REINCARNATIONS • by Nancy Graves Wahler

Sally limped into the shoe store with a hop-shuffle. A passerby had slid the store’s business card into her hand when her heel broke in a sewer grate. She wouldn’t go to her divorce proceedings on a broken shoe.

The store’s name, REINCARNATIONS, suggested second-hand shoes. She didn’t care. Wouldn’t she be considered second hand now that Arnie had left her?

A bell clanged as she entered. The scents of Murphy’s oil, leather and pancakes wafted out. Pancakes? Inside, low, wooden benches laden with tools lined the walls. A small door led to a back room. Rolling stools with black leather seats dotted the floor. To her right, a display counter held colored, corked glass bottles. No shoes in sight.

The only occupant appeared to be a golden retriever. He turned his blocky head to smile at her. His tail thumped on the ground. What a lovely dog.

“Hello?” she called.

The retriever approached her, placing his snout on the crook of her arm where she held her purse. His tag read Weston. His large black nose led to sympathetic brown eyes. Sally swallowed over the lump in her throat. Arnie had gotten their dog.

“You’re a big boy.” She scratched around his ears.

He leaned against her.

“Hey Weston, where are your people?”

Weston led her around the counter to a plate of pancakes and began nudging her hand. He did a little dance of anticipation. Were they for him? Or customers?

A temptation to snatch the dog rose within her. He made her feel better than she had for months. Could he be happy stuck in a store?  Sally would skip the divorce proceedings, leaving Arnie to suck it. She and Weston could vanish, barefoot due to the absence of shoes. It sounded perfect.

She took the dog’s face in her hands, gazing into his sweet eyes. “Do you want to run away with me?”

A calm voice startled her. “He’s needed here.”

Sally turned. A short, thin man with pale skin, a large nose and not much taller than the dog stood behind her. White hair sprouted from his head and pointy ears. Round spectacles rested midway down his nose. He wore a work apron over a blousy white shirt and pantaloons striped red and green. She noted his buttery leather boots and name tag proclaiming him Ramajah.

Ramajah strode to the pancakes and threw one to Weston, who swallowed it whole. To Sally he said, “Please hold still while Weston measures you.”

Sally gave a half laugh. Weston’s black nose sniffed up her body before trotting through the small door at the back. The golden retriever returned with a pair of leather sandals, an intricate gold design on the straps. She’d never owned shoes so ornate.

Ramajah smiled. “Weston has a knack for this. Often animals drawn to footwear do. May I present Cleopatra’s sandals?”

Sally slid off her shoes, glad to be rid of the lopsided feel of one broken heel. Weston lugged her shoes to a bench.

“Cleopatra, huh? Did Egyptians wear shoes?”

Ramajah nodded. “Only rarely. Otherwise, even we couldn’t have made them last. Magic has limitations.” He rolled a stool over for her then joined Weston at the workbench. Ramajah began hammering on her broken shoe. 

“Magic?” She slipped on the sandals and stood. When the sole of her foot made full contact with the shoe, confidence shot from her toes up to the tip of her skull.  Her spine straightened. Something or someone, sleek and powerful, unfurled inside her. A warm glow filled her spirit. She felt like ? Cleopatra. Sally tossed her hair, giving Ramajah a flirty smile.  He strolled over, her old shoes in his hand.

Sally didn’t fear the divorce anymore. Could the shoes be magic?

“How much are the sandals?”

Ramajah inclined his head toward the shoes. “Cleopatra’s sandals, what do you think they’re worth?”

“What?” She examined the hand-tooled sandals adorned with precious metal. “They’d be priceless.”

“Priceless, yes,” Ramajah nodded, “but shoes are meant to be worn.”

She sat down on the stool; taking off the shoes, tears formed in her eyes, companions to the hollowness in her stomach.

“Why show them to me?”

Weston barked, placing his head on her hand, and she paused, glancing up.

Ramajah said, “A gift.”

Sally became suspicious. “What do I have to do?”

Ramajah spread his hands. “Nothing, a small kindness.”

Sally studied Weston’s face and then Ramajah’s. No logic prevailed, only her gut.

“Yes.” She buckled the sandals again and stood. The confidence returned. “What could I do to thank you?” She bent to hug Weston who snuggled her back.

Ramajah smiled. “May we keep your shoes?”

“Of course, but who would want to feel like me?”

He cradled her repaired shoes. “Not everyone needs Cleopatra; sometimes it’s good to be Sally.”

She thought about this. Today didn’t define her life. “Maybe I could try on my shoes again?”

Weston didn’t stop her from unbuckling the sandals. 

She slid on her own shoes and realized how well they fit. “You know, this isn’t good for business. I’d like to pay you for the repairs.”

Her eyes filled with healing tears.

“May we have your tears?” Ramajah proffered a pink bottle from the case at the front of the store. Sally didn’t see any harm. She swiped the tears into the bottle and stoppered it.

Ramajah replaced the bottle in the display case. He picked up the plate of pancakes and presented them with a flourish. “Now, we celebrate.” 

She suppressed any trepidation about the food. She’d come this far. Sally tore off a bite and popped it in her mouth. Delicious! She closed her eyes to savor it. 

Sally opened her eyes in front of the lawyer’s office. Dog, store, and Ramajah had vanished. Her hand held a card:  REINCARNATIONS. Scrawled on the back was the message, we appreciate referrals.  She’d look for someone to pass it to, maybe Arnie.

Nancy Graves Wahler writes in Chattanooga, Tn, USA or wherever her travels take her. Beyond writing, her other passion is psychotherapy with a trauma focus. She lives with her husband, two human children, a human-like dog, and four very cat, cats. She has had short stories published in anthologies Women, Period, Jackson and Central, Three Bridges, and an online publication in Knoxzine.

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