Angi Black is one of the most dedicated writers I know. Not only does she help call times for #writeclub, she writes books like some people bake cakes. She does it quickly but with a light touch and joy in the process. You can tell she loves writing, in every moment. And her passion shows in her words. She recently finished a wonderful steamy romance Charcoal and Hot Chocolate (under the name of Irene Rose) and she has recently finished another novel (which I have sitting in my dropbox). This girl is on fire.
Anyway, we met through #writeclub and we have become pretty great friends. I am honored when she asks if I would read her words because all of them are great. So she was naturally, one of the first people that came to my mind when I thought about this project. And I knew when I saw the picture exactly who I wanted to have it.
When she sent me the story, I was in awe. It is so different from her others, but still shares the imagery and characterization that I have learned to appreciate in her pieces. Angi writes best when she writes about the everyday struggles that all of us have, the battles we fight and the struggles we battle. Her story, Dancing Shoes, is an example of her best.
I was lucky to have her say yes to this project, and you are all lucky to read it.
The Memory Project (continued)
I needed a change of subject, a different thought other than the images the boots hammered in my head. I turned back at the pictures and turned the page. There, right smack in the middle of the empty space, was another black and white photo. I instantly recognized the subject in the picture; a pair of beaten up Converse shoes. I was sure I had the exact same pair in my own closet. Boots, now shoes? It just seemed so odd. Did this guy have a shoe fetish or something?
I ignored Jesse's mumbles and zeroed in on the picture, letting the story of these shoes, and the person who wore them, unfold.
(to be continued…)
By Angi Black
I flipped through the pages of the scrapbook. A tree and swing with a black-blue sky behind it, the color of Midwestern storms. The swing was red and blew away in some bluster over the years. The next page held three smiling faces, me, my mom and my dad. My sister hadn’t been born yet. I turned away from the grainy image aging in the book. Another whoosh of sound cut the air as I turned to the next picture.
There they were. The shoes. My Chuck Taylors. I loved those shoes. I’d loved them so much I took of picture of them. They were beat to hell and had needed a run through the washing machine when I snapped the picture, but they were my shoes. I ran in them, went to school, walked to the park and the corner store.
And I danced in them.
I had danced with Mark in those shoes more times than I could count. He had lifted me up to kiss and my legs swung around his waist. I locked the toe of one Chuck under the heel of the other to hold me in place. His lips were soft and perfect and I loved how I felt light and free in his arms. Not helpless, not childlike, not like now. Now when he lifted me there was little joy for me, though he never complained. All I could think now was, I can do it myself, but that’s the thing. I couldn’t.
He walked through the door. Making a beeline through the room, he planted those soft, perfect lips on my forehead and then on my mouth. “Hi, gorgeous.”
“Hi, darlin’. How was your day?” I closed the book and scooted it across the table.
“Same old, same old. How about you?”
It was the same as every day. He knew it, but what else was he supposed to say? “Fine. Amy just left thirty minutes ago.”
“Did you make good progress today?”
I shrugged. The fact that I could shrug was improvement. But who even cared. Mark did. That’s the only reason I did any of this, because he cared.
He knelt down in front of me. “I love you, you know?”
“I do know. It was rough today. But Amy brought me that.” I nodded to the scrapbook. “It was in mom’s attic.”
He lifted the book. “Oh, I remember this thing. It sat on the shelf in your room back in school.”
“Yep. The very one.” I moved over to the fridge and pulled on the handle. Nothing happened and I felt the tears brew. I tugged again. Damn. My body hurt and ached and my muscles were fatigued. That’s when the first tears spilled down my cheeks.
“Can I help you, Nic?”
I wiped at my face with movements that mimicked a person whose hands had fallen asleep. I slapped at my cheeks trying to catch all the traitorous tears. Mark put his hands over mine and kissed each drop off my face. “Together, remember? For better or worse?”
“How the hell can it get worse?”
He swallowed. I could see his neck move and his jaw clench and the glass appear over his eyes. “You could’ve died.”
“I guess. But would that be worse?”
He turned my wheelchair toward him away from the fridge. “That is so selfish, Nikki. So damn selfish.”
