Upper East Side, 1 pm, Wednesday
The two shoes lie belly-up on the counter, the pointed toes of each peeling up and away. in the center of each shoe, a tunnel worn to the inside. “if there is something you can do about this- I know it is dire.” The bell over the door behind us rings as an elderly woman first draawws back the door, and works her way around her own forearm, finally pushing herself into the store, a forty-second endeavor. Then she must turn around to face the flight of stairs leading up to the counter.
The cobbler pushes the feathers of his eyebrows into position, and leans back, tapping a red pencil against his teeth.
” Repair of this shoe is futile. I would have to replace the whole sole.
“You rock off back of foot, along this ridge and twist down heavily, here, in the center of your upper foot.” He looks up. ” it is like–you dance down the street.”
” But,” he says, skewering the shoe on his pencil and holding it up in the air until it drops back in the counter, “-this is a cheap shoe. It is not even real leather. Why-”
” Listen,” I say, desperate. ” I wear these shoes everyday. They’re — essential– do you see?”
He frowns, ” Essential? What this mean– ‘essential!’ You go you buy new pair you throw these out.”
The old lady has just reached the counter and she pushes an orange claim ticket onto the counter around me. ” I already pay,” she quivers out in Yiddish , and he turns away from me to shift through his stock busily. The old lady has clouded eyes and a pink tweed coat too heavy for the classically bird-like Ashkenazi state of elderly she inhabits. He bags up her shoes, a gigantic set of black leather brogues, and after setting it in the crook of her arm, she begins the long rotation to face the door.
” Please, wouldn’t you mind setting a new heel on these,” I begin again, and widen my eyes because I have heard that works, from other shorter, more delicate people. I shake my hair for good effect, without shame and without skill. ” I walk to work in these everyday, and I will PAY YOU to fix them, just lay a new sole on them–”
Suddenly the old lady breaks in. She has only moved a foot since the renewing of the pleas, and she says something, quick and in another alien language, and turns her petrified neck to face the counter. I hadn’t noticed her eyes were so bright.
I am watching her, so I am taken by surprise when the shoes are slid out from under my hand and swept into his repair basket. ” You will owe me 15 dollars when you come and pick them up, okay? OKAY,” and he slams a claim ticket down on the counter. I snatch it up before he changes his mind, and then wait five minutes in the threshold to hold open the door for the now wordless savior, drifting like the melt of Arctic ice from place to place.