One Red Shoe
I moved again this spring, just one more downsizing in a long line of re-locations spanning more than a decade. This one was different, however, in that it coincided with the month I began chemo. Friends and loved ones told me to wait, put off the move until I was feeling stronger. But everything was already in order, and there's really no such thing as feeling stronger once you hear the words: Stage 4.
It was a Thursday and quite warm the day I puked on the box in the garage. There was blood in the vomit, splattered thin and watery, darkest in the center where it landed heavy on the cardboard, lighter and rather pinkish where it dripped down the edge of the carton. I wouldn't have even taken the time to read the faded words on the side of the box, but for the spew of my dying lungs, soaking through the ancient package, sacrilegiously sullying what little remained of a scribbled message of love and loss.
Bassinet set, blankets, onesies, clothes. Booties and shoes.
One shoe missing. Might turn up. Save. / April 11, 1991.
I pulled off my sweater and I tried to wipe the box clean. A stain remained. Bile rose in my throat as I turned and vomited again, this time christening the concrete floor. I didn't bother to clean it up. I simply moved away from the mess, dragging the box with me. The soaked cardboard caved in on itself, falling apart in my hands, opening up to reveal all the items packed away in the spring of '91, petite and precious, fancy and frilly, crisp and unused. All bearing the same size on the tiny tags: Newborn.
And there it was, placed right on top. One red shoe. Never worn. Saved for decades without its mate. Though I'd frantically searched before sealing the box, the companion piece was never found. Smaller than the palm of my hand. Destined for a little girl. She would have been 24 this year if I'd been able to carry her to term. I wonder, had she lived, would she be the one to help me now? Drive me to my appointments, help fix my meals, clean up the vomit when I don't quite make it to the bathroom?
One red shoe.
I wonder how tall she would have grown. How strong she would have been. Would she have been the one to help me pack, to help me move, to help me hang the rose-colored curtains in the little room in the facility at the corner of Acheson and Graham? Would she have been the one to tell me I'm not alone, to reassure me that it's all going to be okay . . .
I never expected to be holding it again, that little shoe, my heart wrapped so tightly around untold pain. One red shoe, not returned to a box this time. Now nestled under my pillow as I dream away each night, wondering which night will be the one where I finally get to meet her, sent on ahead all those years ago, now waiting so patiently to welcome me home. See you soon, little one. See you soon.
One red shoe.
Cristine A. Gruber writes from sunny, Southern California. She's had work featured in numerous magazines, including: North American Review, Writer's Digest, California Quarterly, Floyd County Moonshine, The Homestead Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, Miller's Pond, The Penwood Review, Pound of Flash, Pyrokinection, Red River Review, The Tule Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, and The Write Place at the Write Time. In 2014, her short stories, "Imprisoned," and "Stash," both received Honorable Mentions in the Writers Weekly Short Story Competition. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Lifeline, is available from http://buybooksontheweb.com as well as amazon.com. More of Cristine's work can be found and enjoyed at http://sierraviewjournal.blogspot.com/