I hung my head. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”
“First, let’s get out of this chair and onto the couch. Then, I’ll get you whatever you wanted from the fridge. After that we’ll look through this book.”
He pushed me into the living room, which was really just an extension of the kitchen. We’d sold our gorgeous two-story home and bought a sprawling ranch style in its place. Mark had installed hardwood floors throughout so I could get around. I might never get out of this chair, but he was determined to make the best of it. So all new floors, no carpet to hang me up, a therapy nurse, who was a friend, came everyday so I didn’t have to go to the hospital. I had everything I needed.
Except the use of most of my body. The doctor said it might come back. The other doctor said it might not. I said I didn’t care either way, I was just glad to be alive, but secretly, I hated this chair more than I feared death.
He held out his arms to me, always making it my choice that he helped. I didn’t have the choice, but he never made me feel helpless. I did that all on my own. I reached for his arms. That was also improvement. I could lift my arms now. They just weren’t strong. He picked me up, cradling me to move into a comfortable position on our new couch. It had to be just the right mix of support and comfort. He must have shopped for two weeks.
I knew in high school that Mark loved me, even though he was shy. In college, he lost the shyness but not the love. The day of our wedding, I thought I’d never be loved more than I was in that moment. When I fell three stories through a burning floor, all I could think about was wrapping myself around Mark and hoping he would catch me. Of course, he wasn’t there. He was trying desperately to get through rush hour traffic to the dance studio that was burning to ash in the middle of downtown. I got everyone out except Mallory and my sister. They were in the back studio and hadn’t checked in. No one knew they were there. I heard her screaming from the window and ran back up to get her. But the fire had gotten the best of the old building and when I reached the top flight of stairs, I plummeted straight back down to the bottom.
At first I thought I was on fire, but it was only my lungs burning. Then I noticed I couldn’t feel anything else. Firemen in masks that looked like bad alien costumes from the 1950’s horror films fussed over me, asking me questions, putting oxygen on my face. I wanted to ask for Mark and for my sister. But I could only think – I can’t feel my legs. I hadn’t changed into my pointe shoes yet, so I’d had those Chucks on that day. They were probably still around somewhere.
“What do you want to drink?”
He kissed my cheek and walked across the room. He was so beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, a business man. And completely in love with me. He was by my side in the hospital. He cried when they said I wouldn’t make it. He cried when I did. He came home with me and did everything to make our life the best it could be. We’d been together twelve years and they’d flown by. These past twelve months had been longer than the first eleven years. He’d given up his morning runs we used to do together, but judging from how fit he was, he was probably squeezing it in during the day.
He just didn’t want me to feel worse than I did.
He came back with a plastic cup complete with lid and straw. I tended to spill these days and it was the best option. It’s the little things really. I mean, wine through a straw? I would kill to swirl the red liquid and watch it fall down the sides of the rounded glass. I sipped it anyway and handed it back to his waiting grip. He scooted onto the couch and put my feet in his lap. He mindlessly put a dab of my favorite lotion, Sweet Pea, into his hand and rubbed the muscles I couldn’t feel. I smiled at him.
“I love you, you know?” I repeated what he’d said.
“I do know. Now open up that book. I have to see that picture of your dad with the feathered hair.”
He scooted closer and I turned the book so we could both see. I flipped to the picture of Mom, Dad and I from earlier. We laughed together.
“I remember that house. We snuck out that one night.” His eyes looked at me with longing. It had been so long since I’d been able to feel anything, we’d basically given that up. I wanted him right back.
“Yeah.” My voice became a whisper. “I know the night you mean.”
Mark leaned over to kiss me. It was passionate and full of need and it felt like the kiss on our wedding day, except now I knew I could be loved more than that day. He proved it every moment we were still together.
“What else is in here?”
I turned to the picture of the shoes.
“Oh no. The Chucks!” He smiled at me until he saw my face. “Is that what the frustration is for? Is it about these shoes? I hate to tell you, but these shoes could walk around on their own long before that day.”
One side of my mouth twitched. “They weren’t that bad.”
“They had a safety pin in them.”
