The Shoe Em­po­rium

Cathy had kissed Marty’s closed eye­lids in the stor­age room last week. His eye­lids are the only part of Marty that don’t have freck­les as far as Cathy could tell


Do you feel that? Steve asks. The cus­tomer, a leggy ju­nior high school teacher, has just taken up run­ning.

Steve rubs small cir­cles on the in­side of his own knee. Right there, he says. He doesn’t break eye con­tact.

The cus­tomer has large grey eyes and a habit of hyper-rapid blink­ing that sug­gests per­ma­nent in­credulity. But her weak, cav­ing chin gives Steve hope.

The cus­tomer reaches down to touch the in­side of her knee, un­con­sciously mir­ror­ing him. Rub­bing lit­tle cir­cles. She blinks. I guess so, she says.

Then she says, Yes.

Steve nods. Slow, small nods, like a trans­la­tor with an in­vis­i­ble ear­bud hear­ing for­eign things of life-al­ter­ing im­por­tance and si­mul­ta­ne­ously trans­form­ing them into col­lo­quial, sa­lessavvy koans about bones and joints and mor­tal­ity.

His nod­ding ef­fects a re­luc­tant in­ti­macy, as if many a ­cus­tomer could not get this kind of at­ten­tion out of Steve, the kind she’s get­ting right now, no­body could, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, but look, lady, you are golden, I can see right in­side you, the things you want, you are some kind of charis­matic ju­nior high school teacher and the eyes on you, and I get it, you want to run and it hurts. You are hurt­ing.

She is nod­ding right back.

Yes, she says. I feel it.

When you’re run­ning, Steve says. A pain, right here, this mus­cle? Now he’s stroking the in­side of his thigh.

Yes, that’s ab­so­lutely where it hurts, she says. He doesn’t break eye con­tact be­cause that’s how good he is at sell­ing shoes, but he in­tu­its that be­hind him an­other cus­tomer he’s also agreed to help is on tip­toes stretch­ing for a but­tery suede hiking boot with fringes, reach­ing for it, reach­ing. And he feels the eyes of his man­ager, Cathy, riv­eted on him.

You’re right, Ai­den, yes, the ju­nior high school teacher says to Steve, and she blinks. His name tag says Ai­den . She’s ­ca­ress­ing her own thigh.

See this right here, he asks. He’s hold­ing the foot mea­surer.

The new heat-sens­ing foot mea­surer came with the spring ship­ment and Steve was the first to em­brace the tech­nol­ogy.

The old metal foot mea­surer has slid­ing parts that cup the ball of the foot and the top of the toes. The meas­ure­ments are in the grooves that run down the side, like the foot mea­sur­ers of yore. The new ­de­vice in­tro­duces the first in­no­va­tion to the orig­i­nal de­sign since 1927, when it was first in­vented; the metal has been fit­ted with a magic foot­print-shaped in­lay.

Can I get you to take off your boot, Steve asks. He is care­ful with tone. He speaks aton­ally. Okay, yes. He has a husky hue, a tamped-down frisk­i­ness this side of overtly sex­ual that is spon­ta­neous, comes over him un­bid­den with the prom­ise of a naked foot.

I’m not wear­ing any socks, she says. Does she blush? Steve drops to one knee in front of her, a sig­na­ture move the other two sales­peo­ple, in­clud­ing Cathy, the man­ager, oc­ca­sion­ally adopt, fol­low­ing his lead.

Steve pulls a scrunched lit­tle ball of ny­lon out of his back pocket and, with­out an­other word, tugs the zip­per on ju­nior high school teacher’s black suede an­kle boot, grip­ping the heel and toe and, gen­tly rock­ing, break­ing the sweat-suc­tion seal of smelly ­leather: black glit­ter nail polish, toes like un­earthed baby pota­toes, a bitsy lit­tle corn on the side of the big toe, yel­lowed, hard­ened but por­ous, full of char­ac­ter.

He slips the sock­ette over the toes, slith­er­ing it up to the heel, let­ting it snap into place.

What do you teach? he asks.

Ukulele, she says. Blink­ing hard.

He places the foot mea­surer in front of her on the floor. Do you want me to, she says. The Shoe Em­po­rium is packed right now and there’s a lot of noise and dis­trac­tion but Steve is built. He has a worked physique: balls of tough flesh bu­gle all down his arms as he moves, ropes of mus­cles rip­ple over his back, the curv­ing waist. His face is clefts and crags, a boxy, un­beau­ti­ful lean-to of a fore­head, shovel chin. He has eyes that came to New­found­land four hun­dred years ago, straight from Water­ford, Ire­land.

Those eyes are a par­tic­u­lar blue: Jell-O vodka shoot­ers at bach­e­lorette par­ties in 1992 were that colour blue. Mr. Freezes. ­Blow­torch blue. Ice­land’s blue lagoon.

