Well Heeled

             On a Saturday afternoon in June, AlexandraXandy to some, X to a fewwith disciplined calm and two enabling friends, called on her dealer to feed her addiction to the sensuous feel of soft calf leather caressing her feet.
            That evening X laid four shoeboxes—black, silver, red, pink and white stripe—on her bed. She breathed in the intoxicating new shoe smell as she found homes in her closet for her purchases.
            “Darn, I forgot to buy shoe trees.” She did a search online and found Hayneedle. While it maintained a website, Hayneedle didn’t take online orders. X called and placed an order for three sets of cedar shoetrees and one set of cedar boot trees in size medium.
            “They don’t come in medium,” the Hayneedle rep said. “I need your shoe size.”
            “I have always bought them in medium,” X sighed. Custom shoetrees! Clem would have fun with that. “Size eight. Oh, and a shoe horn, too.”
            “Which one do you want?“
            "I don’t care. Just a shoe horn,” she said. “You choose.”
            The day had started at South Coast Plaza. X and her close friends Nic and Clem ignored the action and mayhem at the carousel, the interminable music that had made them clap when they were three years old, but registered as white noise as they hunted. The smells of French bread, espresso, croissants, and Godiva chocolate did not divert them. They walked along the wide corridors of the über mall, three abreast.
            “I desperately need Uggs for skiing,” Nic, the dramatic one said, looking at handbags in the window of Bally. She was a brunette and wore her hair in a ballerina’s bun. She was a ballerina, and she walked with her feet splayed out in pink Tory Burch ballet flats.
            “I need lots of shoes,” X said in her well-modulated, courtroom voice. X was blonde, of average height, which infuriated her until five- and six-inch heels became popular. She had a purposeful walk in Gucci rhinestone flip flops, the easier to try on shoes.
            “In whose fantasy world?” Clem asked. “You’ve overrun all your closets.” Clem—short for Clementine, but no one, on threat of ignominy, called her anything but Clem—a tall, thin, blonde had been a model while in college. Her bouncy walk highlighted Ferragamo spiked heel black boots with bows on the toes. She craned her neck in the direction of Burberry.
            They turned right at Cartier. With her arm held out in front of her like Smee spotting Tick Tock the Crocodile, Nic pointed to the store in front of them: Nordstrom, the store that brought them to South Coast Plaza. They reached the entrance to the sacred ground and already the air smelled different, probably because twenty-year-old women who stood in strategic locations on the main floor spritzed customers with perfume that was being pushed that particular day.
            However, the trio did not consider the obvious. Instead they clung to the fantasy—like believing in Santa Claus—that Nordstrom was magical, even the scent in the air. The soft lighting gave the illusion that they were young and wrinkle-free.
            After the women discussed whether they wanted to surround their prey or pillage every department en masse, Nic and Clem went to the third floor to Brass Plum, while X followed her nose to Women’s Shoes. Two hours later, each carrying two Nordstrom bags, Clem and Nic found X. She was sitting with a harried yet indomitably helpful clerk at her feet and multi-colored shoeboxes stacked three and four high on the floor, like adult-sized Legos. Clem sat down next to X. Nic cruised the displays and tried to squeeze her foot into a wedge, succeeding in looking like a wicked step-sister trying on the glass slipper.
            Clem counted the boxes aloud. “Twenty-two. You’re not serious are you?” she asked.
            “I think I can narrow it down to a more manageable number,” X said.
            “Why can’t your manageable number be zero? You are seriously spending money that should go for your retirement. You can’t wear Stuart Weitzman in a nursing home.” Clem, ever the accountant.
            X frowned at Clem, closed her eyes and shook her head from side to side. Clem incessantly got on her case about her shoe shopping. X of course assumed she could indeed wear designer shoes wherever and whenever she chose. She turned her attention back to the bounty at her feet. With a rapacious glint in her eyes, she concentrated on the boxes holding the shoes that would complete her life.
            Clem picked up some of the boxes to read the prices. Turning to X, she recited each one: “$198.00, $249.00, $624.99.” After each amount she groaned. X found that the running commentary distracted her from her quest.
