AS PREDICTED, more or less by the Brothers Grimm, “I wore a pair of glass shoes to the wedding, and I bumped into a stone. My shoes said ‘clink’ and smashed to pieces.” How many of the guests had heard? Had anyone in the wedding party? I held my breath, waiting to hear someone score with “He who wears glass shoes must not dance among stones.” When no one did, I wondered if a beautiful woman could be hiding under a pew. She would be weighted down with the diamond as big as the Ritz, the stone I had hit. Was this Kismet at last? Or should I be devastated and disappear, for I must surely be embarrassed to be there in glass shoes and have them break like that and call attention to me and to me in them or in the fragments left of them? The truth of the matter is, those glass shoes held the secret of the path I must travel and of my success along it.
. . .
My father was not only self-made but self-named. He crawled down out of the Appalachians at age eighteen seeking his fortune, but he was “rough as a cob” only with regard to official schooling. Gentle by nature, he was self-tutored, having read the King James Bible and the few pages of Pilgrim’s Progress remaining after his mother threw the Bunyan from the family cabin, a fox sprayed it with his scent, and a brace of coon dogs treed it. How prophetic that my grandmother should have dealt so with Mr. Bunyan.
Father’s favorite line of scripture was “How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter!” Believing nothing in the universe and his own life random, he had taken the Bible outside into a light breeze and laid it down gently on his old coat. When the pages were still, he turned away, reached behind him, and lowered a finger. When he turned again to the Bible to see what his finger had come down upon, it was 7.1 of the Song of Solomon.
Thus began his quest for biblical references to feet. Though I do not believe he read every word—nor did he ever claim that he had—he ran his finger down each page looking for foot, feet, sole, footstep, shoe . . . . He hadn’t an index or a concordance. Do you have any idea how long it took to go through the Bible that way?
Quite early, for after finding his first reference to shoes, he went methodically, front to back, he fell upon Deuteronomy 33.24-25:
And of Asher he said,
Let Asher be blessed with children;
let him be acceptable to his brethren,
and let him dip his foot in oil.
Thy shoes shall be iron and brass;
and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
When he understood that this chapter was Moses blessing the Tribes of Israel and saw that feet and shoes were linked with Asher, he took that for his own. I do not know the name of our family, for my father became “Asher Asher,” and I am Dan Asher not because Dan was a “lion’s whelp” but because he “shall leap from Bashan,” which was how Father called our mountain from the day of that reading.
Before long, my father had developed a foot fetish from reading the Bible. I suspect he is the only person to have done so, though I do not think he was familiar with the concept, much less the terminology.
My father first wondered at what he read, for everyone has heard of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth,” but who knows of “a foot for a foot”? He thought that this must be special unto him.
Next he saw that those who loved Jesus washed his feet and dried them with their hair. They did not have to be saints like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. It was the woman sinner who wept and performed these services for Jesus and then kissed his feet and took out her alabaster box of ointment and anointed them. My father thought upon these verses in particular and was called to the service of women after the fashion that they had honored their Lord. And my father gained fame as a lover, for he made love to his partner’s feet, and women whispered of it across their fences, in lanes and byways, and wherever women met. They had all heard that one of the greatest wonders, even in the very Bible, is the way of a man with a maid. But Father’s ways surpassed the expectations of the most practiced among them.
The fame of my father reached the ears of my mother in what I came to think of as a parody of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary. Not that I would ever have said as much to my father.
My mother Lilliven had her way with my father and cast him aside. She was very beautiful, else she could not be in the story way, and her father, P. W. Ruthven, was rich and powerful and Republican. He was an ogre to poor young men, used them to make himself richer, then threw them out, maligned and disgraced, if they did not self-corrupt. Most of them did, for, if Mr. Ruthven’s money did not get them, Lilliven’s wiles would.
My father was the Abraham Lincoln type, though he was not Republican and was extraordinarily attractive, eerily ethereal as if the fire inside him fed on his outward self. He was, rather, Lincolnesque of character. All women and their daughters adored him. Not only for the rites of the feet that he performed in their bedrooms. My father was a man of the greatest sweetness.
Lilliven wanted to keep him only for herself and to brag that she had him. And, in truth, he loved her alone, I believe, but he was on a mission. It was not in him or for him to minister unto one. No matter that Lilliven mocked him with, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
He would only look at her and shake his head. “Lilliven, Lilliven, though I love you, you are not two or three.”
