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The Fiction Challenge: ‘Charlie’s Shoes’ by Laurie Oien

Editor’s note:

Just a reminder to readers that you need to press the “Like” button to vote for your favorite stories, not the “star rating.” Writers, get your fans, friends, family, and followers to come vote. Here is story #2 for the Fiction Writing Challenge. Enjoy!

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Charlie’s Shoes

A dusty light leaked from the attic door whispering a hint of an undiscovered past. Something hidden so long ago, not even the little gnomes heard the hush in the air.

Patty had been distracted by a phone call but knew she had to get that out of her mind right now, as she needed to continue her search through the stowed away boxes in the attic. Yet, the phone call was a momentary deterrent from the flying dust that had etched a film of grit to her eyes and skin.

Patty knew her family was relying on her to go through Grandma Bev’s boxes of pictures for the memory collage they were creating for her funeral. The rest of the Hall family was busy with the funeral arrangements and gathering pictures seemed easy enough task for her.

Her grandmother’s passing brought back many childhood memories of time spent in this old house. Even now, at age 50, Patty can still smell the cinnamon aroma that filled the kitchen when grandma made cinnamon swirl rolls. The kitchen windows draped in pink floral curtains added extra warmth and glow to the room on this beautiful spring day. From the front porch, grandma’s favorite rocking chair sat in an ideal spot to admire her grove of apple trees. Today they were in full bloom bursting pink blossoms as if they were perfectly poised to honor grandma on this May Day.

The little gnome statues were still scattered about the kitchen in random corners and shelves that had mesmerized Patty all those years she came here to visit. The gnomes had funny expressive faces and she remembered making up silly gnome stories while waiting for grandma to slice a piece of warm apple pie for her.

On the counter, sat the giant ceramic cookie jar shaped like a chocolate chip cookie, which had been in the same spot for as long as Patty could remember. If it wasn’t in its assigned corner that meant Uncle Jerry was visiting and it was situated in front of his huge glass of milk at the kitchen table with his arm digging inside like one of those claw grabbing machines.

Catching a glimpse out the kitchen window, the old rocker was sitting motionless on the front porch exactly where it’s always been. Nothing here ever changed much. It was always simple, effortless and safe.

Except now, the emptiness of the house had emotionally wormed in and latched on more than she thought it would. Revisiting these memories was heartwarming, but she realized there was a job to do. She needed to get those pictures gathered and be on her way.

Patty wiggled through the attic between narrow spaces of stacked boxes, piles of clothes, mounds of books, scattered antique pieces and an unusual amount of things grandma had hoarded during her life. The shuffling of boxes stirred up a mushroom cloud of dust that managed to snake its way up her nose. Aunt Grace told her the boxes of pictures were on the shelf above the brown antique dresser. Patty saw the dresser and spotted them exactly where she said they’d be. She lifted one of the boxes down to the floor and sat down on a green and white braided rug that had been situated in front of the dresser.

Going through the box, she saw some photos were stockpiled in tattered manila envelopes, some nicely displayed in photo albums and some tossed loose like lost souls at the bottom of the box. Opening the photo album, one picture immediately jumped out at her. It was a picture of her as a baby being bathed in the kitchen sink. Grandma was elbow deep in bubbles and laughing in the picture. Patty giggled at the picture once she noticed the bubbles had formed a bubble beard on her baby chin.

Sifting through old black and white pictures was a look back in time and it was interesting to see the youthful family reflections. There were snapshots of her dad posing with his Red Racer bike. Uncle Jerry pictured in a snazzy sailor suit.

Fumbling a little deeper into the box were slightly curled and yellowed photos of a much younger Grandma Bev and Grandpa Frank holding hands in front of an old vintage car. It was a lovely picture with grandma’s wide smile and grandpa looking very proud. It was probably their first family car.

Peeking from the loose pile was an adorable captured moment of grandma and Aunt Grace. Grace was a rosy-cheeked little girl sitting in a baby buggy wearing a white lace dress and a frilly bonnet. She knew it was Aunt Grace because the shape of her almond eyes and round cheeks was almost exactly the way she looked now.

Patty glanced back at her own younger pictures to see if she had the same resemblance to her current adult face. Intently focused, she was alarmed by the home phone ringing. Dropping the pile of pictures that had pulled her into a rabbit hole of reminiscing, she stood from the heap and scurried down the attic stairs.

Reluctant to reach for the phone, she remembered it was her grandma’s phone. Here she was standing in a lifeless kitchen and Grandma Bev was no longer here to answer her own phone. No longer making cinnamon rolls in the kitchen and no longer sitting on the front porch in her rocking chair.

