A few days ago my husband challenged me to write a story without dialogue. This, to me, seemed virtually impossible. I spent hours going about my day while the wheels continuously cranked in the back of my mind. Come evening, I had an idea. It made me laugh, but I couldn't resist. It's not 100% dialogue-free, but for my first attempt, I think it's respectably minimal.
So, here it is. As always, comments and criticisms are all welcome.
The Temptation of Cinderella
Alone. I had to be alone. Other people didn’t understand. My mother just thought me masochistic. My husband thought it was a waste of time. And the kids? Why would I bring them along on my hunt? Besides, who was I to prevent them from developing their social skills in daycare?
Well, in all honesty, I wasn’t alone at all. There were hundreds of people all around me, not paying any attention to me, going about their personal business as if no one were paying attention to them. But that wasn’t exactly true.
I sat on the bench, the wood digging into my thighs and my back from my two hours of inactivity. The pot of tiger lilies next to me made my nose tickle. The cola sitting on the bench next to me had made a puddle of sweat at its base that was slowly drifting toward my shorts. The discomfort seemed to fit, considering this was work for me, sort of. And no one is ever entirely comfortable in a mall—especially a mall that caters to patrons who believe that such locations are beneath them and only send their servants there to buy hand lotion for $72.50 per ounce.
But today it hadn’t been entirely worth it. The mall was almost entirely empty. Stupid recession… I had sat here for two hours already, watching the people pass, looking for someone interesting, some interactions, some noteworthy dialogue that I could incorporate into my writing. But my notepad only had three lines of transcription this morning.
Tired of being bored, I picked up my sweating paper cup, slipping slightly in my grip, and headed toward the exit. I rubbed my sore thighs, sure that there were visible engravings there for any passerby to see.
As I neared the exit, though, something flickered, winking at me through the storefront window. Dropping the slick cup in the trash, I let myself be sucked in by its eager twinkle.
If I were one of my children, I wouldn’t have been able to help myself from pressing my hand and face directly into the glass. They were exquisite, this single pair of chunky high heels, sitting on a small, sleek, white pedestal—where they belonged. The dual greens wove in and around each other to form a strap just above the toe. Another strap grew like ivy around the heel before strangling its host around the ankle.
I had felt the lust for material things in my life before, though I’d recently tied everything to keep myself away from temptation. But these! These miraculous heels! My blood pressure pounded in my ears, my whole body reacting and demanding that attention be paid to their goddess-like presence.
The tiny, rational, annoying voice—meek as it felt at this moment—chirped in the back of my mind, reminding me of how impractical it was to wear a pair of three and a half inch, dual shaded green chunky high heels while chasing after a two year old girl and a five year old boy. I had enough trouble keeping my balance barefoot or in sneakers. I’d be lucky if I only broke my leg.
My adrenaline screamed, telling that meek little voice to pipe down. I felt my hands shaking, imagining the feel of the soft leather coursing under my fingertips. I breathed in deeply, trying to catch the smell of a virgin shoe straight from its box. The glass between us was the only thing preventing that sweet aroma from reaching its destination.
I took one step toward the door, taking me the same distance away from my personal binary stars. I felt them tug at me, refusing to let me go, even though I was trying to go to them. My feet fled swiftly, carrying me along the gravitational trajectory, until I was close enough to reach out and touch them.
But I hesitated. They were so beautiful. They didn’t deserve even the slightest smudge of a human fingerprint. I needed gloves made of a material no less gentle than silk. But the pull of their electromagnetism was more than I could handle, and I reached out…
I jumped, my obsession interrupted by the mundane of other people. The girl was half my age, wearing too much makeup and too-expensive clothes for barely being on the cusp of graduating high school. Her perfect chestnut hair was haughty in its own expensive styling, and her boredom reeked of old money and the resent she had toward her parents for making her work.
I told her my size and she disappeared. I gazed at the display pair for much too long, imagining those ivy vines snaking their way around my ankles and never letting go. The thought of actually having these shoes for my very own threw my heart into an arrhythmia.
The girl returned, the boredom still painted in bold colors across her forehead, and she waited for me to take a seat before handing me the box. The pulsing vibrations from the cardboard sent shivers down my thighs to my expectant feet. I slowly lifted the frail lid to revel the gems beneath.
And there they were, perfect and untouched with the same virgin-shoe smell I had imagined through the glass. Desperately wishing for the special shoe-handling gloves that didn’t exist, I tentatively reached into the box to extract one of the two most perfect shoes ever made.
After asking me if these were the correct style, she took the box back from me and removed the shoes. She handled them roughly, as if they were rabid dogs on their way to be euthanized. I wanted to yell, to tell her to handle these beautiful creatures with the respect they deserve, but I kept my mouth shut because, before I could formulate any angry words, one perfect shoe was being slipped onto my foot.
