James Mulhern – Shoes

James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and thirty times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, and a RED RIBBON WINNER, highly recommended by The Wishing Shelf Book Awards in the United Kingdom.


Too old to put her shoes on,
she watched me place her feet
into her favorite pair of Doctor Scholl’s.

“My toes are crooked. They must look funny to you.”
I smiled, trying to ease her embarrassment.

“My mother cleaned houses for the rich,” she said.
“We had to wear the shoes she brought home.
They were often small.
That’s why they look that way.
The toes, I mean.” She laughed.

“I know.” I pulled the second shoe over her heel.
She looked out the window and sighed.

Did she see her mother walking down the street,
a bag of used shoes in her arms, shoulders curled in the wind?

My great-grandmother, moving slowly,
her own shoes worn and broken,
like the skin on her red, cracked hands.
She would be teary but faintly smiling,
relieved she had something more to give.



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