This page contains:
- Animal cruelty/death
- Body transformation
- Child death
- Self-harming behaviors
This story was first published in Monstrous Affections (Candlewick, 2014). We are grateful to the author for permission to reprint it in this week's special issue.
“Allyou have this in a size nine?” Jenna puts the shiny red patent shoe down on the counter. Well, it used to be shiny. She’s been wearing it everywhere, and now it’s dulled by dust. It’s the left side of a high-heeled pump, pointy-toed, with large shiny fake rhinestones decorating the toe box. Each stone is a different size and colour, in a different cheap plastic setting. The red veneer has stripped off the heel of the shoe. It curls up off the white plastic heel base in strips. Jenna’s heart clenches. It’s exactly the kind of tacky, blinged-out accessory that Zuleika loves—loved—to wear.
The girl behind the counter is wearing a straw baseball cap, its peak pulled down low over her face. The girl asks, in a puzzled voice, “But don’t you bought exactly the same shoes last week?”
And the week before that, thinks Jenna. And the one before that. “I lost them,” she replies. “At least, I lost the right side”—she nearly chokes on the half truth—“so I want to replace them.” All around her, other salespeople help other customers. The people in the store zip past Jenna, half-seen, half-heard. This year’s soca road march roars through the store’s sound system. Last month, Jenna loved it. Now, any happy music makes her vexed.
“Jeez, what’s the matter with you now?” the girl says. Jenna startles, guiltily. She risks a look at the shoe store girl’s face. She hadn’t really done so before. She has been avoiding eye contact with people lately, afraid that if anyone’s two eyes make four with hers, the fury in hers will burn the heart out of the core of them.
But the girl isn’t looking at Jenna. With one hand, she is curling the peak of her cap to protect her eyes against the sun’s glare through the store windows. Only her small, round mouth shows. She seems to be peering into the display on the cash register. She slaps the side of the cash register. “Damned thing. It’s like every time I touch it, the network goes down.”
“Oh,” says Jenna. “Is not me you were talking to, then?”
The girl laughs, a childlike sound, like small dinner bells tinkling. “No. Unless it have something the matter with you too. Is there?”
Jenna turns away, pretends to be checking out the rows of men’s running shoes, each one more aerodynamically fantastical than the last, like race cars. “No, not me. About the shoes?”
“Sure.” The girl takes the pump from Jenna. Her fingertips are cool when they brush Jenna’s hand. “What a shame you can’t replace just one side. Though you really wore this one down in just a week. You need both sides, left and right.” The girl inspects the inside of the shoe, in that mysterious way that people who sell shoes do. “You say you want a size nine? But you take more like an eight, right?”
“How you know that?”
“I remember from last time you were in the store. Feet are so important, you don’t find?”
Jenna doesn’t remember seeing the girl in the store before. But the details of her life have been a little hazy the past few weeks. Everything seems dusted with unreality. Her standing in a shoe shop, doing something as ordinary as buying a pair of shoes. Her standing at all, instead of floundering.
The shoe shop girl’s body sinks lower and lower. Jenna is confused until the girl comes out from behind the counter. She’s really short. She has been standing on something in order to reach the cash register. Her arms and legs are plump, foreshortened. The hems of her jeans are rolled up. Her body is pleasantly rotund.
The girl glances at Jenna’s feet. At least, that’s where Jenna thinks she’s looking. Jenna’s seeing the girl from above, so it’s hard to tell. In addition to the straw cap, the girl’s twisty black hair is in thousands of tiny plaits that keep falling over her face. She must have been looking at Jenna’s feet, because she says, “Yup. Size eight. Don’t it?”
Jenna stares down at the top of the girl’s head. She says, “Yes, but the pumps run small.” The girl is wearing cute yellow moccasins that look hand-sewn. She didn’t get those at this discount shoe outlet. Her feet are tiny; the toe boxes of her moccasins sag a little. Her toes don’t quite fill them up. Jenna curls her own toes under. Her feet feel unfamiliar in her plain white washekongs, the tennis shoes she used to wear so often, before her world fell in. Now she only wears two sides of shoes when she needs to fake normal. Or when she needs to take the red pump off to show the people in the shoe store. The blisters on the sole of her right foot are uncomfortable cushions against the canvas-lined foam inside the shoe. Although she’d scrubbed the right foot bottom before putting the washekong on, she hadn’t been able to get all of the weeks of ground-in dirt out. The heel of her left foot, imprisoned most of the time in the red high heel, has become a stranger to the ground. Going completely flat-footed like this makes the shortened tendons in her left ankle stretch and twang.