The smile broke through. “So? They were good shoes. I was wondering…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, but I didn’t have to.
“I’m not sure if they made it that day.” He rubbed my feet harder. I couldn’t feel it but I could see his arm flexing with more tension.
We flipped through the rest of the pictures. The last ten pages were blank.
“You didn’t finish the book?”
I shrugged because I could. “Nope.”
Folding it shut, Mark sat it on the table to the side of us and handed me my wine. I tried to grip it but it slipped right through. He caught it with minimal mess and helped me take a sip or two.
“I’m so sorry.” Tears poured out my eyes.
Mark pulled me into his lap with ease. “Shhhh. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“You shouldn’t have to deal with this. Go find someone else. Someone who can give you all you need.”
He sighed. “Nikki, I love you but if you don’t stop with this. I’m telling you truth when I say, you have all I need because I only need you. It is hard? Yeah. Do I wish it were different? Hell yeah. Would I trade one minute with you? Never.” He lifted my chin until his lips found mine. My body burned hotter than the day in the fire. Ironically, if I ever got out of the chair, we’d probably spend a week in bed. “Come on, wanna get in the hot tub?”
I nodded. The water made me weightless and even though I couldn’t feel, it made me feel better nonetheless. Later that night I drifted to sleep in his arms.
***Three months later***
I’d never been so glad to see Amy go in my whole life. Although she was a friend, she was really good at her job and she pushed me to my limit. Today that limit included a fantasy of her going right over a cliff to a bottomless pit. If I could feel, I was sure I would ache everywhere. As it was, I hurt from the waist up. I could move myself around now without trouble. I had even lifted a gallon of milk last week for cereal. So after locking the door behind her, I wheeled down to our bedroom.
There. In the middle of the polished wood floor, sat the shoes. My Chucks. Filthy and worn and the safety pin still intact. A small burn on one side had turned a circle of the fabric smooth like plastic. The sole on the left shoe had a line where it had melted. They were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I pushed over to them and was still sitting there staring at them when Mark came home an hour later.
“Where did you find them?” I asked after he kissed me.
“The top of our closet. I’d been looking since that day you got the scrapbook. I knew they were around.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
“Damn. I wish I would’ve found them sooner.” He smiled against my lips and kissed me again. He stood and held out his arms. “My lady?”
I let him lift me out of the chair and carry me into the living room. We settled on the couch for wine, movie and dinner. After a great meal that we’d ordered in, Mark got his dollop of lotion, just like every night. The pads of his thumbs dug into my arches and I winced.
“Easy. I don’t think you know hard strong your hands are.”
Mark froze. I looked over at him.
He rubbed again.
“Babe, ouch. Ease…” And it hit me. I could feel it. “Do it again.”
He pushed his thumb up the middle of my foot. It was faint toward the heel and my toes, but sure enough, it was there. Feeling. He pulled me into his lap and kissed my cheeks, my lips, my nose. His hands tangled in my hair and he drew in a breath as he held me close. “Oh gorgeous. Oh, you can feel that. You can feel.”
We held each other, weeping, knowing it might mean nothing, but neither one of us was able to dial down our hope. I tried to clench my feet and point my toes. Nothing happened, but I kept on, focusing my energy there, into the muscles, just like during therapy. Finally, when my mind and upper body was exhausted, Mark carried me to bed and we fell into blissful sleep.
**One week later**
I sat the shoes by the front door. Every day I looked at them, and dreamed of the moment I could wear them again. I hadn’t felt anything else from the waist down since that night a week ago. Not from lack of trying. Mark had even taken two days off to help with therapy. So when I woke up this morning, I was sore and tired and missed our weekly Saturday pancake breakfast and opted instead for TV in bed and loads of coffee. I was frustrated. What had I felt that night? And why? It was some cruel joke to give a dancer feeling in her feet for one second then take it away again. I didn’t even get out of bed all day long. That night I feel asleep but I was restless and it wasn’t every worth calling rest.
**Two days later**
I screamed for Mark. He calmed me, or tried to, thinking I was having a nightmare. They were common at first, but it’d been months.