My mother grew to hate him because she could not control him and because he was so literal.
When Lilliven found out she was pregnant, she meant to get rid of me, but the doctor she had consulted innocently mentioned her condition to my father, whose relationship with her was known, though they were not married. She agreed to have their child only if the whole episode could be kept secret, even from her own father, and if my father would let her give the child up for adoption or take it away with him and never bother her again. Father met her terms, and she took up residency at the Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for the duration. He camped nearby during the last month, and I profoundly hope that he serviced the feet of every woman and girl in range while he waited for me to emerge.
I never saw my mother to know her. She left for Switzerland as soon as she was well enough to travel and was lost in an avalanche. Nurse Miriam, who came to live with us and was my surrogate mother, was there when they parted, and she told me of it again and again. My father said to my mother:
Lilliven, Lilliven, I came unto your house and saluted it, for I thought your house worthy. I looked for peace to come upon it, but you proved not worthy, and I must let your peace return to you. For the Lord has said, “whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” And this day, I shake off that dust of your feet. To confirm my putting away of you, I herewith pluck off a shoe and give it to you. For “this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel.” It was the way of Boaz in the purchase of Ruth, and as I, when I took you to me, said the words of Ruth, so I now use the ancient symbol of Boaz that we are at naught. And the words of Ruth were, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” On thy head, Lilliven must it be.
Miriam told me my family history, but she, too, loved my father. Her account is hardly unbiased. She said, nonetheless, that he did actually take off his right shoe and hand it to Lilliven, who, caught off-guard, received it, then, recovering, threw it at him and hit him in the face. And Father did not flinch, just reached down, picked up the shoe, and sat upon the floor to put it back on.
Father never said ill of my mother to me, but I overheard him talking to himself time and again on his long walks. It was always, “Lilliven, Lilliven, our Lord abominates feet that be swift in running to mischief and feet that go down to death, her steps taking hold on hell. Why could you not be like his disciples, to hold him by his feet, even upon the Resurrection, and worship him?”
Father believed that I was a young Samuel delivered into his keeping, and he worked with me accordingly. But I heard tales of his ways with women, and it was that knowledge I would have from him and that knowledge he would not give, and we grew apart. I went down from Bashan, to which he had returned with me when he parted from my mother.
I leapt from that mountain and became a modern man. I was ashamed of my father and his ways and turned my back upon them, though lusting, always, for his secret ways of pleasing women. “Did I but know my father’s secret,” I would say to myself, “I would indeed have the world by the tail.” And I would laugh and be embarrassed and laugh again. I knew my laughter was hollow, though I did not lack for women—or fortune. I tried to be a good lover, but I could not get the knack of approaching a woman by the feet, and I became ashamed to try.
Then Miriam called to say my father was dying and wished to see me and give me his blessing, and, without hesitation, I took leave from my position, and returned to my father’s house. And though the fatted calf was killed for me, I did not believe that I would have my way with my father any more than Lilliven had.
Miriam had not told me that Father was now blind. I had driven a rental car up Bashan, but his place was the highest possible habitation, and he had allowed no road inside his property line. When I climbed the last slope and came to the edge of our clearing, he was sitting on a wooden bench outside the door, the Bible in his lap, one finger moving down the pages in the old way. But when I was close, I saw that his eyes were filmed over. Father was still a beautiful man, though his eyes bulged as if their diminished bright blue was fighting their dulling. I thought of blind Patriarch Isaac being fooled by the wily Jacob for his blessing, and it came to me that I might now possess the cunning to wrest my father’s secret from him.
I told my father that I had come to be reconciled with him and that I was humbly sorry for the pangs I had caused him. His blind eyes looked through me, and his head moved right to left and left to right on his neck, and he seemed to smell me out. I thought that he would know my falseness, but he nodded, mumbled, and seemed satisfied. He sent me in to see Old Miriam.
My nurse loved me and, though she could read me as if I were leaves on the wind, would not betray me. When she had refreshed me with her homemade cider and my beloved roly-poly pudding, she poured water from the kettle on the wood stove into an old dishpan. I added water from a pitcher, as she directed, and, when she was satisfied that the temperature was correct, she had me stir in a potpourri of her dried herbs and flowers. I laid one of her wide white strips of cheesecloth across my shoulder and went outside to kneel down before my father and wash his feet.
