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Margo's Boots

by Kim Zanti

I lounge in the mission style chair, my feet resting on the window seat. A herd of elk will come over the ridge soon to graze in the meadow. Monsoon clouds hover. I'm relaxed, as long as I take in the view from the upstairs bedroom of my friend's home in Flagstaff, Arizona. But when I look at the white plastic bag on the floor, I start to feel shaky. Should I open it? Should I say a prayer?

Has enough time passed?

Two weeks ago, I was at an outdoor theatre in Los Angeles watching Richard III battle for the throne of England. At the same time, Margo Nuanez Walker was losing her own battle against mesothelioma in Sedona, Arizona. A most pernicious cancer, it defeated her at 10:30pm on that Saturday night. She was sixty years old.

Throughout her fight, our mutual friend Linda was a steadfast presence, not only to Margo but also to Margo's partner of 20 years, Henry. In the bleak days following the private memorial service, Linda now needed someone to lean on, and I had come to give my support and pay my respects.

The last time I saw Margo was in her living room, not long after she finished the first round of chemotherapy. Her hair was shiny smooth, toes and fingernails painted, lipstick applied. But underneath the foundation and bright colors, she looked frail. She had lost a considerable amount of weight, and her long blouse billowed over black slacks.

She told me of her first grandbaby's coming birth. She was filled with a joyful sense of purpose ┬- to stay healthy enough to hold this baby in her arms. ┬┬Yet, she was clear that if and when it was time to stop fighting, she would face that truth head on. Sitting next to Margo on the sofa, I wondered how long she could battle, not the cancer, but the chemical storm that was thrashing her body. That was November.

In March, Margo and Henry welcomed Brooke Walker, whose birth in red rock country brought radiant new life.

In July, after four rounds of chemotherapy followed by lung surgery, the army of cancer cells had not stopped; it began to advance rapidly. Margo lost the battle.

One month later, staring out the window at the moving clouds, I imagine her body free from pain. I see how she was dressed-in a white nightgown with her still abundant auburn hair spread on the pillow, her body surrounded by prayers. This image comforts me. But I also have a hollow, queasy feeling. Death punched a hole in the fabric of life, and yet everything maddeningly continues on.

The weather changes. Jazz concerts happen. Baseball games are played. Fires rage. People drive and pay bills and wear shoes. The white plastic bag on the floor is full of them; they're all Margo's. Linda has been asked to give them away to friends or charity.

It's my turn to see if I'd like to keep any.

I untie the drawstring strap, take a deep breath and look inside. I pull the shoes out in pairs and arrange them in a fan shape on the carpet. Some are new or hardly worn, but most hold the impression of Margo's feet.

"I don't want to do this," I think. Then I imagine Margo putting together her clothes with these shoes. How she would wear silver, turquoise and polished stone jewelry. I can see her outfits: the lemon yellow flats with Capri pants and a tank top; the black, open- toed wedges with a long velvet skirt, cast silver belt and frilly blouse; the candy apple stilettos with trousers and tailored jacket. I imagine her delight in putting together such striking looks.

I can't, however, imagine myself wearing any of these styles!

There are more. I reach to the bottom of the bag, where I feel two pairs of boots. The first pair are flat, scrunchy gray suede. I arrange these with the others. I run my hands over the second pair, and feel a tingle, like Goldilocks. These are cowboy boots. Pulling them out, I see that not only do they look like Margo-surprisingly, they look like me. And, they are my size.

Ever since I moved from Baltimore to Flagstaff, where I lived for 11 years, I have dreamt of a pair of boots like this. But I never bought a pair, because I had the fool-headed notion that only cowboys or people who worked on ranches had the right to wear them. Even having produced a Western fine art and cowboy gear exhibition with Linda and Margo for over a decade didn't make me feel like I had the right to wear them.

These boots are tawny brown leather, oiled to a burnished glow, finished with dark stitching and chocolate brown wingtips. Slipping them on, I can feel Margo, a warm woman who had the ferociously tender heart of a mother.

I stand up, and feel how she held herself in these boots. I am, without a doubt, standing with more sass. I feel ready to kick up some dust, twirl up my skirt, or swing my leg over a saddle.

I sashay in my jeans across the room and swagger back. It feels good. I don't feel like an imposter. I feel just right.

Putting the other shoes back in the bag, I quietly talk to Margo. I tell her that every time I pull on her boots, I'll be strengthened and softened by her presence. I'll remember her generous nature in the best of times and grace in the worst. I tell her that I'll be continually reminded to cherish this mysterious, precious gift that we call life.

Kim lives and writes in Topanga, California, with her dog Chaya, surrounded by good neighbors, friends, and nature. Confronted with a difficult task after losing her friend to mesothelioma, she found comfort in sharing this experience through story.