Perched on the edge of the porch, her arms wrapped around her thickening waist, Ellawese sat in the summer twilight gazing out at the dirt road. No cars yet. The wooden stairs warmed her bare feet. At fifteen, she still went barefoot every chance she got. Shoes hurt, were too confining, slowed her down. Her mama often warned her, “You gonna get a splinter.” Ellawese ignored her. Her feet longed for other places. The ground hugging her restless feet promised to take her to see things beyond her mama’s porch, a field of black dandelions in Eden, three-eyed frogs in Inkwell, the coral caves in Mayweather. She looked down at her feet. They were starting to spread. Her mama had said it was from going barefoot. “It ruins your feet.” Sapphire-blue nail polish glistened on her toes. She didn’t care much for makeup but always kept her toes polished in some extraordinary color. Other girls in Bogart, Alabama wanted jobs, husbands, and babies. She wanted something other than Bogart. Most evenings, she and her mama sat and watched the dust rise from the road. Cars streaked past speeding to places too far for her to walk, stirring the red grit into vapors that dragged like shoe strings in the sky. Ellawese would whisper towards them, “Can I go.” They never stopped. Nausea stirred her stomach. At the beginning of summer a gleaming red and white Chevrolet had stopped once. She had been walking down the road, her too tight shoes tucked under her arm, headed to Bad Water to see purple swans. She and mama had seen the Chevrolet on the road before. Her mama had said. “A car that color. Some fool woman bought him that car.” Treasure Lee was eighteen. He saw Ellawese’s tangerine-colored toes and dusty feet then offered her a ride. Threw her shoes in the back seat alongside his. He drove barefoot. She told him she had walked to Attalla once. He had driven all the way to Chattanooga. She wanted to ride the Interstate, see the Coosa River, the Indian Falls. Satisfy her feet. “I’ll take ya’.” At the Falls he asked to rub her feet. “Will you take me to Atlanta?” Rocketing through the darkness on the way home, the Interstate lights in her eyes, she had put her feet out the window, pointed them to heaven and walked faster than she ever had, faster than the wind, so fast she was soon walking across the sky. The screen door banged against the casing when her mama came out on the porch and took a seat for their nightly watching. Ellawese glanced over her shoulder. Something quivered inside her, panted like butterfly wings then was still. She turned her eyes back to the road. In the distance a red and white car stirred up dusty clouds; the haze made it hard to see. The wood beneath her feet was cool now. She looked down at the flowers on her cotton dress. What would she tell her mama when her belly started pushing against her dress and the flowers appeared to bloom? She would say, “My shoes had been too tight.”
-- Janice Lively is a fiction writer and holds a PhD in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in the anthology The Thing About Love Is..., Hair Trigger, Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora, Valley Voices: A Literary Review, among other publications. She lives in Chicago and teaches creative writing and literature at Elmhurst College, where she serves as a faculty advisor to Elmhurst College's literary arts journal, MiddleWestern Voice.