The girl hands the shoe back to her and says, “I going in the back to see if we have any more of these.” She disappears amongst the high rows of shoe shelves. She walks jerkily, with a strange rise and fall motion.
Jenna sits on one of the benches in the middle of the store. She slips off her left-side tennis shoe and slides her left foot back into the destroyed pump. The height of it makes her instep ache, and her foot slides around a little in the too-big shoe. When she’d borrowed Zuleika’s pumps without asking, she’d only planned to wear them out to the club that one night. The discomfort of the red shoe feels needful and good. It will be even more so when she can remove the right side washekong, feel dirt and hot asphalt and rocks with her bare right foot. She waits for the girl to bring the replacement pumps. The girl returns, hop-drop, hop-drop, carrying a shoe box.
Jenna doesn’t want to be in the shop, fully shod, a second longer. She takes the box from the girl, almost grabbing it. “These are fine,” she says, and stumps—hop-drop, hop-drop—to the cash register. She starts taking money out of her purse.
Behind her, the girl calls, “You don’t want to try them on first?”
“Don’t need to,” Jenna replies. “I know how they fit.”
The girl gets back behind the counter and clambers up onto whatever she’d been standing on. She sighs. “This job,” she says to Jenna, “so much standing on your feet all the time. I not used to it.”
Jenna isn’t paying the girl a lot of attention. Instead, she’s texting her father to come and get her. She doesn’t drive at the moment. May never drive again.
The girl rings up the purchase. Her plaits have fallen into her eyes once more. When she leans forward to give Jenna her change, her breath smells like pepper shrimp. Jenna’s tummy rumbles. But she knows she won’t eat. Maybe some ginger tea. The smell of almost any food makes her stomach knot these past few weeks.
The girl pats Jenna’s hand and says something to her. Jenna can’t hear it clearly over the sound of her grumbling stomach. Embarrassed, she mumbles an impatient “thank you” at the girl, grabs the shopping bag with the shoes in it, and quickly leaves the store. After the air-conditioned chill of the store, the tropical blast of the outdoors heat is like surfacing from the river depths to sweet, scorching air. She kicks off the single tennis shoe. She stuffs it into the shopping bag with the new pair of pumps.
What the girl said, it had sounded like, “Is Eowyn Sinead.”
Jenna doesn’t know anybody with those names.
Daddy texts back that he’ll meet her at the Savannah, by the ice cream man. He means the ice cream truck that has been at the same side of the Savannah since Jenna and Zuleika were young. Jenna likes soursop ice cream. Zuleika liked rum and raisin. One Sunday when they were both still little, their parents had brought Jenna and Zuleika to the Savannah. Jenna had nagged Zuleika for a taste of her ice cream until Mummy ordered Zuleika to let her try it. A sulking Zuleika gave Jenna her cone. Jenna tasted it, spat it out, and dropped the cone. So Daddy made Jenna give Zuleika her ice cream, which made Jenna bawl. But Zuleika wanted her rum and raisin. She pouted and threw Jenna’s ice cream as far as she could. It landed in the hair of a lady who was walking in front of them. Jenna was unhappy, Mummy and Daddy were unhappy, the lady was unhappy, and Zuleika was unhappy.
Jenna remembers the odd satisfaction she had felt through her misery. Except that then Zuleika wouldn’t talk to her or play with her for the rest of the day. Jenna smiles. It probably hadn’t helped that she had followed Zuleika around the whole rest of that day, nagging her for her attention.
Jenna turns off her phone so no one else can call her. Her boyfriend, Clarence, tried for a while, came to visit her a couple of times after the accident, but Jenna wouldn’t talk to him. She didn’t dare open her mouth, for fear of drowning him in screams that would start and never, ever stop. Clarence eventually gave up. The doctors say that Jenna is well enough to return to school. She doesn’t know what she will say to Clarence when she sees him there.
As Jenna is crossing the street, she walks with her bare right foot on tiptoe. That almost matches the height of the high heel on her left foot, so it isn’t so obvious that one foot is bare. But she can’t keep that up for long, not any more. After more than a fortnight of walking with her right foot on tiptoe, the foot has rebelled. Her toes cramp painfully, so she lowers her bare heel to the ground. She steps in a patch of sun-melted tar, but she barely feels the burn. Her foot bottom has developed too much callous for it to bother her much. People in the street make wide berths around her in her tattered one-side shoe. They figure she is homeless, or mad, or both. She doesn’t care. She makes her way to the three hundred-acre Savannah. Not too many people walking or jogging the footpath yet, not in the daytime heat. But the food trucks are in full swing, vending oyster cocktail, roast corn, pholourie, doubles. Jenna ducks past the ice cream man, hoping he won’t see her and ask how she’s doing. He knows—knew—Jenna and Zuleika well. He had watched them grow up.
