“Is that the shoe the old woman lives in?”
Liz barely heard the question. She was cold and tired. Bloor Street was a mass of elbows and winter boots. A cacophony of car horns and conversations overwhelmed every thought before it started. Headlights and streetlights and window lights and traffic lights shone bright against the black sky of Toronto in December. Whatever her daughter was wondering about seemed less important than getting home. But when she pulled Sandy’s hand to get her moving, she got tugged back.
“Mommy, I wanna know!”
“What do you want to know, honey?”
“Is that the shoe the she lives in?”
“What shoe? Who?”
“The shoe in the window!”
Sandy pointed at a huge display in a store front. A giant boot with bright red laces stood with fake snow falling all around it. Why anybody would want snow in their windows when there was so much on the ground, Liz couldn’t imagine.
“Which woman’s shoe would it be?”
“The one in the story. The story about the old woman who lives in the shoe!”
“Oh. No, I don’t think that’s her’s.”
“Because there’s no old woman in it.”
“Maybe she’s out.”
“Where do you think she is?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just don’t. Come on, honey, we need to go home.”
Sandy had been babbling like this constantly all day. Every sign in every store demanded an explanation. She needed the life story of every person they passed in the mall. And she expected Liz to have all the answers for her, right on hand. Any answers prompted more questions and Sandy expected her mother to have answers for those, too. Liz knew she should appreciate it and truly she did. Nothing is more beautiful than a child’s curiosity. Most adults wish they could care half so much about the world around them. And an inquisitive mind would help Sandy once she started school next year. All this was true.
But Liz’s feet were sore from walking and her arms were sore from carrying bags full of gifts and decorations. Her eyes were sore from comparing ties for her husband and her brain was sore from worrying about her credit card bills come January. There was a cramp in her neck and a pain in her jaw. She just wanted to go home.
Sandy now pressed her hands against the window. Liz put her hand on Sandy’s tiny shoulder.
“Baby, we need to go home, Daddy’s got dinner for us.”
“No! I want to find the woman!”
Liz nudged her daughter forward. Before she finished, she knew it was the wrong move.
Sandy inhaled a deep breath and screamed. Loud and shrill and shaking. Liz had heard that scream more times than she knew, but still couldn’t understand how such a small body could hold so much air and expel it with such force. Passersby quickly turned their heads and then turned back, trying not to appear rude. Some surreptitiously covered their ears; those in conversation raised their voices, pretending that nothing had interrupted them. Sandy kept screaming. She held out for several seconds, not a record, Liz knew, but an impressive showing nonetheless. Now part two: another gasp and then sobs. Huge, full-body sobs, each seeming like the last only to be followed by another, bigger, more steeped in all the anguish a four-year-old could muster.
Liz wanted to scream too. She wanted to pick Sandy up and haul her off, crying be damned. She was fed up. All day, she had trudged around town spending money, time and effort trying to make sure that this Christmas, probably the first one that would last in her daughter’s memory, would be perfect. Every treat and trinket pulling her arms to the floor had been bought to make Sandy happy. And all she did in return was scream. Liz wanted to explode.
Instead, she knelt down. She placed the shopping bags on the ground and wrapped her arms around Sandy. She pulled her close and squeezed, compressing the puffy little winter coat she was wearing. With her chin over Sandy’s shoulder, Liz started crying too. All the frustration and exhaustion of the day bubbled up through her and she couldn’t help herself. Between Sandy’s sobs she whimpered.
The two of them stayed like that for a minute. Soon Sandy’s crying slowed and softened. Then Liz’s did too. After a few more seconds of quiet embrace, Sandy let go. She wiped her hand across her face, the mitten doing more to spread the frozen snot and tears than to clean them away. Liz sighed, smiled and stood up. Both of them were more relaxed now. The day’s stresses were still there, but they seemed less oppressive. Sandy took her mother’s hand.
“Let’s go home, Mommy.”
Three blocks later Liz remembered the shopping bags. Laughing and panicked, they dashed back to find them on the sidewalk, untouched.