Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces" by Kimila Bowling: 2010 Honorable Mention

Fate penciled me in that afternoon. I merely showed up, and the ability to differentiate reality from fantasy revealed itself. At seven I didn’t understand this developmental leap, nor was I conscious a cognitive enlightenment had occurred. I simply knew special wasn’t special anymore.

My final day of blessed ignorance to the actualities of life began in our nook and cranny kitchen on the east side of Scobey, Mississippi. I sat at the dinette in the nook eating a peanut butter-plastered pancake. I’d yet to dress for the day.

A bad case of the “Arthur” had Granny Tulley stoved-up. She’d called earlier in the morning to relay this information and report cheese and crackers had sustained her for the past two days. Although everyone knew a woman of Granny’s proportion could never be satisfied with meager morsels of Ritz and cheddar, Momma succumbed to the woman who described childbirth as a near-death experience and went to her mother’s aid; thus, keeping a daughter’s conscious clear.

Dad entered the cranny portion of the kitchen scuffing his bare feet across the linoleum.

“We’re on our own, kid.”

He scratched the back of his head and shuffled a tight one-eighty to keep his rhythm.

“Get dressed. I need to go to Jax’s.”

On his way out, he slid the newspaper off the counter and poked it under one arm.
I abandoned my breakfast and high-kneed a skip to my room.

By the time we pulled in front of Jax’s, which by the way took up space in downtown Scobey, the sun could see its reflection on the side of the water tower, and it looked as if we had arrived too late. For what, I didn’t know. But the line at the movie house stretched half a block, and the Assembly’s bake sale had dwindled to a few pies.

When Dad’s soles hit the graveled and tarred surface, he squinted and butted the side of his hand along the top of his eyebrows. He let his eyes bounce along the sidewalks where they eventually settled on Laura Jean Dell.

“How’d you like to see a movie?” he asked, dragging me to the freckled-faced teen.

He handed me two dollars after promising Laura Jean five if she’d see me to The Fontaine Theater. She agreed, liberating Dad and sentencing me to a double matinee featuring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Three hours passed before I saw daylight again.

Upon leaving The Fontaine, Laura Jean took me aside then bent over until our eyes met.

“Go get your Dad. He promised me five dollars.”

I could smell the teenage girl’s cinnamon clove gum as I watched her jaw slid to one side every time she squashed it between her teeth. While balancing on my right leg, I scratched the back of its calf with the top of my left sandal.

“Can’t you come with me? He’s just over there.” I pointed across the street to Jax’s.

“I’ll walk you across the street but I can’t go in. My mom says I’ll get a bad reputation if I’m seen going in there.”

I thought about what she’d said then asked, “What about mine?”

“You’re not old enough to get one,” she said.

My elder’s logic made sense. So I skipped across the street.

Inside Jax’s, cirrus layers of lingering tobacco smoke obscured the already insufficient lighting. Pool balls clacking against one another and the random launching of cuss words created momentary breaks in the chatter and laughter. I kept one hand on the door, self-appointing it home as one would in a game of hide and seek, until I found Dad. He was leaning on a pool stick, holding a bottle between his thumb and forefinger. I went to him.

“Dad,” I said tugging on his britches leg, looking in the vicinity his eyes would be if he were to look at me.

“Hey, kid. Movie over?” he asked. He checked the time before finding my gaze.

“Yeah, and Laura Jean wants her money.”

He handed off the pool stick then took my hand. As we walked to the door, he guzzled the last drink from his bottle before leaving it on the bar. After Dad paid Laura Jean, we crossed the street and ventured into Pryce’s Grocery and Dry Goods. By now, movement on main street had become sporadic, and old men had begun trickling into the store as slowly as leaves falling from a border oak in mid-September. Their seats, stacked wooden crates, formed the customary circle for their afternoon gathering. Some packed a jaw with tobacco while others rolled a smoke. Success of the American Legion team started the powwow early.

Lunch had come and gone, and neither Dad nor I had eaten anything, at least nothing worth mentioning. Dad asked Mr. Pryce to fix him a bologna and hot pepper cheese sandwich, and after several minutes of deliberation, I settled on pickle loaf with mustard, voicing a preference to having the condiment spread on both slices of bread. Mr. Pryce took note. Dad then chose an RC. I favored a grape Nehi.

I didn’t remember Dad saying go. I didn’t know we were racing, but as Mr. Pryce handed me my sandwich, Dad poked his last bite into his mouth. He chased it with a drink and was looking in one of the glass cases which lined both sides of the register before swallowing either.

