Funny stories in under 500 words.

What We Must, on Occasion, Do for Love

I don’t like to shop. When among crowds, I irrationally assume every person carrying shopping bags, clutching pretzels or cups of coffee, or holding hands with a friend or lover is judging me.

Add to this social anxiety my inability to make decisions, and it should become clear that malls are panic traps for me.

This presents a problem every new school year, when I suddenly realize I’m without reasonably nice-looking clothes to wear to class. Without such clothes I risk losing authority with my students, most of whom have trouble respecting any professor not trousered, buttoned-up and blazered.

You’d think online shopping would suffice. But remember: I struggle making decisions. When choice isn’t constricted by what’s on the rack, consider me stifled.


Last Sunday—the last Sunday before school—my wife left for a shopping trip with a friend of hers carrying a paper bag. Inside was one of the brown boots I regularly wore to teach. While I remained home, she would scour the aisles for black shoes to replace my old cheaply-made pair. The leather upper, creased across the toe, had started to crack.

An hour after she left, I received from her a picture message in which she’d set two black loafers beside the brown boot. All three shoes were on a carpeted floor in what I assumed was the shoe store.

Above the picture, she’d typed, “What do you think?” and added the sizes of each shoe—the one on the left an 8, the other an 8.5.

The 8 looked a little narrow to me. Its toe came to a point I couldn’t imagine wearing comfortably. The shoe on the right was similarly pointed-toed but looked much narrower. All of this more or less went into the text I sent back.

Another picture message arrived to my phone a few minutes later. This one showed my boot next to yet another black loafer with thin laces and a sheen that reminded me of the cracking faux-leather upper of my current pair.

So went my reply.

Again, minutes later another picture message arrived, this one of a boxy-toed loafer.

I was about to reply when I noticed the toes of my wife’s shoes had crept into the bottom edges of this photo. Seeing her rounded brown boot tips made me think of her standing in the shoe store aisle, aiming her phone’s camera at a pair of mismatched shoes she’d arranged at her feet while her friend stood by saying God knew what about this strange shopping arrangement.

I got shakily up out of my chair, set the book I’d been reading down on the end table, and went and pulled a dark pair of pants from our bedroom closet.

“Maybe these will help you look???” I wrote, and sent with the text a picture of the pants hanging from the closet’s doorknob.

A few minutes later, she sent back a text without a picture.

“This isn’t working,” the text said.

Patrick M. Faller teaches writing at Kent State Tuscarawas. His stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Inwood Indiana, and Souvenir. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFaller >>

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