I did not like the task, for the toes were gnarled, the nails thick and yellow-gray and long, though clean enough. Some seemed small tusks. Purple veins ran like swollen rivers through his feet, which were knobbed with corns whose dried, flaking skin made me want to scratch myself. Father seemed impatient although I was as gentle as I could stand to be.
When I had washed them with my hands, I dried each foot in turn, resting it upon my shoulder. Then I rubbed each in the Rosebud Salve Miriam handed me. I started when I saw it and looked up at her, for it belongs to the days of my childhood and is not to be found among the pharmaceuticals of today. She smiled down at me and handed me the shoe box she had seen me remove from my back pack. I placed my father’s feet in the black bedroom shoes I had brought him. They were of microfiber lined with mohair, covered by ultrasuede, covered by the best silk Thailand offered. It was bright red with a gold thread run through it. I had designed them myself and had them made by a friend in the clothing industry. He had joked that they were the start of the Pimp and Ho Line we could sell to the likes of Lil’ Kim. I grimaced, and he dried up, but I filed the idea away for future consideration if my program with my father did not work out.
When the shoes were upon his feet, my father flexed his toes, and, to my amazement, smiled. I had always imagined his smiling upon the women he serviced, but he had never smiled at me.
“They be better than iron and brass, Dan Asher. I thanks you, Son.” He continued to smile.
Neither had I ever heard him speak jocularly.
Then he turned business-like, and it began.
“Will you have my blessing, Boy?”
“Yes, Father, if you will give it to me.”
“Will you give your soul to the Lord to be blessed, Dan Asher?”
“Yes, Father, I will gladly give my soul to the Lord to be blessed.”
“Have you faith, Dan Asher, so that you can leap from Bashan upon the world and serve it in God’s ways? Think before you answer, Boy, for I stood upon the highest part of the mountain and looked down into the world and thought I could minister to it. But I was not the one. I am promised that you will be, and so I did not stop you from learning its ways, for it came to me that you had to know them before you could choose. Have you faith, Dan Asher, to do what you must?”
“Yes, Father.” Saying what he wanted to hear, I felt nothing. Not guilt. Not curiosity. Nothing.
“Have you the faith, Dan Asher, to go in glass shoes in the midst of stones?”
I was glad he could not see me, for I had to smile at that. “Yes, Father, I have the faith to go in glass shoes . . . among stones.”
“Hear this, Dan Asher, and make of it what you can.”
“Do you know of the Red Sea, Dan Asher?”
“Yes, Father. Moses and the Israelites crossed it through faith that its waters would recede, but the Egyptians were all drowned.”
“Do you know of the River Jordan, Dan Asher?”
“The River Jordan is where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.”
“I ask for the River Jordan of the stones.”
As much of the Bible as he had taught me, I did not know this. I felt oddly embarrassed. “I am sorry, Father, I do not know the connection between the Jordan and stones.”
“I am glad that you are honest, Dan Asher.”
“I am glad that I wasn’t stupid enough to try to fool you. At least not with Scripture.” But I merely thought it to myself.
“The Jordan overflows its banks in time of harvest, and when the Children of Israel moved to cross it with the Ark of the Covenant, under the leadership of Joshua, it was at flood stage. And Joshua bade the priests bearing the Ark to step into the angry waters, saying, ‘And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon a heap.’”
“Ah,” but again to myself, “I might have known that feet would enter into it.” To my father, I responded, “And it was as Joshua had said.”
“Yes. In the midst of the raging waters of the Jordan, the priests’ feet stood on firm dry land. And when all had crossed over, Joshua sent back twelve men, one especially elected for each of the twelve tribes, to fetch each a stone. And the stones are a memorial unto the Children of Israel unto this day.”
I didn’t know the story and wondered that it did not play in the popular mind alongside the Crossing of the Red Sea. If it had been Moses instead of Joshua . . . . Make a movie. Keanu Reeves for Joshua. For good measure, Charlton Heston can be Joshua’s father. Did Joshua have a father? Among the Bible’s worthy, I meant.
Father seemed to be waiting for me to respond.
“Father, what must I do to receive your blessing?”
