Now they're like my mother's and they usually hurt. Size ten, ten and a half if it's a hot day, double A, the space between the first and second toe, the painful bunions on the big toes. I got my first pair of shoes that didn't fit the day after I was born, from my mother's younger sister, Amy. My mother took the pink hand crocheted Christian Dior booties back to Saks Fifth Avenue and got two pairs of corduroy overalls, one red, one green.
I have a closetful of shoes that once felt good at Macy's or Nordstrom's. Now they grow dusty on my closet floor. The mustachioed salesmen offer them to me in an opened box like they are something good to eat. "Just don't wear them outside or on the hard floor. You can always bring them back," they say. I never do.
I imagine that my mother is embarrassed when the salesmen roll the peds onto her bony naked feet. When she finds a shoe that fits she buys a few pairs, one in every color. Her heel is so narrow, she can only wear slingbacks. Her feet have become like a Barbie Doll's. She claims that she's so used to heels, she can't wear flats. But she eyes my worn black ones when she arrives at SFO to visit me. "Hmmm," she says before we reach the baggage claim. "Those kind of look like men's bedroom slippers. But are they comfortable?"
Still, we share a hopefulness about shoes. Even if the size tens that the salesman brings never look quite as good as the size six samples we're holding. Even if the rows of single size tens and elevens at Shoetown are shunted to shelves in the back. We rarely find one we'd like to match up with its other half. "Don't worry," offers Tanya, the big-footed secretary at my office, the first day I wear my new cowboy boots to work. "You'd never know they're tens. They look very proportional to the rest of your body. Really."
I remember the Dr. Scholl's my mother let me buy when I was thirteen, a piece of leather attached to a piece of wood that I convinced her had therapeutic properties. I remember the wallabies that she bought me in junior high although she said forty dollars for a pair of shoes was obscene. I remember a pair of 5 inch black heels that she bought me before the one college formal I went to. I took a boy named Pete who asked my friend Stacey to play tennis with him after we got back to the dormitory. I limped behind him through the parking lot of the Durham Holiday Inn holding my shoes by their two satin straps.
I remember a time before my feet hurt. I sat on my father's shoulders when he cut my toenails. He'd get out his manicure set, silver and red leather. Then he'd pull off my socks. "Let's see if it's time to cut them yet," he'd say. Afterwards, I'd brush slender halfmoons of nail off of my parent's bedspread into the palm of my hand.
Then my own feet were pink and smooth and my mother's feet were a secret that frightened me. Still, I envied their toughness. She could run across a rocky beach and not feel a thing. I spent afternoons walking barefoot on our hot gravel driveway. She didn't stop me. I'd look for new callouses on the bottom of my feet. I'd be disappointed to only find sticky black tar. I see my mother in those days. She's sitting on Moody Beach, watching me in the water. I see her black hair tied back in a white kerchief, the skirted bathingsuit that just covers the tops of her thighs, the glass of Lipton's iced tea, the tent that her paperback makes resting on the arm of her lawnchair. I see her sandaled feet, loose and bare, the unpolished toenails, the corn on the knuckle of her littlest left toe, the brown leather thong that ran up and over, separating the first toe from the second.