As promised, here is an excerpt from one of the short stories I worked on in April. I hope to publish this collection either at the end of this year or the beginning of next. Let me know what you think!
Maria peered in the shop window, putting up a hand to cut the glare. She knew better. Knew she should keep walking, not even stop to look. Her mother used to say looking was for free, but Maria’s eyeballs seemed connected to her wallet all the same. She shouldn’t have even taken this street, come to think of it, but it was too late now. A whole line of boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and other money-suckers dotted her path. She should have driven to pick up Chester. It was such a beautiful day, of course, she’d had to walk. They had walked this same path earlier that morning, her with a coffee in one hand, the leash and their shared bagel in the other.
That time of the morning, the only things open were the Mean Bean and the Pampered Pooch. Now it was afternoon, and downtown was bustling. Maria blew a lock of curly black hair off her forehead. Most of it stuck in the sweat. It wasn’t hot out, but the afternoon had definitely taken a turn for the warm. People crisscrossed the downtown alley, hopping in and out of the shops, stopping to greet each other and catch up. A few vehicles puttered down the street, their engines tapping out at 5 miles per hour. The sun was out, heating the brick sidewalks where awnings fluttered in a slight breeze.
Maria heard wind chimes and looked up to find some of her parishioners exiting the store. Larry Johnson’s wife, Vera, and their daughter Mabel. Maria smiled in recognition and took a step back, opening her stance to the two ladies. When they saw her, Vera greeted Maria warmly while Mabel stood by smiling shyly. They had just gotten Mabel’s Easter shoes finally after a frantic multi-store search. Vera didn’t know about Maria, but she, for one, was all in favor of small businesses in town. Those big box stores never had what one really needed. Maria did not point out that Vera had shopped the big boxes before settling into the local options. She simply smiled and nodded. Inside she was paralyzed.
She would need something new to wear, of course. She had completely forgotten the holiday was coming up. Bryce, her husband and the pastor of the small Methodist church in town had just lectured her about her spending, but even he would recognize the necessity of his wife sporting new threads for Easter Sunday. Already Maria was plotting how to spend the least amount of money while looking her best. Mentally she scanned her closet for a new or nearly new dress she hadn’t yet worn to church in Middle, Mississippi. Maria couldn’t come up with anything right away, but that didn’t mean she didn’t own something. She found herself telling Vera that was exactly the reason she was stopping by the store. Easter shoes. With that, the Johnson ladies bid their farewells, and Maria entered the shop.
Inside was cool and dark, like dusk, after the bright light outside. Maria stood and let her eyes adjust a few moments before heading toward the dress shoes. She didn’t make a direct beeline; rather, she wandered past the sneakers and put out a tentative finger to touch the tiny Mary Janes and sandals designed for children who surely had no need of footwear. She stepped into the aisle of dress shoes even though she was standing in front of the size 5s and she was closer to a 9. She browsed, making note of the trending styles and colors. She saw strappy sandal options, demure low-heeled pumps, sky-high heels, and everything in between. Blacks and browns were present but few and far between. Spring and summer colors dotted the shelves, the closed boxes stacked high toward the ceiling. Maria let her fingers trail over satin, leather, and plastic. She inhaled the scent of cardboard and industrial cleaner.
Then she saw them.
Hot pink, straps for days, but a low heel, perfect for church. Perfect for her personality. She could wear practically anything with shoes like that. She could wear nothing.
Those shoes were everything.
Maria was reaching out a tentative hand when someone stepped in front of her.
“You’re the preacher’s wife, aren’t you?”
He was a young man, good-looking, with a devilish smile, straight teeth, and groomed hair. He must have been thirty but carried himself like someone much younger. Maybe a teenager. Maria looked him up and down. She spied a nametag that read JAMES. He was an employee. It shouldn’t have surprised her for someone to recognize her, but it did all the same. She was approached out of the blue all the time with that exact question, and it had stopped throwing her off guard.
Until today. She realized she was frowning and stopped. She made her face inquisitive and asked, “Have we met?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, “but I’m an admirer.”
What to say to that?
“Anyway, could I ask you to help me with one quick thing? Then I promise you a discount on those pretty pink pumps. Rawr” He made a cat noise and lifted one hand in a mock scratch. His fingernails were uncomfortably long. They really did look like claws. Maria took an inadvertent step back.
“Now, now, don’t be alarmed,” said James, “it’s not immoral or anything like that. Just need an opinion. A woman’s touch, if you will.” He smiled at her again, and she found herself thinking that word “devilish” again with a little more hesitancy. “Come with me.” He turned toward the back of the store and beckoned her to follow.
After a moment, she did.
From: Every Village. Southern Short Stories
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or email me for a chat. I look forward to hearing from you.
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