Patty stood paralyzed in thought for an instant but was immediately revived by the continuous phone ringing. Gripping the receiver cautiously, like it was a ghost calling, she answered. “Hello.”

“Hello Patty.”

“Oh, hi dad, why are you calling on grandma’s phone?”

“I tried calling your cell phone, you didn’t answer,” he explained.

She eyed her purse on the kitchen table. “Sorry, it’s in my purse in the kitchen and I was up in the attic, so I didn’t hear it.”

“That’s what I figured, so I thought calling the home phone you’d hear that.”

“Yeah, it freaked me out, you know,” Patty remarked.

“Sorry about that, but I really wanted to talk to you.”

“Okay, what’s up?”

“I know you’re working hard to gather those pictures, but I don’t want you spending too much time up there in the attic,” he expressed matter-of-factly.

“It’s alright, I’m kind of enjoying going through these old pictures. Did you know Aunt Grace pretty much looks the same as her baby pictures?”

“Hmmm, that’s funny, but listen just grab one box of photos and bring it back home and we’ll go through them together,” he replied.  “Hurry up now – time’s a wasting!”

Patty got a suspicious feeling from her dad’s tone. He seemed almost cranky about it.

Patty ignoring his demand said, “I thought being at grandma’s house was kind of melancholy at first, but now I’m sort of embracing the memories spent here. Looking through these old pictures has been a nice healing process.”

Dad’s response was less understanding. “Listen Patty Cakes, I don’t think it would be right for you to be going through grandma’s private things before the family has had a chance to go through it first.”

Patty was still stuck back on him calling her Patty Cakes. He hadn’t called her that in a long time. But, this time it was said differently. Not like when she was a kid. This time his voice had undertones of unease. He had always been a little overprotective of her. Over the years, it had strained their relationship and caused some head-butting. It was hard for him when she moved out on her own. He still tries to control her decisions.

Due to the circumstances, she didn’t want to make a thing of it. “Alright I’ll find a good box of pictures and I’ll get going here soon.”

“Great see you in a half hour,” he urged.

Rubbing at the dust tickling her nose, her thoughts still lingered with curiosity. He sure seemed apprehensive about her rummaging around in the attic too long.

Looking at the dusty light leaking from the attic door, she had a puzzled feeling come over her. Trying to avoid the distraction of her dad’s phone call, she knew she had to get back on task.

Lumbering back up the creaky wooden stairs, she went back to the box left sitting on the rug and started packaging up pictures, so she could get on her way.

Suddenly, a shimmering caught in a stream of sunlight from the attic window had caught her eye. Turning her gaze to see where the flickering was coming from, she noticed a beaded and sequined dress hanging in the back corner. The random sequins acted like a sun catcher and Patty, intrigued by its glitzy red velvet fabric, had to get a better look.

Making her way through stacks of clothes, books and old shoes she reached for it. A stack of books tumbled over as Patty reached through the constricted space, knocking over an antique brass lamp perched on top of a box.

Frazzled and almost expecting grandma to yell from downstairs, “what are you doing up there?” “Did you break something?” Of course, that wouldn’t happen, but in her haste to pick things up, she noticed a plain white shoe box and on the outside lid a name was written in black print. Brushing away the dust, it revealed the name, Charles Hall.

Her eyes burning from the flying dust, she squinted to focus on the name written in faded black marker. It definitely read Charles Hall. Patty searching her mind didn’t recall anyone in the family named Charles. Her Grandpa Frank died years ago, in fact, she never knew him. Maybe Charles was someone on grandpa’s side of the family, like a brother or something.

Naturally, she needed to look inside the box to solve the mystery of this Charles person. Her dust coated fingers latched around the lid to lift it from the box. Her stomach knotted a bit when she realized her snooping may have gone too far. Too late, Patty had to look inside.

Inside the box was a pair of white silk baby shoes. They were tiny and, most likely, for an infant or two month old. Patty held them carefully in one hand. How sweet and adorable they looked balancing on her palm. She ran her finger with a gentle stroke along the soft silk fabric tracing it up to the fragile stream of intertwined ribbon found resting in a tender bow.

Still curious about this discovery, she turned the box lid towards the light from the window to see the lettering once again. Patty’s brow furrowed inquisitively. Who is Charles Hall?

