||From the back seat of my
parents’ new 1966 Chevy Impala, love was so simple. There I
was with Michelle Kelly, her big green eyes and full wet
lips begging me to take her in my arms, pleading for me to
soar with her to heights of love not yet experienced.
Then an elbow from my little brother Danny shattered the
image while he and Greg wrestled for the other window seat.
I wanted to smack them both a good one, but didn’t since Mom
and Dad were in the front seat.
We were on our way to Jefferson City to shop for dress shoes
for us boys. You’d have thought we were going someplace
great, like the zoo, the way both of my younger brothers
were giggling and poking at each other, hardly able to
contain themselves. But not me. I was in control, my
thoughts and energies turned inward as I planned the most
spectacular seduction a 12-year-old ever devised.
It was October 31st. Halloween, the perfect night for a
seduction. There wasn’t another day of the year when a boy
could walk up to a girl’s door and ring the bell without
having to explain his actions. And when Michelle Kelly
answered her door this evening, she was going to fall
forever in love with me. She would have no choice. Love
would see to that. My being two years younger wouldn’t
matter. Love would see to that, too. I knew this because I
had witnessed it over and over in my mind. Love.
It was going to happen exactly like this: At approximately
8:30 pm, Michelle would answer the door to her house, which
is exactly two blocks away from mine. At first she would see
just another Trick-or-Treater, but then she would swoon.
Yes, swoon! Through the eye-holes of my mask, she would see
nothing but steady browns staring back at her. I am Zoro,
dashing and confident, complete with hat, cape, gloves and
sword. She’ll wonder who I really am, where I’ve been, and
which angel delivered me from her dreams. Then she’ll see my
new shoes, my cool shoes: black lace-ups with pointy toes
and high tapered heels. Monkees shoes; you know, “Mickey,” “Davey,”
“Mike” and “Peter” shoes. Her heart will pound, she’ll bite
her lower lip and throw the light in her eyes back to mine.
My gaze stuns her. Love.
Dropping her bowl of candy, she’ll tear the mask from my
face and see that it’s me, Kenny Burke, the tall skinny kid
who walks the same route with her to school each day, the
one with the stupid flat-top hair cut and the cowlick, the
same one who smiles like Elvis, only she’s never noticed
because she’s never looked at me for more than a second. But
that won’t matter. None of that stuff will matter. She will
kiss me, our lips fitting like the pieces of a jigsaw
puzzle. A crisp Autumn breeze will whirl around us, bonding
our souls forever. Love. So simple, so perfect.
Dad objected when I presented him and Mom with my choice of
footwear at the shoe store. “Too trendy,” he said. “Not
practical and not enough support.” But Mom, bless her, was
less practical: “Let him at least try them on, Larry. What
can it hurt?”
Dad, the poor, clueless man in black wing-tips. How he ever
got a hip chick like my mom was beyond me. Then Mom
whispered, thinking I couldn’t hear, “Maybe once he sees how
uncomfortable they are and how silly they look, he’ll drop
it.” No wonder she fell for a guy wearing black wing-tips! I
huffed at this, the right side of my lip slipping into an
Elvis-snarl. It just happened; I had no control over it.
I found an ally in the salesman—his approving smile evaded
my parents’ eyes as he took the display shoe from my hand
and gingerly placed it back on the shelf. Next, he measured
my feet. But this turned him against me—his eyebrows lifted
and his mouth tightened, choking out his allegiance. I knew
what it was: my feet; they’re narrow. This always scares
shoe salesmen. “That shoe only comes in D-widths; he really
needs a B,” the cowardly traitor said, winning a nod from my
“I want to try them on anyway,” I insisted.
Grudgingly, the salesman disappeared, and moments later
brought out the shoes. They were beautiful—black, shiny and
smooth. Very cool. I put them on. They were stiff, digging
into my ankles and flopping off my heels when I walked. I
tried a shorter pair, but these pinched my toes and still
flopped off my heels. I didn’t care. I wanted them. Dad
said, “No,” and, alas, Mom agreed.
