by Anna Kubiak
We didn’t wear them. Those old boots in the attic. We left them to grow old among the spiders who wove their webs through sagging beams and the dust covered boxes of keepsakes that would never be opened. We left them because we had to. Not that we wouldn’t have forgotten them anyway. If treasures ceased to become lost then their value would dwindle at the prospect of never being sought. Maybe a hundred years in the future they would be someone else’s prized possession, held in such esteem because it was a mystery how they survived this long. They look out of place, even here, buried away, concealed out of sight, out of mind. Their breaking soles and cracking leather are nothing like the steel-toed shoes that carry miners to work or the clasped monk shoes that follow children on the way to school. Out of place because they stand out as different in the sea of grey jumpsuits that seek to dissolve differences. The boots are nothing more than a reminder of a past everyone is trying to forget. One where we are not regulated by a government that wants us to all be the same. A past where differences were celebrated. My mom called it dangerous. My dad called it freedom.
I snuck away from play time one day to climb the rickety stairs. My breath stuck in my throat and my feet were soft on the wood. Hidden from the world, I slipped them on. I imagined what it would be like to wear them out as I stomped around the room, my socked feet slipping on the worn leather soles. I pretended I was riding a beautiful black horse across a frozen tundra. I pretended I was a young soldier leaving behind everything I knew to fight for my ideals. I pretended I was in the middle of a luscious forest with trees towering around me and I was just sitting there with slivers of sunlight fighting their way through the thick overbrush to land across my cheeks. I pretended until I had to take them off and return to a life where they were against the rules.
The boots had a life somewhere, with someone who took them on adventures I can’t even dream up. That life is gone now, for all of us, and so they sit in the attic waiting to be forgotten by me. Except sometimes when I buckle my monk shoes over my black socks, hidden by the hem of my grey pants, I wish I could choose to wear the boots in the attic if only for the purpose that I want to. Part of me wants to ingrain my own story into the worn leather for the next little girl to find.
Sometimes I wonder if life is better this way. Stolen from the heartache of a cold world only to be transported to another. Is it better to be blinded red with anger or to be empty? I won’t know.
I only know the black bus that sweeps me away each morning. I only know the faces of the children who ride with me to the brown brick school, their uniforms ironed and their hair combed just like mine. I only know my seat at the front, watching the clock more than the scribbles on the smudged chalkboard. I only know the quaint house I am returned to at the end of every day, the one that looks the same as the others that stand proudly in a line down the street. I only know the warm faces that welcome me. I only know the sweeping meadow that entertains me. And I know the boots in the attic. They remind me that I don’t know, that I will never know and that only makes we want to know more. Maybe one day I will gather my courage, take the boots from the attic, and leave only my footprints behind. Maybe then I’ll know what it is like to be free.