The satin-lined sole slipped along the bottom of my foot, tingling, making my breath shudder in ways that didn’t normally happen in public. The girl laced the strap around my ankle, forming an everlasting bond between foot and shoe. And I knew they had to be mine.
“How much are they?” I asked. But her look was enough of an answer: if I had to ask, they were too much. I stared at the perfect green accent to my long legs, and realized that I didn’t care. It didn’t matter how much they cost. I could go days, weeks, a month without food. I would get another part-time job. I could convince my husband to work overtime. But I had to have these shoes.
She laced the other shoe onto my left ankle, and we had become one. I stood, hesitant since I hadn’t worn anything this tall since I got pregnant the first time—enough time that my boy would be starting kindergarten in the fall. Slowly, worried about how unsteady my ankles would be in front of this ungrateful shop girl, I reached full standing position.
The shoes emanated their splendor, engulfing me in their glow. I stood tall, confident, poised, feeling more beautiful than I had in years. I took a small step, concerned about my balance, until I realized that these luxurious shoes would never let me fall. They cradled the arches of my feet more tenderly than a newborn. I strode toward the mirror, all but ready to toss my hair over my shoulder if it weren’t pulled back in a messy ponytail.
The image I found staring back at me would have made me laugh if I hadn’t been basking in greatness of the most sensuous sandals. My cotton tank top had a stain on the left strap. My shorts were long and flared in that way that mothers’ shorts are, but also coated in dog hair. There were loose strands of delinquent hair fell on my shoulder. I turned around and could see the slat marks from the bench on my thighs. And then, there were the phenomenal strappy shoes.
The only thing that made this moment less than perfect was that I knew I would have to take them off to buy them and take them home.
Until we were at the cash register. The total, with tax, was $634.72. I gawked for a moment too long while the bored child stared at me. I swallowed, burying my inner miser, and pulled out my credit card. It would be worth it, in the end.
She asked me if I would like the little, pale blue receipt in the bag. I shoved it deep in my wallet instead.
* * * *
I went home. I should have picked the kids up from daycare, but I wasn’t ready for them yet. I needed the extra time alone with the new amazing extension of myself. I stood in front of the full-length mirror, examining my new and improved, sexy self, stripped down to my underwear, the new shoes, and a pair of thigh-highs. The exhilarating thrill of my purchase surged through me, extending the confidence and beauty I had felt in the store, compounded with the sexiness now. The angle of my ankles made my legs longer, made my ass tighter, and made me feel like a jaguar. How was it that a shoe could erase the extra fat and stretch lines from two children from my vision?
I glanced at the clock. It was close to one, but I knew my husband always took a late lunch, seeing as there was no need to eat before one or one-thirty if he didn’t get to work before nine-thirty. I picked up the phone and called him, inviting him home for “lunch”.
While I waited, I begrudgingly unraveled the loving straps from my ankles, slipped the satin sole along my foot, and placed the shoes back in their box. I hid the box under the bed, behind the toys and slippers and dust bunnies. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to know. It was that they were mine.
My feeling sexy, however, did not disappear after stashing the shoes where they were safe. Confidence bounced with the electrons throughout my body from cell to cell, electrifying even my toenails. But patience… the shoes did not imbue me with patience.
So when he got home, I was waiting for him, standing in the laundry room between the garage and the kitchen in nothing but underwear and the thigh-highs. His appearance threw an extra spark into my already dangerous electricity. Before he could take off his shoes, before he could ask me anything, before he even said hello, I grabbed him by the collar and shoved him against the washing machine, holding him in place with my pelvic bone, devouring his lips and unbuttoning his shirt.
“Where’re…?” he managed to inhale as I took a second for air.
“Dayc’r.” I couldn’t even wait long enough to complete the entire word. I whipped off his shirt, threw his belt aside with a clatter against the white-painted metal. Holding his belt loops, I started pulling him backward, through the kitchen and down the hallway.
Even though I had called him, through it all I felt like something was missing. It wasn’t until the orgasm was beginning to blind me, my head tossed back, noises in my throat that the neighbors surely heard if they were home, when I realized. As my eyes began rolling back into my head, I caught a glimpse of my feet, flailing above us. I knew exactly what was missing.
* * * *
I found something in the refrigerator that he could eat while driving, and he rushed back to work, already having taken much longer than allowed. Alone in the kitchen, I leaned my shoulder against the cool fridge door. I was at a crossroads. I could either pick up the kids from daycare, or I could spend a little more time alone with my new babies. The options tore at my chest, fighting between themselves in an unending war.
A mediator stepped in, negotiating the truce between the sides. The budget reminded me that the longer I left the kids at daycare, the more we would have to pay. Knowing that there was a pale blue receipt in my wallet with the total of $634.72, I dressed quickly in my typical mom garb, grabbed my purse with that heavy receipt, and trudged to the car.
