She wore a size ten shoe. She could stretch her toes out like a giraffe’s neck without reaching the end of her sneakers, but that was okay as long as none of her classmates had X-ray vision. A size ten was what all the tall, gorgeous, successful business ladies wore, the ones with the endless succulent legs they always showed a little too much of, so everyone would know how bold they were, and the rectangular glasses perched upon their noses, informing everyone of just how smart they were. She was thirteen, but all the kids knew she wore a size ten, so that gave her at least three years. With just a little eye makeup and some blush, she could age like fine wine, just enough to become one of those women.
But she hadn’t been allowed to paint her face ever since April of fifth grade, when she’d come home from her best friend Joanna Turner’s house all decked out in blood red lipstick and electric blue eye shadow. Her mother had scoffed and said she looked like a stripper before banishing her to her room. And for two whole weeks, she had been Rapunzel trapped in the tower of doom.
“Jump, Esther! Jump! Jump!” rang a chorus of relentless voices. She looked down, wishing that the olive green throw rug from the bottom of her staircase would replace the frothy waters below Hoffman’s Cliff. And that the others, who looked like tiny, demanding parakeets from up there, were instead her mother, shouting, “Stay, Esther! Stay! Stay!”
Those size ten scruffy sneakers were her only hope. She shook herself to clear the nerves and glared at them, willing them to carry her lanky figure over the edge. They resisted, their tongues flopped out in silent revolt.
“Are you a ch-ch-chicken? Bawk! Bawk!” The voice was both lovely and cruel.
Damn that Tommy Eggleston. She scrunched up her face with disgust. He was so immaculate with his yellow polo t-shirts and tuft of budding facial hair that made all the girls swoon. She didn’t want to swoon. She hated his guts, even when she wrote out amalgams of her name and his in her diary at night.
She concentrated on her shoes, eyeing the section of chartreuse sock poking out of a hole by her left big toe. Move!
She needed new shoes. Maybe navy blue stilettos, like a real businesswoman. But then they’d see her stubby feet, and they’d know she was really more of an eight than a ten.
“Come on, Esther!” Even Joanna was getting antsy with her. “It’s really a smaller jump than you’d think!”
Joanna was hanging on Tommy Eggleston’s arm now, bobbing up and down in the water like a brainless buoy. She hated Joanna’s guts, even though they’d shared laughter and secrets, sobs and solace.
Why am I always last? She dug into herself as she dug her toes into the ground beneath her. Her stomach churned, and her throat tasted faintly of vomit, the flavor of her fears. The first day of school, the day her dad left her mom to strike it big as a comedian in New York City, the day her dog Roscoe got hit by a car. Yep, those days all tasted of stale green puke.
But she wasn’t last in shoe size. For all they knew, she was first. The only ten in the class.
She shuffled forward, just enough for the tips of her sneakers to peer over the ledge. The gravel loosened beneath her, unsettling her left foot, which jutted toward the open air. She threw her head back with a gasp, and with her widened eyes, she saw Roscoe frolicking in the sky and her father’s stern blue eyes between the clouds. This is the end.
But it turned out not to be, as the backs of her legs collided with the ground and the dust puffed up around her. The water erupted with laughter. Great. I’ve caused an earthquake.
She crawled back toward the edge and examined their rosy faces. Jumping couldn’t make Tommy Eggleston pine for her. It couldn’t bring Roscoe back. And it certainly couldn’t make her father trade improv for an imperfect family.
But there was something it could do. Her lips formed a nervous smile as she backed away from the cliff. Bending down to untie her shoes, she sucked in several sharp breaths and forced herself to ignore the ache in her stomach’s pit. Then she plunged forward, her lanky legs striding across the ground until it was replaced by open air and she felt herself hurtling toward the water. She slammed her eyes shut, only gravity in control now.
Then her buttocks hit the surface with force, marinating Tommy and Joanna in salty water and seaweed.
She reveled in their squeals, the squeals of measly sixes, as the soles of her size ten shoes sank into the blackness.
She lifted her toes and wriggled them in the sunlight. An eight could be okay, too. But only in blue stilettos.
Laura Lee Cascada grew up on poetry and persuasion pieces and has since written for One Green Planet, Honey Colony, the Sierra Club, and more. Over the last year, she’s plunged into the world of fiction and is currently working on her first novel. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Policy from Johns Hopkins University.