The poui trees are in full bloom. They carpet the grass with yellow and pink blossoms. Jenna steps over a cricket wicket discarded on the ground and goes around a bunch of navy-uniformed school girls liming on the grass under the trees. A couple of them are eating roti. They all stop their chatting long enough to stare at her. Once she passes them, they whoop with laughter.
Jenna doesn’t know how she will manage school next week.
She finds a bench not too far from the ice cream man, where she can see Daddy when he comes. She sits and puts the shoe bag on her lap. She clutches the folded top of it tightly. She doesn’t put the new shoes on. She never has. They aren’t for her. She was wearing the left side of Zuleika’s shoes when she surfaced. She has to give Zuleika a good pair of the shoes in return for the ones she took without permission.
For a few minutes, Jenna rests her aching feet. Then she realizes that the air is beginning to cool. The sun will be going down soon. Jenna texts her father again, tells him never mind, that she will come home on her own later. He tries to insist. She refuses. Then she turns the phone off. Is better like this, anyway. Her parents are doing their best. Looking after Jenna, asking after her. Doing their grieving in private. Some days Jenna can’t bear the burden of their forgiveness.
She can’t take neither bus nor taxi half shod the way she is. She gets up off the bench, wincing at the separate pains in her feet. She starts walking. Clop, thump. Clop, thump. One shoe off, and one shoe on.
It’s dark when she gets to the right place on the highway. The sight of the torn-apart metal guardrail sets her blood boiling hot so till she nearly feels warm enough for the first time in almost a month. Anger is the only thing hotting her up nowadays. When are they going to fix it?
She lets herself through the space between the twisted pieces of metal and starts clambering down the embankment. Below her, the river whispers and chuckles. A few times, she loses her footing in the pebbles and sparse scrub grass of the dry red earth of the embankment, and slides a little way down. She could hold on to clumps of grass to try to stop her skid, but why? Instead, she digs in the heel of Zuleika’s remaining pump. Above her, cars whoosh by along the highway. But the closer she gets to the tiny patch of wild between the highway and the river, the more the traffic sounds feel muffled, less important. The moonlight helps her to see her way, but she doesn’t need it. She knows the route, every rock, every hillock of grass. She has been here every night for a few weeks now, as soon as the bleeding stopped and the hospital discharged her.
Tiny glowing dots of fireflies prick the darkness open here and there all around her. Jenna’s skin pimples in the cool evening breeze. The sobbing river flows past, just ahead of her.
At the shore line, Jenna gets to her knees. “Zuleika!” she yells. She sits back on her heels in the chilly riverbank mud, clutching the shoe bag in her lap, and waits. The heel of the red shoe pokes into her backside, but the mud feels good on the blistered sole of the other, bare foot.
“I sorry about your fucking shoes, all right?”
She gets the new shoes out of their box. She tosses them into the water. They sink. She waits. She is waiting for the frogs in the reeds to stop chirping. For the sucking pit of grief in her chest to fill in.
For Zuleika to forgive her.
When none of that happens—just like it hasn’t happened every other time she’s come down here—she sighs and stands up. The heel of the left shoe sinks down into the mud. She pulls it out with a sucking sound.
The river isn’t the only thing weeping. Someone is crying, over there in the dark, where the mangroves cluster thicker together. Jenna heads, hop-drop, towards the sound. There are tiny footprints in the muddy soil. They lead away from the crying, towards the direction of the embankment. In the dark, Jenna can’t make out how far they go. But she can tell where they came from, so she follows the footprints backwards.
There’s a child sitting on a big rock by the waterside. The child is the one crying. It is wearing a huge panama hat. To keep from burning in the moonshine? Jenna doesn’t laugh at her own joke. The child is wearing jeans rolled up at the ankles, a too-big T-shirt. It has its legs tucked up and its chin on its knees, propping sorrow. In the moonlight, Jenna can see the yellow moccasins on its tiny feet. It’s the girl from the shoe store.
When she gets near enough, Jenna says, “What you doing out here? Something wrong?”
