When I sold shoes in college, shoppers would sit in my department to rest their feet. The store owner walked the floor in his double-breasted cashmere blazer because he could afford everything he sold. He walked with his arms crossed over his chest, keeping an eye on us. My friends would stop in. They knew my hours. And I’d put them into shoes they didn’t ask for so the boss would see me work.

I needed my own money when my parents stopped paying. I still lived at home. Before classes, while my mother practiced her violin, I babysat my sisters. We read about the unsinkable Pippi Longstocking, whose mother died at birth, whose father was lost at sea. And we watched Sesame Street, singing the jingly songs that taught us to be kind. I don’t know that my mother had much other use for me by then. My father needed my company at the dinner table. I felt stuck in the mud of their marriage. In the back of the shoe store, I’d try on the world: platforms the color of robin’s eggs; Ferragamo flats with a bow; burgundy Aigner pumps; silver strappy sandals as light as butterflies. I got a 40% discount and acquired a closet-full that would one day walk me out of there into a rough first marriage, into my eventually happy second marriage.

From the nursing home, my mother leaves long messages, telling me she still needs the new wheelchair because her body hurts. She reads me the model and make of the right chair, which is the exact chair she is sitting in. I don’t know how to convince her. She is angry about my last visit when I tossed Styrofoam cups and got her room cleaned, her sheets washed. In the message, she tells me I treated the staff poorly, bossed them around, but she is confusing me with herself. I wish she’d confuse herself with me and be kind to others, whether they’re froggy green or human. Why can’t she enjoy me like I enjoyed my baby sisters, like I enjoy my son? When I was young, I wanted to be her, to dress in slim skirts and silk blouses, to swirl my hair and wear a kitten heel. And now at the end of her life, I can’t make comfortable the one who taught me to land on my feet. She phones back to say how much she enjoyed seeing Malcolm. Will I bring him back?

“Stuffed” – http://ninatempleart.com/collections/124222

Ink on cold pressed watercolor paper

22″ x 30″