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  • Writer's pictureKarina M. Sokulski

Shoes by Karina Sokulski

Her hands were like porcelain, smooth to the touch and perfect. I see her now, under the mulberry tree with that withered old book thumbing the pages as if they weren’t really fragile. This place, this unintended collection of trees was our safe haven. She always dressed as she is now, in a fine dress and a sun hat but never with her shoes. Truly a dastardly habit for a lady of her position.

Our eyes connect and she listens to the vocalization of my curiosity before she answers,

“I, darling, respect them.”

“So the lovely Cecilia respects her hands yet not her feet?” It’s rather a silly thing to tease but the pampered miss exchanges a playful glance with me. She bookmarks the withered tome with a ribbon and drops it on the grass.

“I’ve walked this earth without shoes since the days I was no taller than the fence post,” she fidgets with her hat as she speaks. “And I have yet to bear witness to disease or any other life threatening nonsense mother prattles on about.”

I smile as I sit, facing her but busying myself with pulling blades of grass from the ground. She smiles at me, wrapping her arms around her legs.

“What’s troubling you?” she asks.

“Do you still love me?” A sigh escapes her but she laughs it away. Snatching her book she beats my arm with it and I can’t help but join in the laughter.

“I swear I’ll have to beat that negativity from you,” she says, dropping the book. I’m not one to linger on things, bit it is she who is making the larger sacrifice.

“Cecilia your education, your status will be ruined,” I tell her. She rolls her beautiful olive colored eyes and smiles again.

“Yes, an education that won’t grant me ladyship or a suitor that isn’t French. To what do I owe this world?” Cecilia tucks her legs beneath her and smooths our her pale violet skirts.

“It’s just-“

“Have a cigarette?” she interrupts. Defeated by her attempts to escape the conversation I pull out my gold tin full of Taddy’s Clowns. I hand her one, retrieving my matches and offering them over. She lights her cigarette and takes a long pull, allowing the smoke to ooze out of her mouth as if it were a liquid.

“God how I wish she would stop being so stupid.” Cecilia practically spits the intended insult. I follow her gaze. Her sister Millian, Millie for short, chases after ducks and shrieks with laughter as she flaps her yellow skirts to rouse them.

“It’s all just good fun,” I say. Cecilia’s eyes fix on me as she takes another puff. Her fine eyebrows pull together indicating an oncoming question, and I find myself returning her curiosity.

“Why are you so optimistic when Millie’s around?” Cecilia’s effort to conceal her smirk proves fruitless and we both succumb to another fit of laughter.

“I want children,” I say. Cecilia’s eyes are now following Millie as she dashes from the ducks that have mustered the courage to fight back.

“I want three. Girls,” she says with a nod, blowing smoke from her lips.

“No sons?” I ask. Cecilia shakes her head at me, wrinkling her nose.

“No sons.” Our attention is coaxed to Millie as she bounds across the field toward us.

“Ceci!” Millie shrieks with glee, but Cecilia only groans.

“Compose yourself Millian.” Before another word is uttered, the girl tumbles into her lap.

“Did you see?” Millie giggles. I frown a little at the look of irritation on Cecilia’s face but elect to stay quiet.

“I have a cigarette, Millie! I could have burned you.”

“Mama says you’re not supposed to smoke. Ladies never smoke,” Millie says as she sits back on the grass.

“I’m not a lady,” Cecilia says. Millie gathers the tangled mess of dark hair in her chubby hands and looks at me with identical green eyes.

“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” she asks me. Before I can respond, Cecilia swats at Millie’s ear. Millie cries out in surprise, but then begins to whimper.

“Why did you do that?” Millie asks, batting at Cecilia’s arm. Cecilia blows smoke into her face before flicking the ashes.

“It’s unbecoming to be rude like the child you are,” she says. Millie lets out an awful wail.

“You’re always so rude to me!”

“Cecilia,” I scold, but Cecilia only looks back at me, finishing her cigarette while Millian continues to cry.

“She shouldn’t act like a child,” she says at last. “She’s mother’s only hope after all.”

I place my hand on Millian’s shoulder, but she slaps it away.

“Go away peasant!” Cecilia slaps her this time, and Millian returns the favor.

“Apologize, Millian,” Cecilia says.

“Cecilia, it doesn’t matter,” I reassure her. Anything to stop the argument.

“I’m going to tell mother!” Millian declares as she jumps up on her feet. Cecilia lets out a sharp sigh before she reaches over and pushes the small girl down on her rear. Millian lets out another shout, trying to swat Cecilia’s arm away. Cecilia dodges and grabs me, slapping her lips against mine. I hear Millie’s gasp but am too entranced by Cecilia’s tongue to care.

We pull away and I stare into her eyes to find that they burn like the fire in my belly. She smiles at me, and I let out a small chuckle.

That is when I remember Millie. She speeds off through the field calling into the air the secret we’ve practiced for the past two years.

“Mama! Mama! Cecilia kissed the servant girl!”

My gaze returns to Cecilia who I find is still gazing at me. An amused smirk spreads across her face.

“Have another cigarette?” she asks. I hold out the case and she lights another Taddy’s Clown. I join her. We blow at the same time, and she leans against the Mulberry tree. For a moment we are quiet, simply listening to Millie’s lingering accusations and the birds chirping in the tree above.

“The carriage should arrive shortly,” I say. Cecilia nods, continuing to smoke.

“Good,” she says, reaching for her book and placing it on her lap.

“I suppose I should wear shoes.”



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