Flash in the Pan

A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights

Retail Therapy

by Suzanne Farrell Smith

It's 5:35 pm and I'm in Nine West. No matter where you are in the city, or what size your feet, Nine West is there for you, staffed by women in chic black. They don't push; they just wear the shoes well.

Today I've popped in to savor dainty petal pink slingbacks, soft gold ballet slippers, silver stilettos that boost my five-foot-three self to at least five-foot-six. But savoring turns to coveting and I'm suddenly at the counter with lime green snakeskin t-straps that wrap my pale feet in springtime ($99), a complementary lightweight moss-colored jacket ($149), and, since my brick red purse looks too bold now, too garish surrounded by all this freshness, a beige bucket ($69). Feeling slightly ill, not sure if it's because I'm anticipating the giddy fashion show for my husband, or because I just dropped over $300 into a silver and blue shoebox, I walk out.

Step, step. I can pick up some editing gigs here and there.

Step, step. $300 is just a fleeting flash on the online banking screen. Soon it will be swept into the mounting credit card debt, rendered unidentifiable as a single impractical act.

Step, step. I pledge this to be my last shopping trip ever.

5:45 pm. Regrets: I shouldn't have done it. What was I thinking? I'll be paying my college loans for the next twenty years. We want an apartment, a baby. We want to send that baby to college in twenty years.

5:46 pm. I call Nine West's customer service number. "Hi, I'm at Madison and 44th in Manhattan. Could you tell me the locations of all your stores within ten blocks of here?"

"Ma'am, there's a Nine West right where you are. You must be looking at it."

"Yeah, I know, but I like to keep shopping around."

I can't return to the same branch. Then I would have to face the salesperson who ooohed about how my tired feet suddenly looked alive. Instead, I walk eight blocks in the opposite direction of home.

6:00 pm. "I'd like to return these items."

"Sure, do you have your receipt?"

I hand her the still-warm slip.

"You just bought these items fifteen minutes ago?"


"At another location?"


"May I ask why you are returning them?"

"Oh, it's awful," I lie. "My husband called while I was walking--he lost his job! It's such a shame. Anyway, it's best I don't keep these, at least until we figure out what's going on."

Fragments so easily collect into a semi-plausible story that spills unobstructed from my mouth.

The saleswoman is appropriately sympathetic. In one sweep, six square inches of plastic are cleansed of my iniquities. But I'm a mess. Too quickly, the already-adored items are back in the hands of an inhuman conglomerate. They will never see the inside of my closet, never know the warmth in the cozy little spot I'd already chosen for them. I grieve.

The receipt shows the time of return: 6:03 pm.

Suzanne Farrell Smith has essays published or forthcoming in The Writer's Chronicle, Muse & Stone, Hawaii Women's Journal, In the Fray, and canon magazine. One of her essays received an honorable mention in the 2010 Tiny Lights Essay Contest. Suzanne lives with her husband in New York City, where she now freelances as a writer, editor, and proofreader, and hosts a writing salon.

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