I’ll just ask you to scootchie your foot back against that heel holder, he says. She steps onto it. He ad­justs the slid­ing metal cup so it snugs the ball of her foot and then slides the other ­mov­able metal part so it touches her toes. Does that feel good? he asks. Tick­les, she says. Does it, he says. But he’s doc­tor­ish, sci­en­tific. His pinkie nev­er­the­less brushes her in­step. Her foot curls in on it­self, but she does not haul it away.

Okay, step off, he says. He hoists the foot mea­surer so one end of it rests on his hip. The plas­tic foot-shaped in­lay holds a skim of surg­ing liq­uid as alive as the pri­mor­dial plasma from which life first sprang.

It cap­tures the im­print of heat from the sole. Cathy had once pressed it against her heart and showed the print to the other sales­per­son on the floor, Marty, whose name tag ac­tu­ally says ­Marty . There had been a beau­ti­ful flare in the ­plasma, a boil­ing cherry with a penum­bra of aqua surg­ing out all over the place and a black star with a char­treuse au­re­ole off to the left that may or may not have been an im­print of her ­nip­ple through the rough ny­lon lace of her bra and the polyester blouse. The im­age seemed to Cathy an ex­act and nu­anced im­pres­sion of her emo­tional state be­cause of Marty, her other co-worker, be­sides Steve, both of whom an­swered to her and ba­si­cally had to do what she said, both of whom nev­er­the­less made fifty cents an hour more than her, even though they all got hired at the same time and they didn’t have to vacuum af­ter clos­ing, or do the schedul­ing, and both of whom had seen the im­pres­sion of her nip­ple, but only one of whom (Marty) had thrown her so far off course from any­thing she had pre­vi­ously known about love, or lust, or that heady combo, last week­end in the too-small stor­age room full of boxes of shoes and boots, floor to ceil­ing, be­hind the cash.

The char­treuse flare of her nip­ple in the heat-sens­ing foot­print had bruised up black pretty quick and dis­ap­peared.

Steve had seen it, though, and the im­pres­sion of Cathy’s nip­ple in the foot-mea­sur­ing heat-sens­ing pad, made in a mo­ment of col­le­gial goof­ing around (very rare be­cause she’s usu­ally so an­gry, work­ing two jobs and go­ing to school, not mak­ing as much as them, and also hell-bent on win­ning the trip to Toronto and the tick­ets to the Broad­way mu­si­cal Kinky Boots , the re­ward for the high­est com­mis­sion sales this fis­cal year through­out all the Shoe Em­po­rium fran­chises across Canada), was sexy as fuck. It made Steve’s mouth water. He got hot, flushed. He got hard. He might be in love.

But af­ter what hap­pened in the stor­age room last week­end, he is some­how both ad­dled and de­lib­er­ate.

Steve points out, with the tip of a pen he’s drawn out of his breast pocket, an in­digo flare at the in­step of the ju­nior high school ukulele in­struc­tor’s foot.

That’s what I’m talk­ing about, he says. He taps the pen against the plas­tic in­lay.

Oh my god, she says.

Prona­tion, he says. You’ve got a prob­lem. Can you see that? I def­i­nitely see some­thing, Ai­den, she says.

Right there, Steve/Ai­den says. That’s caus­ing a mis­align­ment that is trav­el­ling from your knee all the way up your thigh, all the way up, ba­si­cally, to your core.

And as he says this, he steps back­wards two, three steps, and reaches be­hind him, still hold­ing the eyes of the ukulele teacher, who is abashed by the im­print of her own foot which is aflame with furtive bit­ter­ness, bush­fires and comets. He sweeps down the but­tery suede hiking boot for the other cus­tomer, toss­ing it to her. Marty has an el­bow stretched over the top of the Sau­cony dis­play unit, a hand hold­ing up his head, fin­gers spread through his gold buzz cut and he’s ­tak­ing in Steve’s charisma.

Marty’s eyes are rus­set brown, that feral, ­fer­ric sun-struck rust of turn­ing leaves just be­fore frost, his eye­lashes orange, his mouth ten­der. So many freck­les they join ­to­gether in golden tan patches on his neck, his left wrist. A sin­gle opal ear­ring in a gold set­ting sur­rounded by di­a­monds in his right ear.

Cathy had kissed Marty’s closed eye­lids in the stor­age room last week. His eye­lids are the only parts of Marty that don’t have freck­les, as far as Cathy could tell.

