It is the end of a long, windy and dusty day, and as the sun shimmies down to the horizon—yellow light catching the pale green grass so the Wyoming prairie looks swathed in gold—I am going to help my father take off his boots. I am six or seven, and these boots, dusty and well-worn, hold tired, dogged feet. I can hear Satan, my grandparents’ German Shepherd, eat his dinner, the metal bowl rattling as his big black snout pushes it around the floor. His name is Satan because he had a sister named Angel, but Angel died young. In spite of the name, he was a good dog, who was tolerant of me when I stuck my face into his deep fur, or when I laid with him on the living room rug near the fireplace so we could listen to the wind howl outside together.
There was a method to removing the boots. I learned it at a young age. It went like this: Dad would sit down on a chair and stick one leg out, then I would flip one leg over his, straddling his leg much like we had straddled horses all day. Face the toes, bend over, grab the boot by the heel, and walk forward. Sometimes, Dad needed to wiggle his foot a little in order to get the boot moving; sometimes, I had to grunt and huff and pull really hard before the boot budged. Sometimes, I would fly forward and we would laugh. Drop the boot, run to the other side, do it again. For my own boots, I’d sit on the floor, pull and heave until my boots came off, contorting my legs in ways that tired adults could not, or would not. Once removed, the boots sat neatly near the door.
When Dad left, he took his boots with him.
Three decades later, I remember all this as I stare down at a pile of shoes. It is autumn in Colorado, and this means snow boots and flip-flops alike rest by the back door. They sit in a pile of confusion, a heap of our chaos, until there are so many we finally carry them all to their rightful places in our closets and sweep the floor where they’ve left dried leaves and dirt. I want to have one of those neat and tidy mudrooms, with storage cubes made of woven rattan and soothing colors, a bench with a cushion so we can sit down to remove our shoes. The dog’s leash would hang on a hook shaped like a dog bone, my tennis shoes below, a simplicity when a walk is in order.
My daughter, age nine, comes in from playing in the snow, where I have already started preparing the hot chocolate I know she will ask for, and because this is a thing good mothers do. She sits on the floor, surrounded by flip-flops and tennis shoes, and contorts her leg as she tries to remove one snow boot, which is being held down by her elastic-bottomed snow pants.
“Mama?” she asks as she grunts and her pants swish, snow leaving pooled water on the cream-colored linoleum floor with its little green squares. The floor is ugly, but I don’t care. She looks up at me, wide gray eyes and dripping blond hair.
I consider bending over her boot, facing the toes, and pulling from the heel until the wiggle of the freed foot, then casting it aside to do the other. But I do not do this. Instead, I step forward to face her, bend down, and pull, removing her boot the normal way, not the Wyoming way—the way I was taught. The boot slides off, no ceremony. Then the other. Tossed aside. We step around the small pools of water on the ugly old linoleum floor and onto the hardwood of the kitchen, where I hand her a small cup of hot chocolate. She curls up next to the dog, who is lying near the fireplace, and sips her hot chocolate carefully as one hand strokes his fur.
JV Genova is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at Colorado State University and an associate editor for Colorado Review. When she isn't writing, she dabbles in photography and grows potatoes. She cannot believe she is someone's mother. She can be found on Twitter @jv_genova and on Instagram @jv_genova.
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