“What is it that you want, Dan Asher? Come to me at high noon tomorrow. If you will name it in the brightness of noonday, I will bless you as I can. Be sure that you know what you ask.”
Should I slip away down the mountain and forget the whole thing? Should I lie to my father or pretty-up the request? Was any of it true in the first place? I did not sleep much that night, and the cornshuck mattress was not the true reason.
At noon on the morrow, as bright a noon as I have been out in, I stood before my father on his bench, not knowing what I would say, for I had thought on many possibilities.
“How may I bless you, Dan Asher, my son?”
“Father, I would have your sweetness, your gentleness, but, most of all, the secret of your foot ways with girls and women.” I was amazed at the forcefulness and straightforwardness with which it had spilled out.
My father nodded, though he did not smile. “Come lower, Dan Asher.”
I knelt before him then, and he placed his hand on my head.
“Bless, Oh Lord, this my son. Let him be the heir of my salvation and more than I have been.”
And that was it. He pulled me to him by the shoulders and kissed each of my cheeks and my forehead and then dismissed me, saying nothing of what I had asked.
When I was down the path from the house, I turned again toward him, as though he could see me, and he called out in a great pure voice, “Look for signs and wonders, for they are what you must have to believe.”
. . .
But my life went on as before, and, though I could love women, I could not bring myself to approach their feet and so remained an ordinary lover.
Miriam telegraphed me when my father died, but he had already been buried upon his mountain, and I did not go home. His last words, she said, were “Tell Dan Asher to wear glass shoes to the wedding.”
To whose wedding? What wedding? To my own wedding if it ever came?
The next day, an invitation arrived to the wedding of the daughter of one of my richest business colleagues. I could have wished to be the groom myself.
The day after that came Miriam’s package with the two legacies from my father. He had been buried in the shoes I had had made for him. She did not know where these had come from, but just after he had “passed,” she had had the urge to look beneath his bed and had found the box with my name on it.
I opened it eagerly, and, as I’d hoped, inside was a pair of glass shoes sitting upon his old Bible. In my exultation, I did not pause to wonder where my father had obtained glass shoes. From a source similar to Cinderella’s, no doubt.
I had the wedding and the shoes! Must I do any more than wait? . . . Was the Bible also part of my father’s message? I remembered “Bridegroom of Christ” and the “Wedding at Cana of Galilee.” What was it about the latter . . . ? Wine. That was it—Jesus had changed water into wine. It was in the New Testament, but where? I entered through the Portal Google to find it. John 2. And Jesus says there, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” It seemed promising in my particular quest. I ran my finger farther along, doubtless, my father’s old tracks. “. . . Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” Yes! Then I reached the seminal passage: “And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews . . . .”
. . .
The truth of the matter is, the long silence that had fallen when my glass shoes hit the stone(s) and smashed was suddenly broken by a swoosh of women swooping down upon me, touching me and being solicitous of me, and pulling me this way and that to go off with them. They picked me up where I stood and set me down out of the shards of glass. They whispered and tittered, put hands over mouths, winked, bit my ear, ran hands up my arms, patted me down. At length we were in a side room, and the women locked the door behind us. I realized that I was the only male.
“We have watched and waited for you. Our mothers knew your father and told us to expect you in glass shoes among the stones.”
The speaker was a society matron type, better, a “Mrs. Robinson.” I saw that she was the mother of the bride, who, when the multitude realized her presence, was thrust, resisting, out of the room and the door re-locked.
“We have agreed among ourselves. I am first.”
It was the same woman.
“Here is the appointment. I’ll give you the list with the others after we’re . . . finished.”
She smiled knowingly as if I were the cat in the cage, and she and all the other mice were dancing around it, reaching in occasionally to tweak my tail.
. . .
I kept my appointment with “Mrs. Robinson.” I have kept my appointments with an hundred and forty and four thousand Mrs. Robinsons since then. I am doomed—blessed if you will—to keep my appointed rounds. I am the Urban—and the Rural—Legend your wives and daughters whisper about and flee to the roadsides and byways and great cities of the world searching for. It will be so forever. I know that now.
I chew bitter herbs but cannot spit them forth, for I have given myself over to ashes in exchange for beauty and to mourning in exchange for the oil of joy. For whereas, before my father blessed me, I could love women but never through their feet, so now I can love women but only through their feet.