One, then the other, the eye­balls jit­ter­ing un­der her lips like the eye­balls of some­one in the midst of a fly­ing dream, some­one tak­ing in swathes of city, warp speed, black roofs, green roofs, a few pools, lit­tle toy ATVs ringed around garage doors, then the prick­led car­pet of tree­tops at the out­skirts, wrin­kled moun­tains on the left, tin­foil lakes on the right. Eye­balls flick­ing back and forth so fast un­der her lips. Be­cause what was that?

That was the stor­age closet of the Shoe Em­po­rium at the ­Avalon Mall at four o’clock on Satur­day after­noon, a week ago to the hour, ba­si­cally, where there was not re­ally enough room for two peo­ple, at the be­gin­ning of the Buy One Get the Se­cond Pair Half-Price Blow-Out Sale that was still in progress and dur­ing which Cathy fell in love with a gay guy, Marty, who is to­tally gay, who says on the spectrum, if there is a spectrum, he’s way over here: and he cups one el­bow and holds his hand up straight like a blade and then lets it swing down flat against the Sau­cony dis­play unit to show he is at the very end of the spectrum that ba­si­cally isn’t ­in­ter­ested in women at all.

Cathy, you’re go­ing to have to take my word for it, he says. ­Marty, who does, though, ad­mit to a pref­er­ence for straight men, and has lots of se­cret love af­fairs with straight guys with girl­friends and can’t ex­plain to him­self or any­one else, in­clud­ing Cathy, what

He hoists the foot mea­surer so one end of it rests on his hip. The plas­tic foot-shaped in­lay holds a skim of surg­ing liq­uid as alive as the pri­mor­dial plasma from which life first sprang.

­hap­pened in the stor­age closet, the why of it, if he’s so gay, like he says, to­tally gay, nor has he given it much thought, be­cause it just hap­pened is all, and be­sides he is suf­fer­ing be­cause his grand­mother died three weeks be­fore, on the same day, a Satur­day, and the same hour, maybe, that the thing hap­pened in the stor­age closet last week­end.

His grand­mother used to press his shirts for him and ­re­turn them in a neat stack with a sheaf of white tis­sue pa­per ­folded around each shirt. She made lemon roll dusted with ic­ing su­gar ev­ery Sun­day and the smell of it when he walked in all through the house. She was pro­fes­sor emerita of marine bi­ol­ogy at Me­mo­rial Univer­sity spe­cial­iz­ing in the re­pro­duc­tive cy­cles of sea cu­cum­bers.

She had died in a sauna tent that Marty or­dered for her over the web, at her re­quest, ­be­cause she’d heard it would be good for her arthri­tis.

He’d been over when the sauna tent was de­liv­ered and they’d un­packed it to­gether and rolled it out on the Per­sian car­pet. He’d con­sulted the in­struc­tion pam­phlet and poured sev­eral litres of water in through the noz­zle and twisted the cap, un­tied the twist-ties that bun­dled all the elec­tric cords, plugged that sucker in, and watched the folded rub­ber­ized tent un­pook and lift and sigh un­til it was bloated with steam while they had tea and ate lemon roll dusted with ic­ing su­gar. There was a lit­tle stool in the tent, and you just got in it was what you were sup­posed to do, the zip­per tab in­side and you zipped it to the neck so your head stuck out, just your head, your arms and ev­ery­thing else in­side. You sat on the plas­tic stool that came with it. Marty had as­sem­bled it, screw­ing the four short fat legs into the seat and the plas­tic back­rest, be­fore he went to work. Be­cause he’d had to go to work.

She’d agreed to wait un­til he got back in the evening be­fore try­ing out the sauna tent but she had also given him the pair of opal ear­rings, like she knew. She put them in his hand and closed his fin­gers around them, and she pat­ted his loose fist and then grabbed it tight with both her hands, rocked his fist up and down three times be­fore let­ting go and he didn’t want them. He told her that. But she got very se­ri­ous and said, If any­thing hap­pens to me. Noth­ing will hap­pen to you, he’d said.

If any­thing hap­pens to me will you take care of the cock­apoos? And he said it was all non­sense, but she made him prom­ise. She had ba­si­cally raised him.

Marty has been watch­ing Steve, who had pas­sive-­ag­gres­sively for­got­ten his own name tag and Cathy was all, Where’s your name tag. You’re on the floor; you wear the name tag.

And: This is some­thing you can con­sult in the memo I sent out last week.

She’d dug around un­der the counter where there were a bunch of de­funct name tags in a Tup­per­ware con­tainer and she drew her hand back out fast be­cause a name-tag pin drove deep ­into the tip of her in­dex fin­ger. Cathy flick-flicked her hand, ­re­ally hard, back and forth over her shoul­der and the tag, bright red with em­bossed white letters, flew across the counter and hit Steve in the face, the cor­ner of it, just be­low his left eye.