“I was trying to catch crabs,” the girl replies. “I like them too bad.”
Jenna remembers the seafood smell on the girl’s breath. “Trying to catch them how?”
“With my hands, nuh?”
“You went wading in this water at night, with nobody around? This water not good,” says Jenna. It takes people, she doesn’t say. Sure enough, now that she’s closer, she can see that the girl is sopping wet. Water is running off her clothes and streaming down the sides of the rock.
“Mummy don’t have time for me,” the girl replies. “I been trying to catch my dinner myself, but…” the girl starts sobbing again. “My feet hurt so much! All that standing in the shoe store, all day. Every time I put my feet down, is like I walking on nails. I keep flinching when I step and frightening off the crabs-them.”
Poor thing. Something small releases inside Jenna, like the easing of a stitch. She squishes through the mud and sits on the rock beside the girl. She puts the bag with the empty shoe box in it down on the rock. “I know how it feel when your feet paining you,” she says.
Whimpering, the girl leans closer to Jenna. The smell of seafood makes Jenna’s tummy grumble again. Jenna thinks she could comfort the girl with a hug. She doesn’t do it, though. Since last month, she doesn’t have any business with comfort. But the girl won’t stop crying, her shoulders jerking with the force of her sorrow. Unwillingly, Jenna asks, “You want me help you catch the crabs?”
The girl doesn’t lift her panama-hatted head, but her crying noise stops. “You would do that for me?” she asks, sounding so young. She’s only a child!
“You would have to show me how,” Jenna replies. “And how old you are, anyway?”
The girl says, “You have to put your feet in the water, slow-slow and quiet, so the crabs don’t know you’re there. You have to stay crouched over, ready to grab them when they come up.”
Jenna doesn’t want to put her feet back into the river that had swallowed her and Zuleika not too long ago. She still has nightmares of escaping through the open driver’s-side window, of her head feeling light from holding her breath in. Only in her dreams, Zuleika doesn’t let go when she grabs Jenna’s right foot.
Jenna whispers so the child won’t hear her talking to Zuleika. “I told you to undo your seat belt, don’t it? When we started sinking, I told you. You should have come with me. But all you did was scream.”
In Jenna’s dreams, she isn’t able to kick her leg free of Zuleika’s panicked hold. In Jenna’s dreams, river weed comes pouring out of Zuleika’s hand and wraps itself around Jenna’s right ankle, and doesn’t let go. In Jenna’s dreams, she drowns with her sister. Every night, she drowns.
But she’s promised the shoe-shop child. “Okay,” says Jenna. “Just until your mummy comes.” She briefly wonders why a little girl is working in a shoe store, why she’s hunting for crabs alone down by the river at night, but she doesn’t wonder for too long. The world has become strange, and she is no longer part of it.
Jenna takes off the mashed-up left-side shoe and puts it on the rock. She wiggles her toes. Night air slips through the spaces between them. It feels odd. She had put that shoe back on after Zuleika’s funeral.
She eases herself down off the rock. Now she’s standing, both feet bare, on the riverbank. Her feet are squishing up mud. The left foot sinks a little farther into the mud than the right one. In front of her, black as oil, the roiling river giggles.
She can’t do this. Jenna turns to walk back to solid land, to leave the child to wait there alone for its mother.
“Don’t be frightened,” says the child.
“I not frightened,” Jenna replies. She is, but not of the water. Truth to tell, she wants nothing more than to sink down into the river, to join Zuleika. She wants it so badly, but she knows she can’t. Can’t make her parents lose two daughters to the river in less than a month. And she loves the sweet air. Heaven help her, but she loves it more than she loves her sister.
The child says, “You have to walk slow, keep your eyes peeled on the river bottom. When you see a crab, you reach down and grab it with your two hands.”
“And what if it pinch me?”
“They small. They can’t pinch hard.”
Jenna tries it. She slides her feet along in the shallows. The moonlight lends its glow to the water there. After a minute or two of squinting, she can make out the river bottom. At first, Jenna’s feet hurt every time she takes a step, but pretty soon the chilly river water numbs them. A crab scuttles sideways in front of her. Jenna pounces. Splashes. Misses. She falls into the shallow water. She’s wet to the waist. The child laughs, and Jenna finds herself smiling, just a little. Jenna picks herself up. “Lemme try again.”
She misses the second time, too. At the third fall, she laughs at herself. And at the fourth. By the fifth missed crab, she and the child are shrieking with merriment.
The child points. “There! Look another one!”
