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Winter, 2008
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

She always kept the object safe and close to her. Mama made her repeat the promise over and over again during those last days. "I will never show it to a living soul. I will never show it to a living soul."

She cried about Mama less now, not as much as she had before. She was missing Mama now as she did each night when she removed her scuffed shoes. She then carefully peeled the gray sock off her foot, and waited for the familiar object to fall out. Nothing happened. Panicked, she quickly turned her sock inside-out. It was gone.

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.


A Perfect Seven
By Shannon Schuren, Sheboygan Falls, WI

In the end, it was really about the shoes. As Claudia eyed the rows upon rows of footwear - the black stilettos, the chunky platforms, the satin pumps - she knew this was what heaven must be like. Big windows, leather furniture, and one big closet full of perfect size sevens.

"May I help you?" A shoe salesman materialized at her side, although she supposed he had some other sort of fancy title in this upscale boutique.

"I like these," Claudia said, pulling the strappy, open-toed sandal off the wall.

"Those are Jimmy Choo's." He flicked his gaze over her faded denim jacket and torn Levi's before cocking an eyebrow at the worn tennies on her feet.

It had been nearly a year since her mama had died, which was almost as long as it had taken to get her voice out of Claudia's head. One dismissive glance from a haughty store clerk, and she was back.

"Don't be puttin' on airs, Claudia Jean."

"But Mama, I just want a pair of heels to wear to the prom. Silver ones, with little bows."

"Silver ones with little bows," Mama had mimicked, prancing around the yellowed linoleum floor of their trailer. "You want to be like all the rich girls, in their fancy dresses and sparkly shoes? Well, you can't. You'll never be like them. You're special."

Special. Mama had been calling her that since she was a baby, and it wasn't until Claudia was almost eight that she had realized it wasn't a compliment.

"I know they're Jimmy Choo's," Claudia told the boy, who couldn't have been much older than twenty, and who wouldn't be working in a place like this if he could afford his own designer shoes without the hefty employee discount.

"I'd like to try them on. I'm a seven."

He shrugged and motioned to a leather bench in the middle of the room. Claudia perched on the edge of the seat as he knelt before her like a page with her glass slipper. She quivered in anticipation, longing for the tickle of the leather straps across her foot, the delicious stretch in her calf as she stood in the four inch heels.

He'd already removed her shoes, and done so with only the slightest expression of distaste, which she appreciated. But as he began to tug at her sock, Claudia froze.

"I've got a secret," Claudia whispered to Jennie. "I keep it hidden in my sock. I've never shown anyone before, ever, but I can tell you since we're best friends, right?"

"Best friends forever. Cross my heart and hope to die," Jennie had answered solemnly, eyes wide as she made the motion across her chest.

The door banged open, startling both the ten-year-olds so much that they nearly tumbled off Claudia's single bed.

"Claudia Jean." Her mama's voice was low and hard. "What do you think you're doing?"

Claudia's lower lip began to tremble, and she knew that if she looked at Jennie, she'd see the fear and shame reflected in her best friend's eyes.

"Go on home, Jennie," Mama had ordered, and Jennie went.

"What did I tell you?" Mama had asked after she'd gone. "You must never show it to a living soul. Not Jennie, not your teacher. Not ever. This is our secret." Mama sat down on the bed. "Besides, what would they think of you if they ever found out?"

Claudia edged away. "Jennie is my friend," she said in a small voice.

"And if you want to keep it that way, you'll shut your mouth."

"Miss?" The clerk had his hands locked on her ankle. "Miss, I'll need to take off your sock. Otherwise, the sandal won't fit."

Claudia nodded, uncurling her toes and willing herself to relax as he peeled the gray sock off her foot. She released a pent-up breath as she realized there was nothing there. She knew that, she'd been the one to get rid of it. But like Mama's voice, it was hard to let go of the memory of the secret after all those years.

She'd held on until her eighteenth birthday. Then she'd found the shoes, and she'd known it was time. She deserved those heels, she'd earned them, with all the tears and the shame of her childhood. The trip across town had cost her, but Claudia hadn't cared. It wasn't about the money; it was about getting back the self-respect she deserved.

"What's that?" the clerk was asking, pointing to the scar along the side of her foot.

"It's called polydactylism," the doctor had cheerfully informed her. "It's actually quite common."

"Common?" Claudia had squeaked, her throat suddenly dry. Her painful secret, her freakish deformity, was common?

The doctor had nodded. "Oh, yes. We can correct it with a simple surgery. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't have it done before. Many parents opt for removal shortly after birth."

But not my mama, Claudia had thought. My mama had preferred to keep me shamed and embarrassed, convinced that no one would ever love me because of my imperfection, when all along she was the only one who couldn't.

"I used to have some extra toes," Claudia said, speaking the words aloud and banishing her mother's critical voice for the last time.

The clerk nodded. "Cool." He tightened the straps and helped her up.

Claudia admired her feet, now a perfect size seven. Her puckered scar matched her pink, glossy toenail polish, a fact which filled her with an odd sense of pride. If she were completely honest, she'd have to admit that the surgery had been a little bit about vanity.

"What do you think?" he asked. "We have them in metallic and black," he added as she strutted in front of the mirror.

"I'll take both," she decided. But mostly, it was about the shoes.


What Shannon won:

$250 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

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