Cathy stuck her fin­ger in her mouth and was suck­ing it and then the look on her, see­ing this thing hit­ting Steve just be­low the eye. She hates Steve’s guts but she would cer­tainly never maim the guy on pur­pose or try to take out his eye.

Oh my god, Steve, I’m sorry, she says. At first Steve just stands still with his eyes shut and his lips pressed tight, his cheeks ­get­ting red. Then he bends down and picks up the tag and fixes it to his shirt pocket.

You get the feel­ing Cathy is re­ally go­ing to be sorry when Steve gets a chance to make her sorry, which, you get the feel­ing, he is well equipped to do.

For the time be­ing, though, Steve ob­vi­ously plans to sell the shit out of shoes all day long, draw­ing the most com­mis­sion ever out of the Shoe Em­po­rium in or­der to win the two tick­ets to Toronto to see the Broad­way mu­si­cal Kinky Boots , and right now, Cathy and Steve are both streaks ahead of the rest of the staff, in all the fran­chises across the coun­try, in terms of win­ning that prize.

Steve has no de­sire to go to Toronto or to see a mu­si­cal about shoes, if that’s what it is, but he solemnly be­lieves that if you find your­self, ever, in the mid­dle of the ocean in a dory with a he­li­copter hover­ing over you, and if you are dressed as Santa Claus in the mid­dle of July, and the dory is loaded with cod, two days af­ter the food fish­ery has shut down, and if you have a ­bot­tle of rum in one hand and you’re yelling fuck you at the top of your lungs and wav­ing the rum bot­tle over your head and if the ­RCMP are wait­ing for you on the wharf and half the com­mu­nity is cheer­ing be­cause you staged a one-man protest is ba­si­cally what it was but you get ar­rested any­way, cuffed even, and then if you find that Sol­cor have come out and said they must ­man­age ­ex­pec­ta­tions around char­tered flights from now on, so if you wanted, say, to con­tinue work­ing six weeks on, two weeks off, as you’ve been do­ing for the last twenty-two years in Fort Mac, if that’s what you wanted to do, then you’d have to start book­ing com­mer­cial flights, which would mean land­ing in St. John’s in the dark and driv­ing three fuck­ing hours back to Marys­town and ­even­tu­ally hit­ting a moose, only a fender-bender, popped the dent with a toi­let plunger, but the bawl­ing of the an­i­mal, pitched so low and bale­ful, the an­guish of it nearly star­tling the fuck out of him, and so Steve solemnly be­lieves that, if that’s what’s hap­pen­ing to you, if you find your­self in that sit­u­a­tion, you might as well sell the shit out of some shoes.

Steve is serv­ing two women at the same time, and tilts his chin up at a third woman. With the tilt of his shovel chin, Steve is say­ing: I’m com­ing for you, girl­friend, hang tight, love of God.

Cathy is stuck with a mother and three su­gar-blitzed young­sters, the youngest of whom is headed for a full-on im­plo­sion be­cause she wants shoes with blink­ing lights in the heels, which are not one of the brands of shoes where you buy one get the se­cond pair half-price and be­cause she (the lit­tle girl) has a lol­lipop slimy with saliva, the size of her face and be­cause some

chil­dren are born with a willpower so fully formed and flinty they are un­govern­able af­ter the first gasp of oxy­gen and ever on.

But what can you do for me? In terms of price? This is the mother, nervy, a knee jig­gling, arms crossed tight over her chest, a nico­tine patch on her neck.

Cathy does not care to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a re­duced price on the shoes that flash with each step. All she cares about at the mo­ment is Marty and pos­si­bly get­ting back into the stor­age closet with Marty be­cause of what hap­pened last week­end, even though Marty is gay and grief-stricken.

Marty, in the mean­time, is still dream­ily look­ing on as Steve comes out of the stor­age closet with five boxes of shoes held in place with his shovel chin, hand­ing them out to four women now. And Marty is not do­ing any­thing else, ex­cept hold­ing up the Sau­cony dis­play unit, prac­ti­cally draped all over it, be­cause his grand­mother has died and be­cause he has been do­ing ­MDMA for three nights in a row and last night, at a house party, he’d taken a hand­ful of pre­scrip­tion pills from a big glass salad bowl next to the front door that ev­ery­body at the party had ­con­trib­uted to, and he hasn’t re­ally slept very well since he found her.

It’s ac­tu­ally mak­ing him phys­i­cally weak, this grief, and he got home from the gay dance bar that ev­ery­body went to af­ter the house party and put on his work clothes with­out ever go­ing to bed and then stepped out­side into the be­low-zero frost and fat tum­bling snowflakes and slant­ing light, dropped his skate­board with a clat­ter onto the as­phalt and stepped on, and rum­bled down­hill in the mid­dle of

Thor­burn Road, cars swerv­ing around him all the way to the Avalon Mall.

