Christina Murphy


Chasing romance in fabulous shoes was not easy she knew, but then again, what was when it came to romance? So she figured that being well dressed in the search for affection beat looking subdued by fashion, and she liked the sheen of her shoes’ black leather and the brightness of the gold band that looked like the sun going down, reminding her of the many evenings she spent at the shore dreaming of love while wondering if she would ever find the tenderness and passion she longed for.

And then came Gus looking for work as a gardener, knocking on the doors of the summer houses along the shore that belonged to people unlikely to do manual labor or tasks as tiring as mowing a yard or planting tiger lilies and other lovely flowers that added color to the pale plainness of the dunes and the faded beach sand worn out from the endless footsteps of tourists and regulars who looked upon the shore as their private summer domain.

Oh certainly, she replied when Gus proposed a reasonable fee for fixing up the yard and rendering it beautiful in the sunrises and sunsets that would capture the colors of the flower beds and bring them closer to the heavens and the evening stars. And my, he was a fine looking man, this Gus who appeared on a hot and windy day and made her wonder for a moment if he was an apparition moving from the brilliant sunlight onto her meager front yard where nothing seemed to grow but a few tufts of sea oats and an occasional patch of scrawny grass, a yard that looked defeated in the intense heat hanging cloudlike and angry over the shore, as if to tell the summer visitors to go away, return to the lives they had known in other places, those cities, where the heat came up from pavement, not from sand, and the sun spread its light not over an ocean but over high rises and skyscrapers.

So she watched Gus with admiration that he could work so hard in such heat with sweat moving down his chest and arms, and she was fascinated by his movements and the beauty of his muscled back and shoulders, and she tried to imagine what he could make grow from this desolate sand that got into everything, and on the next especially hot day, she asked Gus if he’d like a cold drink and brought out a bottle of soda that he finished in what seemed like one long gulp, and he smiled and thanked her and asked her where she was from and what brought her to the shore, which led to her story of having come here for years with her parents, and how, even after the death of her father, she and her mother had continued to come until her mother too passed away, and now it was only she coming.

And being alone, she was often haunted by the sense of absence she felt in not having her family around as time stretched out before her and the summers at the shore seemed to be more like years or lifetimes than seasons, and often she walked the beach at night and listened to the ocean whispering to her in a language she wished she understood because she was sure somehow her parents were speaking to her across some chasm she did not comprehend, but when she looked at the stars she remembered that their light was both the past and the present because their light began billions of years ago and had taken that long to arrive, and she wondered if she was now heading into the future where only an emptiness and darkness awaited even as she tried to summon again the passion to love life with a zest, as the ocean plaintively called her name and the sand beneath her feet gave way into symbols she could not read but knew meant something she needed to know.

Then the magic occurred when Gus asked if he could take her to the movies in the town not too far away, and he did have his truck so they could drive there and back in comfort as he had air conditioning and liked to ride with it on and the radio playing, but he would keep the radio off so they both could talk, and he had heard it was a good movie that was playing and he would like to see it with her and share some popcorn and a box of candy, and of course she said yes because she realized that she liked being with him, even as she watched him from a distance and dreamed of taking his hand and pressing it to her cheek, wondering if his calloused hand would feel soft there, her cheek hot with the summer sun, and she struggled with an emerging sense that she could no longer stand to be alone, even at the shore where she felt belonged to the ocean and the sky and the evening stars that did not twinkle, no matter what the nursery rhymes said, and no matter how hard she tried to convince herself that she wasn’t alone or lonely and that she was content and at peace with her walks along the shore and the sweet feel of the warm waves on her toes.

So she waited for the days to pass and become the weekend night they would go into town together and see what they might share that could fill some of the emptiness in her heart, and as she readied herself, she thought about whether she should look like a summer regular or the ordinary person she felt herself to be, whose life had taken predictable turns in which change was seldom an option or even appealing, and at that moment she decided that the new shoes that she bought for work but had never worn because they really did seem too fancy for the drudge work she did in her cold white office, seldom looking beyond the columns on her computer screen that she studied every day and worked her magic upon, bringing sense and order from the jumble of numbers that she turned into data, which is what her bosses wanted and was what she could do better than anyone else in the cold white offices running along the hallways that lined the seventeenth floor, absorbing fluorescent light that made for artificial days and often hurt her eyes as she strained to see the important figures on her computer screen.

It was that artificial light she envisioned leaving behind as she put on her fabulous shoes that normally she never would have allowed herself to purchase except on that day she felt more lighthearted than usual in anticipation of the summer and the ocean, and now here she was putting on these shoes to go out with a man she never imagined would be in her life, especially at this most tangential point when yard work had somehow transformed itself to communication and connection and a chance for something more, perhaps even love, because, as she slipped one shoe on, she felt glorious and then the other shoe, joyous, so that her heart filled with an expectation that now anything might be possible because so many things had not been before, and perhaps, like the ocean whispering to her, hope might also speak to her tonight in a language she could embrace, like the wonderful new self standing before her in fabulous shoes.

And she heard the sound of the truck pulling up and bringing Gus to her in the hint of moonlight that shined in when she opened the door and saw the color of his eyes, green as the deepest forest, and Gus smiling and leading the way to his truck and opening the door, and she sat in the worn tapestry of his work life and smelled the soft scents of grasses and flowers and earthy loam that filled the truck and seemed to be such a part of Gus as she waited for him to turn the key and carry her away from her summer home and summer sadness, with her heart beating so strongly as the truck pulled out, reminding her so much of the surf breaking against the shore that she felt as if she, too, was the ocean, the tide, and the stars that twinkled, yes twinkled, in the vast sky above, a sky that held the darkness and Gus and all the hope of what could be, as the truck moved through the night with the stars glinting on its windshield as perfect gems, perfect blossoms, equal in loveliness only to dreams.


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