Iris woke up to the urgent ringing of a doorbell. She frowned and covered her head. “Oh my God! Who the devil is it?” she growled rolling out of bed. She murmured and blasphemed the ringer of the bells as she slipped on a robe and stomped, barefoot, down the stairs. The wood floors were cool against her feet. She snatched the massive oak door open and yelled through the screen door “what?!” She saw no one. She looked to the sides of the porch and found Belle sitting in the porch swing. Belle looked as if she’d been sitting on the swing for hours, as if it were her home. She had on gloves.
“My, my. Aren’t we testy in the morning?” she teased smiling. “Where are your shoes?”
“What? Shoes? I was in bed asleep!”
“That’s the problem with young folk. They don’t take care of themselves. You should never walk around barefoot! It’s bad for the reproductive organs.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Mrs. Locke. What do you want?” Iris asked still frowning.
“I want you to go put some shoes on is what I want. What I need is for you to get dressed and come with me downtown.”
“Downtown? What’s downtown?” Iris recalled the frustration of the downtown shops—Mom and Pop shops.
“My favorite shoe store. Dolce Chaussures.”
“I see. But why must I come with you?”
“I need to get to know you. What better way to get to know someone than while shoe shopping? If you require more conversation about it, can you at least put on some socks?” Iris sighed loudly and went back inside and up the stairs. Belle remained in the swing.
Moments later, Iris returned to the porch to find Belle bending over the azalea bushes in the yard. “Mrs. Locke. What are you doing?”
“Beautiful Azaleas, Iris. Just beautiful. Your grandmother always did have a green thumb.” She stood up and realigned her long linen blouse. “Did you know they were poisonous? Just as pretty as they can be, but that kind of pretty right there,” Locke pointed at the azaleas again, “will kill you dead…come on. Genevieve is waiting for us.” Locke skipped down the steps. This surprised Iris, but not a lot. Locke snapped her head around to Iris on the last step and said crisply, “And do not call me Mrs. Locke. It’s either Belle Lynne or Locke for YOU. For you, only.”
Iris slipped into the passenger seat of Belle’s special edition navy Cadillac CTS coupe. She admired the tan leather craftsmanship and said so.
“I absolutely detest Cadillacs, but Clive, bless his heart, insisted that I have one. Navy is my favorite color, so he made a special order. I can’t bring myself to do anything with it except drive it. My Clive…he was such a sweetheart.”
Belle’s voice got a little shaky when she spoke of Clive. Iris knew how that felt—to speak of a loved one and get choked up with tears. Iris, unsure of what to say, said nothing. Eventually, the car glided soundlessly out of the residential area and onto Sweet Field’s main street. The historic downtown was home to many quaint boutiques, cafes, and shops. The clientele consisted mainly of tourists and upper crust residents. Most people shopped at the mall on the west end of town. Sweet Fields Galleria was a good collection of the popular retail and department stores. Iris had visited the galleria mall once or twice and had been sorely disappointed. She resorted to online shopping. It had never occurred to her to visit the Shops of Sweet Fields on Main Street.
Locke parked the coupe in front of a coffee shop, and the two ladies prepared to exit the car. As Locke walked around the front of the car to join Iris on the sidewalk, she said “what in blue blazes is she wearing?”
“Who?” Iris asked looking around. Locke tipped her sunglasses, little round ones like John Lennon used to wear, and looked across the street at the Majestic Divine Dancers of Heavenly Bodies. Iris looked in the direction of Locke’s gesture and saw the tall thin lady from church emerging from a red Ford Thunderbird convertible. Her long, graceful form was draped in a yellow chiffon duster over yellow leotards. Her head and neck were wrapped in a yellow floral scarf. She wore a black pair of round shades that nearly covered the entire top half of her face.
“That’s the lady from church yesterday. Who is she?”
“Trouble. That’s who she is.” Belle said grabbing Iris’ elbow. She visualized the words “Bubonic Banana” along the side of Jackie Black’s body.