As I crossed the town, I rolled down the windows, letting the wind help to sober me after my high from shoes and sex. And sober me it did until the world became much more clear. Every time I stopped at a light, I would glance down to my right at my enormous mom-purse. After the second or third time, I noticed that it was growing. The huge pale blue receipt was swelling in size and weight, the stitching pulled taut, pushing the seams of my purse to extremes when it was already overloaded with a mommy rescue kit. At the sixth light—why were there so many goddamned lights, anyway?—the zipper sprang apart, and the engorged pale blue receipt fell out onto the seat.
I stared at it, my blood beginning to boil under my skin as it mocked and taunted me, until the car behind me honked in irritation. I sped forward, so distracted by that skinny piece of paper, confused by how it could weigh so much. Turning left across traffic, I went a little too slowly, bewildered and angry enough that I forgot what the proper acceleration should be, and got honked at again in the midst of screeching tires. Finally, I pulled into a parking space, threw the gearshift into park, and stared at that fucking little piece of paper.
It stared back, a macabre sneer spreading around it, formed by those five digits, period, and dollar sign, aided by the original price of the shoes, the amount of tax, the date, the time, the store number. It cackled at my sobered mind, the one that remembered that we still had credit card debt and owed my in-laws money for helping us pay our hospital bills from when our daughter was born. It heckled me and my work, reminding me that I hadn’t sold a story in months, that I couldn’t be a decent writer if I didn’t earn enough to pay the bills.
But I had bought these shoes.
As the tiny set of red shiny horns emerged from the top of the receipt, I tasted venom on my tongue. I realized how stupid I had been to do something so impulsive when we’d had to take out an advance on that very same credit card, already riddled with debt, to make our last house payment. I grabbed the pale blue receipt, squeezing it between my fingers until it whimpered, reminding it that I was the only human here. It wasn’t animate. The laws of nature denied it the rights to mock me in my guilt.
The numbers put themselves back in order. I shoved the pale blue receipt back into my wallet, took a deep, steadying breath, and hopped out of the car to retrieve my children.
* * * *
The next day, I was exhausted. I had tossed and turned all night under the steady beating of my shoes’ binary hearts directly under my head. When I actually did sleep, multihued green sandals danced in my head, wrapping themselves too tight around my ankles so that one of my feet actually fell off. When I woke with a start, checking to make sure I still was a biped, a quick glance at the clock told me the baby would be awake soon, anyway. I might as well get up and start the coffee.
My husband left for work early, feeling pity for me and the dark circles under my deep red eyes, offering to take the kids to daycare this morning. I gladly accepted. After they left, I stormed into the bedroom, my robe billowing at my knees, and yanked the wretched box from behind the dust bunnies.
But the box. The box was so beautiful, a deep, shiny red with a bold, white font, pronouncing the name of a man who was known by any female across the country capable of speaking. I gathered my resolve, and slowly lifted the lid.
There they lay, in all of their beauty and charm and appeal. They beckoned to me, begging to be slipped around my supple toes and luscious heels. They made me promises of wealth and fame and eternal beauty, if only I would let my foot slip once more along that satin sole. And they cried a little when I resisted.
My right hand began reaching forward, and the shoes gulped the air in anticipation. But my left hand held the reason. It slapped the right back down to my side, ripped the box top from the crumpled bedspread, and encased the shoes once more. Both hands lay on top, pressing down against the fighting sobs of those all-too-good-to-be-true shoes.
After wrapping the box in a plastic bag and tying the handle tightly—just in case—I dressed quickly in my traditional mommy camouflage and rushed back to the mall. A series of scenes flashed through my mind, all ending with that bored brat refusing to refund my money. I damned her in as many creative ways as I could muster, but that didn’t change the fact that I might not be able to return them. That arrhythmia kicked up again.
In the store, I walked boldly, my head held high, trying to smooth the worry lines from my forehead, and approached the counter. Ah, if it weren’t my old friend, Old Money’s Daughter, waiting for me there with the exact bored and parental-hating look of my imagination. I laid the bag, still tied against the gravitational waves pulling at me from inside the box, on the counter.
“Is there something wrong with them?”
This was the question I had been waiting for. I’d heard stories of these overpriced designer stores refusing to accept returns unless there were problems with the merchandise. But I had thought it through—sort of—in the car on the way over.
“They’re the wrong size.”
“They fit fine yesterday.”
“They’re much too big.”
She rolled her eyes with a sigh. “So, you want to exchange them?”
I shook my head and deftly swatted my credit card with the pale blue receipt at her manicured hand.
A few minutes later, emerging from the store empty handed, my purse one kiloton lighter, I inhaled the sickeningly sweet smell of shopping, laced with sweating drink cups and cheap flowers. I sneezed twice. But it felt good. Atlas had taken his weight back, and I could walk free.
And I vowed never to search for characters in a mall again.