kathleen-powers-vermaelen Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen teaches writing and is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Literature at Stony Brook Southampton. Her work has been published in Proteus, Beginnings, PKA’s Advocate, MotherVerse, Main Channel Voices, The Southampton Review and The East Hampton Star. She lives with her husband and two sons in Bayport, New York. _________________________________________________________________________________________ one-pair-too-manyOne Pair Too Many

Careening down Stewart Avenue toward Blake’s house with a lumpy plastic grocery bag resting on the passenger seat beside me, I fantasize a scene—but not the one I’ll cause when I confront Blake.  I’m envisioning the scene that’ll take place hours after I’ve fled, when homicide detectives circle my ex’s prone corpse and puzzle over the murder weapon.  Why?  Because sticking out of Blake’s mouth will be the tip of the golf shoe I’ve jammed down his throat. Death by suffocation, they’ll call it.  Death by stupidity would be more accurate.

The tasteful, cream-colored envelope arrived on my desk one morning four weeks ago.  An embossed invitation within requested my presence at the annual company golf outing, an exclusive event held for executives and noted up-and-comers.  Suppressing gleeful shrieks, I’d spent the rest of my day obsessing about preparing for the event. Once home, I reassured myself by loitering at my closet, fingering the exquisite golf outfit I’d purchased eight months ago while still dating Blake.  When I finally turned my attention to the closet floor, I expected to see my matching pair of golf shoes posing there.  But they weren’t. Frowning, I dove into deep thought, retracing their steps.

Memory then sandbagged me: The last time I’d used them was during a Washington DC golfing vacation with Blake, after which he’d insisted I put them in his car’s trunk for safekeeping. If I wanted my shoes back, I’d have to call him.

Groaning, I collapsed on my bed.  I knew Blake would consider my call anything but an honest attempt to reclaim an overpriced pair of golf shoes.  The minute we’d hung up, he’d go to the water cooler and snicker with his buddies about his obsessed ex’s poor excuse for reestablishing contact.  Now I had to choose: reach out and be labeled a lovelorn fool, or relinquish the shoes and save face.

After some deliberation, I made my decision.  Screw him.  I wasn’t going to spend $100 on a new pair because Blake had a magnificent ego.  I’d make it crystal clear that all I wanted were the shoes—nothing else.  If he synthesized that into an attempt at rekindling, he’d have to stretch things in order to get there.

I called Blake’s office the following Monday morning because I didn’t feel like hearing my replacement—the woman with whom he’d cheated—answer his home telephone.  The gods smiled upon me because his voice-mail answered.

“Blake, it’s Rachel.  Just calling because I need my golf shoes back for this company thing.  They’re in the trunk of your car.  If you could swing by my place and stick them in the mailbox on your way home, I’d appreciate it.  Thanks.”

Satisfied that there was no way to misinterpret that, I hung up. Twenty minutes later, my office phone rang.

“Raych, it’s Blake,” he said when I picked up.  “I was in a meeting.”

“You didn’t have to call me back.”

“No, I wanted to.  How’ve you been?”

I squirmed.  “Fine.  You?”

“Good.”

Awkward silence ensued.  “So, you’re going golfing?”

“Right—at the company’s executive outing.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.  Can I have my golf shoes back?”

“I’ll swing by on Friday.  When’s a good time?”

“Just drop them in my mailbox anytime.”

“No, someone might see me and steal them.  You’re a seven and that’s a pretty common woman’s shoe size.”

“They’re golf shoes, Blake.  I don’t think many people would be interested.”

“Even so, I want to make sure you get them.  When’s a good time?”

“No, really— throw ’em in a grocery bag.  No one will know.”

“Don’t you want them back safely?”

I snickered.  “Blake, what’s the deal here?”

“I’d like to catch up.  It’s been… what?  Four months?”

I bit my tongue.  Yes, it had been just that—four months.  Sixteen weeks.  One hundred and twenty three days.  The amount of time I’d spent working my tail off, busying myself so I wouldn’t think about having wasted a year with a pushy, commitment-phobic jerk.  But saying so wouldn’t help me get my shoes back.

“Everything’s great.  All I’m missing is my golf shoes.”

“Honestly, Raych.  Can’t you try not to be so bitter?”

“Will you drop them off or not?”

“Fine, we’ll do it your way.  But I still can’t swing by until Friday.”

“Okay.  Let me know if that plan changes.”

I hung up. Of course, the shoes did not arrive as promised on Friday evening—and they failed to show in the two weeks that followed. By the third Saturday, I could wait no more.

“Blake,” I said in a calm tone when his voicemail took my call, “it’s been almost three weeks now.  Is there a problem?  Should I come by the house to pick the shoes up?  If you’d rather I not, please drop them off this week.”  I hoped my veiled threat—to come over and introduce myself to his bimbo—might motivate him.

I almost did a spontaneous jig of joy in the street when I discovered a white Waldbaum’s grocery bag inside my mailbox the following Friday evening, the outline of the shoes visible through the translucent white plastic.  It wasn’t until I’d flung the shoes into the bottom of my bedroom closet that I realized something was off.  Flipping on the light, I stared down in disbelief.  My shoes were brown and white.  These were black and white.  They weren’t my shoes—and that could mean only one thing. He’d dropped off her shoes instead.

“Passive aggressive son of a bitch.”  I snatched up the shoes and headed to the door.  “You want a scene?  Fine! You’ve got one!”

