Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Challenge 21: Butterfly Shoes

July 17th was the day I fell in love. Opening the box and peeling back those layers of paper, I caught my first glimpse of the soft velvety crimson, lined in black and topped with delicate little butterflies. Jimmy Choos spring collection had never been so heartbreakingly adorable. That entire day, I gushed to co-workers and customers alike. I sold fifteen pairs before closing time, which was a personal record, especially given their three hundred and seventy five dollar price tag. The next day was the same. Of course, people wanted them in different colors – blue, green, black and pink – but my heart belonged to the red ones. There was a box in my size sitting on the bottom shelf of our stock room and I had put an angel face on the label. Saving ten dollars a week from my pay, I would own those beautiful shoes in only thirty seven weeks.

The days went by and my love turned to a quiet obsession. I began to covet the display model. My smile was still wide and my enthusiasm genuine, but I found myself wondering what force of fate had given those doll-like girls such rich and handsome benefactors when I was all alone. My cheeks would heat at the thoughtless swipe of plastic, as if three hundred and seventy five dollars were as inconsequential as a three dollar bagel from Bagelman's across the street.

Weeks turned to months. Our supplies of the butterfly spring sandal dwindled to one pair of black size tens, a blue size eight and my red size seven. The supervisor came to me the morning before my birthday and said, “Emma, we can't hold these for you any longer. They have to go out on display.”

I nodded automatically, then hurried to the staff bathroom, still holding my breath. I stared at my face in the mirror, pale, eyes wide. Breathe, I thought. It's okay. I breathed, then a tear slipped out the corner of my eye. I brushed it away fiercely, hating myself for being so immature. I was twenty-four for God's sake! They were only shoes. Who cared if I had saved three hundred and twelve dollars, including interest? What did it matter if the shoes ended up on the feet of yet another faceless blonde bimbo with a rich sugar daddy? When would I ever wear such stupid impractical shoes anyway?

I dried my eyes and forced myself back out onto the floor. I smiled and nodded at all the right moments, even summoning appropriate enthusiasm when ladies eyed the last butterfly sandals. I couldn't stop the flood of relief, however, when the shop closed and the red ones were still sitting there, at the top of the plastic pyramid.

At home that night, I made myself a hot cup of peppermint tea. My cellphone went off just as I sat down on the couch to watch the news. My hand jerked in surprise and half a cup of scalding water ended up on my jeans.

“Hello?” I half-yelped into the phone as I searched for something to mop up the mess.


“Jassie? I thought you were in the Himalayas. Do they have cell phone reception up there?”

“Oh god, Emma,” she sobbed. “I am in so much shit. The border guys in China caught me with coke in my bags. I swear I was set up, but if I don't pay them a lot of money, I don't know what they're going to do.”

“How much do you need?” I didn't even contemplate the possibility that Jassie was lying. My sister was a crazy thrill seeker, but she would never do anything to put herself or her friends in real danger.

“Two thousand, maybe more...”

“Do they take pay pal?” My joke sounded pathetic, even to me. “Look, I'll send a bank cheque or something. Let me check it out tomorrow morning and I'll have you out of there as soon as I can.”

Morning came and I realized I hadn't slept all night. My cellphone reminded me it was my birthday. I rolled out of bed and called my workmate Karla to tell her what had happened. About half an hour later, I trudged down the road in a zombie-like stupor to catch the eight a.m. bus.

“Two thousand yuan?” the lady behind the counter raised an eyebrow. “And this is to be sent to the China State penitentiary? Very well. That will be three hundred and five dollars including exchange fees.”

I just nodded.

At work that day, the red butterfly shoes seemed to taunt me. I knew I had done the right thing. I was even glad for my long obsession, because it had caused me to save some money, money that may well have saved Jassie's life. When I came back from my fifteen minute afternoon break, the shoes were gone. I figured it was better if I didn't know who had bought them.

My till balanced perfectly at the end of that day, though it had an unusual amount of small change. Seventy five five dollar notes, in fact.

The yell of 'surprise' startled me as I entered the staff room to collect my satchel. So many faces staring eagerly into mine. Birthday streamers and balloons lined the walls. Karla, my best friend, stood in the middle, grinning at me. The crowd parted then, and I could see the box sitting on the coffee table. It was wrapped with lacy red ribbons, but I could still see the angel face I had drawn on the label. Fresh tears came to my eyes as I pulled Karla into a fierce hug.

“It's from all of us,” she whispered.


I could feel their hands on my arms and shoulders. Suddenly I didn't feel so alone.

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