So he’s draped that way, over the dis­play unit, un­able to do any­thing at all, be­cause she raised him, his grand­mother, and he un­der­stands with a one-time, ­ul­tra­sen­si­tive, drug-en­hanced clair­voy­ance that no­body will ever love him like that again, not with that depth and in­tel­li­gence and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for who he is in the very mar­row of his bones no mat­ter how much he fucks up or tri­umphs, loves him the same amount, with the same in­ten­sity no mat­ter what ­be­cause she knows him. Knew him.

Cathy is on her knees be­fore the youngest child, who is prob­a­bly seven, pasty and shrill with de­sire for the shoes with red lights in the soles, shoes that are un­for­giv­ably ex­pen­sive and built to fall apart in less than a month. Cathy has al­tered her tone, a child-friendly falsetto, airy and un­cer­tain. She closes her eyes tight and turns her shiny red fake fin­ger­nails to­ward her own face and rakes down the air be­tween the tips of her fin­ger­nails and her face, sev­eral times, the nails float­ing down over her face with­out ac­tu­ally touch­ing it, show­ing the child how one can calm one­self down if one needs to: come on, try this with me.

And here she flings her fin­gers to the side, the way you might flick water off your hands af­ter do­ing the dishes — and with her eyes still closed, she tells the lit­tle girl: the whole mall is alive with neg­a­tive ions, but we’ve just ba­si­cally brushed them away.

Steve is full of ad­mi­ra­tion. She’s the­atri­cal; she brings a the­atri­cal touch to sell­ing shoes. If all three kids get new shoes, she’ll be ahead in sales and they’re fif­teen min­utes to shift change.

All the grief Marty feels for his grand­mother, he re­al­izes, has been turned into a hard opal of love/lust for Steve/Ai­den. And he’s draped over the Sau­cony dis­play unit not will­ing to sell any­thing but his heart.

Be­cause: Shoes? Is this what he’s do­ing? Sell­ing shoes? Un­der this kind of light­ing, which washes him out, ba­si­cally, com­ing to a mall, three times a week?

He’d let him­self in with his key and called out to her and stood lis­ten­ing and he could hear an in­hale-ex­hale that was ­rep­til­ian, like rub­bery scales, slid­ing and un­slid­ing, and even as he ­ap­proached the liv­ing room with its white cor­duroy curv­ing sec­tional couch with the round glass ta­ble be­tween, and the bev­elled glass in the win­dows throw­ing rain­bows and the crys­tals, too, throw­ing lit­tle rain­bows every­where, and the gold-trimmed china plates, lined up on the white mar­ble fire­place with the big hearth and the cold lemon roll on the side ta­ble on a sil­ver tray with a white pa­per doily un­der it and the sil­ver pie server with the pearl­ized han­dle, as he ap­proached the door, he both knew and didn’t know what the hellish hiss­ing could be.

And at first he thought: just asleep. Her head droop­ing for­ward and a line of drool still at­tached to the lower lip, the sauna bag in­flat­ing, de­flat­ing, like it was breath­ing for her.

The zip­per on the sauna bag was pulled up on the in­side, and it had got­ten stuck in a fold of the rub­ber­ized fab­ric that had bunched in the head of the zip­per.

The heat: she had been as good as poached alive. Of course he picked up the pearl­ized pie server with a ser­rated edge and hacked through the plas­tic and tried CPR and called 911 on his cell, but she had been dead, the doc­tor ­es­ti­mated, two hours or more be­fore his ar­rival. The moose on its side, Steve/Ai­den thought, fore­leg bent in the wrong di­rec­tion and the bone stick­ing out, try­ing to lift its head, the sloppy, swing­ing eye, hu­manly beg­ging, wield­ing its dy­ing like a cud­gel, beg­ging limply for mercy.

Beg­ging you to pick up a Je­sus boul­der off the side of the road and bash its skull but you get back in the car and re­verse away from the ris­ing sun and sw­erve around the an­i­mal with its pant­ing ribs and ter­ri­ble eye. You find your­self at forty-two years old, poster boy for what hap­pens if you don’t fin­ish high school, and go in­stead af­ter the big bucks in Al­berta all swag­ger and look at me. House tak­ing up ev­ery square inch of a build­ing lot and the ATVs and flat screens and bar­beque big as a Cadil­lac, all in hock to the bank.

The legs on you like the bloody water, stand­ing on the side of the high­way with that dy­ing an­i­mal, and then driv­ing into the inky dark. The fine from the Santa Claus fish­ing, and the com­mer­cial flights, and then it’s fuck Sol­cor, the move into St. John’s, the one-room apart­ment, the job at the Shoe Em­po­rium at the age of forty-fuck­ing-two with the man­ager who is twenty-four, hot as a bar­beque coal, the lip gloss and the lan­guid flick/curl, flick/curl of a strand of her long, shiny hair around a fin­ger and then hold­ing it out, the split ends, lost in that in­spec­tion for a solid thirty sec­onds, and the lava boil of char­treuse and ­turquoise and

molten cop­per that is her nip­ple in the heat-sens­ing pad, while the mall breathes and coils around all three of them.

