prose poetry prose poetry

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New Shoes - Richard Payette

she stands in the doorway of Room 317 in the glare of florescent lights, her head bowed, her eyes staring at the toe of her ragged shoe. She is Vietnamese or, at least, was until she came with her parents to Canada ten months ago. Her eighteen year old brother stayed behind to work for their aunt and uncle who own a leather goods store on the main street of Ho Chi Minh City.

Her English is surprisingly good though she rarely speaks, for no matter how hard she tries she cannot sound as careless as the others.

Her clothes are not her own. They were given to her by the wife of the minister in the church that sponsored her family's immigration.

A group of girls walk by and glare at her, then the tall blonde in the middle leans forward and whispers loud enough so she can hear, "Nice clothes, duh!" Their giggles fade down the hallway.

She continues to stare at the shoe which is a size too small, grieving that her toe is beginning to work its way through the worn leather.

She thinks of home, the memories impossible images of an impossible land that could not exist anywhere but there. She has no friends. Not yet. And she is hopeful that some day she will laugh like the others gathered in pockets along the corridors. She is sad because those dreams have become more vivid than home. She doesn't regret leaving Vietnam. There was no future for her there. She is only disappointed that the future is taking so long to take shape here.

Above her head the intercom squawks but she doesn't pay attention. It couldn't have anything to do with her.

"Hi, Yen."

There is a clatter of keys and she looks up to see her teacher, Mrs. Wilson, reaching for the door. "How was lunch?"

"Fine," she says though she has not eaten anything. They can't afford three meals a day yet, but soon, when her father gets a job, they will, then she will sit with the other girls and stuff herself with french fries and gravy while laughing about boys.

Mrs. Wilson throws her heavy shoulder bag on the desk as Yen makes her way to a desk at the front. She sits down and waits.

"You're awfully early, Yen. Why aren't you with the other kids?"

Yen shrugs.

Mrs. Wilson drops into the desk beside her. "Look Yen," the girl looks up though she keeps her eyes averted as she has been taught to do with her elders, "you need to make some effort to meet other kids. You can't hide away forever."

"Yes," Yen nods.

"I know at first it must seem strange but you get used to it, then it comes as easy as pie."

Yen nods though she has not yet looked at her teacher. She is puzzled, how is pie easy?

"Think of it like a pair of new shoes," Mrs. Wilson laughs. "At first they feel tight and uncomfortable but the more you walk around in them the better they get."

Yen wriggles her toes then stops as she feels the hole starting in the leather.

Mrs. Wilson sighs. "Yen, what do you want?"

The girl finally raises her eyes and looks at her in surprise. "Want?"

"Yes. What do you expect from people?"

The girl drops her head to her chest and focuses on her shoe.

"Yen, I'm asking you a question."

The girl looks up immediately.

"What do you want?"

Softly, so the teacher can hardly hear, she says, "Doc Martens."

Richard Payette is a Secondary School English and Creative Writing teacher. He has had short stories published in various American literary magazines and e-zines.
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