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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Short Story - Week 4: Only The Purple Boots Will Do

Ray Bradbury wrote that ‘it’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.’ This is my challenge – write 52 short stories over the course of a year, and quite possibly, prove Mr. Bradbury wrong!

The idea for this week’s story came from writer Sarah Selecky. She has a Pinterest board of daily writing prompts. Last summer, she posted Part 1: Write a list of ten sentences that do not connect. I did the sentences, then went on vacation! To find inspiration for these short stories, I went in search of Part 2, which is to use each sentence as the first of a scene. All ten sentences/scenes will likely show up here throughout the year!

Only The Purple Boots Will Do
Photo courtesy of morgueFile


“Only the purple boots will do.”

The words were said with such quiet confidence that Julie was taken aback.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” They had been checking out the display of children’s shoes, but she now turned to look down at the small figure beside her.


“Only the purple boots will do.” Melia returned Julie’s look, her brown eyes impassive. “Please.” This add-on was part memory of good manners, part supplication, as if not as sure of herself as she initially sounded.

Julie felt her cheeks start to flush. It was hot under all the display lights and they were still bundled up from outside. She needed to sit down, get her coat off and take a deep breath - buy herself some time. She led Melia to an empty bench and waved to attract the attention of a free sales assistant.

Now eye-to-eye, Julie studied Melia’s face for a smirk or other trace of insolence. There was nothing but the usual earnestness. Could she be merely stating a preference, albeit in a way that was unusual for one so young? This could be a very long day! Julie wished that Denny was with them.

The sales assistant materialized, awaiting instructions.
 “We’d like to try on some boots please. We’re looking for girl’s size thirteen.” Julie said. She turned back to the little girl.
“Melia, go and pick out three pairs of boots you’d like to try on.”

Melia pointed to the purple ones.
“I’d just like to try those on please.”

“Well, before we make up our minds completely, you should try on a few pairs. How about that? Come on!”
Julie tried to make it sound like fun as she got up and pulled down a black boot.
“How about these ones?” She held the boot out for inspection. “They’re almost the same style as the purple ones, but will go with more of your outfits.”

Melia gave a small shrug.
“Okay.”

Julie flexed her fingers, shaking them slightly. She swore they were going numb. Inhale! She did not want to risk a scene in Benson’s Department Store. Better to flounder on with the job at hand for now she decided, so turned back to the display. Exhale!

“Brown’s another good colour that goes with lots of things. Which brown ones would you like to try on Melia?”

Melia looked the display up and down, her finger against her lips, giving each brown pair its due consideration. After a few moments, she pointed, making her selection. Julie handed the three display boots to the assistant who went off in search of the correct size.
She returned with an armful of boxes then busied herself with the opening and unwrapping of the boots. Melia practically snatched the purple ones, as they emerged. Her normally serious face beamed as she slipped her shoes off and the new boots on.

Julie’s frustration forgotten, she smiled in response. It was Melia’s biggest and most genuine smile in the two weeks since she had come to stay.
“Okay then, walk up and down in them. Let’s have a look.”

Melia sashayed to the mirror and struck a pose. Julie was not sure whether to laugh, or be concerned that a six-year-old was already so familiar with the influence of the fashion world.

“That’s great, Melia. Now walk back to me.” Julie reached down to feel how much room there was at the toe, as well as gauge the width. The boots seemed a good fit.
“So… how do they feel?” She suspected that, no matter what, she would not get an honest answer where these purple boots were concerned.

“I like them very much. I’d like these ones please.”

“We’ll see. You have to try on the others first, so we can compare. Okay?”

Melia slipped the boots off, exchanging them for the black ones. There was no huge smile this time, although she did do the walk, and the pose. Again Julie checked the fit.

Next came the brown ones. Melia struggled to get them on by herself, so the sales clerk knelt down to help. With all the tugging, grunting and the odd ‘Ouch’, Julie had to admit that this pair were unlikely to be suitable. There was neither sashay nor pose this time.

