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November 12, 2013 | Fiction

Larissa Communes With the Virgin

Teresa Milbrodt

Larissa Communes With the Virgin photo

Because I can tell it's going to be a crappy day at work I dress up as Virgin Mary with my blue silk dress and white head scarf and lemon drop halo that got coffee spilled on it so it's a little warped, but it will do for one day of selling shoes. I know people will want to yell at me today—my boss, my co-workers, my whiny customers—but it's hard to yell at Virgin Mary. When I walk inside the store I'm greeted with new shoe incense, intoxicating and chemical, a smell that makes people whip out their wallets. On the walls are pictures of shoes like Russian icons—stilettos and tennis shoes and running shoes and penny loafers and slippers and knee-high boots that lace all the way up. My boss has the morning news on the radio and the announcer says, Bombing bombing bombing bombing, like some Gregorian chant as I walk to the break room and smell coffee and donuts from the assistant manager who’s sweet and plump and looks like everyone’s aunt. I check my hair, grab a cinnamon-sugar donut and eat leaning forward so I don't get anything on my dress. I have to be pristine when I am Mary, though Mary didn't care about being pristine since she had a kid in a barn. 

 I finish my donut and walk back to the showroom and wait for customers to ask me questions, but the few who wander in from the morning street look at me and keep quiet like they think the Virgin is above shoes, but wouldn't she want people to have comfortable footwear? When you're wearing a bad pair of sandals with no arch support your whole life can go to hell pretty quick, I know she'd understand that. 

 My co-worker Melinda says, What the hell is that yellow thing behind your head?

 I say, It's my halo.

 My boss says, This is not a Christmas pageant, but an older lady walks in and grabs my hand and starts weeping about her grandson who's in high school and getting involved with drugs and she doesn't know what to do. I pat her arm and show her a nice pair of slippers and say that every step will feel like a foot massage, and her grandson probably needs counseling and has she tried asking for help at the family center down the street because it's free. She buys the slippers and thanks me and I straighten my halo which may not be that wrinkled after all, and my boss shuts up about my costume because she could give a shit as long as we're selling shoes. I sell patent leather Mary Janes and woven sandals made in Yemen and snake skin boots and offer calm advice about how to deal with misbehaving kids and cheating spouses and parents whose memories are slipping. Too few people will admit they need advice and too many buy shoes whether they need them or not, so combining the two seems like a logical balance. 

I like your halo, says the assistant manager when she comes in with another box of donuts, and Melinda whispers that she needs to go on Weight Watchers, but she couldn’t say anything nice to a basket of kittens. 

During the afternoon I wonder if I should go back to school for a psychology degree. My mother says psychologists are people with common sense and letters after their names who tell you things you already know but need to hear from a professional. The customers who look at me like I'm crazy go to Melinda for help, but in the afternoon someone leaves a lit votive candle by the cash register and the assistant manager smiles but my boss says this is getting weird. My shift is over so I walk back to my apartment in costume. The halo got slobbered on by a grabby two-year-old so I'll need to make a new one tonight, but this one still does the job: I swear at every intersection the light changes to green just as my shoes hit the curb. The sign flashes white. Walk, it says, Walk. So I do.

image: Caleb Curtiss


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