A little slice of something different for you all as we reflect on our country and independence; a short story of mine from this spring which speaks to our “freedoms”, the have’s and have not’s, and the dream of a child and little red shoes. A fictitious little world that creeps ever nearer to reality. Hope you all enjoy, and that you had a wonderful 4th with your families.
Little Red Shoes
Neko and Paris sat above the lowest hanging clouds outside the 37th floor common room window, pried open year ago through the determination of other children. An effort had once been made to bar the window, but each and every attempt only led to missing screwdrivers and pry-bars from janitorial closets until the grate was once again lying on the grimy tile floor. Eventually, everyone just assumed that if anyone were going to fall they would have already, and they gave up any attempt of barring the ledged window shut.
Neko’s feet dangled over the edge of the ledge outside the window and the lofty winds pulled at her feet lightly, begging her to inch only a little close to the void. The ledge was not much bigger than four feet with flanking decorative columns rising up to another ledge a story above. Beside her, sat Paris, listening to music with only one earbud in, the other laying aside for Neko whenever she desired to join him. Neko was busy fiddling with her red dress, and trying to ignore the itchy starch still thick in the fabric from the store; she had begged her mother to wear it before the wash. It would sit so pretty above her pretty red shoes she had been promised. She imagined them already on her, and admired her feet as the colors danced in the sunlight while she twisted them about in the air. Her eyes darted to the boy beside her. Paris had less impressive clothes than her; they always seemed so much-more plain and randomly baggy, not at all complimentary of his boyish features. Yet he always had his little music box, and the game player that made such lovely beeps and whoops when she watched the lights on the screen as he played.
They always came here during the day, and both seemed fit to continue this routine for the rest of their lives if they would be permitted. The same daily agenda was always observed, Neko talked; Paris played. She knew that he never really listened; he was always head-down with one earbud in and his fingers flying over the little screen in his hands. He would only slightly look up every once in a while to mutter a request to listen to some song with him and then resume his task at hand. She never listened to the music, and he never listened to her speeches. Flowers, always flowers, around and throughout each word as she spoke; a never-ending and only sometimes paused tale of petals floating in the breeze.
Below them, the world waited and moved independent and without care of their actions. Beyond the possibility of dropping something they were incapable of affecting the bustling below, which served to only provide a constant stream of background noise. It was not just being above the world, or the observation of it that brought them here each day, but avoiding the alternative. Behind them the remaining hallway bulbs always flickered, and the cigarette burnt couches slept undisturbed on top of a dirt-caked tile floor. It was a tomb that no one visited except the children, a reminder of a social custom long since discarded. People no longer appeared to live very long before they shrunk away as spectres that shrieked beneath thin wood doors down the endless hallway. And yet Neko was determined to stay living. She knew she could keep Paris and her alive if only they kept to their little kingdom here on this edge of the world.
She had never been outside, but she dreamed of it, what it was like among the people below. She wondered what it was like to eat with people, did they all sit quietly or did they all talk at once? Did anyone talk like she did, to the annoyance of her mother, or did everyone only mutter the minimum to pass each other and salt and open doors? She was sure Paris had once been outside, but he said nothing about it. No matter, with her feet so far above the ground she imagined she was stomping on the cars like roaches and queen of all.
Paris interrupted her reign to repeat his flat request for her to grab the spare earbud; he didn’t even look up this time. Neko looked at him sternly and then stood up, swaying in the top winds briefly as her fingers grabbed at the columns by the edge before gaining her balance and bracing herself against the window frame to look back inside. A cat screamed across a distant hallway, a dog sat without a growl just past it breathing heavily, and a bulb flickered above a man passed out near the elevator. He lay like a sentry, guarding the portal to the world below.
Neko thought about the elevator, and the floors below. She jumped back outside the window and lay out on her stomach so that she could hang over the ledge and stare beneath it; the tangles of her curly hair hung low. She wondered if the floors beneath her had open windows and other children sitting out on them pondering the world, but beneath her she saw only the dizzying vertigo of panes of glass hurtling towards the Earth in the rapidly-closing apex of a triangle. She had to pull herself up quickly, before the topsy-turvy rabbit hole pulled her down. Once back up and seated, she dropped her thoughts and began blooming talks of stems, stigmas, and sepals sprouting out of the granite pillars around. Though try as she might, she could not manifest them from the dirt of the floors or the earth of the plastered walls, and this fact bothered today more than she was comfortable admitting. Her mind saw flowers but her eyes saw concrete, and this was something that for the first time she felt as if she could not bear.
Neko crept closer to the edge of the concrete ledge and leaned over the side. The wind welcomed her, and breezes on her face coaxed her forward. She took off her plain brown shoes and socks and set them beside her before putting her legs back off the ledge and letting her toes be caressed by the sky. Her chestnut hair flurried about her face issuing a warning and she edged herself closer. After a moment’s pause she eased herself out so that only a tiny bit of her base still remained on the ledge. She had to balance herself with her hands out flat behind her to keep a hold of the ledge. Paris muttered something behind her, but she did not hear him. She studied the street again and it’s passing cars and buses. She strained her eyes so hard to see people, to make out even one face, to find a familiar soul to gaze back up at her and string her feet to the ground.
The sky breathed upon her as she pleaded for a connection and her eyes grew wild. Had mother ever touched the ground? Had her father? She heard about the work at the coffee shop on floor 32 that had guaranteed to keep a spot for her to fill in two years. She was only ever told of the promise of glittering red shoes. So very soon the pretty red shoes she would wear to another world on another floor to work for her place and other little such things. Hard work would earn a sip of the day –old and some bits of stale cakes.
The tempest grabbed her legs and wore at the muscles of her arms. She began to look at the streets below with love as tears filled her eyes. All at once she let out a muddled cry and question to Paris, slipping upon the thought of pretty red shoes and disappearing into the sorrow of knowing what was missing.
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