You’re stand­ing there with some­body else’s name tag, and, yes, you’ll bloody well win the fuck­ing trip to Toronto just to see she doesn’t get it and then give it to her, just to spite her. To see if she’ll take it.

Go on, girl, have it. Have the trip. I in­sist.

You don’t get the right shoe, Steve/Ai­den says, you could be mis­aligned for a long time and the joints grind to­gether, be­come dust in­side there. Dust to dust. You may have to quit run­ning.

I just started, says the ju­nior high school ukulele teacher. ­In­cred­u­lous blink­ing. The woman with the suede hiking boot wav­ing it in the air, say­ing she needs a six-and-a-half.

I don’t ever say quit to a cus­tomer, says Steve. His an­cient blue eyes and how easy for Marty to imag­ine him in the dory wav­ing the bot­tle over his head, the white cot­ton-bat­ting beard, the red vel­veteen hat with fur trim, water all aglint and the black rub­ber boots sunk to the knees in writhing sil­ver bod­ies and fish stink, rag­ing in the chuf­fling air, whipped up by the he­li­copter that dips and zooms, and drunk, yes, loaded, yes, but lament­ing the loss of some­thing big.

Any­body tells you to quit run­ning that’s a dif­fer­ent story than I’m go­ing to tell, Steve/Ai­den tells the cus­tomer. In the end, you make the de­ci­sion. But I have some­thing for you.

He’s speak­ing with his back to her. He has put the foot mea­surer down on the bench ­be­side her. The colours fad­ing, the gelled pad a cold, murky blue, opaque and mute.

Steve/Ai­den whirls around to face her. He’s hold­ing a Sau­cony run­ner by the toe and heel, balanc­ing it on the tips of his fin­gers. It’s the most ex­pen­sive run­ner they have, and pushes him well over Cathy’s com­mis­sion bal­ance. I want you to try this, he says. But I can’t af­ford that. I’m not say­ing buy it, Steve says. He sounds af­fronted. That’s more than dou­ble my bud­get, she says. I just want you to put it on. I want you to feel what that’s like on your foot.

And here’s what Cathy thinks: The last fif­teen min­utes of a shift, there is a lulling of ev­ery­thing. A lulling of all that you are be­cause you don’t have time to no­tice any­thing but the roar of what­ever it is in the ceil­ing, mall air-con­di­tion­ing, maybe? Or the noise of the glass el­e­va­tor near the food court, ris­ing, de­scend­ing, the tor­pid stomp­ing of a beast full of sinew and ca­bles, huff­ing the sug­ary, charred food-court breath of fat and fries. And this amor­phous monster, com­ing, al­ways com­ing for them, to drag them un­der, is maybe the mall it­self, the ex­oskele­ton of a ser­pent, swish­ing its wel­ter­ing tail of with­drawal and spend, the thrash­ing of swipe, in­sert, tap, charg­ing through the ether, all bling and brand, pleather, se­quins, sex, and here at the Shoe Em­po­rium, a lot of gar­ish neon, spiked heels, leop­ard print, and Can I help you .

This is the sort of sit­u­a­tion that arises: You can fall in love with your co-worker with­out de­cid­ing to even though he’s so not straight. All of what you be­lieve to be your “self” does an about­face and stands at at­ten­tion, salutes all of what you be­lieve your co-worker’s “self ” to be.

The mother says, No, not to­day, sweetie. And the child opens her mouth as wide as it will go, clutch­ing a sin­gle shoe so the heel lights up her chin, bright red, the hol­low cave of her open mouth, glow­ing red, and her eye sock­ets sunken and red, her very irises, red, on/off, on/off, while the mother tries to ­wres­tle the shoe from her.

And your co-worker with his sun­rise hair, beefy but­tocks and bi­ceps, the wind­ing rose-bush tat­too tuck­ing un­der the sleeve of his em­ployee-is­sue the Shoe Em­po­rium T-shirt, still high from what­ever all-nighter and foxy-eyed whose grand­mother was the lead­ing ex­pert in cold-water sea cu­cum­bers, no joke, at the Marine In­sti­tute and who (Marty) is not even bi but straightup gay for gosh sakes, like def­i­nitely that end of the spectrum, ­ac­cord­ing to him. Sea cu­cum­bers.

