The Golem Tennis Shoe

A girl who thinks she’s just making a clay object in art class, finds out it’s much more. [Response to Magic Medium prompt A clay creation you made in art class comes to life.]

“Really look at your shoe,” the teacher said. “What does it have to tell you? How will you express that when you create its likeness?

Oh brother, I thought. It’s a stupid tennis shoe. It has nothing to tell me other than maybe ‘wash me.’

Yet, ever compliant, I examined the sneaker from top to bottom. Truthfully, I was just irritated because while these art lessons I was taking with my cousin at the High Museum had sounded so exciting at first, I’d forgotten one thing. I stink at art.

Not so my cousin. She’s a true artist, something I’d known since we made things from play-dough when we were six. Of course, her flowers looked like roses and mine look like little blobs stuck around a center blob.

Whenever the teacher made a fuss over her work, I admit, I was jealous. Not because I thought mine was just as good. It was because I hated doing something when, no matter how hard I tried, I never got any better at it. Art definitely fell into that category.

“Now turn to your clay and bring your shoe to life! Render it full of detail, emotion, and dare I say, story.”

This time I just rolled my eyes and went to work. I kept trying to make it look like my shoe, but the clay just wouldn’t do what I wanted it too. It took me over half the time just to make the general shape. By then my cousin she was adding minute details and her shoe was practically an exact replica of the one that sat in front of her.

I was getting frustrated. So I started trying to think about something else. As I shaped the tongue, grommets and laces, I imagined what my shoe might tell me. I came up with some silly story about my shoe falling in love as a way to prevent my frustration from causing me to give up entirely.

I was the last person to finish my project, but since the teacher wanted to talk to my cousin about a scholarship for the artistically gifted to attend a special program in New York over the summer, neither of them minded. Finally, I felt that I couldn’t do anything more. As my frustration with the whole process wasn’t gone entirely, I impulsively carved three small Hebrew letters inconspicuously on the side, as a way of thumbing my nose at the whole thing. This spelled the word *אמת. Emet, in English meant truth.

This word was said to be carved into the forehead of a golem to give it life. I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably something like, If I can’t give my shoe life through my talent, I’ll do it through mysticism. Seemed pretty stupid after the fact.

After it was quick-kilned, a process that only took 5 minutes to bake the clay, my cousin and I packed our creations in shoe boxes and went home. She was spending the night with me. When we unpacked our shoes, of course, my parents made a huge fuss over hers.

Then my mother glanced over at mine. “What’s that thing supposed to be?” she asked, with a laugh. My father added,“Don’t quit your day job.”

I knew it was just my imagination, but my shoe seemed to deflate a little. I’d grown up with those types of comments my whole life, so I knew how my shoe would have felt, if it could in fact feel. I gathered it to me protectively and went to read in my room as my parents continued to talk with my cousin.

Following Nancy Drew through a particularly exciting caper, I lost track of time and then fell asleep. When I awoke, I went down the hall to see what my cousin had gotten up to. She was still sitting at the table with my parents and all three were talking animatedly, in a way they never talked with me. Turning back toward my room, I noticed my clay shoe by the den door.

Nice. You think it’s no better than a door stop. Hilarious. Holding my shoe against me again, I glanced back to see my cousin’s shoe in the center of the table, a position of prominence.

After dinner, my mother had a moment of compassion. “Here. Let’s put your masterpiece,” here she couldn’t help but smirk, “up on the shelf in the den.”

Looking at my shoe, I felt a sense of satisfaction. It may not be perfect like hers, but mine has character.”

My cousin and I went to bed. As usual, she dropped off to sleep right away, while I stayed up replaying my day. Thinking back to my parents’ reaction to my cousin and how different it was from the way they treated me, I couldn’t stop the tears. I took deep, steady breaths with my eyes closed, but even as I started to drift, I could feel the dampness on my cheeks

Before I was fully asleep, I thought I heard a thud that seemed to come from the den. After a brief silence, I thought I heard some kind of soft padding sound approaching my bedroom. Maybe the house was settling or it was one of those hypnagogic hallucinations. Yet it was enough to keep me awake and after tossing and turning for a while, I got up to get a late night snack.

As I felt for my bedroom slippers, my left foot brushed something rough making me jump and pull my feet up onto the bed. I looked over the edge. There, sitting in the glow of the nightlight, was my clay shoe.

My first thought was my mother was playing a trick on me. But my mother had no sense of humor. I picked up the shoe. It was warm, comforting and seemed to almost mold itself to my body in what resembled an embrace. Then I remembered what I’d carved into the tread. Was it trying to protect me somehow? Maybe from my own emotions?

Clay shoes don’t come to life, no matter what you write on them. I told myself. I must have fallen asleep, that’s all. I was a lucid dreamer so it was perfectly normal for me to think during my dreams. But even if I was dreaming, holding the shoe was comforting.

In my dream, I took the shoe with me to the kitchen. I put it by my cousin’s shoe, thinking humorously that it should have company while I made a tuna sandwich. When I was done eating, I went to retrieve my shoe. Does it seem closer to the other one than where I put it? Well, it was a dream, so what did it matter?

