She tugged her short, pencil skirt down over her rump with one hand, then tossed her head, flinging orange-tinged blonde hair. The flounced edge of her bra peered over the low-cut blouse.
“Hello!” I stood up from the bench and reach out toward her. She shrunk back a step, then stopped.
“Hello — do I know you?” Her eyes moved up and down my faded navy sweatshirt, the tangle of my dishwater blonde hair peeking out from my cap, my rolled-up jeans.
“We’ve met, I think. In some other place or time.”
Her eyes flickered. Wary. I laughed, a warm laugh, I hoped. She smiled and giggled softly. I wasn’t a threatening figure.
“I like your shoes, er, boots, I mean.”
“Really?” She looked down at her toes. I could now see that there were badly scuffed, and she was tilting to the side. One heel had begun to sink into the rain-soaked ground. “I’ve had them awhile. And they’re really not very comfortable.”
“Would you like to trade?” I pointed to my bright blue sneakers, the tread still deep and sharp.
She blinked at me, then sat down on the bench and unzipped her boots. The flesh of her calf was pink and pinched from the tight leather.
I slid my feet inside her boots, pleased that my toes didn’t quite reach the pointed tip of the shoe. I’d heard stories in my childhood of women having their little toes removed in order to wear the most stylish shoes. Thank goodness, her feet were just enough larger than mine that I could still wiggle my toes. I stood up and toppled forward, banging my head on the bench. She steadied me with her ungloved hand. “It takes a little practice,” she said and rubbed her cold hand against my arm.
“Here, wear my gloves,” I said as I stood again. I took a tentative step. It wasn’t walking as I thought of walking, striding quickly, forcibly forward to get somewhere. More like dancing en pointe. Or modeling. All about the look — not motion.
“Maybe you’d like to try my skirt?”
It was my turn to look at her quizzically. “Here?”
“Over there, behind the basketball court. No one will see us.”
Hobbled by the narrow skirt, standing on tip toes, I was slowed down as if drugged, or overly tired, trapped in fact.
“Take off your cap,” she said. I placed it over her bright hair. She adjusted it low on her brow as I had done.
My jeans fit her well. She took a long, athletic step forward. The blouse was wrong. I fluffed my shaggy, liberated curls with my hands, then unbuttoned my flannel shirt and handed it to her as she pulled her stretchy top over her head. She started to unhook her bra, but I shook my head. “Not necessary.”
“How do you feel?” I asked. “Strong,” she replied. “And a bit invisible.”
“There’s barely any border between me and surroundings. The trees, the grass seem no different from me. I could climb up this tree and be that squirrel. And you?”
“I’m on a stage. In disguise.”
“So, you don’t feel like yourself?” she asked, twisting a lock of hair and tucking it under the cap.
“I don’t know. Maybe this is me and the other was a disguise.”
“Do you want to change back?”
I looked at the pointy shoes, then twirled around on the slender heels. The skirt felt warm and comforting, like being in a sleeping bag. “How about tomorrow,” I answered. “We can spend a day being the other, then meet at the same time.”
“Okay. See you then.”
I teetered along the sidewalk, then realized I had to slow my pace, or I’d topple forward again. I took a deep breath, then head erect, I stepped forward. Passersby, men especially, turned to look at me. I wasn’t invisible anymore. I should duck into a doorway or behind a tree so no one would notice me. But I continued to walk down the avenue in full view of the world.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.