I mean, this is in­vol­un­tary, but what gets un­leashed is a pres­sure hose of, whoa, love. You turn evan­gel­i­cal, the lingo/­bab­ble of gel sole ver­sus ex­tra-foam sole and soles with lights and now the first blast­ing howl wel­ters out of the child’s open mouth. The wham-splat, a hose in your chest, is spray­ing this pil­lar of, my god, love all over your un­sus­pect­ing gay not-evens­lightly-in­ter­ested-in-girls co-worker. And who is more sur­prised than you?

So there she was last week, Cathy, in the stor­age closet where she had wedged a heel against the se­cond-low­est shelf, her back jammed against the shoe­boxes stacked from floor to ceil­ing, these shoe­boxes wedged in one against the other, like the stones in an arch­way, one shoe­box (in­side which hap­pened to be sling­back, kit­ten-heeled, patent-leather shoes with vel­vet bows and clasps of rhine­stones) kept jut­ting out, like jut, jut-jut, once Marty had pen­e­trated her, first tear­ing a hole in the leg of her nude ny­lons be­cause let’s face it, this is hap­pen­ing, this is re­ally hap­pen­ing, and how wet she is, how slip­pery, how yes, yes, but silent, be­cause she’s the man­ager, and af­ter all some sense of the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, please .

The hole in her ny­lons that Marty has torn has a creep, it creeps, wi­den­ing in an oval big as the palm of her hand, peel­ing back or un­rav­el­ling, a gazil­lion fil­a­ments, small and lad­der­ing down the leg, in­vis­i­bly giv­ing, break­ing, no, not break­ing ex­actly, more evap­o­rat­ing and it is her de­sire, a spread­ing, lick­ing , a hole in the ny­lons be­cause even though she comes to work put to­gether be­cause what are these stock­ings but a petroleum prod­uct made as thin as a lick of light, tick­ling, so that her skin pudges through, like dough ris­ing or any­thing that rises, and then the keystone shoe­box is knocked maybe half an inch with each — let’s take a mo­ment to ac­knowl­edge the para­dox — very gen­tle, con­trolled but force­ful, holy thrust/bang, tinged with maybe a lit­tle love for her, how­ever ephemeral, so that the tightly jammed shoe­box, maybe twelve shoe­boxes above her head, juts it­self out of the tightly packed wall of shoe­boxes that rises from floor to ­ceil­ing all the way down the very nar­row stor­age closet, and keeps ­jut­ting ­far­ther and far­ther with each love­mak­ing rock of ­Marty’s hips

and but­tock con­trac­tion and the tilt of his head, bent as if in prayer, but also, pouf , blow­ing a mouth­ful of her hair away from his lips be­cause, he stops just for a sec, be­cause a hair, one of her hairs, seems to have got­ten into his mouth and they’re both caught up in the mi­cro-work of what is it? A hair? Ph­wah-ph­wah , he’s try­ing to get it off his tongue, and there he has it, have you got it? Pinched be­tween fin­ger and thumb and saliva shine, he rubs it away, and the en­gorg­ing freck­led dong deep in­side, now, slow at first but de­lib­er­ately slow, sea cu­cum­ber slow, in the deep cold is what they have down there, holes in the bot­tom of the ocean where ev­ery­thing is eye­less, grop­ing but sen­tient, and phos­pho­res­cent and just as if they were not in the mall, as if the blow-out sale were not in progress, as if you couldn’t buy one, get the se­cond pair half-price, as if Steve would not be in here any se­cond to get a load of shoes, slowly and at the same time, warp speed, she is kiss­ing his white eye­lids.

Marty, like some kind of ex­pert, knowing ex­actly what to grind against, at­ten­tive to the ten­der­ness of dumb lips, in­ner cling and grab and slip­pery rip­ple, and the shelv­ing unit dig­ging into her spine but never mind, let Steve barge in, and the shoe­box with the patent-leather sling­backs shoots out an­other whole inch here, two inches, an­other half inch, and the tempo picks up be­cause she’s com­ing, which doesn’t al­ways hap­pen, let me tell you, the shoe­box above their heads top­ples free and a seam opens then, a seam in the wall of tightly packed boxes opens up, a gap­ing, jig­gling crevasse, un­zip­per­ing, so that they be­gin to top­ple, each box los­ing its lid as it falls, spit­ting puffs of white ­tis­sue pa­per — pwah — and a New Bal­ance run­ning shoe, a stiletto, and a hiking boot top­pling down while Cathy digs her nails ­into Marty, who she knows, or in­tu­its, well, how could you miss it, is gay, re­ally, and they are, yes, hav­ing sex in the stor­age ­closet, and she is hav­ing, yes, a se­cond or­gasm, and be­cause she has it, seems to be fall­ing in love with him, which can hap­pen in the hep­ped-up ex­haus­tion of work­ing two jobs and go­ing to school full-time es­pe­cially with the added but un­com­pen­sated re­spon­si­bil­ity of the ti­tle man­ager which will look good on a­re­sume, but fuck them, who­ever they are, fuck them.

