This story was originally posted to the Short Story Showdown for Showdown #2: Mundane Personification.
It’s Real Leather
“That can’t be real leather,” says the pink flip-flop. “Just can’t be.”
“I’m all real, baby,” says the leather pump. She’s painted shiny red, her seams cream-colored. She taps her three-inch heel on the floor, deciding how sharply to reprimand the flip-flop for doubting the authenticity of her leather stitching.
Then the closet doors open. Shoes are shuffled aside on the rack, and a pair of thick canvas hiking boots join the pumps and the flip-flops on the third shelf. The doors close again.
“Goodness!” cries the red leather pump. “You’re getting my patent leather all wet!”
Sure enough, muddy water still clings to the hiking boot’s rubber tread, and dirt winds its way up the tongue. The boot curls her shoelaces and sinks to the back of the shelf.
“It was a long trip,” she says to the pump. “We climbed two peaks. It was glorious crunching all that fresh snow, spending those cool nights under the rain tarp…” The boot exhales. “What a trip.”
“I know what you mean, boot,” sighs the flip-flop. “Last summer we had the best trip to the Florida Keys. I could have tanned on that beach forever! There’s something about saltwater I just can’t explain.”
The leather pump glares at the boot and the flip-flop. “Look at you two,” she says. “Exposing yourselves to the elements! Boot, your tread is looking worse than ever these days.” She turns to the pink flip-flop. “And you’re hardly pink anymore! Just a runny peach color from all that UV exposure.” She turns away from the other two shoes and preens. “Emily would never put me through all that. She loves my shiny red leather too much to let anything happen to me.”
The flip-flop looks down and just as the pump says, the vibrant pink of her foam has paled with age, and her heel is worn away from many long walks on the beach.
The boot places a comforting shoelace on the flip-flop. “Don’t worry,” she says. “Emily likes you this way. There’s never been a summer trip where she doesn’t take you along.”
“Ha,” says the pump. “That’s just because she can’t afford a new pair of beach shoes.”
“Don’t listen to her,” the boot tells the flip-flop.
“And you,” says the pump to the boot. “I heard Emily say this was her last hiking trip with you.”
“That’s not true!” The hiking boot straightens herself and wields a thick wool shoelace. “I’m broken in! I’m better than ever! No new boot could replace how well we fit together, Emily and me.”
“Perhaps too broken in,” says the pump.
The flip-flop gives an indignant gasp. “Just ignore her,” the flip-flop says to the boot. “She’s just bitter because Emily hasn’t worn her since prom.”
“I never!” The pump tightens her chrome buckle. “She wears me all the time. We went out on a really great date just recently!”
“Oh yeah?” says the flip-flop. “I’ve been sitting in this exact spot since last September and I haven’t seen you leave the closet once.”
The hiking boot crows and gives the flip-flop an encouraging pat with one bootlace. “You tell her!”
“Not only that,” says the flip-flop, feeling bolder, “but after that last time you went out with Mr. Wrong, you’ve had this rather ugly brown stain on your right toe.”
The pump freezes. But the flip-flop’s right: the pump’s red patent leather is slightly torn and stained an ugly brown.
“Emily! How could you!” the pump moans. “You stepped right in the mud, you stupid girl!”
Her last outburst having finally gotten the attention of the other shoes on the rack, there is a murmur of discontent in the closet. Emily’s best leather jacket, which hangs just over her matching leather boots, irritably waves a sleeve at the shoes on the third shelf.
“Keep it down,” she tells them. “There are respectable clothes up here trying to get some shut-eye before the bar hop later tonight.” She gnashes her zipper and, her point made, the shoes say nothing more.
The next day, the closet opens earlier than usual. A cardboard box appears below the rack of cardigans and blouses.
“Yard sale!” cries a purple knit sweater at the end of the rack. “Yard sale!”
The alarm spreads across the closet.
The flip-flop is startled awake by the fleeces blubbering.
“She didn’t take me out once this winter!” sobs the first fleece. “I’m a goner for sure.”
“What about me?” moans the second fleece. “I still have wadded-up kleenex in my pocket from that backpacking trip in France three years back.”
“Be quiet,” says the pump to the fleeces. She edges to one side, hoping to hide the brown stain on her right toe. “It would be better if she got rid of one of you anyway. You take up a lot of space.”