“Shhh. It’s just a dream. You’re safe. Everything is fine.”
“No.” I hissed through clenched teeth. “My legs. Oh my god. Make it stop!” I yelled as loud as I could. Mark jumped out of bed and pulled the covers back. My legs were shaking with cramped muscles, my toes curled and feet arched.
“Your muscles are cramped.” He grinned like a school boy.
Tears streamed down my face. “Make it stop or cut my legs off. It hurts.” I yelled at him.
He smiled as he worked my muscles, trying to soothe the knots holding them tight. He picked up his phone, hit a number and held it between his cheek and ear. He waited. “Hey. Hey, Amy. Yeah. Yeah, it’s fine. Sorry it’s late. Can you come over? Great. Thanks.”
He dropped the phone onto the bed. I ground my teeth together as he tried to ease my legs.
I shook my head, but the truth was, it was easing a bit. Oh, the pain was awful and delicious.
“Tell me what you can feel.” His voice was comforting and strong and it held me together.
“I feel like I wanna punch that smile off your face.”
He chuckled. “That’s my girl. Don’t you remember your back doing this? And your arms? And even your hips mildly?”
I nodded, whistling breath through my teeth. “I can feel searing pain that won’t stop. I can feel…” emotions overwhelmed me, overpowering the pain. “I can feel your hands.”
I heard the front door open and click shut, then sneakered footsteps squeak down the hall. “You guys, okay?” Amy took in the scene and a huge smile spread across her face. She jumped right in with some kind of oil from her bag.
Amy took one leg and looked at Mark. “She needs water. Go get her some water.” He turned dutifully and left the room.
“Feeling the cramped muscles? Anything else?”
“I can feel all of it.” I smiled this time too even though the tears continued to pour.
Mark returned with water. I gulped it greedily and eventually my muscles settled down. I was left with trembling, aching legs but I could feel those trembling, aching legs. I clenched and unclenched each muscle. I pointed and flexed my feet. I tried to roll my ankles. I did it over and over until I literally passed out from exhaustion. The next morning I couldn’t move without acute pain in every single muscle. And I thought therapy sucked before. Putting weight on legs that have been in a chair for over a year is like dropping anvils on your feet. The doctor said he always knew I’d walk again. The other doctor still didn’t understand how it happened and called it a miracle.
**One year, ten months, fourteen days after the fire**
I pulled the laces, loop by loop, making them tight enough for a perfect fit. It felt foreign to wear shoes. But my feet remembered these old friends. I tied the bow and double-knotted it. I moved on to the next one. This one felt loose but still familiar. I looked at the clock. I was worn from therapy but it was our anniversary and I had the perfect present.
I pushed off the couch and stood. My balance felt sturdy and I took a step. Oh, my muscles ached. I winced but walked to the fridge and pulled out the wine. I poured two glasses and put the bottle back. I sipped from one, twirling the wine and watching it trail down the sides. I smiled and sat down my glass as I heard the tires turn in the driveway. I moved to the middle of the room where I’d have a clear shot.
The key clicked and the knob turned. Mark took a step in the door and stopped where he stood. He looked at me, standing there unassisted, wearing my Chuck Taylors. I took a step and another and as I got closer to him, I swear I got stronger. He held out his arms and I flew into his arms. He lifted me and I wrapped my legs around him, locking toe under heel, and holding on to his neck as I kissed him.
My tears mingled with his, laughter rumbled in his chest as he turned around with me in his arms. “I take back everything I’ve ever said. Those are the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever seen.”
With our foreheads pressed together, he lowered my feet to the floor,kissing me, just like he had a dozen years before. We swayed softly side to side.
“We’re dancing.” His words were muted with tears. I wiped his face and kissed him again. And in that moment, in my old beat-up dancing shoes, I knew the future was all brand new.
Follow Angi Black on twitter : @AngiNicole722
Blog here: angiblacktallthoughts.blogspot.com
And Irene Rose here: @AuthorRoseBud
Blog here: adventuresofanewadult.blogspot.com
Follow #writeclub here: @FriNightWrites
Blog here: frinightwriteswriteclub.wordpress.com