            “Maybe you shouldn’t look at the prices,” X said. “Besides, I’m finished.” She pointed to the ones she wanted.
            The clerk took boxes to the counter, and Nic sat down on the other side of X.
            “I’m proud of you, girl. Only four pairs,” Nic said, observing some of the shoppers walking into the store under the same spell.
            “She needs a therapist—and rehab—not more shoes,” Clem said.
            When the clerk returned with two large bags and a receipt for X to sign, Clem frowned. “Alexandra Blair Leon, that’s seriously more than my mortgage payment.” X knew her friend wasn’t joking.

            Four days later, while reading and writing and re-writing an analysis of a drug dealer’s right to privacy, X got a call from Hayneedle to schedule delivery.
            “Leave the order on my front porch.”
            “No. We only deliver when the customer is home.”
            She scheduled delivery for the next morning.
            Promptly at 8:00 a.m., a truck pulled into X’s driveway. She walked out onto her forest green front porch with yellow and red clematis climbing the white pillars and railings. It looked like a porch in Hansel and Gretel’s house. The driver asked her where she wanted them.
            “Here—inside the door.” She sipped her tea and looked down at the chip in the violet nail polish on her thumb. She needed to get to her office.
            The man returned to the porch with a sapling in a red can in the crook of each arm.
            “You want these in the house?” he asked.
            “Why are you bringing me trees? I didn’t order trees.”
            The man looked at his paperwork and read off X’s name, address, and phone number. “Is that you, ma’am?”
            X cringed, not because the information was incorrect, but because he called her ma’am.
            “Please wait here. I’m going to call your store.”
            She got live customer service after being on hold for fifteen minutes, listening to a Beatles tribute band’s renditions from Yellow Submarine.
“You asked for three sets of cedar shoe and one set of cedar boot trees in size eight. Isn’t that what you ordered?”
            “A shoe tree is something I put in my closet, and what you shipped—”
            “Ma’am. You can put them wherever you want, but usually they need sunlight.”
            Ma’am again. “But there isn’t a window in the closet.”
            “Make sure you water those saplings. They grow into beautiful cedar trees. Yours were grown in Oregon.”
            X thanked the rep and decided to keep the trees. She had been too busy at work to do much with her backyard and her gardener pined for new plants. “What the hell? A couple of trees would spruce up the yard,” she said.
            She walked back onto the porch, where eight young trees and a large box—a size that would hold a washing machine—sat. “I will take the trees,” she told the man. Focusing intently on the trees, she didn’t notice the box that almost filled her porch.
            “We like to plant the trees ourselves. Give them a good start in life,” the man said.
            X took two of the saplings and led the man up her driveway to a backyard with annuals and perennials in tasteful flower boxes and grass manicured to within an inch of its dark roots. She pointed to eight spots where she wanted the trees planted. While the man bent to the task of making eighteen-inch deep by ten-inch diameter holes, X paid attention to the trees for the first time. Each one was about three feet tall, with sturdy branches, needles like a Christmas tree, and tiny green buds.
            “I guess it’s going to take years before these trees are fully grown,” X said, more of a question than a statement.
            “No, these trees grow fast. I think you’ll be impressed.”

            On the next Saturday, enjoying the sun, X sat on her barn-red wooden deck at a glass-topped table. Most of her reading time was devoted to law journals and the Daily Journal, but that day she flipped through the pages of Vogue. She looked up vaguely toward the sky and squinted away from the bright rays. Something in the yard got her attention. She walked over to a tree, then four feet tall. Running needles through her hand, feeling the sun on her face, she looked where the buds had been. They had flowered in a myriad of colors: pinks, reds, yellows, whites, oranges, blues, purples, the effect an Alice in Wonderland garden. X bent down and smelled one, but couldn’t connect the smell to a flower. She scowled, shrugged her shoulders and went back to the magazine.
