Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Baby Shoes, Never Worn

(This was submitted to a flash fiction contest, where it didn't win a prize, last summer. It's here just to document my copyright. If I think about it I can trace some of the components of this story to memories--"Nancy Knickerbocker" was the nickname of one of the less hostile popular girls at the abusive primary school where I served my time in grade four--but it's pure fiction, a sort of long joke. Enjoy.)

Drusilla Delahanty was “different,” right? Well, she wore glasses—thick prescription glasses—in kindergarten, so everybody always knew she saw things a different way from other people. If you didn’t guess that by looking at her, she’d tell you. In high school she was the total classic freak. She didn’t take drugs, didn’t need to; she was into weird music, pretty much whatever nobody else was listening to, and meditation, and needlepoint embroidery on her long skirts, I think because weaving and knitting were too ordinary. Need I mention that after about age twelve she always wore sandals. Even in winter, with heavy socks, she wore sandals.

From time to time people would try to offer Dee Dee a chance not to be so, well, conspicuous. Only once, I’m sure, because Dee Dee honestly did not care. I don’t think she ever did. It was like she never had the option of fitting in with the crowd, so she grew up not thinking that she was supposed to fit in.

Did she have friends? Did any kids have friends? I didn’t have friends, in school. I did fit in. Girls like Nanci Knickerbocker would never have walked up to me and said, “Happy birthday, I notice you’re not wearing a jacket, and it’s fall, so the rest of us are wearing jackets, but I thought maybe you don’t have a jacket, so I asked my mother and she said you could have my old one for a present,” the way she said to Dee Dee once.

Dee Dee just said, “No. Thank you.”

People like Nanci don’t like the word “no” so Nanci said, “Why not? There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“If I wanted to wear a jacket, I’d wear a jacket,” Dee Dee said. “So I’m going to meditate now.” And she just totally zoned out, and Nanci and her crowd, Suzi, Debbi, Sherri, Cathi, Angi, and Sunni (whose real name was Brooke), had some more to say, and some of it was pretty bad, but Dee Dee just closed her eyes and breathed.

Well, I checked the weather forecast and wore what the I-Club wore, and signed my name “Lynni,” too, but those girls just never noticed me at all. I must have faded into the crowd or something. Even when the art teacher said, “Today is Lynn’s birthday! Happy birthday, Lynn! Let’s make birthday cards for Lynn today!” nobody talked to me much.

I was grown up and married before my husband pointed out that Nanci, Suzi, Debbi, Sherri, Cathi, Angi, and Sunni all had parents who worked in the same place, who made sure their little girls hung out together. And their parents made pretty good money, so their little girls had nice things and gave parties. And apart from that, I don’t know that anybody really liked them. I know I wanted to like them; they never gave me much of a chance.

Anyway Dee Dee went to college like the rest of us and became a computer expert. She could afford to have four children, which she did. She worked on the phone, from her house, so she was always around the house with her babies. And apparently her clients would throw baby showers for her. I didn’t go to those showers, but I can imagine…from what I heard, she would very politely tell people that each present they’d given her was just darling, such a kind thought.

Then, from what I heard, whether they actually ever used any of those presents was entirely up to the babies.

I visited her at her house, just once. She insisted that I remove my shoes on the porch. Her eldest child, a girl, never came out of her room to see me. The second one, who was three years old, dived at my ankles and shrieked, “Mommy, woss that lady got on her legs? Woss stockings? Woss wrong with her legs—why does she have to wear stockings?” The floors were, of course, immaculate. Dee Dee must already have been “legally blind.” She’d hired someone to vacuum the floors three times a day; she told me the children were never allowed to take food out of the kitchen.

And after the first baby was wearing toddler shoes (but keeping them out on the porch), she put that ad in the paper: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”