This is a fable written by a friend that reminds us that we are not always the size we think we are. As a stylist, I caution every client not to get hung up on the size printed on the label. The International Sizing Standard is no longer adhered to, so you could fit perfectly in three different sizes of jeans depending on the whims of each manufacturer. Go for fit over size. Keep an open mind about the size that the label says that you are!

Now for the fable…

by Margaret Harmon

Once upon a time a man bought a pair of shoes that looked very handsome on his feet.  By the time he got home, however, the shoes were pinching him terribly.  It occurred to him to return them to the store, but he remembered that his father’d always said, “Nobody likes a complainer.”

The man tried to stretch his new shoes with shoetrees.  He tried to soften the leather by bending it back and forth, back and forth.  He decided to wear thinner socks with these shoes.  He laced them looser.

The shoes were extremely well made, and the man felt dashing in them. But they pinched his feet as painfully as ever.

The man discovered that if he pulled his toes back into a clump the shoes didn’t hurt quite so much.  He found, though, that the dull pain made him stoop a little and place his feet more carefully when he walked.

When he first put his shoes on in the morning, they hurt him very much, but by the time he got to work, his feet were numb and he didn’t feel them any more.  He was learning to walk faster with his toes curled.  And by swinging his arms a bit harder, he could walk quite well bent forward.  But it did interfere with his breathing.

The man had responsibilities and eventually forgot about his shoes.  He put them on each morning, curled his toes, bent over, pumped his arms, breathed tiny puffs of air, and carried on with his work.

A year later his handsome shoes were no longer new.  The soles were worn thin, the heels were run over, and the stitching was loose in two places.

“What size do you take?” asked the salesman.

“I don’t know,” said the man.

The salesman picked up the old shoes and looked inside.  “12-B,” he said.  And he brought the man five pairs of stylish new shoes to choose from.

The man selected a smart-looking pair of cordovan wingtips that cost a great deal of money.  He curled his toes, bent over, pumped his arms, and sucked in tiny puffs of air as he walked to the cash register to pay for his handsome new shoes.

The wingtips were heavier than his other shoes, so he had to bend over a little farther and pump his arms a little harder to walk with much speed.  He could breathe in only little squirts of air this way, his back was developing a great hump from being bent all day, and the pain was making him clench and grind his teeth.  The only advantage was that with his face so close to the ground he often found money other people had lost.  He once discovered a twenty-dollar bill floating in a gutter.

During that year the man had to have all his teeth extracted and false teeth fitted.  But he found a total of $67.84, two different fourteen-carat gold earrings, and a mother-of-pearl key ring.

It took the man years to wear out his wingtip shoes because it was so uncomfortable to walk now, that he rode everywhere he possibly could.  His legs atrophied a little and his feet shrank a bit; his eyes grew weaker because he looked mostly at the ground, which was never more than a few feet from his face.  He huffed and puffed, inhaled and exhaled, but his lungs began filling with fluid because he never straightened his torso anymore.

The longer he stayed bent, the harder it was for his heart to pump.  The harder it was for his heart to pump, the more fluid seeped into his poor squashed lungs.

At last the wingtips wore out, and the man took a taxi to the shoe store to buy some brand new shoes.  He was very excited.

The salesman noted, in the wingtips, that the man was a 12-B, so he brought his finest new 12-B’s for the little bent man to see.  The man peered at the shiny new shoes and stroked the smooth leather with his fingertips.  He hefted the shoes for weight and noticed the crepe soles on the casual ones.

He was enjoying the new-shoe smell of a lovely caramel-colored loafer when, in his excitement, a drop of saliva caught in his bent-over windpipe.  The man coughed and hacked, choked and gasped.  In his paroxysms, the fluid in his lungs frothed and burbled and got in the way.  His false teeth slipped from his gums, compounding his problems.  The man turned blue, bulged his eyes, and grabbed the salesman, who didn’t know what to do except slap him on the back.

That was exactly the wrong thing to do.  The man snapped in two and died on the spot, before they could even call an ambulance.

The morticians sewed the man back together for his funeral.  They combed his hair and dressed him in his favorite double-breasted pinstripe suit with coordinated French-cuffed shirt and red silk tie.  But when they put his shoes on him, he bent over too far to fit in his coffin unless they turned him sideways.

~  The end  ~

Margaret Harmon is the author and illustrator of A Field Guide to North American Birders–A Parody and The Man Who Learned to Walk In Shoes That Pinch, Contemporary Fables by Margaret Harmon. Her humorous essays, short stories, fables, and feature articles appear in newspapers, journals, magazines, and on public radio. Click on the above link to get an autographed copy of her book where this fable is published or click here to buy on Amazon The Man Who Learned to Walk in Shoes That Pinch: Contemporary Fables