Debi warned me not to bring just any shoes to her shoemaker, as he has been known to deny service to footwear he considers gauche. I waited until I had two pairs of vintage heels from Ethan's 90-year-old piano teacher Sophia.
The heels had been given to Sophia by her friend Sita Devi, the Maharani of Baroda, a mysterious Indian noblewoman who used to cavort with the Paris jet set. The Maharani gave Sophia a lot of gifts, including a collection of 107 saris.
The shoemaker was a beetle-browed Russian who operated out of a storefront on Montague Street next to Connecticut Muffin. He examined the pumps silently. One pair was gold with a rhinestone teardrop over the toe; the other was lavender silk. They were so old that the bottoms of the heels had crumbled away.
"Nice shoes," he said at last.
I swelled with pride. "They belonged to a princess."
"I know," he said.
After he fixed them I wore them a few times. They made me think of the Little Mermaid. Not the Disney version, the Andersen original, where the witch tells the little mermaid, "you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw."
After that, I went back to my local guy, an Italian man who never judged me for buying cheap shoes that needed to be resoled constantly because I walk weird. But then one day his store was closed down, and I heard from the neighbors that something awful had happened to him. And I had one pair of boots - gray suede with stacked heels that I bought in Genoa with my mom - that had proven beyond the Italian's power to mend. So today I returned to Debi's guy with three pairs of shoes that had survived our apartment fire.
Things were subtly changed. The Connecticut Muffin was now defunct. There was a row of old shoes for sale next to the register. The Russian greeted me eagerly and showed not the slightest scorn for the pair of Chinese Laundry peep-toe booties that I had bought at TJ Maxx with Cousin Nikki for $30, ten dollars cheaper than what he now demanded for resoling.
Although that seemed outlandish, the shoes were surprisingly versatile. I'd worn the stilettos down to the metal core, creating a terrible sensation when I walked on pavement, like the shoe equivalent of tinfoil on fillings.
"I don't know if you can even fix these," I said, demonstrating the loose heel on the gray boots that the Italian had only worsened. The Russian disappeared into the back with them, then returned a moment later.
"I can fix," he said.
He turned my baby blue Donald Pliner cowboy boots over in his hands. They didn't even really need new soles, I realized. I had brought them in to elevate the collection.
"These are well made," he said.
My stepmom had bought them for me in Houston after we'd buried my dad. I thought about telling the Russian that, but I was afraid he'd say, "I know."
He added up some figures in his head and announced the repairs would cost $165.
This was a staggering figure, but we lost so much in the fire that I've taken a sort of nihilistic attitude to financial transactions. I let a car service driver charge me $20 for a ride today that should have cost $8, and the other day I bought a $30 pair of panties.
"You pay full amount in cash now," said the Russian.
I only had $75, so he told me to come back with the rest tomorrow. I told him I wasn't sure I'd have time.
"Come soon. Bring cash. Rent is expensive here."
He pointed sadly to the row of old shoes for sale and told me they had been left behind by former customers.
I asked his name, and he said it was Vitaly.
"Like Vitaly Klitschko," I said.
"No!" he cried.
He launched into a long diatribe about Vitaly's venal approach to Ukrainian politics. I'm seeing Wladimir fight this Saturday at the Garden, before any of the shoes will be ready. I should have taken notes.