Let's give a big round of applause to the Winner of our
Let's give a big round of applause to the Winner of our
"Head Over Heels" by Laura Boldin-Fournier
inspired by "Hell on Heels" by Shari Cerney
Windows open, radio blaring, I drove toward Sanibel Island. My sister had always loved collecting shells there. She’d lug them home, fashion them into jewelry, decorate frames or mirrors, then sell them at flea markets. I didn’t share Olivia’s passion for shells. My obsession was shoes. I filled my closets with them. During an exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, I discovered high heels were first worn by men. Maybe that’s why I feel powerful when I wear heels, especially red ones. Did you know Louis XIV once limited the wearing of red heels to the members of his court?
Olivia didn’t visit the Bata Shoe Museum with me. At the time, she was attending the Sanibel Shell Fair. Of course, she wouldn’t be there this year or ever again. She’d committed suicide, or so the police said. Despite her history of mental illness, I knew there was more to it than that.
I planned to spread Olivia’s ashes at Bowman’s Beach where she’d found a Junonia shell. Because the brown speckled Junonia was so rare, the local newspaper had printed a photo of her holding it. Her picture and the shell are on display at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.
Behind the wheel is where I normally do my best thinking, but not today. I turned up the volume on the radio, hoping it would distract me from remembering the reason for my trip. Halfway to my destination, a sad song came on the radio. It reminded me of Olivia. I shut it off. Struggling to concentrate on the road, a tear rolled down my cheek. My stomach knotted up. I knew my sister had been depressed because of what had happened, but I never suspected she’d hurl herself out of an eighth story window onto cold hard concrete. She’d landed face down, her features unrecognizable. At the morgue, I refused to believe it was her until I saw the unique shell jewelry she always wore. Then I knew the horrible truth.
I wound up crossing the three-mile causeway to Sanibel Island with a stream of work traffic. While I waited in line to pay the toll, pelicans swooped nearby. One of them dove into the water with a splash, then soared away, a fish dangling from its beak. Life is cruel.
A short time later, I arrived at the Jingle Shell Inn, a place Olivia had called quaint. If you wanted to be near the ocean, it was an ideal location. I climbed out of the car, wearing my red high heels, completely inappropriate for the beach. They were killer shoes, hard on the feet, but I couldn’t resist the daring feeling they gave me. I opened the trunk and grabbed my overnight bag, leaving Olivia’s ashes behind. I couldn’t bring the urn to my room. If I looked at it tonight, I’d never get any sleep.
Waiting on the check-in line, I fantasized about being someone else instead of a sad woman who’d just lost her sister. I began to pretend. Sometimes I did that. I liked matching my personality to whatever shoes I was wearing. Olivia once told me I should be an actress because I had a great imagination.
When the clerk offered a discount if I paid in cash, I took advantage of the deal, paying in advance for one night. I’d scatter the ashes in the morning and be on my way.
I told the clerk, “I’m Sherry Hopper.” I’d made up the false name on the spur of the moment. To me, Sherry Hopper sounded like a flashy woman who would wear bright red heels and laugh a lot. That’s who I wanted to be.
The clerk didn’t ask me to sign in. I wondered if he was pocketing the cash. So what. I didn’t care. I had other things to think about. On the way to my room, I invented a life for Sherry Hopper. She was strong, sexy and confident. She worked as a flight attendant and had traveled the world. A long journey from Rome had left her with a bit of jet lag which explained her bloodshot eyes.
After seeing the stained carpet and the rusty sink in my room, it was obvious why there was a discount for cash in advance. Olivia had been kind to call this place quaint. Although, I guess you could use that word if you were referring to the lamps on each side of the bed. Their bases were decorated with a variety of shells. Olivia would have been able to identify each one.
A glass door led to a balcony which overlooked the ocean. Olivia had raved about the view. She was right. It was amazing. Standing there, gazing at the sunset and listening to the waves made it easier to ignore the shabby room.
I raised the temperature on the air conditioner to eliminate the musty smell. Then I dabbed at the smudged mascara under my eyes. My reflection showed no softness, only a lined, stone face, blank with weary eyes. My thin eyebrows looked fierce, my bony nose as sharp as a shark's tooth. Wild blond curls dangled across my forehead, and my skin felt one size too small. There was no hint of how vulnerable I felt inside. No wonder I liked those hard candies with the jelly centers. They were me.
I applied rouge and bright red lipstick. Sherry Hopper seemed like the type, or maybe I just wanted to hide behind another layer of makeup.
