The car ride to the Fashion Square is completely silent. I keep catching glimpses of my mother’s eyes as she looks back at me in her rear view mirror, and it’s like I can hear her thoughts. Principal Hall called last week and told her that all eighth graders are required to run the mile under ten minutes, and that’s something I’ve never successfully done.
“Is there anything else other than Foot Locker that we should look at while we’re here?” she asks as she parks her Volvo.
We’re at the mall because she thinks buying me new shoes will make me run faster. Make me less of an embarrassment to her.
“Not that I’m aware of,” I say as I stare at the back of the tan headrest.
Whenever we go somewhere, she always parks in the spot farthest from the entrance. I know she does it when she’s alone, because I catch her fixating on how many steps she takes in a day. She’ll stop what she’s doing, and she’ll pull out the mini notebook she keeps in her purse to document her activity. The sound of the paper as she uses her fingers to flip each sheet over grows louder if the current day’s log is lower than the previous.
The Fashion Square’s fluorescent lighting reflects brightly off of the white marble floor. It looks as if it’s been recently polished because I can see my reflection, along with its double chin, staring up at me.
“Look at how pretty this is,” she says in an alluring voice as she walks over to a floral print dress.
Her hands grasp at the waist of the fabric, and then they move up to the tag on the neckline. She turns around and looks at my mid-section. Her eyes traveling back and forth from where the stretched out polka-dot pattern starts and ends. She quickly shuffles through the rest of the hangers behind the first dress.
“Oh well,” she says, and starts walking toward the escalators.
She never rides the escalator, even if it’s crowded, and the sound of her high heels as she Rocky Balboas the shit out of it radiates a noise so loud that everyone ahead of me glances up at her.
“Summer, hurry up,” she says. Her words echo down the tight space. “Jesus, now I know what Principal Hall was talking about first hand.”
I extend my right arm out so that it’s flat and parallel to the escalator’s railing, and I accidentally hit a woman’s Sephora shopping bag with my body as I move up each step. At the top, my mother’s looking at her reflection in the escalator wall’s mirror. She has one of those malnourished looking bodies without actually being malnourished. She shifts her weight to the left side and uses her hands to smooth down the back of her black pencil skirt.
“Finally,” she says. She locks eyes with me in the mirror.
She tries by portioning off my meals everyday, and I’ll watch her from our couch as she holds up the measuring cup full of lentils to her eye level. She’ll gently nod her head up and down, and she’ll squint her eyes as she counts the red lines internally, making sure it doesn’t pass the one-cup mark.
I watch her as she leads the way into the Foot Locker, one foot in front of the other, like Claudia Schiffer on the runway. The skin on the back of her left calf jiggles with each quick step she takes.
“Choose a pair,” she says as she shoots her hip to one side and drops her purse from her shoulder to her hand.
The walls are stocked from floor to ceiling with every type of athletic shoe imaginable, and I walk over to a pair of Nikes that have a yellow sole. I put my hand inside one of them, and I see my skin through its mesh material. I look down at my three-year-old ASICS. They’re still intact, but well used. I lift my left foot so that the underside is visible, and I see pieces of the track’s sand wedged in between its grooves.
“I like these,” I say, raising the lone Nike over my shoulder.
She gives me a double-look as she pops a piece of gum out of its aluminum and plastic packaging.
“Excuse me,” she says as she waves her left arm in the air. “We’re all set over here.”
A boy in his late teens walks over. He tucks the back of his black and white pinstripe shirt into his pants.
“The Nike Air Max Plus,” he says as he rubs his hands together. “Excellent choice.”
My mother walks in closer, and she puts her hand on my left shoulder.
“All eighth graders have to run the mile under ten minutes,” she says to him. Her voice is smooth and glacier-cold.
He looks at me up and down. His eyes switch between my mother and me.
“What size do you need?” he asks me.
“She’s a seven, and check to see if you have a wide fit,” my mother says.
He takes the shoe from my hand, and he nods his head as he walks himself toward the stock room.
I sit down on the bench next to the Saucony display. The sound of air creeps out of its leather cushion. My mother is looking at sports bras over to my right, and she’s smacking her gum as she turns one inside out to inspect its lining.
“Well, we don’t have a wide fit, but these should work.”
My mother drops the sports bra down on top of the wrong display table and walks over. Her hipbones look razor-sharp in the store’s lighting.
“Put them on,” she says, with her arms crossed.
The boy crouches down and shuffles through the tissue paper inside of the shoebox. I use one foot to slide each shoe off and I scrunch my toes as he places them in front of me.
“Stand up and walk around in them,” he says.
I put all of my weight on my left side because the tongue of that shoe is constricting, and it’s causing my fat foot inside to fold the mesh and rubber material over.
“How do they feel?” he asks.
I walk over to the full-length mirror on the wall. The red stripes on the shoe remind me of what Alex’s cheeks look like when she and I get off of the track. The lines of sweat running down her blushing face. The rosiness of the insides of her thighs from her gym shorts riding up.
“They feel okay,” I say.
The boy has his hands in his pockets. He watches my mother as she looks at me up and down, her arms still crossed.
“Wrap them up,” she says. She pulls her wallet out and walks to the register.
I pull the shoes off and hand them to the boy. He gives me a closed-mouth smile, drops them into their box, and walks to where my mother is waiting. I slip on my shoes, one at a time, and join them.
I place my elbows on the register’s top counter. My mother’s signing in perfect, flowery cursive.
“Good luck running that mile under ten minutes,” the boy says to me. His voice is both kind and nervous.
My mother places the pen down and shifts the gum inside of her mouth to its other side. She looks at me, and then at him, and she smiles.
She and I both know it’ll never happen.