Patty did a run through of the family tree in her head. Grandpa Frank and Grandma Bev had three children, Thomas, Grace, and Jerry. Aunt Grace and her husband, Marty, had two kids, Sylvia and Seth. Uncle Jerry never married nor had kids. He was the consummate bachelor. Tom and Frannie, her mom and dad, only had her.

No one in the family had ever mentioned a baby named Charles. Peeping in the box for more clues she noticed the shoes had been placed on top of a blue fuzzy blanket and a blue knit cap.

Her mind-bending to solve this mystery, she was quickly jolted from her thoughts when the home phone started ringing. Grasping at her watch she realized that an hour had passed since the last phone call with her dad.

Peering at her surroundings, it appeared she was ten boxes deep into the attic corner and knew it would take great strides to burrow out and get downstairs to answer the phone. Besides, she already knew it was her dad calling. Probably wondering where she was. From his concerned tone during their earlier conversation, she would be reluctant to tell him that she’d been snooping in grandma’s stuff and uncovered a mystery shoe box.

Ignoring the phone, she found herself steadfast in wanting to dig deeper to find out Charlie’s identity. Is it possible that this was Grandpa and Grandma’s baby boy that they never spoke of? It’s quite possible they lost a child and it was just too painful for grandma to talk about it, especially with her. Why would she discuss such things with her granddaughter? Still holding Charlie’s shoes in her hand, it dawned on her that Charles was too formal of a name. Somehow, she already felt a bond to him and sensed that he’d want to be called Charlie.

The persistent phone ringing finally stopped and maybe this would give her a little more time to snoop around before her dad would try calling again. Putting the shoes in her jacket pocket, she poked in the same area hoping to find more clues connecting Charlie to any other fascinating details.

From the earlier book avalanche, it appeared that other belongings had tumbled out of place. A quick glimpse over the clutter is when she fixated on a small brown leather attaché case that appeared to have been snuggled behind the stack of tumbled books and wedged between a vintage pink hat box and some canvas paintings.

Reaching for the case she trembled trying to push the latch and open the flap. Knowing she was running out of time and the idea this case would solve the mystery made her extremely nervous. She sat on the attic floor and proceeded to pull the flap back and tugged on the paperwork secured inside.

Patty, practically hyperventilating, pulled a stack of papers that looked to be hospital bills and insurance documents. Her eyes scanning the contents noticed that most of it was addressed in her dad’s name, Thomas Hall. Patty thought it was odd her dad’s personal documents would be in grandma’s attic, but it really didn’t seem like anything noteworthy. She was about to shove it all back in the case when she noticed at the bottom of the stack was a fancier piece of paper with an official seal stamped on it. Drawing it from the stack, she stared at what looked to be a birth certificate.

Knowing this could unlock more clues, she scrutinized the document with intensity. Unexpectedly, a rapid heat began to rise through her body. With her eyes locked in on the birth certificate, she was finding it very difficult to focus. It felt like someone had punched her in the stomach, her head felt hot and faint. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

Saliva had collected in her mouth and the anxiety tightened her throat making it difficult to swallow. She wasn’t prepared for the information fallout that was being exposed plain as day in front of her. The birth certificate revealed the child born was Charles Thomas Hall with the date of birth being May 13, 1967.

Patty had to examine that date again and again. This was her exact birth date. It was the same month, same date, same year. Further down the document, it read birth mother as Frances Faye Hall and birth father was Thomas Franklin Hall. Tom and Frannie – her mom and dad!

Patty’s mind was whirling. The room was spinning with dizzy confusion. She had to get out of this attic; she was finding it hard to breathe. Letting the birth certificate slip from her hand she tried to stand from her spot on the floor. Her legs felt weak as she managed to thrust through the narrow pathway and reached in her jacket pocket where her hand rediscovered Charlie’s shoes.

Tears flooded her eyes as she groped for the wall with her other hand while wavering to find her footing on the first step. Patty staggered down the stairs barely reaching the bottom without falling.

Making her way through the kitchen, she busted out the door to the front porch. The fresh spring air and the fragrance of apple blossoms hit her straight away. Tears running down her face she lurched for the rocking chair and bore down into the wicker seat. Her hands sweeping to cradle her exhausted and sorrowed face, she noticed the shoes had crumpled within her grip.

“Oh my God, this can’t be!” She wailed towards the grove of apple trees.

If it was possible, her body felt limp and enraged at the same time. “Why didn’t I know about him?” She howled from the front porch like a sickened hound. Patty looked down at the tiny shoes and wept. It was almost like a part of her was missing – a part of her soul and her being had been abandoned.