Four stores and eight more failed attempts later, Dad
finally put his wing-tips down and demanded that I wear a
pair of “solid shoes with good support,” forcing upon me a
pair of brown, square-toed, low-heeled “dork” shoes. I tried
imagining Zoro in brown clodhoppers, but even in my thoughts
he refused to wear them; instead, he rode away laughing,
brandishing his sword and slashing my amorous plan to
On the way back to the car, my brothers reminded our parents
to check out the costumes at the dime store. There was a
“50% off!” sign in the window. Greg chose “Batman,” and
Danny, “The Hulk.” I checked out the selection, hoping to
find some way of salvaging some part of my Zoro plan, but
all the costumes bore animated, brittle plastic expressions.
I told myself that all Michelle would see were the eyes of
some geek wearing dorky brown shoes.
I gave up. As we walked back to the car, Mom told me to
button my jacket, but I didn’t, refusing to admit that it
was too windy and cold for the Halloween I envisioned.
We were almost home when common sense dealt me a blow. I was
too old for costumes, and Michelle was too old to fall for a
guy wearing one. Then, like a scene from a James Dean movie,
I saw myself standing on the curb in front of Michelle’s
house in my Levi’s, a clean white tee, the collar turned up
on my jean jacket, my thumbs hooked over my front pockets,
my hands hanging nonchalantly. When she comes to the door
for the other Trick-or-Treaters— the little kids—there I’ll
be, on the curb. Cool. Very cool. Her eyes will connect with
mine, and I’ll smile, slowly, ever so slowly. She’ll see me.
The real me. James Dean. Elvis. Me.
I stared into the window, studying my Elvis-smile in my
reflection, practicing, perfecting it. Then, just as we hit
the Morgan Grove city limits, it started to sprinkle. Then
A poet once wrote: “There are two pains in every heart:
wanting and letting go / I felt them both for her today, but
she’ll never know.” When I read the poem in college, some
eight years after that cold, rainy Halloween, I thought
again of Michelle Kelly, as she was the first to introduce
me to those “two pains.” And tomorrow at the bank where she
is now president and I but one of her many customers, she
will smile a “Hello” and thank me for my business, as
always. She might even ask me about pruning her Dogwoods, or
when to plant tulip bulbs, or when the bank can expect this
year’s shipment of poinsettias from my nursery. But she
won’t ask if I ever loved her, if I ever felt the pain of
wanting her as I walked past her house on a Halloween night
thirty years ago, and if I ever felt the pain of letting her
go the day I saw Dean Northbridge walking to school with
her, hand in hand. She doesn’t know, because a young, shy
boy, and the man he became, keeps the past pain of his
wanting tucked safely away, hoping the girl who captured his
heart will return to him a single glance and, in doing so,
recognize the truth of the moment: that their eyes, their
very souls, were drawn together by love.
Tonight the moon hangs full and bright, obscuring all but
the most radiant of stars, those holding the wishes of
lovers, while a crisp Autumn breeze dances with fallen
leaves. It’s the perfect night for a seduction.
My wife Karen, the last to inflict upon me the first of
these “two pains,” whose tender touch and reverent eyes
assure me daily that I will never suffer the second, is
tonight escorting our middle and youngest children around
Morgan Grove, “Leo the Ninja” and “Katrina the Clown.” Our
fourteen-year-old daughter Adele is standing at the front
door, wicker basket in hand, doling out treats to this
year’s band of Trick-or-Treaters—the little kids. She is a
beautiful young lady, with her mother’s auburn hair and my
brown eyes. I want to be at the door with her, but it could
spoil the night for some young romantic. So I sit at the
dining room table, remembering that Halloween long past,
glancing up when she opens the door, half-expecting to catch
a glimpse of a boy with a “pain” in his heart. I wonder if
Adele will notice him, if she will notice his shoes.
Kevin Watson is a
freelance writer. Cool
Shoes (dedicated to the author’s seventeen-year-old
daughter) is part of a
series of short stories that all take place in
the fictitious Missouri town of Morgan Grove. Excerpt from
the poem “On My Ex-Wife’s Wedding Day” by Mark A. Hurt used
Kevin Watson, all rights reserved