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The Purple Sneaker

Purple high-top tennis shoe on beach.

The Lost Shoe Series

Each of The Lost Shoe stories by Ann Hutchinson begins with a lost or forgotten shoe. You’ve seen them. Those single shoes by the side of the road or the path, or washed up on a river bank. Haven’t you wondered how they ended up there?

1. The Purple Sneaker – part one

“Mommy, someone lost a shoe.” Carmen pointed her pudgie finger at the purple high top on the jogging path.

“I see.” Delores took her daughter’s hand before she could pick it up. “Just leave it, Mija. Maybe they will come back for it.”

“Maybe they were running sooooooo fast that their shoe fleeewwwww off,” Carmen said as she sailed her free hand through the air to demonstrate.

“Maybe so.” Some long-forgotten memory nagged at Delores. Another shoe? Forgotten tennis shoes? Fast runners?

“Let’s goooo!” Carmen stamped a foot for emphasis.

Delores had become frozen to the spot, deep in thought.

*****

“Omar, you can’t just quit,” said Lalo, as he ran his hand through his thick black, wavy hair. He was growing it out in response to feeling his age at 57. His husband, Grayson, liked long hair, so he figured that was a plus.

“Watch me,” Omar spat back. “I’m not taking her constant criticism and sabotaging anymore. Besides, I have an offer at The Register. Pay’s better, too.

Lalo was spinning out. Catastrophizing. He should have been happy for Omar that he was getting out. Instead, he was playing Nancy’s reaction in his head. And all the fallout and extra work he would have to endure until Omar could be replaced. And, if he was honest, he was not just a little envious. He wished he had Omar’s guts. But Lalo had been with the magazine for 26 years. Experience should be a good thing, but for shrinking publications on the verge of extinction, he was too expensive and lacked the tech skills. He knew journalism: How to get a scoop, how to get people to open up, and how to get the to the center of an issue. He despaired of the online papers that were merely entertainment, driven by advertising.

Omar took a step back into the hallway to make sure no one was within earshot, then came closer and said, “Lalo, buddy, don’t be like this. I gotta do what I gotta do. I’m trying to raise a family. Nancy won’t ever give me enough here and you know it.”

“I know.” Lalo, said with a sigh of resignation as he filled his coffee cup for the third time that day. “When are you gonna tell her?”

“After work today. Ruining her three-day weekend is a bonus,’ he said with a grin, which didn’t quite reach his eyes. It was Thursday and they had already put the paper to bed.

“So, you giving her two weeks?” Lalo leaned against the counter taking a tentative sip from his steaming Star Wars mug, trying to play it cool.

“Sure, but can you see her wanting to keep me around after?” He popped a stale cookie from the table into his mouth. “I don’t expect to be here tomorrow,” he said with his mouth full.

“Well, unless you have other plans, drinks are on me at the Highball.”

“Sounds good. Thanks.” He patted Lalo on the back, grabbed a second cookie and went back to his desk.

Lalo adulted well enough most days. But tomorrow, he was going to call in sick and play hooky. He told himself he was making a statement. Drawing a line in the sand. But, really, he was avoiding the tension and the tantrumming that would make work impossible. By Monday, Nancy, their moody editor, would have had more time to process.

Lalo phoned Grayson to fill him in. And, while he still felt young and adventurous—or chicken—he suggested a long weekend in wine country. It was an easy sell. Gray had the time off and was near burnt out with his busy shifts at the hospital. Gray said he’d reserve their favorite hotel.

Bodega Bay coastline from cliff above. Ocean is varying shades of green and blue on a sunny day. Photo by Ann Hutchinson.

On Friday, after checking in at the Hotel La Rose in Railroad Square, Lalo and Gray unpacked and headed to Bodega Bay to watch the sunset. “You see, Lalo, my dear, the sun still rises and falls. It will be okay. He pulled Lalo in for a sideways hug as they watched the sky turn spectacular colors. “What say we go sing karaoke tonight?”

“Maybe,” Lalo mumbled.

“Hey, c’mon. It will be fun.”

Lalo looked at his husband as though for the first time. What had he done to deserve such a loving, encouraging man? He kissed him, nearly sending both of them tumbling off their camp chairs. Sunset, karaoke, and sweet, long sex. What was there to complain about? He reminded himself of the mantra that always got him through times of frustration, anguish, and doubt: There is only now.

*****

Back at her mother’s house, Delores looked at the five cardboard boxes in the living room, filled but not yet sealed and labeled. She gaze roamed the room, still half-expecting her mother to shuffle in from the kitchen with a cup of cocoa and her crossword.

“Mommy, does Abuela have any cookies?” Carmen brought Delores back to herself.

“Let me look.” Delores went through to the kitchen and rummaged. She found an unopened package of cocadas.