The first fleece wails.
“Now, now,” says the hiking boot. “I did that France trip too. She only wears you when she knows it’s going to be cold at the summit. It’s just been a while, you know, since we’ve had a real cold trip like that!” But the boot is also eyeing the box marked yard sale. “I’m sure there’s a winter trip to the peak coming up soon.”
Soon the box is not just a threat: Emily is pulling jackets and knit tops off of hangers, and folding them haphazardly before they go into the cardboard box. Next come the belts: only a black leather belt and a reversible scarf-tie are left after the purge.
“I hope Emily’s hot neighbor comes to the yard sale,” says a squash-orange sweater from the box, sniffling. “She’s always wearing orange. She’d pick me up in a second.”
One by one the racks of the closet are perused and thinned. Emily pauses when she reaches the shoes.
“I don’t know if I can bear to part with any of them,” she says, crouching in front of her four shelves of shoes. “Each one fulfills a certain purpose. I have one for each occasion.”
“Oh please,” says Emily’s friend, Lena. Lena grabs a pair of striking black boots that lace up to the knee, with heels as long as a hand. “How long has it been since you wore these? What kind of occasion are they good for—when you decide to quit your office job and become a stripper?”
“Shut up,” says Emily, taking the boots back from Lena. She presses them to her chest. “I can get any guy to sleep with me when I wear these. They’re my lucky boots. I’ve been able to walk in a bar and say, ‘That guy,’ and he’ll be mine by the time I leave.”
Lena rolls her eyes. “That’s probably because they make you look easy, and guys like hot, easy girls.” She takes the boots gently. “Let’s be realistic. When, honestly, was the last time you wore these?””
Emily frowns. “I don’t know. Maybe my twenty-first birthday?”
“And how long ago was that?”
“Three years ago.”
Lena drops the boots in the yard sale box. Emily scrambles for them.
“You’re moving across the country, remember?” Lena says, putting a hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Anyway, those boots are, like, five years out of style. No one wears those square toes anymore. In the end, it’s just more crap you have to move later.”
“I know,” sighs Emily, backing away from the box and leaving the long black boots where they lay. “You’re right.” Resigned, she turns to the shelf of shoes, and begins to prune.
First go a pair of heavy platform thongs. Then some carefully mismatched pink and black tennis shoes. Then high-tops with clever quotes written on them in sharpie.
Then she reaches the hiking boots.
“I’ve been thinking about buying a new pair of these after I move,” she says to Lena, holding up the dirty boots.
“Can you afford that? You’re going to be busy furnishing your new apartment.”
“True, true. And the soles are perfectly molded to mine.” She gives them an affectionate squeeze and replaces the boots on the shelf. Then she eyes the pink flip-flops.
“You definitely can afford a new pair of those,” says Lena. She dangles them in front of her nose and curls a lip. “You’ve totally worn down the heel here. Man, you need some orthodics, girl!”
“Yeah, I know.” Emily takes the flip-flops. “But my mom gave me these when I moved to California. They were a good-bye present.” Convinced of her choice, she replaces them on the shelf, next to the boots.
Last come the red leather pumps. She turns the pumps in her hands and sees the tear and the stain in the leather.
“Wow,” she says. “I didn’t realize these were in such bad shape.” She gets up and replaces the yard sale box with a black plastic garbage bag. “Nobody will want these.”
Lena gives her friend a comforting nudge. “They had their day,” she says. “They were a good-looking pair of shoes.”
“Weren’t they?” Emily lowers the shoes to the mouth of the garbage bag. “I met Drew in these shoes.”
“Yeah.” Emily holds up her left hand and a ring sparkles on her finger. “Maybe I should keep them,” she says. “You know, as a momento.”
“You could probably get them fixed up,” says Lena. “That’s real leather, right?”
Emily gazes at the red pumps for a long moment. “Yep,” she says. “Real leather.”
Then she returns them to the shelf.
“Looks like we’ll have a good sale,” says Lena.
“Yeah,” says Emily. Biting her lip, she looks through the cardboard box one last time, and then closes the closet door.
Not one of the shoes says a word. The flip-flop and the boot sit close to the pump, who is still shaken from her brush with the landfill.
“I hope everything works out with Drew,” the pump says, regaining her composure. She turns to the boot and the flip-flop. “You know I’m the reason they went on a second date, right?”