved to come up with displays and window dressing. She’d had an idea that her found shoe would look elegant in a window with a silver and wine silk scarf draped about it, and one lacy black glove with silvery seed pearls lain atop the scarf. A black sheath was on a mannequin above this. Hallie liked it, as usual.
One day Lana was working on the inventory of sold items. It was almost closing time when the bell on the door tinkled. A tall, angular, well-dressed woman walked in, a paper bag in hand.
“Can I help you?” Lana asked as the woman stood before her at the counter.
“You can–I hope. I noticed in the window that display with one black high heel. Is there another, a mate?”
Lana smiled sheepishly. “No, actually, I’ve got only one of those here. I’m sorry.”
“Really? Can you take it down for me to look at, anyway? Oh, and the scarf, very pretty.”
They moved to the front of the store and Lana procured the shoe and scarf and handed them to the woman. The shoe was turned this way and that, then she opened her bag, pulled out a shoe, set both high heels side by side on a table.
The matching shoe.
“What?” Lana said.
“Yes, how on earth did this get here? Did some random person drop it off with other items? I thought sure it was lost!”
Lana laughed. “I found it. On a street downtown! I saw it and somehow…I just felt compelled to pick it up, I know it’s odd, but–”
The smiling woman placed her hand on Lana’s arm. “Please, it’s serendipity! I lost it the night of my engagement party at the Cameron Room. We were in such a hurry to get to the hotel afterwards, Greg and I. Oh, I’m Nancy.” She shook Lana’s hand. “And I took them off because my feet hurt, really, high heels are a bit much for hours of dancing!”
“Lana,” she murmured, her mouth agape, “I’m Lana Hardy.
“Hello, Lana! I like to buy vintage, I’m an artist so like to mix and match–and I heard about this store so after work I decided to come by and there it was. In the actual window! I raced home to get the other shoe to make sure. And–” she waved the shoes between them–“here I am. With my lucky shoes.”
“They’re my engagement party shoes, right? They mean something, it all just does. I was sad I dropped and lost it.” She shook her head. “Even though I’ll likely not wear them much–my feet hurt for days! But thank you so much for finding it and keeping it, then bringing it here. Perfect.”
Nancy’s face brimmed with good will. They talked awhile despite the closing hour–the wedding was to be in six months, Greg designed and built boats for a living, wasn’t it wild? and oddly lucrative–and then Nancy grew silent. Studied Lana without blinking an eye. Lana looked back with tilted head, feeling pleased.
“I’d love to do something, Lana. I do portraiture. I paint them for private clients but I also exhibit. I would like to paint you. That hair, huh. Your face is so, well, it glows with kindness, add superior bone structure that catches shadow and light like…well, then the near-navy eyes…” She framed the girl’s head just so. “I find it all a winning combination to paint.”
“Oh! Thanks, I guess. I don’t know if I’d be a painting worthy of an exhibit! But–why not? Sure, okay, I’ll do it.”
And that was when Lana’s life began to open up, how she came to glean new ideas, clearer insights. To find herself. Nancy Le Fevre painted Lana Hardy’s portrait. It hung in a gallery for ten days, then it was snapped right up. She painted more portraiture of the young woman and as they worked together they became a creative mentor and a burgeoning poet. Friends of the finest sort. Before long, poetry began to flow from Lana of its own accord, the waiting coming to an end. One was even shortly published; she was heartened if amazed. But Mel and Lana stayed at the old cabin despite their increased income. It was still right, they agreed. For the time being, it felt more like home.