Mr. Pryce left his domain behind the meat counter to join him. On his way, he lifted his apron with one hand then individually twisted each finger of the opposite hand into the stained fabric. He continued the process as he stood across the glass case from Dad.

After a few bites of pickle loaf and a bottle of Nehi, I felt full. As I wiped mustard off my chin, I decided to linger at the front of the store. Items in the glass case held Dad’s interest, and the old men, who once looked harmless, had traded baseball and a friendly slap on the back for the rising cost of seed and keeping one’s hands to oneself.

At its brightest, the sun spotlighted the best Pryce’s had to offer. Now, its diminishing rays had to stretch to reach the display window, resulting in a partially drawn curtain of darkness. Offstage, a pair of watches – one for a lady, the other a man – passed their time on a piece of black velveteen. Still on stage, a headless mannequin modeled a lace-collared blouse with a floral print skirt. In a sunlit corner, a six-tier pyramid of Libby’s canned vegetables displayed a sign naming it the special of the week. But center stage. Center stage held the answer to coping with the rise in seed prices, Annette’s answer to persuading Frankie to take her to the beach party, and Momma’s answer to squashing Granny Tulley’s power of conviction. The main attraction was a pair of tan shoes, size eleven. A bargain at $7.50. Especially, since they came with pink shoelaces.

Dad had remained focused on the trinkets in the case. As I closed the distance between us, he made his decision and indicated so by pointing. Mr. Pryce retrieved the item, placed it in a small box, then they slid in unison to the register.

“Dad,” I said as I bounced on my tiptoes. “The shoes.”

I tried to take his hand, but he lifted it out of my reach. My fingers found his back pocket where I tugged each syllable.

“Pleeease, Dad-dy. The shoes in the win-dow. They’re just my size.”

Mr. Pryce’s hand hung by its fingertips on the register’s handle as he looked toward me, then at Dad, and repeat the process several times. His pause compelled me to clasp my hands under my chin and look up. As Dad smiled at the man behind the counter, he shook his head. When I heard the register’s drawer open, I realize my shameless display of desperation had gone unheeded.

Outside, Dad opened the driver’s side door of the truck and waited. Unwanted tears came but I didn’t swipe. My hands stayed prisoners in my pockets until I crawled in the truck.

We didn’t turn toward home but continued down the street passed Jax’s and The Fontaine.

“This isn’t the way home,” I said before sitting on my knees, choosing to watch where we’d been instead of where we were going.

Dad pulled his visor down then opened his window. My hair twirled around my face as a willow in a windstorm. I tucked it behind my ears; however, more strands than not continued to wave.

“I need to take care of something. You don’t mind do you?”

My shoulders said they didn’t care before I rested my chin on the back of the seat. From the corner of my eye, I watched him take a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He shook up a Benson and Hedges, threw the pack on the dash, then pushed in the lighter. As he waited for it to pop, he asked, “How about some music?” He smiled and beckoned me to his side with a head gesture.

The lighter clicked before I could answer, and within seconds, I could see smoke swirling above his head. When I turned and sat close to him, he took this for a yes and turn the radio on.

The Beatles and Dylan took us as far as the first left, directly passed the mill. Patty Page sang until we reached the fork in the road, then Neil Diamond ushered us to the Charlton’s mailbox and up their driveway.

The paint on the house reminded me of a half-scaled crappie, and the one dangling shutter of a hook in its bottom lip. No automobile sat beside the house. No one played in the yard. No dog lay on the porch and no one came to the door. The only declarations of occupancy were the open front door and the laundry hanging from the clothesline alongside the house.

Before Dad went to the door, he placed a kiss on my cheek. I found it odd he entered without knocking. More so when he let the screen door slap against the wooden frame.

I spent time watching the breeze swing the clothes on the line. One of the unmentionables conveyed the owner’s shared liking for my favorite color, red, indicating her appreciation for the unorthodox. She would surely sympathize with me on my recent disappointment in Dad for denying me the last pair of shoes I would ever ask for.

Time had passed since I’d enjoyed the grape Nehi, and last year when Granny Tulley started blaming her occasional accidents on a stretched bladder, I no longer waited until squirming or crossing my legs became necessary. A refusal to risk a regression to where I wet myself had become the rule.