“Those don’t look as though they’re very comfy. Are they?” The leather was unforgiving as Julie again felt for the toes.

“No, not really. They’re all stiff and rub a bit at the back. I suppose they would break in though, if I wore them often enough.”

The child was so precocious. Julie’s mouth twitched as she again struggled for composure. Just as well Denny isn’t here after all! She would have lost it on this one, with his encouragement. For better or worse, she was learning a whole new level of self-control.

“No, if they don’t feel comfortable now, I don’t think we’ll buy them on the off-chance that they’ll feel better down the road. So that just leaves the black ones or the purple, unless you see something else you’d like to try on.” She could guess what was coming next.

“Only the purple boots will do, really. The purple would be my choice.” The child and the assistant once again engaged in battle with the brown boots, to get them off this time.

“But the black ones are so much more practical, Melia. They will go with more of your outfits. They’ll stay cleaner and nicer-looking for longer.”

“But I like the purple ones better. I’ll make them go with all my clothes. Plus, we can make sure all the new clothes match.” It was true that they still had all her school clothes to buy. However, Julie did not particularly want to negotiate with a six-year-old.

“I know you like the purple ones best. But Melia, boots are expensive and I’m just trying to make sure that we get the best value.” Julie thought this argument might be lost on the girl.

“But if both pairs of boots are about the same price… and I promise to wear the purple ones all the time … wouldn’t that work for both of us?” Touche! Hard to disagree with that logic. Julie had not wanted a negotiation, but found herself in one anyway.

From the corner of her eye, she could see the assistant re-packing boxes and fighting back the urge to laugh. Meanwhile she wanted to bang her head on something. How did other mothers do this? She reckoned that there must be some advantage to knowing their kids from before they could talk.

The limpid brown eyes looked up at her, hopeful now. Should she be firm? Should she give in? It was the first time the child had asked for anything, but this was also their first real shopping trip. Julie had nothing to compare.

And yet… perhaps she did have an advantage after all - her own built-in instruction manual.
“Why do you want the purple boots so badly, Pumpkin?” Julia hoped the endearment would put Melia at ease.

Melia cocked her head to one side, her finger once again to her lips.
“I love purple, it’s my favourite colour. And I’ve never had coloured shoes before. When there was lots of other kids, the shoes were always black. All the kids had to be the same. Plus the younger kids might get them handed down, if there was still wear in them.”

As the little girl paused for breath, Julie smiled at the turn of phrase that was old beyond the child’s years. Melia continued.
“I thought that… perhaps if it’s just me here I might be able to get the purple boots this time – especially if I promise I’ll wear them all the time. I thought that this time… I might not have to look like all the other kids. That this time I could be… special.”

Julie had to clear her throat as tears tangled in her eyelashes. Of course the practicality argument was not lost on Melia. Quite the opposite, it was the one with which she was most familiar.

All those other foster parents, the ones who took in lots of kids who needed them. They had to make the money stretch, she could only imagine how far. There was no way to make an exception for a sensitive little girl.

She knew too, that Melia had drawn the curtain back, if only a mere chink. A small trust had been extended. She had been given the power to either make a wish come true, or disappoint once again.

She put her arm around the little girl’s shoulder and hugged her close.
“Oh, Sweetheart, you’re already special. You don’t need purple boots for that.” Her tears had smiles in them.

“But, you did make your case quite well. So… if you promise me (cross your heart, and hope to die) that you’ll wear them all the time… the purple boots are yours. Deal?”

2 comments:

  1. What a sweet story! I loved it. I was the oldest of 5 kids so there was never much money for frivolities. I rarely got the shoes or clothes I wanted. Looking back I suppose Mom was looking at the practicality of handing them on. (Also a bit of lack of carefree spirit)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, as always! I'm glad you liked the story. My Mom was one for practicality too, nor did we have much money, so that coloured the story a bit, I'm sure. Although, when I wrote that first sentence, I would never have imagined this story would come from it!

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