You can’t just buy magic shoes at an ordinary place. It’s not like you can walk into a department store and browse their new fall line of seven-league boots. For that sort of thing you really need to search the deeper depths of eBay or something. I happened to stumble on mine by luck, as though my slip-ons already had a touch of the fairy about them. I wouldn’t even have bought them normally, they’re sort of plain and gray and a bit scuffed around the toes, but when I tried them on they felt so close and comfortable on my feet that I loved them at once. I took them off, paid for them, brought them home, and promptly forgot them at the bottom of my closet for a couple of months.
The first time I wore them, I barely noticed anything odd at all. In my gray shoes I walked to the library at the end of the day, when the world sighs and settles into the beginnings of night. It was starting to be dim and yellow in the streets, so it didn’t seem strange to me that people were bumping into me a lot. I got to the library I leaned into the door so that it rang the bell, and people looked a little puzzled at the sound. The book I needed was way up on the top shelf so I stood on the soft toes of my new flats and coaxed it closer with the tips of my fingers until it fell and hit me in the forehead, pages splaying open.
The only thing that day that was really weird was the librarian at the desk. I stood there, leaning on the fake wood, staring at the librarian’s profile for maybe ten minutes. In that time I coughed, shuffled, sneezed, thunked my book down, and started saying “Excuse me?” When I spoke she glanced over and looked right past me, sweeping her eyes across the room and then turning back to her book. I kept saying it though. My tone went from the politely inquiring pitch of the barely bothered to that nasty hook of a voice that dips and sways on the dangerous edge of making a goddamn scene. I leaned and shifted around, picked up a foot out of its shoe to curl and uncurl my toes, and nearly yelled it at her. My “ExCUSE me!” echoed in the library and she whipped around to look at me.
In the haughtiest tones I think she could probably muster, she said, “Yes, dear, all right, you don’t have to yell.” I shoved my book toward her and waited while she scanned it, then slipped the shoe back on my foot and whisked myself out of the library. I walked home bumping into people again, but I figured that all the elbow-brushing and shoulder-swiping was just me being so annoyed.
It was maybe another week before I really figured out the power of those gray shoes. I mean, that I figured out that it was the shoes and not just everyone ignoring me. It must’ve been the day I fought with Andy – that’s my husband – because at the end of my yelling I kicked off my shoes until they flew and thumped into the wall and I cried. He’d been ignoring me while I ranted, getting dinner together while I delivered a tirade, calling my name out every once in a while when I was right in the middle of a sentence. It only made me angrier, of course, and I told him what a selfish ass he was, how rude he was being, and how pissed I was right as he must have just been so confused by hearing my voice faint in the distance and not knowing where I was.
Once we figured it out I was a lot less mad. Well, Andy really figured it out. He went and picked up the shoes and put them back on my feet as I was sobbing like Cinderella’s freaking prince in our little apartment that smelled of Ramen and laundry. The gray shoes fit back on my feet and Andy’s eyes just went round. He looked right through me. He figured out a way to focus on me so he could see me, after a bit. If he really tried, concentrated on my face, he could see me, but apparently if nobody’s looking right at me and thinking about it I just slip right past their vision. I tested it a lot.
Even when I jump up and down my feet make no sound on the floor in those shoes. The soles tap into the linoleum, or the marble or wood or concrete, and there’s no noise at all. It’s eerie if you’re paying attention, though of course if I’m wearing the shoes nobody else is really paying attention.
I don’t wear the gray shoes that often. I don’t want to scuff them up any more and I don’t want to abuse the magic that lets me duck under people’s notice and sneak around a little bit. I walk in the gray shoes sometimes, not often, when the night is creeping up the horizon and everyone’s glance slides right past you anyway, shoes or no. I don’t do it so often because I don’t need it that much. It is useful every once in a while, though, when there’s some reason that I want to step lightly.