This new discovery had turned her thoughts upside down and inside out and trying to retrace her steps only created a feeling of loss and trauma.

Settling her emotions and taking a deep breath, Patty took notice of her whereabouts. She was sitting in grandma’s rocker but didn’t remember slipping herself into it. In her state of shock, all logic had fallen apart and her body felt numb.

Once she realized where she was sitting, she suddenly felt comfort in this spot. She pulled herself together and swiftly tried to smooth and restore Charlie’s shoes that had been crumpled in her hand.

They were her twin brother’s shoes. My God…her twin brother!

She had so many unanswered questions. Why didn’t she know about her twin brother after all these years? Is it even true? Is that birth certificate real? Is he dead? Where is he now?

Patty was searching the apple trees as if they had the answers. The apple trees she had climbed as a child. The apple trees Charlie could’ve climbed with her. He was the brother she always dreamt of having. So many moments she missed sharing with him. The first bike rides together, the first day of kindergarten, first homecoming, first car, our graduation, our upcoming birthday and those damn apple trees! That’s right; he would have been out there picking bushels of apples with her and sharing the pleasure of grandma’s apple pie.

Resting back in the rocking chair, closing her eyes and breathing in the perfumes of spring she somehow felt grandma hugging her. The familiar essence of Camay soap and the warmth of the chair embraced her heartbreak. A soothing spirit fell over her and a gentle breeze softened her face. The shock, the outburst, the irrational thinking settled and suddenly it felt like it was going to be alright.

It was as if her grandma had directed her to Charlie. The red velvet sequined dress glimmering in the stream of sunlight, the books falling, and the exposed shoe box. She knew it had to be grandma pointing her in a new direction. Was this a time to have a better understanding and resolve with her father?

She’ll get answers and knowing what could’ve been has to be good enough. It would have to be.

Patty’s thoughts were soon disrupted by the home phone ringing.

Patty opened her eyes and was now facing reality. She knew it was her dad calling. With calm and ease, she stood from the rocker. Still holding Charlie’s shoes in her hand, she wandered into the kitchen noticing the little gnomes huddled on the shelf. She had the peculiar feeling they felt her anguish.

Slowly and methodically she picked up the phone and quietly mumbled. “Hello.”

Tom grumbled on the other end of the line. “Patty, what is taking you so long and what have you been doing?”

“I’m holding Charlie’s shoes,” she said serenely.

Silence hung heavy in the air between them – what seemed to be forever.

“Hello, dad?”  “Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here Patty Cakes – I’m right here.”

Laurie Oien

Charlie’s Shoes By Laurie Oien two drops of ink fiction writing challenge

Laurie is a blogger, writer and contributing author to the anthology, Feisty After 45, released by Mills Park Publishing. Laurie resides in Minnesota and enjoys finding creative ways to write about everyday experiences for her blog. She spins stories about life with a humorous twist and a little pinch of dramatics. She’s also been a contributor to Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard.  You can find her enjoying the theatre, collaborating with other writers in a writing group, spending time with her husband and two children and will never miss the opportunity to delight in a daily dose of dark chocolate.  Now, that her kids are grown and off to college, she hopes to travel more and write entertaining stories from her adventures.

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Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:

1) The Fiction Challenge: ‘Charlie’s Shoes’ by Laurie Oien 

2) Fiction: Unusual Ink

This story won our Fiction Writing Challenge 2017

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  1. Dear Mrs O,
    You smacked this one out of the park! I got lost in the attic and in your story. I swear I smelled cinnamon and eau de Camay! And just now jumped out of my skin because my phone rang! Great word smithing! Loved it!! Dee

    • Dee, you sure know how to make a girl feel special! It warms my heart how the story drew you in. Thank you for the love and taking the time to read and comment.

  2. Enjoyed your story Laurie. I also wrote my story using this picture, so it was interesting to read a different take. BTW…ditto on the dark chocolate. We must be kindred spirits.

  3. I felt like I was Patty sitting on the rug in that attic looking at those pictures. It had just the right amount of suspense for me. I was wondering what she had just uncovered and worried what it was going to be. I just love reading your stories, great job.

    • Mary, I loved hearing that it had you in suspense and that you felt like you were there. Thank you so much for your kind words!

  4. Oh my gosh, Laurie, I totally loved the story and it captured me from the first line. Awesome writing and great heart warming feelings were felt by me as going through the boxes and finding Charlie’s shoes. I felt like I was in the attic with Patty. Love those kind of sharing memories and grandmas.

    • Richard, personally those are the stories I enjoy that can make a connection to our memories. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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