When I pull up in front of Blake’s two-bedroom, hunter green ranch, I leap out with the strange golf shoes in hand and stalk up his well-lit driveway, considering which expletives to use when he appears. I ring the bell, trying to control my trembling.  The front door swings open, and a stranger materializes in the yellow porch light.

“Hi… you’re Rachel, right?”

I recognize him as half of the couple that rents Blake’s basement apartment.  “Hi,” I say, wondering when Blake started socializing with his tenants.  “Is Blake—?”

“Guess you haven’t heard, huh?” Everything makes sense at once.

“He doesn’t live here anymore,” I say.

“Well, yes and no.  He and… um, he moved to Connecticut.  He still keeps the basement apartment, though.  For when he visits family.”

“How long ago did he move out?”

“Two months ago.”  The tenant shifts his weight from foot to foot. “Sorry.”

“Right.  Thanks.”

I start back down the porch steps, a dull ache in my throat.  Current feelings aside, this news is difficult to stomach.  I couldn’t even joke about Blake and I moving in together; he’d insisted he would never be ready for that type of commitment.  Yet it had taken only a few months with her to make an exception.

As if this bombshell isn’t enough, another comes—Blake’s Benz pulling up at the curb behind my car.  When I recognize it, I clench my jaw so hard my teeth feel as if I’ve just chomped down on tinfoil.  Seeing the two of them together is not what I need at present. But a lone woman gets out of the driver’s seat and moves toward the base of the driveway carrying an overstuffed brown bag, a loaf of Italian bread jutting from its top. I glance over my shoulder then and note the gentle glow from the basement windows on the side lawn.  They’re down for the weekend—that accounts for the shoes’ sudden arrival tonight—and Blake’s downstairs, waiting for his girlfriend to get back their dinner.

I focus on her, taking a good look for the first time.  She’s about a decade younger than I am, blonde, skinny and long-legged.  She wears a low-cut black blouse with matching tight leggings and those clunky, Candies’ high-heeled sandals that come in and out of style.  Her face is, of course, perfect.  I now regret having left the house without checking my makeup. She slows when she nears me.

“Can I help you?” she asks, her voice baby-dollish, like Melanie Griffith’s. What the hell, I think, I’m already in this deep.  I hold up the Waldbaum’s bag.

“These wouldn’t happen to be your golf shoes inside here?”

“My boyfriend just bought me a pair. How’d you—?”

I thrust my hand forward.  “Pleased to meet you.  I’m Rachel, Blake’s ex.”

“Oh!”  She shakes my hand.  “Nice to meet you.  I’m Marla.  I guess you’d say I’m the ‘current’.”  She laughs, nervous.

“Look,” I say, handing the Waldbaum’s bag to her. “I asked Blake to return my golf shoes.  He dropped this wrong pair off earlier.  I just came to get the right ones.”

“I’ll bet they’re in the trunk.  He keeps mine there, so he might have confused them.”

“Sounds right.  So, you’ve got the keys—can you help me out?”

Marla’s eyes widen.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Blake asked me not to go into his trunk.”

Her too?  “Look, I’ll never tell.  Let’s sneak it quick.  He’ll be none the wiser.” Marla looks unconvinced, so I add, “Otherwise, we’ll have to get him involved and, well, I wouldn’t want to spoil your evening.”

This makes sense to Marla.  “Follow me.”

We return to the street.  I wait while she puts her bag down on the curb and slips her key into the Benz’s trunk lock.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you a golfer,” I say, just to make small talk.

“Blake got me into it.” She pushes the trunk lid up and steps back.  “He’s obsessed.”

“Tell me about it.  I’d never have bought golf shoes otherwise.”

The street lamp above illuminates the haphazard contents that lay within: a spare tire, a few tools, work gloves, a tire iron.

“Let’s see…” Marla lifts a large blue duffel bag from a corner of the trunk’s depths.  “Maybe they’re in here?”  She unzips, overturns and shakes the bag until the contents spill out, clunking against the other items inside. We blink, confused, while examining the bounty.  “What the—?”  I pick up one of several pairs of ladies’ golf shoes, all joined together by knotted laces.

“What the hell is this?”

At first, Marla just stares.  Then she recovers and seizes a pair.

“Are these yours?” she asks, trying her best to sound as if this were a normal situation.

“No, too big.  Maybe these?”  I pick up a pair that looks like mine.  “Nope, eights.”  I put them aside and sift through the others. “Whose shoes are these, anyway?”

Marla shrugs as if she doesn’t care.

“I guess we now know why he didn’t want us in his trunk.”

She frosts over.  “Have you found your pair yet?”

“Wait a sec.” I fish out another pair—size seven but the wrong colors.  “Nope.” I grab another but put it down when I see they’re the wrong color and size.  “Nope.”  Then, I spy familiar shoes.  “Hold on…”  I check for small, blue-inked initials inside the heel.  “These are mine.” Marla places both hands on the trunk lid and I step back.  She slams it so hard, the sound of impact echoes back from the stockade fence across the street.

“Well,” she says, “you got what you came for.”

“I definitely did. Thanks.”  I head back to my car, trying not to smile. Grocery bag back in her arms, Marla clops up the driveway.  Meanwhile, I slide into my car and start the engine.  Only after I pull away from the curb do I begin convulsing with repressed hilarity.  I do this because Marla’s the one asking questions tonight, not me.  And I do it because Blake no longer has one pair too many.

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