As the boot flew across the room, Manford wondered if the job market was truly as horrendous as his employer had informed him that it was. Personally, he didn’t know of anyone without a job that wished to have one. In fact, Mr. Charles had asked Manford if he knew of anyone else who would be suitable for the footwear position.
Mr. Charles had been most diligent in searching for an alternate gentleman to perform this task, but to no avail. There was the matter of discretion of course, but more importantly that of trust. Manford had undertaken the mission and now, after two fruitless months of searching, he was still hard at work. There truly didn’t appear to be any end in sight.
“Yee-haw! Let’s see how this sucker fits!” The young woman seated in front of him squealed enthusiastically.
“Language, Delilah.” Her mother prompted.
“Yes, ma'am.” The girl responded. She smiled seductively at Manford and batted her thick eyelashes toward him in apology. “Please mister, I'd like to see how this shoe fits my foot iffen you don’t mind.”
“As you wish.” Manford knew he should be grateful for the client he was dealing with at the moment. The zealous boot throwing aside, she and her mother and her sister had been most gracious. He wondered if they had been in a strict religious order at some point. Through his recent travels, Manford had discovered that women who had suffered in silence were those most likely to listen closely with an open mind to what he had to say.
He sighed. He hated this part of his job. “I’m so terribly sorry, Miss. I’m afraid the shoe does not…”
“My turn!” The elder woman standing behind him declared, rushing to push her own daughter aside. “Now why don’t you fetch Manford another cup of tea, Delilah? This won’t take a minute. Send Celia in, too. I’d like her to see this!”
Delilah soon returned with a fresh pot of tea and her older sister in tow.
“Bloody fantastic, isn’t it Cele?”
“Yes. Oh, you were so right! Let me try it on!”
Celia beamed as she took the seat recently vacated by her mother. Manford was familiar with the look. It was an appreciation for a chance of easy social advancement. “Mr. Ah…?”
“Mr. Manford, I’d like to know your thoughts about cosmetic surgery. People are having tummies tucked and brows lifted everyday! Don’t you think that a little clip here and there, well that wouldn’t hurt anybody, now would it? It’s not like anyone would have to know.” Celia smiled tantalizingly. It was obviously her best asset and apparently she wasn’t afraid to use it to gain any advantage it might offer her.
“I’m sorry, Miss. My instructions are quite clear. No alterations or substitutions of any kind.”
“But surely there can be an exception. Our family physician wouldn’t mind helping us out a bit. Dr. Riley could probably find me a qualified surgeon by tomorrow afternoon. Why, I could be under the knife by Friday. What do you say? I won’t tell anybody if you don’t.”
“Again, I do apologize for any inconvenience. The criterion given to me was quite straightforward.”
“Not even if I offered…” Celia began to undo the top button on her silk shirt. “You see, I’m rather fond of your boss. I think I’d be able to please him…” She unbuttoned another button, “In every way.”
“I am so sorry for taking up so much of your time. Thank-you so much for the tea. It was quite delightful.” Manford packed up his bag and walked to the door, “Thank you ladies. It was a pleasure to meet all of you.”
He bowed slightly and left the house. He knew he had just left the women with sorrow in their hearts. His own chest was heavy. He allowed himself a brief sigh. Believers in the ways of old were becoming farther and fewer apart these days. Manford blamed the computers and the automobiles and everything else that made things go so fast.
People just didn’t take the time to reflect anymore. They didn’t read fairy tales or Aesop’s fables or the stories by the Brothers’ Grimm. People no longer knew that the morals in those tales took time to soak into one’s soul. Now everything seemed to be about efficiency but Manford knew the truth. Most of life was about the enjoyment of simply being. Rewards were far and few between as they were always meant to be.
Manford thought the new ways he saw carried out recently were ludicrous. Not every sniveling, ill-formed and uncoordinated child deserved a trophy, not for merely showing up to school. He knew things hadn’t gone that far yet, but he wondered if it wasn’t just a matter of time before they did progress that far into the absurd.
No matter. He reminded himself he was not here to judge others for their beliefs or lack thereof, just the shape and size of their feet. He pulled out one of the cans of Lysol he began each day with. He pulled out the left shoe made of glass and sprayed it, inside and out until it glistened with beads of disinfectant. It was late now. He was tired. He sat down on the bench to wait for the bus. He pulled out his map and crossed off the houses he had visited today. No matches.
It was just after the clocks had changed for the season. In the last bright bit of the afternoon, Manford felt discouraged. What if he failed in this endeavor? Would this be his last, lonely undertaking? People moved around so much more quickly these days. While he had begun the search in the nearest neighborhoods, no matches were found nearby. The quest expanded outward. He kept searching, farther and farther away from the castle, always wondering where the girl with such petite feet might be.
Manford looked up the street to see if the local was running late. Again. The black smoke of the cross town bus plumed into a hideous cloud as it pulled through the light a block up the avenue. Manford was about to return to the google map he had printed out that overlapped today’s route with that of the past two weeks searches when something sparkly caught his eye. There was a woman, a girl really, walking toward him. The clothes she wore appeared to be rags. He couldn’t be certain if that was intentional or not. Fashion used to be so much easier to understand. She seemed to be limping. On closer inspection, Manford saw that she only wore one shoe. One right shoe. She started to pass by him.
Manford smiled. He raised his eyes upward and gave a nod with silent thanks to anyone or anything that might have been listening to his mortal thoughts. He felt as if his prayers had just been answered.
“Excuse me, Miss. May I trouble you for a moment? I believe I may have something of yours.”