Jenna leaps for the splayed, scuttling crab. She catches it. She’s holding it by its hard-shelled body. Its claws wave around and scrabble at her hand, but the crab is too small to do any damage. Jenna rises with it, triumphant, from the riverbed. She whoops in glee, and the child applauds. Jenna realises that she’s stopped thinking of the child as a girl. Really, she doesn’t know whether it’s a girl or a boy. She wades closer to the bank with her catch. “What I do with it now?” she asks.
The child hesitates. Then slowly, it removes the large panama hat that’s been obscuring its face. It turns the hat over, bowl-like, and holds it out. “I put them in here,” it says.
It has no face. Just a small bump where a nose should be, and that perfectly bowed mouth. Jenna is startled for a second, but she recovers. Not polite to stare. Anyway, in a world gone strange, why make a fuss about a missing pair of eyes and a nose with no holes? Jenna drops the crab into the hat the child holds out. Immediately, the child grabs the live crab up and rips into it with tiny, sharp teeth. It spits out a mouthful of broken shell. “You could catch more, please? I so hungry.”
Jenna splashes about some more. She catches crabs, and she laughs giddily. Before this, the river has been making fun of her. Now, it is chortling with her. Jenna catches crabs and drops them into the child’s hat. Jenna is shivering, belly deep. Maybe from being cold and wet, maybe from giggling so hard. The child smiles and eats and pats its full belly. Jenna pats her empty one. She goes closer to the shore. “Let me have one,” she says to the child. She holds her hand out.
The child turns its blank face towards the sound of her voice. “You eat salt, or you eat fresh?” it asks.
“You have salt?” Jenna asks. “I would prefer that over eating it fresh.”
“I don’t have any.”
Why does the child sound so happy about that? Jenna doesn’t have patience with gladness nowadays. She has stopped hanging out with her friends and them from since. They would probably just want to go to the club, to dress up nice, to lime. Jenna doesn’t want to do any of that any more. Dressing up leads to borrowing your sister’s shoes without permission. It leads to quarreling over the shoes in the car on the way to the club. It leads to your sister losing control of the steering wheel and driving the car off the road into the river.
Jenna’s eyes overflow. She has become used to the quick spurt of tears, as though someone has squeezed lime juice into her eyes.
Gently, the child says, “And look the salt right there so.” It nods approvingly and hands over a particularly big crab. Jenna snatches it. She pulls off a gundy claw. With her teeth, she cracks it open. Crab juice and moist meat fall into her mouth. She sucks the rest of the meat out of the claw. She’s so hungry that she barely chews before swallowing. As she eats, she cries salt tears onto the food, seasoning it. She fills her belly.
Jenna stops eating when she notices that the child is trying to reach for its own moccasined feet. Its arms are too short. The child says, softly, “I wish I could take these shoes off.” It turns its smooth face in Jenna’s direction and smiles. “She had them with her in the car that night. She was going to give them to you, Mummy. As a present for me.”
Jenna’s mind goes still, like the space between one breath and the next. Somehow, she is out of the water and sitting on the rock beside the child. Gently, she touches one of the child’s infant-fat legs. The child doesn’t protest. Just leans back on its hands, its face upturned towards hers. Jenna lifts the child’s small, lumpy foot. She loosens the lace on the moccasin and eases it off. The tiny yellow shoe sits in her palm, an empty shell. The child’s foot is cold. Jenna cups the foot to warm it, and removes the other shoe. She looks at the two baby feet that fit easily in her hand. The child’s strange gait makes sense now. Its feet are turned backwards.
Jenna gasps and pulls the child onto her lap. She curls her arms around it and holds its cold body close to hers. The other life she’d lost that night. The one only she and her older sister had known about.
The child snuggles against her. It puts one hand to its mouth and contentedly sucks its thumb. Jenna rocks it. She says, “I didn’t even self tell Clarence yet, you know.” The child grunts and keeps sucking its thumb. Jenna continues, “I sixteen. He fifteen. I was trying to think whether I was ready to grow up so fast.”
The child sucks its thumb.
Jenna takes a breath that fills her lungs so deeply that it hurts. “Part of me was relieved to lose you.” Her breath catches. “Zuleika drowned. And part of me was glad!” Jenna rocks the child and bawls. “I sorry,” she says. “I so sorry.” After a while she is quiet. Time passes, a peaceful space of forever.
The child takes its thumb out of its mouth. It says, “Is her own she need.”
Jenna is puzzled. “What?”
