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The Little Red Shoe

Elaine Merrill is a Reno native now living in West Sacramento. A lifelong tree-hugger. she likes running, walking, music and words.

The little red shoe—did it once encase a chubby foot, a foot with five chubby toes attached like nursing kittens to their mother? When the shoe went missing, had its owner ever even walked in it?

Looks like a one-shoed tot was at the park. Maybe with Mom. Maybe with Dad. Was there a dog?

Maybe they stopped by the park on their way to the nearby school. The one-shoe tot would be too little to go to school. Maybe there was a kindergartener sibling. Maybe two siblings? I have no way of knowing anything about the one-shoe tot or his or her family.

All I know is that the lost shoe on its pedestal was to me what the Madeleines were to Proust; it hurtled me into the past.

For me, however, the senses that awoke weren't taste or smell. It was the sight of that little shoe—what in these times would probably be called the optics. The optics were evocative—memories both instantaneous and strong.

I saw my two children in my mind. Not as the functional adults that they are now, but as the babies and the toddlers and the pint-sized screamers they once were. When my boys were four and seven, I used to take them to a park near our house in Key West, Florida.

The older one would climb way up to the top of the metal space rocket, the centerpiece of this park. I'm sure that rocket was torn down long ago because it was not only lots of fun, it was amazingly unsafe.

The older boy climbed to the tippy-top (the nose) of the rocket, some 20 feet from the ground. He clambered up to the highest point. Below, his little brother stood, stretching his arms upward and holding his hands curled in anticipation of pulling himself—all the way up. But he was too small.

I got up from where I was reading my book and picked him up, sitting him on my lap. Your day will come, I said. Just not right now. I know you will grow into a great climber when the time is right.

Meanwhile, the older boy chortled and screamed, the exuberant king of all he surveyed.

Back in real life, I take a picture of the little shoe and think about the complexity of being human, of being young, and of getting old, and of wearing shoes. My brain wanders back to one of my favorite truths—you're born, you shop, you die.

It may sound depressing, but for me it captures what's positive and what's negative, the whole continuum of a human life. You're born, yes. You spend your life "shopping"—succeeding or not in accumulating all the things, real and unreal, that will serve to ensure your wellbeing. Then you die.

Perhaps this observation is impossibly cynical, but the reader will have to acknowledge its grain of truth. Truth for all living things—the bugs and the birds and the trees and the small child who for now can't walk with only one shoe.

Sooner or later the child or a parent will figure out what's needed—shopping! Shopping to get ready for life. Shopping for a new pair of shoes.

Elaine Merrill




The Little Red Shoe











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