• Shanley McConnell

Mud Sunk Shoes & Orange Lion Tears.

Mud Sunk Shoes & Orange Lion Tears

When I was nine, we made a pact. It was a sort-of real-life adventure-code that included three rules.


1. The first rule read: Always be kind to the animals, "especially the foxes," who lived in the forest behind the wood-brick house that had been built between the real road and the A69. My two favourite friends lived here until I was about ten and a half. It had been the best house in all the neighbourhood---probably in all of the Carolina's---because the forest behind it was basically Narnia, and if you went just-a-bit further up and further in, there was a rope swing, a little creek, and a grumpy old Oak that guarded the entrance to Terabithia.


2. Our second rule: Never leave anyone behind (and that excluded baby brothers).


3. And our third rule, the most important, had been written on the back of scrap paper as there hadn't been enough room on the sticky note. It read: No-one must ever speak of the forbidden word. Underneath, in small print, I'd written. Nothing is ever, ever pretend.


There were four of us. Emmie, me, and our sisters. Age wasn't a thing in our woods so we didn't bother about them being younger. Also, we figured that it would be far easier to make-believe if there was more than one person make-believing.


My friends lived up a winding road on a hill that felt, to us, like a mountain. We'd cross the sprawling lawn with ice-lollies and backpacks to the edge of the earth where rusted tin-cans and rock-walls were treasures like cold water on a sunny day.


We kicked brown clouds up to our knees as we slid down the dune, and back up to the other side of our home----five stumps of left-over trees. It was there, sitting in a circle, I was no longer a little girl with short, scraggly hair and scraped elbows. My curiosity was no longer just spunk; it was strength.


~


I remember one afternoon it rained for hours; board-games were strewn across the room, the kitchen still smelt of chocolate-chip cookies, the TV kept repeating the Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium theme, and a dozen Halloween costumes covered the floor through the hallway to the closet and bedroom. We were bored, dangling our knees over the ledge of the couch so that our legs swung back and forth while we waited for the sky to stop pounding the ceiling. It wasn't coming in, and that was that.


There's only so much you can do on a rainy-day if your heart is set on the sun, and to say we were keen for the wind to leave and the warmth to return would be too mild a statement for the four children cooped up in the basement.


~


When the rain dies away and the night falls, you can only expect puddles and mud in the morning. We didn't mind though----we rolled our sleeping bags to the side and strengthened our adventure-streak with pancakes, syrup, sweet berries, and sunshine.


I had only just been given a new pair of shoes----might've been my favourite pair of shoes I've ever owned. They were a sort of burnt orange tennis with a round toe. The laces were identical in colour, and near the top, there was a lion. It was a sort of emblem. A small signature logo. Like the ones you find on United-Kingdom crests.


I remembered that there were a stack of books in my grandmother's second closet, and, while everyone was outside with the football one afternoon, I'd gone in and found the one labelled 'coat-of-arms.' I was fond of reading, and, after quite a few page turns, sitting cross-crossed underneath sweaters and empty coat-hangers, I'd finally found the photograph I knew I'd seen before. I whispered the text aloud:


The lion is a common charge in heraldry, a broad term encompassing the design, display and study of armorial bearings (known as armoury). It traditionally symbolises courage, nobility, royalty, strength, stateliness and valour because the creature is historically regarded as the king of beasts.

~


That's why, when the sun returned the next day, and we, with our arms full of wood, had resolved to the wondrous idea of building a tent on the plot of land behind the lake and the little bridge that someone, a past neighbour, had presumedly built years prior, I had to wear my narnia-shoes. It wasn't every day that Aslan was an emblem on a pair of sneakers, and we figured, that if anything were to turn sour, what with the Telmarines invading, and the Orc attacks-----the squirrels and Lord He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named----our steps would at least be guided a code of honour.


The woods were always dark, even in the day. This was because the trees were as close as their branches were thick. We also figured that if we ever got lost, these shoes were magic; they would either----magically, of course----turn to light or walk---with a mind of their own----back to where we needed to be. In any case, we would always be able to find our way back to our beloved stump and hollow.


I don't rightly know why we didn't account for the mud. We forgot that the earth is as black as the sky, sometimes. And simply because the sky was bright didn't mean that the world below was also so dry.


We rushed off into the woods, making sure to avoid the puddles & sinkholes. It wasn't until the end of the day that the mud-sunk. There was a patch of mud we figured----I did a lot of figurings-out when I was a little girl----might be risky to walk across. It would either support or sink us.


So, we chose not to walk across it, 'cept that, at the end of the afternoon when it was time to return to the house, the goblins were after Emmie with the wolves at my heels and there was honestly really nothing else we could do but attempt to cross the bog.


I jumped first, adamant the mud was strong, and sunk. Straight down. I remember panicking, grasping hold of a tree trunk, and lifting myself back up onto sturdy ground. And within one minute, my orange shoes had died to a dark brown.


~


Sometimes I wonder how often we judge the ground below us based upon the sky above. How often do we look at this earth and feel its sinking mire & ruin-----its hurt, terror, and panic? How often do we find ourselves stuck. There. In the midst of it.


All of the precious things we treasure seem to be sinking right alongside with us. Our love, our hope-----the courage of our lion-hearts sinking at the sight of pretence, fake & failure.


The earth has its way of holding onto the rain long after the grey cloud disperse.


And yet, all the tears & salt of the falling sea cannot dictate the state of heaven.

Heaven is too holy; our hearts too heavy not to feel the weight of it pressing down on the distance between the hurt and the healing fighting the within.


My friend, be brave. Sometimes we make mistakes----we walk into the messy without knowing, without realising how deep-down it falls.


The thing is: like the ground, your shoes will dry. True, they may be a darker colour----a bit worse for the wear---but they are still wearable.


The knowing of this is as warm as the sun; it dries the dirt, strengthening the ground beneath our feet so that when we run, whether it be towards or away from our fear, we no longer feel afraid.

~



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