“Is that I was trying to tell you in the store. She don’t want new shoes. She have the right-side shoe already. You have to give her back the left-side one. The one you been wearing.”
Jenna surprises herself with a low yip of laughter. All this laughing tonight, like a language she’d forgotten. “I didn’t even self think of that.”
The child replies, “I have to go now.”
Jenna sighs. “Yes, I know.” She takes the child’s blank, unwritten face in her hands and kisses it.
The child stands and pulls off its T-shirt and jeans. Its body is as featureless as its face. Jenna puts its hat back on. The child says, “You could keep my shoes instead, if you want.” It eases itself down off the rock and toddles towards the water, away from life. But in the mud, the imprints of its feet are turned towards Jenna. The child enters the river. Knee deep, it stops and looks back at her. It calls out, “Auntie say she will look after me!”
Jenna waves. “Tell her thanks!”
Her child nods and waves back. It dives into the water, panama hat and all.
Jenna is still holding the tiny, wet moccasins. Gently, she squeezes the water from them. She slips them into the front pocket of her jeans. She goes and picks up the destroyed left pump from the rock. She kisses it. She yells, “Zuleika! Look your shoe here!” She raises her arm, meaning to fling the shoe into the river.
But there. In the very middle of the water—a rising, rolling semicircle, like a half-submerged truck tyre. Blacker than the blackness around. Swallowing light. The back of Jenna’s neck prickles. Muscles in her calves jump; her running muscles. She makes herself remain still, though.
The fat, rolling pipe of blackness extends into a snakelike tail that wriggles over to the shore. The tail is unbifurcated, its tip as big around as her wrist. The tip is coiled around a red patent pump, the matching right side to the shoe that Jenna is holding. In a whisper, Jenna asks, “Zuleika?” The tail tip slaps up onto the bank, splashing Jenna with mud.
Zuleika rises godlike from the river. Jenna whimpers and runs behind the rock.
Zuleika’s upper half is still wearing the red-sequined minidress, now in shreds, that she’d worn to go dancing the night of the accident. Moonlight makes the sequins twinkle, where they aren’t hidden by river weed that has become tangled in them. The weed dangles and drips. Zuleika’s lower half has become that snakelike tail. At her middle, the tail is as thick around as her waist. She floats upright. Her tail waves on the surface of the water. It extends as far upriver as Jenna can see in the moonlight.
Jenna’s douen child clambers from where she’d been hidden behind Zuleika’s back. The child climbs to sit on Zuleika’s shoulders. It knots its fingers into the snares of Zuleika’s hair. The water hasn’t damaged its hat. Is the child smiling, or baring its teeth? Jenna can’t tell.
Zuleika raises the whole length of her tail, and Jenna quails at the sheer mass of it, blacker than black against the night sky. Zuleika smashes her tail against the water’s surface. The vast wave of sound, echoing up the river, hurts Jenna’s ears. Jenna hears cars screeching to a halt on the highway, horns bleating. Jenna puts her hands against her ears and cowers. Not another crash. Please.
But there is no sound of collision. A couple of car doors slam. A couple of voices ask each other what the rass that sound was. Mama d’lo Zuleika hovers calmly in the water. The few trees must be hiding her from view, because soon, car doors slam again. Cars start up and drive off. Zuleika, Jenna, and the douen child are alone again.
Jenna finds that she’s still holding the left-side shoe. She gathers her courage. She comes out from behind the rock. She says to her sister, “This is yours.” She holds the shoe out to Zuleika.
Zuleika’s tail-tip comes flying out of the darkness and grabs the shoe from Jenna. She hugs both once-shiny red shoes—the dusty one and the waterlogged one—to her breast.
The wetness in Jenna’s own eyes makes the moon break up and shimmer like its own reflection on the water. “I miss you,” she says.
Zuleika smiles gently. Carrying her niece or nephew, Zuleika sinks back beneath the water.
Jenna’s hands are cold. She slides them into the front pockets of her jeans. One hand touches the child’s shoes. The other touches her cell phone. She brings it out. It’s wet, but for a wonder, it’s still working. She texts her mother, says she will be home soon. She calls another number. “Clarence, you busy? You could come and give me a lift home? I by the river. You know where. No, I’m all right. I love you, too. Have something I need to tell you. Don’t worry, I said!”
She still has her washekongs. She rinses her feet in the river and puts them on. She collects the empty shoe box and the plastic shopping bag. She climbs up the embankment to the roadside to wait for her boyfriend.