They made an odd pair, Iris thought—Locke in her mid-fifties and she in her mid thirties. Locke with her short, petite frame, and Iris with her height and curves.
“Jean Claude and his sister Genevieve are lovely people. The customer service is legendary.” Belle said pausing in front of the store Dolce Chaussures.
A gentleman with a silver beard and curly mop of white hair opened the door as Iris reached for the handle.
“Ah! Belle! Bonjour! Comment êtes-vous?” the man said air kissing Locke. “Et qui est votre ami?” He said turning to Iris.
“Jean Paul, I am so glad to see you again! This is my new friend, Iris Murphy. Iris, this is Jean Paul Babineuax.” Locke said standing between the two. The Frenchman kissed the back of Iris’ hand and flashed her a brilliant white smile.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Iris. Any friend of Belle’s is a friend of ours.” Jean Paul said not taking his eyes away from Iris’.
“Yes, yes, Jean Paul. Stop flirting. She’s young enough to be your daughter,” Locke said rapping him lightly on his chest with her knuckles. “Where is your gorgeous sister, Genevieve?”
“She is in the parlor preparing for you. Please, ladies do go through,” he said gesturing towards a pair of green velvet curtains.
“Oh, we shall, Jean, but I want to show Iris your beautiful shoe boutique,” Locke said as she grabbed Iris’ elbow again with a pink gloved hand.
They perused the shoes on display. Iris was teeming with excitement. She noted the brands of the finely crafted leather shoes and decided right away this was her favorite place in Sweet Fields. The disadvantage of online shopping for Iris was that she couldn’t touch or smell the leather. For her, that was one of the most exciting parts of shoe shopping, and she missed it. Locke was telling Iris about her favorite shoemaker in the United Kingdom when they heard a woman’s voice address them.
“Well, hello, ladies,” said the voice. Locke and Iris turned to face the tall woman in banana yellow. Her eyes bulged anxiously as Locke and Iris took in the sight of her.
Locke spoke first. “Hello, Jacqueline. Don’t you look, er…like the picture of spring this morning.”
“Why, thank you, Belle. I shall value that compliment, as I hear they are rare coming from you.” Jacqueline turned to Iris. “I don’t believe we have met. I’m Jackie Black,” she said extending a slender hand.
“I’m Iris Murphy. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“You know,” Jackie said trailing her fingers over a low-heeled pump on display. “I never knew this was a shoe store.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, dear. Most people visit the mall for their footwear. Only those with more discriminating tastes shop here.”
Iris watched Jackie fondle the shoes on the shelf in front of her. Locke noted the way Jackie turned each shoe over to check for prices.
“Oh no, dear. Jean Paul doesn’t disrespect his shoes by placing stickers on them. Surely you’ve heard the saying, ‘If you have to ask…’ I’m sure Macy’s has what you need.” Jackie whirled around to face Locke, but Locke had already turned away and was smiling at a woman near a curtained entryway. “Come, Iris. Genevieve is ready for us.” As the two ladies walked toward the curtains, Locke turned to look at Jackie over her shoulder.
“I’m so sorry we can’t continue this little chat, but Iris and I have appointments.”
“Appointments with a shoe clerk? Belle, if I make you uncomfortable, I understand. You don’t have to make things up.” Jackie said with a smirk on her lips. Jackie started to follow the women beyond the velvet rope and curtain of the shoe store. She spun around dramatically, and the banana yellow chiffon whipped around as she turned to go through the curtains along with Iris and Locke. Jean Paul met her twirl with a smirk and wink.
“Non, non, non, madame,” Locke said in a surprisingly spot-on French accent, “you, Jacqueline, may continue your window shopping out here, whilst we have our tea and select our shoes in privacy and comfort,” She and Iris disappeared through the velvet curtains. Jackie watched the bullion fringe swing until Jean Paul approached her.
“Madame, perhaps you would like to try the shoe?” he said looking at the leather ballet flat Jackie was bending and twisting in her hands. Jackie threw the shoe at Jean Paul’s chest and stormed out of the shop with her banana yellow chiffon scarf trailing after her.