Life, Art, and Worn-Out Shoes

A short story on the dark side. Fiction.

Gaffa tape bound the sandals together. A silver badge of honour at the front to hold the toe to the sole, and black at the back to connect heel and sole. The gap in the middle couldn’t be fixed until she had glue.

Ania didn’t have glue, didn’t have money for glue, and wouldn’t have bought it if she did have the money. Just as she wouldn’t buy new shoes. These ones would last another few months, and by then it would be winter and the cut and reshaped sheepskin slippers took over foot care.

One day, when the birds flew north for the winter, and the sun rose in the west, Ania would be wealthy and her work sought after. Her unique style of jewelry would be seen with all the famous people, and bidding wars would ensue for the next unique product.

It may never come true, but it kept her going in the hot, airless days of summer when her only clothing was a triple-darned shirt and a skirt made from the worn-out clothes that were still too good to toss. It kept her going in the long, dark days of winter, when she shivered under the doona with the hole cut in the middle for her head, so she could still work and not have to put the heater on.

The dream kept her going when the bills came and she cried over whether to pay them, declare bankruptcy, buy food, or buy materials.

Materials came first. Then the fee for the monthly craft market. People came to the stall. They all bargained, thought her prices high compared to the other crap in the next aisle. She had to sell the pieces to buy more material. And the next time they came, they bargained harder.

Her last sale lost money. She cried for a week as she scrounged the outer fences of the scrap-yards.

Not this time. Ania put the final touches to her newly remade skirt and put the rag-wrapped pieces in her pocket. She no longer had a satchel to carry them, no longer had anything sturdy enough to bear the weight or contain the risk. The pocket was double layers with the inner layer soft leather.

No one would steal from her again. No one would get the chance to laugh at her naivety again. Nothing would make her forage for weeds along the dog-piddled creek again.

If one person argued about the price this week, she wouldn’t have money for rent. Again. If she had nowhere to live, nowhere to store her materials, no ability to do her work … the end of everything was closer than her own breath.

Not this time. The special items went onto the wonky card table, the one she borrowed from the tip for the purpose.

“Oh, what a beautiful knife. Did you make it yourself?” The woman was petite, her colours a perfect match to the product.

The burly bloke with the woman knocked two people out of the way on his rush to touch the blade. “How much?” He flicked his head to the south. “The guy in the next row makes them himself. He’s a master craftsman. This is just fancy.”

“My pieces are practical art. Things can be beautiful and useful,” Ania said.

The woman picked it up, ran her fingers over the glittering jewels on the bolster, tang and butt.

Ania said what the price was, that it was unique, the stones semi-precious and hand-polished.

“I can get it for half that price over there.” The man pointed.

Ania lifted the knife by the tip, let it dangle. “If you want to kill me,” she said, “you’d best use the weighted blade. This blade, the one aimed at your heart. If you argue for a lower price, it will split your ribs and sink deep into the organs underneath. Do you want to cut out my heart?”

He stepped back, his face fading from blustery red to the grey of bush-fire ash. “What?” he gabbled. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to barter, to get the best price by negotiation.”

“I’ve been negotiated into starvation, deprivation you couldn’t imagine. I live for this art, and yet idiots like you want to humiliate me further, drive me into oblivion, just for the sense of a bargain.” Ania smiled at the woman. “I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “I’ll kill him quick, and you pay me half the insurance.”

“He doesn’t have insurance,” the woman said, her steps sliding backward into the noise of the river of humanity passing behind her.

“Even so, if I came and took half his possessions and sold them here as junk, it would be more money than I’ve made from the work of my own sweat. It sounds like a bargain to me, so I think we should do it.”

“This is crazy,” the man said.

“And so is trying to steal from me by comparing my work to the work of another. If you want it, pay what it’s worth, or I’ll take the balance in the blood price.”

“We should go,” the man said.

“No, I think we should buy it,” the woman stepped forward, opened her purse. She paid full price, smiled. “I understand,” she said. “It’s not the object, not the details. It’s the passion, the beating of a heart.” She put the now-wrapped blade into the depths of her bag. “And the stopping of that beat.” The woman glanced at her partner.

“Come back next time,” Ania said. “I’ll have earrings to kill for.”

The woman grinned.

An off-the-cuff story about the sharp contours of what our life is, what it means, why we do it despite the pain and loneliness and fear.

I did have a picture, but it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t free of rights, so you have to imagine how sharp the double-sided blade is, how the low sun glints off each stone, how the edges glitter like avid eyes on the prize, how blood would flow behind the parting of skin …

Okay, that’s enough of that. I saw a nice pic of a nice blade with jewels and desires. It became a story.

22 thoughts on “Life, Art, and Worn-Out Shoes

  1. This is great, Cage. Really like ‘One day, when the birds flew north for the winter, and the sun rose in the west’ and ‘…her steps sliding backward into the noise of the river of humanity passing behind her’.
    Superb off-the-cuff writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

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