After dabbing on some perfume, I headed back to the lobby for a drink. A cloud of smoke hung over the bar. Strange music came from the opposite side of the room where each musician in a three-piece jazz combo appeared to be performing a song, completely unknown to the rest of the group. Perhaps, like me, they were improvising, pretending to be someone else. Unfortunately, the earsplitting results sounded like a zombie voodoo ritual.
As Sherry Hopper, I refused to let them take the joy out of happy hour. Forcing a smile, I sat at the table, drumming my fingers and tapping my heels in sync with the crazy rhythm as best as I could. On the plus side, I didn’t have to worry about that bizarre music triggering any painful memories for me. Was it possible the band members were aliens from another planet? Thinking about that took my mind off things.
When the waiter came, I ordered a vodka and tonic. He returned with two of them.
“Two drinks?” I asked.
“You’re lucky,” he said, hurriedly swiping some crumbs off the table. “Vodka cocktails are tonight’s special.”
“Finally,” I muttered sarcastically, “a reason to celebrate.”
“Are you celebrating?”
“It’s my birthday.” Not really, but maybe it was Sherry Hopper’s. The band ended their song just as I spoke, so my voice came out louder than intended.
“Happy Birthday.” The waiter grabbed a bowl of nuts from a nearby table and tossed it on mine.
Halfway through my second drink and a fistful of peanuts, I sensed someone watching me. Leaning on one end of the bar, a rugged-looking man flashed a smile like one of those handsome models who appear in designer cologne ads. He headed my way.
When he asked if he could join me, I replied in Sherry’s feisty voice. “The more the merrier.”
He occupied the seat next to me. He sniffed, then asked. “Sweet stuff?”
Hearing him use a slang word for cocaine made me frown. I’d thought he’d been interested in me. Apparently, he was selling drugs. “I’m not into coke.” Sherry Hopper liked to party, but not to that extent.
He leaned closer. “I don’t think you understood. I was asking you about your perfume, darlin’. Are you wearin’ Sweet Enough?” His twangy accent reminded me of Texas.
“How did you know?” I said, then blamed the band’s deafening music for the misunderstanding.
"It’s my favorite scent."
"You’ve got a nose like a bloodhound.”
“That’s not the first time I’ve been called a dog, but I prefer to be called Wade.”
“Your name’s Sherry, but you drink vodka.”
It was a lame joke, but since this was my first time posing as Sherry, I hadn’t heard it before.
“I heard you tell the waiter it’s your birthday. Why don’t we celebrate together?”
“What are you celebrating?”
“Meetin’ you, sweetheart.”
In honor of that smooth line, I raised my glass and clicked it with his.
“Honey,” he said, “if you’d like to have a birthday dance, I’ll give it a shot, but I really have no idea how to dance to this weird music.”
“That’s good, cause just listenin’ to this shrill song makes me feel like I’m bein’ poked by a stick.”
“I know what you mean.” I shared my belief that the musicians were visiting from another planet
He nodded. “That explains it. They’re here to drive us crazy and take over the world.”
“No. Actually, they’re searching for people who can dance to their music.”
“If that’s the case, I’m guessin’ they’ll be on Earth for a long time.” Wade emptied his drink and signaled for another round. “How about you? Still thirsty?”
Sherry answered for me. “Bring it on. I just arrived from a long flight, and I’m dehydrated.”
“So, you’re here on vacation?”
“Not exactly. I’m a flight attendant.”
“Sounds exciting. I bet you’ve had lots of adventures.”
I shrugged. “Yesterday we ran out of spoons.”
“Did you have to make an emergency landing?”
“We winged it.”
Wade chuckled. “Honey, you’ve got a great sense of humor.”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The more Wade drank, the more he talked. I found out he’d grown up in Texas, as I suspected. After high school, he’d moved to Florida where he’d begun working for a contractor.
Wade drank his vodka, straight up. When he lifted his drink, I spotted a jagged scar, shaped like a cross. It extended from his wrist to his wedding band.
I bit my lip. Not a Sherry Hopper type reaction. She would have taken it in her stride, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t like what I saw.
He caught me staring at his hand. “It’s a marriage in name only. We have an arrangement; we go our own separate ways.”
The band started up again, and I was glad because it gave me time to think. I wasn’t sure what I should do about Wade. What would Sherry Hopper do?
Wade muttered something about divorce and children, but the drums drowned out most of his words. The music accelerated in volume as if the performers were participating in an: I can be louder than you contest.