Honeysuckle blossomed a few feet beyond the row of laundry. I pushed open the truck’s door and slid from the seat. After confident the foliage provided ample coverage, I prepared myself and squatted. My eyes watered as relief came to my bladder, and I assured myself serious expansion had been averted.

When I started back to the truck, the colorful undergarment waved, proudly displaying itself, imitating a flag flying high, nobly symbolizing what it represented. I thought they came in one color--white, the color of Momma’s. Wary, nevertheless intrigued, I reached to touch it, but Dad’s voice passing through an opened window pulled my attention toward him.

“Come on,” he said. “give me more time.”

A woman answered. “I’m tired of waiting.”

“Here sweetheart,” Dad again. “I bought you something.”

The woman squealed then thanked Dad with the recognizable slurps and smacks dads and mommas were suppose to share.

“A little more time?” Dad said.

Enough had been heard. Too many things had been exposed. I retreated but in my haste, a pair of woman’s slacks levitated in front of me. Tangled in britches and stumbling, I groped the air for something, anything, to keep me upright, but all my outstretched fingers snagged was one of the red bra’s shoulder straps. I then heard the wooden clothespins give to the added weight and snap from the line. Closing my eyes, I braced for the fall.

Dad must have heard the commotion because when I opened my eyes, he was looking down at me.

“What are you doing?” He took his hands off his hips and extended one to me.

Ignoring his offer, I got to my feet and brushed passed him. “I had to pee.”

He stayed on my heels until we neared the truck where he double-timed his pace and opened his door for me.

Side-stepping the usual routine, I marched to my side and climbed in. He kept silent as he sat behind the wheel and turned the key. After backing out of the yard, he proceeded down the driveway. This time turning toward home.

With the sun now to our backs, he slapped up his visor then cranked his window, leaving a smoker’s crack. I sat close to my door letting the space between us provided an invisible barrier. A barrier a single word could crumble. An emotional safeguard I knew wouldn’t last.

“Are you all right?” he asked before searching the dash for his pack of cigarettes. After finding them, he lit one and returned the pack to his shirt pocket.

“Fine,” I said. But I wasn’t.

The radio crackled between bouts of music. Instead of tuning in on a station, he clicked it off. While holding the wheel and cigarette in one hand, he reached over and skimmed his fingertips down my hair. I kept my eyes on the road and pulled away. An unspoken answer to his unspoken question.

He switched his driving hand and drew a long pull off his cigarette, but before the cherry dimmed, he snapped his back straight and gripped the wheel at ten and two.

“Hey,” he said, hitting the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. “How about we stop at Pryce’s and get you those shoes?” He shook his head in an effort to convince us both he’d found the answer.

“Yep. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll go back. We’ll go back and get those shoes.”

He turned to watch the road before he accelerated, unaware I no longer shared his newly found optimism of the shoe’s powers or his desire for something new and unique. I now craved pancakes, peanut butter, and a pretense of reality as I fostered a hatred for those shoes and the type of girl who would wear them.

By the time we passed the city limit’s sign, the vining morning glories twisting around its wooden post had lost their day’s blooms. The vapor lights lining the streets had completed their evening ritual of flickering on and off; a momentary period of indecision usually resulting in illumination and a lulling hum.

I looked at him because as yet, he hadn’t turned on the headlights. However, I found myself unable to turn away as he maintained a position so close to the wheel he could’ve used it for a chin rest. Further inspection brought me to a pulsing ball of jaw muscle and a perpetual trail of sweat running along the front of his ear. I then noticed his stare which never wavered from the road. I saw a man determined to change the course of a storm, and his refusal to accept the finality of time. I, on the other hand, had resentfully accepted both.

Kimila Bowling - Biography

My father had a Kraco eight-track in his grasshopper- green Ford pickup. When I would go with him, he’d play my favorite song, “Tan Shoes and Pink Shoelaces,” and I did want a pair of those shoes.
As time passed, I grew up and realized tan was sort of bland and pink clashed with my skin tone. I also discovered you’re supposed to duck while riding in a grasshopper- green truck.
Trying to move forward with my life, I attended a program to become a court stenographer, but I found the dialogue between the attorney and witness boring. It was a constant struggle not to embellish testimony during transcription. I then went through a delusional phase and attended cosmetology and manicurist school. I can’t do hair. I can’t do nails, but I can buy hair products wholesale.
I did, however, work in the insurance industry for fifteen years but kept my storytelling alive while tracking wanted clients for a bail bondsman.