I used to work as an assistant manager at the local shoe store. The place was called Burt’s Foot Supply, and they had just opened their second location when I was hired there. I have a really keen eye for shoes, and I quickly rose through the ranks. Usually I sold shoes for girls between the ages of 10 and 19, and usually I knew what kind of shoe they needed by their toenail polish or their lack thereof. Telling for boys was a little more difficult, because they didn’t have such obvious displays of how they wanted to look. Usually it was in their pants and how they wore them.
Having one pair of shoes that are you is a necessity. If you can’t own your feet, then you’re going to have a hard time walking.
One day, I think it was a Monday, or maybe Thursday, this girl and her seventeen-ish older brother walk in. Most of the time I didn’t assume two people were siblings , but these people were practically identical. If you forgot they were about ten years apart and different genders, you could see that they had the same thin, elvish faces, round, dark eyes, and deeply defined cheekbones.
“Hi, can I help you?”I chirped.
“No thanks,” the brother huffed.
With a shrug, I pushed backwards. It was a slow day for a Monday or a Thursday in July, so there was pretty much nothing for me to do.
“Slow day,” I said to Greg, the cashier, once I had managed my way over there.
“Yep.” Greg didn’t talk much.
“Did we even sell anything yet today?”
“What did we sell?”
“One of the lip balms,” he answered simply, giving the plastic jar a half-hearted nudge. All the tubes rattled around.
I either gave a nod or an acknowledging grunt then. It doesn’t really matter.
Suddenly, the girl came running from behind a shelf. Without asking questions or permission, she pushed me, all the way into the aisle she and her brother were looking at something in. Before, with the light from outside the automatic doors, her brother’s hair had looked more like it belonged on the Chocolate Lover’s Delight side of the crayon box. In here, it looked a little more Deep Prairie Sunset mixed with Creamy Rich Auburn.
“Hey,” the brother began, “I’m really sorry about my little sister forcing you over here and all.”
“That’s alright,” I replied, shaking my head and smiling like people do in awkward situations.
“No it’s really not.” He looked sternly down at the girl. “Holly, can you please apologize?”
Instead of apologizing Holly started talking as though her intentions hadn’t been interrupted. “I’m getting shoes for my cousin and I want to get her these, but he wants to get her these.” In her left hand was a right shoe, pink and sparkly and embedded with a plush Hello Kitty bow. In her right was a sensible blue canvas high-top, plus elastic that left its mate dangling. It wasn’t hard to guess who wanted to get which shoe.
“Holly.” The brother was clearly disgruntled, like he had spent way too much time with her already.
“It’s really okay,” I reminded him, then turned to Holly. “Now how old is your cousin?”
“She’s going to be twelve on Saturday.” It went through my mind then that buying two days ahead for a birthday was a little late, so it must have been Thursday.
“Well,” I said as gently as I could, “I don’t know much about your cousin, but I don’t think the pink one is quite…right.”
“What do you know about shoes anyway?” she growled immediately. “You don’t even have feet.”
“Holly!” her brother shouted.
The sound was so angry, disgusted and loud, that as a result Greg flipped in his chair and the jar of lip balm toppled to the floor.
“Holly!” he repeated, a little more subdued. “Apologize. Now.”
“Well she doesn’t!” she squeaked back. “See? Her legs stop at her knees.”
She looked straight at him like a dare.
He looked down to me. “I’m really sorry about my little sister, I don’t know what’s into her today.”
“It’s okay, I get that a lot,” I shrugged.
The next thing I knew, my wheelchair was speeding down the aisle. Instead of letting myself crash with the chair, I jumped out and rolled to the side. A shelf shook on impact and five boxes spilled onto the carpet.
Now that, I thought, that was not okay. And I had a feeling that the girl’s brother would have agreed with me, had I said anything. But that would have violated virtually everything that makes an everyday employee into an assistant manager.
“Pretty impressive jump,” the brother said to me, “But Holly––”
“Why don’t you have legs?” Holly asked, interrupting her brother.
Everything was suddenly silent. Holly’s brother didn’t try to interrupt back, and instead focused all of his attention on me.
Everything was very silent.
The brother looked down at the carpet, and, while making his fixations on the thread, looked like he would cry for a minute.
“Our Uncle Terry died that way,” Holly said. “He’s my cousin Samantha’s dad. Her birthday is on Saturday.”
“Let’s get the shoes, Mike. The blue ones.”
“Alright, Holly. Let’s get the blue shoes.”
I clambered back into the wheel chair, but left the boxes for later, or for Greg, or a combination of the two.
“We’re going to get ice cream later,” Mike said sheepishly.
“Yeah!” squealed Holly. “You want to come? We’re going to Ben and Jerry’s! Do you like chocolate or vanilla?”
“I like vanilla,” I said to Holly. “And yes, I would like to go,” I said to Mike.
“Cool,” Mike replied, nodding. “When does your shift end? We were thinking of going––”
“To Ben and Jerry’s!” Holly reiterated.
“––To Ben and Jerry’s,” Mike continued, “At around six.”
“My shift ends at seven.”
“Did I say six? I meant seven.” He had a nice smile.
“You’re asking her out, Mike!” Holly complained.
Mike shrugged. “See you at seven.”
Holly and Mike bought the blue shoes.
It was a slow Thursday for July at Burt’s Foot Supply.