And the truth is, it is Cathy’s ex­pe­ri­ence that or­gasms are hard to come by, mul­ti­ple , come on, who has that, re­ally, a myth, right? And two and one so fast on top of the other that the plea­surerip­ples of the first one bash right into the plea­sure-rip­ples of the se­cond and what’s this, my god, a third fuck­ing or­gasm, pound­ing home the se­cond that’s still rid­ing on the back of the first, so who cares if he’s gay. What is gay? What is any­thing?

In the midst of which: Steve. Just as Marty slumps against her, Steve steps into the stor­age closet, boxes tum­bling, shoes birthed from tis­sue co­coons, a cor­ner of a card­board lid ­hit­ting the top of her head, hurt­ing, ac­tu­ally, a sur­pris­ing amount, be­fore waft­ing to the floor, and Steve block­ing the door of the ­stor­age ­closet, stand­ing there, un­able to un­der­stand what he’s see­ing, and there­fore not mov­ing out of the way.

What was this?

And it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent from sea cu­cum­bers, which are, if you put your hand in the aquar­ium that is fed by the ac­tual sea and pick one up, leath­ery with the mouth at one end sur­rounded by ten­ta­cles, but clammy and cold.

He’d paid with his grand­mother’s credit card and it ar­rived and though he said don’t try it un­til I’m there, af­ter he left she got in and put the thing on bust though he’d asked her to wait for him to visit and what­ever hap­pened, some kind of stroke they said, and when he went over, be­cause he went over ev­ery day to walk the cock­apoos, Minke and Killer, she was in that bloated bag with steam hiss­ing like a god­damn dragon and her head tilted and the eye­glasses askew and Nanny, Nanny, be­cause he loved her more than any­thing and wanted to please her and ev­ery­thing he did was for her, and he hacked through the bag and holy shit it was hot and the zip­per, cry­ing and pulling at the vinyl around the neck and CPR and the dogs lick­ing her face, but you know he just had to ac­cept, lean­ing back on his heels, wring­ing his hands.

And here he is at work, trem­bling against the Sau­cony dis­play unit be­cause what was he sup­posed to do, not go to work? He had nowhere to go, and he just fol­lowed her into the stor­age room, he did, and turned her around and leaned her against the shoe­boxes and he had kissed the very full lips of his twenty-fouryear-old co-worker/man­ager who he out-and-out told he wasn’t into women kiss­ing him and stuff. And then, full-on fuck­ing, like no­body’s busi­ness.

And Steve stand­ing there had a re­li­gious vis­i­ta­tion: the in­lay heat-sens­ing im­pres­sion of her nip­ple and the Kinky Boots ­tick­ets, roar­ing at the he­li­copter over­head wav­ing the sun­struck am­ber bot­tle and the fish, boxes tum­bling.

There she is on her knees get­ting the cry­ing child to run her own fin­gers over the thick liv­ing pelt of neg­a­tive ions that coats them all and to shoo it away. Shoo. Shoe.

Fuck it, Steve/Ai­den says to the ju­nior high ukulele teacher he is about to ring in and thereby se­cure the record of high­est com­mis­sion in the Shoe Em­po­rium for the 2016–17 fis­cal year. Don’t buy those run­ning shoes, he says.

Ex­cuse me? she says. And he leaves her at the counter and ­ap­proaches the mother of the pros­trate seven-year-old who wants the shoes with the red lights in the sole, who is still scream­ing and now down on her stomach ham­mer­ing her fists and kick­ing out, and whose mother is grab­bing her by one el­bow try­ing to lift/drag her out of the mall.

I’ll buy her the god­damn shoes, Steve/Ai­den says.


Fuck­ing right I will, he says. Right out of my pay­cheque.

But you re­al­ize I win then, Cathy says. The trip to Toronto and the tick­ets to the mu­si­cal.

The child, still trem­bling, has gone still. She stands, straight­en­ing what she can of her snow­suit, and re­trieves the gi­ant lol­lipop, aban­doned on the vinyl bench in the cen­tre of the store. It’s dyed red and white, and the colours spi­ral to­ward the ­cen­tre of the saucer-sized candy like op art.

It looks like a storm or an evil eye and it’s gleam­ing with ­saliva and has been licked all over.

Cathy: You’d do that?

I’d do that. You’re the god­damn man­ager, says Steve. You ­de­serve it.

Cathy is still on her knees and the lit­tle girl ap­proaches. She touches the lol­lipop down then, against Cathy’s hair, like a ­scep­tre, anoint­ing her.

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