My mother didn’t believe in movies — if there was a story worth telling she said I wouldn’t have to look “any further than the Good Book.” I had a feeling that wasn’t true but I didn’t know for sure until my friend Harriet took me to see my first movie, The Wizard of Oz, when it opened at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1939.
Harriet had moved onto our street in Silver Lake earlier that year and she was my new best friend. We had a lot in common. She was an only child. Our mothers both worked — mine was a church secretary; hers was a fancy actress. And even though Harriet technically had a father, he was in sales, so he was almost never home.
One of my favorite things about playing with Harriet was her dress-up trunk. It was stocked with silk gowns, feather boas, veiled hats, a green velvet cape, and even a girdle. Her mother encouraged her to dress up in the outfits and make believe.
“It’s fun to pretend,” she told me. “It’s good for the soul.” When she saw I was hesitant, she thought for a minute, then said, “We don’t have to tell anyone else about it if you don’t want.”
So Harriet and I put on oversized dresses and fancy hats and sat on chairs in the kitchen, pretending we were adults traveling on a train. We even held empty tea cups and drank from them the way Harriet’s mother showed us, with our pinkies sticking out. When we were finished she clapped and told us how believable we were. Then she asked if we’d like to go and see the new movie, The Wizard of Oz.
My mouth fell open. “A real movie? In a real movie theatre?”
She smiled at me then nodded. “Yes. And yes.”
We went the following Sunday. I lied and told my mother Harriet and I were helping out at a Bible class her mother was teaching.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was like an amusement park. We ran around putting our hands and feet in all the cement prints out front. And seeing the movie was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. Just like Dorothy, I felt like I’d crossed the threshold from black and white into a world of color. When the movie was over I knew for sure my mom was wrong about all the good stories being in the Bible because I knew Oz couldn’t be found anywhere in its pages.
Harriet and I agreed that Glinda the Good Witch was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen and the flying monkeys were the scariest. Her mother assured us that flying monkeys didn’t really exist but we didn’t believe her until she crossed her heart and hoped to die.
“That’s the beauty of the movies,” she said. “They can make you believe anything is possible.”
She was right about that. The whole way home Harriet and I pretended our shoes were magic. We’d close our eyes, click our heels, and take turns making wishes. I didn’t tell Harriet my wish: that I could trade places with her.
A few weeks later she invited me over to show me something. When I got there she opened the trunk and pulled out a pair of sparkly red shoes that looked just like Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.
“Aren’t they pretty?” she asked. “My mom’s friend made them just for me.”
I shrugged. “They’re okay.” But the truth was that I’d never seen anything so beautiful in all my life. It wasn’t fair. Not only did Harriet have a mom that did fun things for her but she had a dad too. And now she had those beautiful, sparkly shoes. I finally realized that I was never going to have what she had.
So, two weeks later, after I’d been playing at her house, I took the red shoes. I waited ’til she was in the bathroom, then I put them under my shirt and yelled out that I was late and had to go. She asked me to wait but I said I couldn’t and, just like that, I was out the door with the shoes.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear them. My mother would never approve. And I knew Harriet might see me in them. But that didn’t matter. If I couldn’t wear them, at least she couldn’t either.
She noticed them missing right away and knew I took them. But when she asked me I did the best acting I could and said I didn’t know what she was talking about. She threatened to search my house. So that night, after my mother was asleep, I dug a hole behind a palm tree in my backyard, and buried the shoes.
Harriet stopped being my friend after that. And it wasn’t long before I wished I’d never touched those shoes. I thought about digging them up and leaving them by her door, but I figured what I did was so bad that returning them wouldn’t make a difference.
I saw Harriet occasionally in the neighborhood but she never talked to me. A year later her family moved again, this time to Beverly Hills. I never saw her again.
After she was gone I went into the backyard and dug up the shoes. They were faded, muddy, and coming apart at the seams. I banged their heels together to dislodge the dirt clumps and brought them into my room. I kept them on a shelf near my bed so I could see them every morning when I woke up. Right next to my Bible. To remind myself that I had sinned.
And every night as I opened the Good Book to a new story, l looked for a forgiveness that I couldn’t find.
Kit Lamont enjoys writing fiction after spending most of her career in the decidedly non-fictional worlds of marketing, advertising, and motherhood. She is currently working on her first novel.