The sandals were from Goodwill. They reminded Frankie of those hitchhiking days in Mexico in the 70s when she (so young!) had ridden miles and miles in an old green VW bus driven by a Viet Nam vet from Michigan (“Just down here to get my head on straight”) named Don, or D-Man, if he’d had some weed before the day started.
Those huarache sandals she’d worn back then were everywhere on the feet of the high school girls she went to class with at Richards High School in Southern California. Orange tops with woven straps. There was something about those sandals that made her feel cool even if she did not fit well in hip-hugger jeans and halter tops like all the cool girls wore back then. The hazards of a straight figure.
This story is a piece that was written for a flash fiction exercise about an item of clothing. Have you read Lydia Davis’s story “The Sock”? Items of clothing can be powerful triggers for stories, I guess!
I have never traveled in Mexico myself, but I have a friend who told me about hitchhiking in Mexico in the 1970s, and so I re-imagined her story in this piece.
So now when Frankie saw the sandals at Goodwill on the top shelf of the shoe stand, and she held her breath to check if they were even close to her size, she could hardly believe it when they sandals were a size 8-1/2. She brought them to the register and when they were rung up and put in her canvas carry bag along with a couple of other items for two-year-old Evan, her grandson, she almost danced out the door of the store and down the sidewalk to the not-Starbucks coffee place she liked to patronize in a small gesture of rebellion against the corporateness of 2000s America.
She had been so young in Mexico. Don – D-Man – had tried his best to get into her pants as they rolled along the dusty rural roads of Northern Mexico. Even now, looking back and realizing just how young 23 had been – her oldest son Gary was 31 now for christsakes, with the three-year-old preschooler Evan running around the house. Twenty-three. She’d used everything – protestations of innocence (“I have a steady boyfriend back home”), shaming (“You wouldn’t want your mother to find out?”) and even straight lying (“I don’t know about those things”) to keep him at bay in his own sleeping bag outside the camper, while she slept inside the locked VW van. Frankie supposed that if he’d meant to rape her, really meant to, she might not have had a chance against him. She hadn’t taken those women’s self-defense courses her mother had recommended, and she didn’t know the first thing about attacking a man who wanted to attack her.
But perhaps she’d spotted in Don a sort of begrudging compliance when she put him off. Otherwise, why would she have ridden 400 miles and 6 days with him that long-ago summer?
In the end, she’d had to find another ride. Luckily she had packed light – the one duffle bag she bought with pocket money from the Army Navy surplus store back home, a spare pair of jeans and a couple of T-shirts – was all. Almost no makeup and just a toothbrush and a towel for toiletries.
And the huaraches.
I did not have a pair of huaraches (Mexican woven sandals) myself, but I remember they were big in the ’70s, in high school, a sort of “back to the earth” movement thing. One of my best friends had a pair, and she wore them everywhere, and she was a dancer, and she seemed so cool . . . but that’s another story!
It had happened on a quiet road that seemed to lead to nowhere, but a road which Frankie discovered met up with the main highway a couple of miles on. It could have been the marijuana – he’d been smoking a new batch of weed that day – but while driving, one hand on the wheel, the other on the gear shift, Don had reached out suddenly for her. Grabbed her by the shirt with the gearshift hand. It startled her. Scared her. She saw a new meanness in his sidelong look, still steering with the other hand, as he wrenched her toward him. It all happened in a flash, but she still remembered the cold threat of his hand pulling on her shirt, the grinding sound of the VW’s engine, the bump-bump of the van on the Mexican dirt road.
Why he hadn’t stopped the van or pulled over, why he had kept driving while trying to force her into a sexual act or worse, was something she didn’t wait to analyze. A fierce meanness rose up in her as she jerked back toward her side of the van, wrenched open the door, and tumbled out.
One. Her shirt was torn, but not irreparably so. Two. She still, inexplicably, had her duffle bag gripped in one hand. Three. She had landed on her feet, still wearing the huaraches.
It was lucky the road curved sharply just beyond where she had jumped out. Not pausing, she took off in the opposite direction, bag slung across her shoulder, over a stubbly field. The sandals on her feet snugly stayed on all the way to the main highway. She tried not to look back – knowing it would slow her down – and thankfully that was the last she saw of Don.
My friend also escaped serious injury while traveling in Mexico – and it makes me glad to know she was not harmed. When you’re young, you do all kinds of things that could turn out badly! But in this case, everything turned out fine.
Now that I think about it, I can see this story almost as though what might have happened if my friend from high school had traveling in Mexico like my other friend did. Interesting to consider!
And now, forty-some years on, sitting in the not-Starbucks down the street from Goodwill, drinking her coffee out of an “I Heart Seattle” mug, Frankie took out the sandals from her bag. They were scuffed, sure, but the woven tops were still intact, the soles were still good, and they were well broken in. On impulse she took off her own shoes – generic running sneakers – and slipped into the huaraches.
Yes. She could definitely go places in these. She was sure of it.
Thanks for coming along for the ride with me in this story today. What do you think? – About flash fiction, about stories written about an item of clothing, about re-imagining the stories we have heard? Have a great day!