He scooted closer and squeezed my shoulder affectionately. His striking eyes reminded me of an icy blue glacier. When the song ended, he asked, “Ever been married?”
I shook my head.
"You're lucky." He gazed into at me. "Marriage stands in the way of things."
“That’s the second time tonight I’ve been told I’m lucky.”
“Then you have to believe it.” The sound of a high-pitched yelp startled me. “Was that the band?”
“It came from the back of the room.”
I turned around and realized the peculiar barking noise was a woman’s laugh. “She sounds like a dog.”
Wade scowled. “Don’t know why she’s amused. She’s got the body of a sumo wrestler. And what about her hairstyle? Do you think she copied it from George Washington?”
“Maybe she’s related.” Half-drunk, I giggled, encouraging him. It wasn’t like me, but Sherry Hopper was brazen, not the type to feel guilty about mean-spirited comments.
The band took a break, and the next few minutes passed quietly. In between nibbling peanuts, Wade complimented me. According to him, I had soft skin and silky hair. I have to admit, he had a way of making me feel beautiful. He pushed a lock of hair away from my forehead, then caressed my arm. He was about to kiss me when a sudden guffaw from the sumo-wrestler-woman ruined the moment. Wade swore under his breath. “That woman could scare the ears off a cow.”
Waiting for the woman’s next outburst made me jumpy. It was like waking up early, unable to sleep because you know the alarm clock will ring any second.
The next time she laughed, Wade winced and rolled his eyes. “Tell you what, sweetheart," Wade squeezed my hand, “I got a bottle of vodka in my car. Why don't we go there and get to know each other better?”
I shook my head
“We could walk on the beach.”
I pointed at my heels. “I’d ruin my shoes.”
“You could take them off.”
He shrugged. “A person ought to do something special on their birthday.”
“You’re right.” Fueled by alcohol, I had made up my mind about Wade. I knew what I was going to do. “Why don’t you get the bottle and meet me upstairs?” I gave him my room number. He smiled like he’d won the lottery, then left for the parking lot as I headed for the elevator.
The stale smoke from the bar had seeped into my clothing. I slid open the door to the balcony, hoping the breeze would clear away the cigarette smell. I lowered my eyes and stared at the concrete patio directly below. Cold hard concrete. Olivia’s face flashed into my mind. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I gazed at the ocean where a pier curved into the black water like a giant comma. Floodlights created ripples in the water. I stared at them as if they could answer the question I was asking myself. Am I sure about Wade?
Yes, Sherry Hopper answered. Life is too short for inhibitions. They say it's the things you don't do that you regret later on.
When Wade knocked, I said, “The door’s open.” I remained where I was, allowing the wind to ruffle my skirt higher.
Lugging his vodka, he crossed the room and joined me. His eyes were riveted on my legs. "Scenic view."
"I don’t think anybody would stay here if it wasn’t for the ocean view.”
"I was talkin’ about your legs. Honey, you are hell on high heels, and I mean that as a compliment.” He winked. “Shall we have a toast to scenic views?"
He held up his bottle, offering it to me. I waved it away. "You first."
“Don’t worry. There’s nothing else in it,” he reassured me. “It’s only vodka.” He raised it high, lowered it to his lips and swallowed a mouthful. "Now it’s your turn.”
“Okay.” I took the bottle from him and spun halfway around so I faced the other direction.
"Hey, no fair. Are you really drinkin’ or just pretendin’?’"
Gripping the neck of the bottle tightly with my right hand, I whirled back and smashed it across his face. The blow sent him reeling backward. I gave one of his legs an extra shove. He tumbled off the balcony, head over heels.
How many men have icy blue eyes, a Texas drawl and the name Wade? How many drink vodka, straight up, and have a jagged scar running across the top of their hand, extending to their wedding band? The one who drugged my sister and raped her did. She’d told me about it the day before she jumped.
Wade landed face down the same as she did. Everyone thought he’d been drunk and stumbled. Everyone except Sherry Hopper who’s hell on high heels.
Laura Boldin-Fournier is thrilled to win the Words& Brushes short story contest. She's a former elementary school teacher and librarian who's currently a freelance writer living in Florida. Laura has been published by CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL. Her latest story will appear in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: MY VERY GOOD, VERY BAD CAT, scheduled for release in February 2016. She is also the author of AN ORANGUTAN’S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, a humorous picture book, which will published by Pelican Press in 2016. Laura’s website islauraboldin.com.