            A couple of weeks passed with X jammed at work. She drove from one end of Orange County to the far end of Los Angeles County and east to San Bernardino County. She made court appearances and took depositions. X wore a suit or dress every day and was on a four-week cycle, where she could wear twenty outfits before she had to repeat. On Saturdays and Sundays she wore jeans. Her shoes provided infinite combinations.
            Sunday was overcast, typical for June mornings. X stepped onto the deck, willing her brain to turn off the legal noise. She looked up—for indeed the trees were now about six feet tall—and gasped. It was not the size of the trees that surprised her. Each tree was filled with shoes: blue wedges, black platform sandals, red slings, purple pumps, leopard print flats, blue and tan oxfords. One tree was filled with boots: black leather, low-heel, round toe; tan suede stacked heel; black leather knee-high almond toe; two-tone brown waterproof hiking.
            X’s scalp tingled. She tried to remember if she owned a ladder.

            The next week she took personal time from work. She called her gardener to tell him she decided to tinker with her yard alone for a bit. She didn’t communicate with Nic or Clem, not by phone, fax, email, text, tweet, Instagram, MySpace, Pinterest, Skype, Google+, tumblr, LinkedIn, Facebook or U.S. mail.
            On Friday morning, X placed an urgent call to Clem at her office.
            “You have got to come over here now. Hurry. It’s raining. Bring an umbrella.”
            Clem had been in her office since 7:00 that morning doing quarterly taxes for one of her clients. “Have you been in an accident? Are you hurt?”
            “I’m fine. I-I’m at home. Hurry. Umbrella. Now. The trees are getting wet. I have to go.”
            “Trees are supposed to get wet,” Clem said into a dead phone. She sighed and stretched languidly, then hurried to her car.

            As Clem walked onto the front porch, X opened the door and pulled on her arm.
            “Okay, I’m coming. What’s in the big box?” Clem asked.
            “Huh?” X had forgotten about the box. Later. She would deal with it later. “You’ve got to come with me quickly.” She continued to pull Clem into the house.
           “What is that smell?” Clem asked. “Wait, hold on,” she said as she stopped in the living room and pried X’s fingers off her arm. “Are you cleaning out your closets and those of all your neighbors or have you been shopping and didn’t invite me?”
           The couch, love seat, chairs, coffee table and floor were covered in mounds of shoes like large leather anthills.
           “Please, I will tell you after we take care of the backyard. Come on, they’re getting wet.”
           Clem followed X and almost stumbled on the deck when she saw the yard. It looked like a Christmas tree lot with pines and spruces at heights from four to seven feet. In each tree, shoes nestled in its needles. Clem screamed. X, who had run over to one of the trees, rushed back and put her hand over Clem’s mouth.
           “Stop, I beg you! This is not the time for hysterics.”
           “I think this is an excellent time for hysterics! Tell me what I’m seeing. What have you done? Your previously boring backyard is now a forest—filled with shoes?”
           “Yes, that’s correct. And it’s raining.”
           Clem looked at X and recognition set in. “Oh, of course. We have to get the shoes off the trees.” She shook her head. “Why did you put shoes on the trees?”
           “I didn’t. Don’t you get it?”
           “Ah, X, I—”
           X handed Clem a black trash bag. They began with the lower branches and filled the bags and stacked them in the garage. Then X got on the ladder and dropped the shoes down to Clem.

           After Clem returned from depositing a bag in the garage, she put her hands on her thighs and dropped her head. “X, in my wildest imagination I cannot fathom what you have done. This little adventure of yours is making my head swim.” She reached up and touched her chest. “My heart is beating so fast. I don’t understand what’s going on with you!”
           “I didn’t do this,” X said. “I was gobsmacked, too, the first day the shoes bloomed. I couldn’t catch my breath. Come on, we’re not finished.”
           When they could no longer reach shoes with the ladder, they shook the trees and tried to catch them as though they were infield popups. After an hour and a half passed and the only shoes left were on the tallest branches, X and Clem sat on the top step of the deck. Their clothes were soaked and their hair stuck to their faces. The rain continued unperturbed, the sky the color of a scouring pad.
