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"The Secret Life of Dance Shoes" by Cecilia Kennedy

Dance shoes awaken to jolts and pounding, shaken alive on the factory floor. In our case, we were also enveloped in a strange mist that seeped into our flesh, smelling of rotten meat. Like all things, I believe we were intended for good, but the factory was overrun by something that was not, and it got into our soles, the pores, the spaces in between the faux leather. From the breakroom, a haze hovered just over the smell of someone’s cooked entrée: a microwaved lasagna, a chicken pot pie—the only comfort pouring through. Then, it was quickly erased by a presence that stepped into us with rotten toes, invisible but squirming like worms. It left quickly, most likely hoping to leave an impression—one meant, I suppose, to turn us out—to cause us to infect the next one to step into us. But something else happened instead. We became more aware, awake, began to learn a language not quite spoken, one that feeds the soles of the people who wear us to dance.


We heard the rhythm of her feet first—a fast step, step, step, slide—and his: shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, step—and we knew they were together, but slowly drifting apart. And here we were, on the second shelf of the walk-in closet, bought for one purpose, but forgotten. At the first quick, step, step, slide, we made our move, willing ourselves to lean and tip over the edge, to make the impact we knew we had inside us since our first jostling awake—and we tumbled to the floor. We felt ourselves lifted into the air and set on the shelf, but in those fingers—her fingers—we felt the vibration, the first pulse. But it was empty, fed only on celery or water or tomato juice, mixed perhaps with too much wine. Then, we heard him: shuffle, shuffle, step, step, and we tumbled to the floor again. But this time, when he lifted us, we stayed mid-air, and in the pulse of his fingers, we felt an unnerving energy, fed with too much salt, butter, and flour.

We dropped down at her feet, and she stepped into us, and we closed in, expanding the lining, pushing up under the arches. She moved back with the right foot, and he moved forward with the left. The pause in between was the silence where the music should have been. His feet shifted to the left, and she shifted right with an extra step that shouldn’t have been—vibrations traveling along the floor, our interior lining swelling. We pushed back, but the rhythm changed and stopped. She took us off and threw us at the wall. His feet shuffled off, unsteady. She moved in staccato steps that burst forward, ending in profound weeping. And we heard his “hush,” and his awkward gait, and we felt him picking us up and placing us at her feet again. She stepped in. We tasted the salt tears and expanded, and as her left foot moved forward, we pushed her toes closer to his, until the two of them formed a firm line, toe-to-toe, the pulsing of her heart matching his, at rest, in each other’s arms. The salt dried, with each new step, matched by a breath, the music where the silence once lived.

Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) taught English composition/literature and Spanish language/literature in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family, which includes a very demanding cat. Since 2017, she has published her stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and England. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Idle Ink, Tiny Molecules, Streetcake Magazine, Wrongdoing Magazine, Rejection Letters, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020) is her first short story collection. Additionally, she thoroughly enjoys being a volunteer adult beverages columnist for The Daily Drunk, a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine, and a concept editor for Running Wild Press. Twitter: @ckennedyhola

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