Three cocadas (chocolate dipped macaroons) on a plate

Mama loved her cocadas. Cocadas and cocoa. She said it was comfort food and a ritual that calmed her. Well, thought Delores, if that really works, I had better stock up. Tears welled in her eyes. She had so many emotions fighting for dominance she couldn’t make decisions, finish sentences, or even remember where she was sometimes. She willed herself to move, opening the package and putting four cookies on a small Disney plate that her mama kept just for her granddaughter’s visits. Carmen climbed up on a high bar stool. Delores could just picture her five-year-old self sitting there, listening to her mama complain about her dad. She used to make the stool spin and spin. She liked sitting so high. It made her feel important.

Carmen grabbed the plate and tried to get off the stool while holding it, the plate tipping and the cookies sliding. “Carmen Luisa,” leave the plate there. You know Abuela doesn’t allow . . . .”

Carmen looked up at her mother at the mention of Abuela, with a hopeful expression.

Delores had several options. She could take the cookies and make her daughter sit at the bar to eat them. Or she could have her get off the stool and then hand her the cookies to carry to the living room coffee table. Or she could do nothing and sob, letting the cookies fall to the floor.

And, as if in slow motion, but also too fast, the cookies slid off the plate as Carmen scooted off the stool.

Delores did nothing and sobbed.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. Don’t cry.”

That just made it worse. She raised her daughter’s hopes that her abuela was still alive and going to be cross about some crumbs, then made her think she made her mother cry by being clumsy.

She walked around the island and sat on the floor and pulled Carmen into an embrace. “Oh, Mija, it was just an accident. I’m just sad about Abuela. I miss her, too.” Delores felt so very alone. She still missed Johnny, even though he’d been dead for four years. They all left me. With her mother gone, she had no family left. Not even her beloved Tio, mama’s brother. Her papa had driven him away more than a decade ago, along with everyone else her mama ever loved.

Man with fishing pole walking through weeds with child to lake or river to fish.

Delores wondered where her uncle was living now. Wondered if he still thought of her. She used to love going fishing with him and to ball games. Tio didn’t like how his brother treated her mama, but he couldn’t do anything about it. So, he at least gave his sister’s child a break from the oppression when he could. She always called Tio when Papa made her scared. Maybe it was because of her that Tio left. Maybe she was to blame, because Papa didn’t want anyone thinking his daughter needed anything he couldn’t give or that she needed to be protected from him. A shiver went through her at this thought. A thought all too familiar, yet never voiced, not even in her head.

Delores’ papa was an alcoholic who thought everyone was out to ruin him. He was possessive, jealous, and suspicious. When he finally died, Mama was too frail and old to enjoy her freedom. Her world had been so small for so long, she couldn’t remember how to make friends. But she loved Carmen and spoiled her rotten every time they visited.

Delores’ phone buzzed on the counter, saving her from her sad memories. She eased Carmen off her lap.

She checked the screen before answering. “Hey, Jill.”

“How are you doin’, Dee?”

Delores took a deep breath. Jill was the sort of friend who checked on her and wanted the long answer, the real one, and would always see through a clipped, “I’m fine,” in a nanosecond. They’d been friends since they were in grade school. Jill still lived in Santa Rosa, while Delores had lived in several states by now.

“Hang on a second, Jill.” Delores bit her lip and fought back tears. She picked up the plate, put five cookies on it, and gave it to Carmen. “Mija, go sit on the couch and read your book while Mommy’s on the phone.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead.

With Carmen in the next room, she continued, “I’m reeling, to be honest.” She picked up the dropped cookies. “My emotions are like a dozen ping pong balls bouncing around in my head, gaining momentum as they collide.”

“Wow, that was an awfully specific metaphor,” said Jill.

“Probably ‘cause I just went digging through Mama’s garage and laid stuff out on the ping pong table. She kept everything. It’s overwhelming.” She tossed the cookies in the bin.

“Anything good? Worth keeping or selling?”

“Not really. She sold the antiques and kept crappy, useless things. How are you? Tell me something. Anything. I need to get out of my head.”

“Well, there was some excitement at the hospital yesterday. Kind of a freak accident. In fact, it was near your mom’s house. On the creek path. Some guy tried to save a little dog from getting eaten by a German shepherd and nearly lost his leg. He had on a purple tennis shoe and the nurses were remarking about the paramedics leaving the other one behind. Better than leaving a severed finger, I suppose. That actually happened, you know. It was . . . .”

“Wait! What?!” Delores’ heart stuck in throat. It couldn’t be. Could it?

“Dee, you okay?”

“Yeah. What kind of tennis shoe was it?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Is he still there?”

“Yeah, I think so. Why? What is it?”