           “You owe me for this outfit. It’s ruined, and I only wore it one time,” Clem said. “If you had told me what we were going to be doing, I could’ve stopped at home to get something more appropriate to wear for the occasion. I’m sure I have a shoe-plucking outfit. And the number for a psychiatrist.” She rung out her pant legs.
           “Number one, I couldn’t explain this in a phone call,” X said as she opened her arms to take in the majesty of her backyard. “Number two, there wasn’t time. Number three, I think we can find something in the house to repay you for the suit. Number four, I am not crazy.”
           “We’ll discuss number four later. Are these shoes all the same size?” Clem ran her hand over her face like a windshield wiper, wiping the rain away.
           “Let me guess. Your size? Um hum. Eights? I’m an eight and a half. I’ll make them fit. I want to know how this happened, and I don’t want you to leave out any detail.”
           “Let’s go in and have a drink.”
           Shoes filled every room of the house, thousands of shoes. The house smelled like cowhide. X and Clem sat in the only free space, the claw foot bathtub. They wore two of X’s fleecy robes—X’s was pink and Clem’s, white—and draped their legs over the edge of the tub. Clem wore David Tutera five-inch heel gold sandals, while X wore Coach black patent leather stiletto knee-length boots. They sipped margaritas—X found the blender under Stuart Weitzman brown suede booties—and X told Clem about ordering shoe trees and the delivery of the trees, and the buds and flowers and—Shazam!—shoes, and she ordered more trees, and she plucked pairs of shoes off trees to match her outfits, and after she took a pair, new buds appeared, followed by flowers and more shoes.
           “Once after I plucked black Ferragamo loafers, I said aloud, ‘I want these in brown.’ The next day new buds appeared, then flowers, and yesterday the brown loafers sat in a branch like gigantic chestnuts. Today before it started raining I told a tree I wanted Prada one-inch sandals in lavender. A bud popped out like that.” She snapped her fingers. “I asked for any shoe by Manolo, then changed my mind. I said to the tree, ‘Never mind. I take it back.’ Too late. The tree delivered, apparently not interested that I didn’t want them.”
           Clem hoisted herself out of the tub. She hugged herself. “You are so calm, and this…this story is giving me chills.” She sipped her drink and looked into space for a moment. “I’ll try your tricks later. It’s time to call Nic. It’s not sporting to leave her out of this.”
           “But she’s a nine-and-a-half. These shoes won’t fit her. We’ll torture her when she sees them,” X said, reluctantly pulling herself out of the tub.
           They threaded cautiously through the narrow aisles between heaps of shoes. Clem stopped to choose some of them, attempting to remove them without starting an avalanche.
           “Shoes can always be stretched,” Clem said.
           “Come on. There’s only so much a piece of leather can withstand. All right. I’ll call her.” X found her phone in the kitchen sink. “Hi. Clem and I want to show you something.” She listened. “Yes, come after your rehearsal.” She listened again. “I won’t tell you what it is, but get here as soon as you can.” X ended the call. “She’ll be here in an hour.”
           “In the meantime, why don’t we open the box on the porch?” Clem asked.
           “The box! I keep forgetting the box.” She smacked her forehead with her phone.
           They clicked in their heels onto the porch, still wearing the robes. Rainwater dripped from the shingled roof, making plunking sounds as it hit the concrete sidewalk. They decided to wait to open the box until Nic arrived.
           “Let’s give her a thrill since she missed the trees,” Clem said.
           The gray sky turned to darkness and the rain stopped, leaving the air sultry. Since they didn’t want to go back in the bathtub, Clem perched on top of the box, kicking her new heels against the cardboard, and X sat against her red front door, stretching her legs out in front of her. The porch light made X’s patent leather boots shine, sleek like oil. The ladies shared a joint and more margaritas.
           “I can still smell the shoes out here,” Clem said, as she munched on a tortilla chip.
           “Are you ready for another margarita?” Without waiting for an answer, X poured more into Clem’s glass.
           They sang “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Footloose.”

           Nic arrived as X was making a run to the kitchen for more munchies. X returned with a drink for the ballerina. Nic stood on the bottom step and stared at Clem on top of the box, wearing the fluffy white robe and the pair of gold heels, holding a margarita glass in one hand and a joint in the other.
           “Now that’s a sight you don’t see every day. Clem, you look like a goose hatching a giant square egg,” Nic said.
           X and Clem found that statement hysterically funny. Clem laughed and whacked the box with the hand that held the glass, causing tequila, triple sec and Rose’s lime juice to slosh over her hand. X held her breath, then pinched her nose because she was hiccupping. Tears streaked her face.
           “Wow, I am a couple of hours behind you two! What’s that smell?” Nic asked.
           That started X and Clem all over again. Clem snorted like a spotted brood sow. X continued to hiccup. They looked at each other and pointed at Nic, who appeared not to appreciate their state of inebriation.
            “Why are you both in bathrobes? Is there something weird going on?” Nic leaned against the railing.
            Clem couldn’t take the questions any longer. She jumped down from the box.
            “Nice shoes. Are they new?” Nic asked Clem.  She took the joint out of Clem’s hand and took a hit.
            “Look,” Clem said, taking Nic’s hand. “Come with me.”
            X, who blocked the front door, reluctantly stood up.
            “Sick boots,” Nic said. “The pink robe kind of ruins the effect if you’re going for slutty.”
            X simply nodded as they walked into her living room.
            “God almighty! What is all this?” Nic asked as she fingered various shoes while they slowly took the tour.
            X and Clem told their versions of the story. Nic marched to the backyard with a flashlight, convinced her friends were perpetrating a gigantic hoax—an ultra expensive gigantic hoax. She returned to the kitchen where X was looking in the refrigerator for ingredients to put on a pizza she and Clem were making.
            “They’re up there. They’re really on those trees. You guys put them there. Fess up.”
            “Even as much as I spend on shoes, do I look like I could afford to buy all these?” X asked as she grated a block of Monterey jack cheese.
            “Hey! What about the box?” Clem asked for about the fifteenth time that day. She pilfered pepperoni slices.
            The three trooped out to the front porch, and X gave Nic a knife. “You do the honors.”
            “Okay, okay. Don’t peek,” Nic said, suspending her disbelief.
            X and Clem turned their backs on the box. They heard Nic slice the top of it open.
            “What the fuck?” Nic asked. She held the top open, and the other two peered into the dark contents. “Why did you order a tuba?”
            X furrowed her brow for a couple of seconds and then leaned over and held onto her thighs{C}{C}{C}a kinky yoga posture considering the boots—and laughed.
            “Share,” Clem said, also feeling left out.
            “I ordered a shoe horn.”
             Nic and Clem tore away the cardboard, and X hoisted the oddly-shaped instrument onto Clem’s lap.
            “Jeez, this is heavy,” Clem said. She blew into it and a sound like a mating Indian bull elephant came forth from the bell, along with ballet flats, slippers, tennies, topsiders and running shoes. Nic and X caught some of them, but couldn’t get them all, because Clem continued to blow.
            “Stop. You’ve got to stop,” X said. “The neighbors will call the police on me, and how do I explain this?” X asked as she pointed to the heaps on the porch floor. Then she looked at Nic.
           Nic stood stone still. She held nine or ten assorted shoes to her chest with both hands as she stared down at the pile at her feet, as though she had come out on the wrong end at the sale rack. “Oh, X, I knew you were a clothes horse, but—”
            “No!” X said, as she dropped shoes and reached out to put her hand over Nic’s mouth. Nic moved out of her reach.
            “No, Nic. Take it back. Take it back right now,” Clem said.
            “What did I say? I’m just commenting on how X has always been a clothes horse, but she has taken it to a new level.”
            “Nic, please stop talking,” Clem said, as she attempted to extricate herself from the tuba.
            “Okay, all right, I take it back!” Nic said.
           But it was too late.

Kathleen Rohr is a California attorney. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has been published in Emry’s Journal, Rose Red Review, Montreal Review, Bewildering Stories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Arcadia, The Poetry Jar and Lunch Ticket.