I gathered up my shoe, gave my cousin’s a little pat, and went to brush my teeth. Back in bed, I held the shoe against me as if it were a teddy bear. I woke later and looked around my bed. No shoe. I was satisfied it had just been a dream.

The moonlight filtering through the window caught my attention. Then something else did. Knowing what I’d see, i slowly looked down. There in the corner was my clay shoe.

I’m not upset, so what is it protecting me from? Does it know something I didn’t? Are aliens preparing to land by our pool, vampires waiting to be invited in, werewolves getting ready to burst through the window?

I spent much of my free time reading, and a lot of it came from my brother’s collection of supernatural and science fiction books. I pulled the covers over my head.

Having gotten myself good and frightened, the soft padding sound across my room and out the door was enough to send me into a panic. Was whatever monster had invaded my room going after my parents? Should I risk them laughing at me by warning them? Having to come up for air, I tried to keep my eyes covered but my curiosity got the better of me. I looked by the window for my faithful protector but it was . . . gone. Sitting up I scanned the room. It was nowhere to be seen.

I sighed in relief. Just Another dream. But I noticed I felt unusually full for the middle of the night, and I could taste toothpaste. I went to the den, just to reassure myself that my clay creation was on the shelf where it was supposed to be. I scanned the shelves. It wasn’t there. Mom just probably put it in the back of a closet somewhere.

I went to the kitchen thinking I’d check how much tuna was left, but as soon as I walked in I saw it. My shoe was sitting at the base of the table. It looked . . . sad? As if it were. . .pining? And something else, something that felt familiar. Then it struck me. Loneliness. Looking at the top of the table I knew what I had to do.

The next morning my cousin wanted to know where her clay shoe had gone. I said I hadn’t seen it but no one believed me. Since mine was also gone, they figured I was jealous of my cousin’s talent and had gotten rid of both of them.

My parents took my cousin home, but I was left behind since they were all mad at me. After they’d gone, I remembered something I needed to do. I pulled down the attic stairs and climbed them to the partially finished space. I gingerly picked my way to the back and looked down into a large crate I’d filled with lambswool that I normally used during pointe class. There, was my clay creation, settled next to my cousin’s.

“I know you’re not likely to go anywhere now that you’re together, but I have to make sure. I’ll come by to visit you guys whenever I can.” I gently stroked my shoe, then whispered, Thank you. Before I lost my resolve. I rubbed out the first letter of the word I’d carved. Giving my shoe one last hug, I replaced it next to it’s chosen mate.

When my parents returned, I was laying on my bed reading, as usual.

“What are you reading?” My mother asked, more out of her need to always know everything, than actual curiosity.

I showed her the cover of the book I had mysteriously found on my pillow when I’d returned from the attic.

“‘Golem on a Pedestal’? Isn’t that creepy?”

“No. It’s for kids,” I replied, not looking up.

“I’m not sure you should be allowed to read, after what you did.” I wondered if I could just re-carve the first letter back into my shoe if she took away my reading privileges.

“Oh, let her be,” my father said. “With all the attention we gave her cousin for her art while insulting our daughters, what did you expect her to do? I think this is more a lesson for us than for her.”

I looked up in surprise. My father almost never stuck up for me against my mother. Perhaps my little golem had somehow provided me with even greater protection than I had realized.

“Fine. But you’ll stay in your room, do you understand?”

“Yes.” I guess she felt this was saving face, but we all knew that was exactly where I wanted to be.

I have to say thanks, when I get the chance. I smiled at the thought. I’d probably convince myself that this was all just some fantasy before too much longer. I knew that our minds had a habit of rewriting some of our experiences to make them more reasonable. But for now, I knew the truth. Emet. I went back to my book, feeling a little less lonely.

© Natalie Frank, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology) 2019

*On Creating Golems

It’s explained in Jewish Mystical sources that the Hebrew word emet is made up of the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, mem, and tav: אמת). The word translates into truth in English. According to Jewish tradition, this word was carved into the head of the golem and was what gave it life.

When the golem had served its purpose, it’s creator, rubbed out the first letter leaving the last two, which spelled met, which translates into death. This returned the golem to it’s inanimate state. There are also a number of other more complex accounts of how golems are made, as well as who has the ability to do so.

Jewish tradition tells of the Golem of Prague, created by Rabbi Judah Loew to protect the Jews of the city from a Priest who intended to accuse them of blood libel, an accusation guaranteed to lead to grave danger for the entire Jewish population. The golem was said to be be kept in the attic of Rabbi Loew’s synagogue, the Old-New Synagogue, after it was returned to clay, in case it was ever needed in the future.

Although Rabbi Lowe forbid anyone to enter the space, a prohibition mostly still followed, at times special visitors have been said to be allowed to visit it. Some of these people reported seeing the outlines of a giant man there. Others came out looking white and trembling, refusing to describe what they’d seen.

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol) has had work featured in Haunted Waters Press, Weirdbook Magazine, Siren’s Call Publications, Lycan Valley Press and Zero Fiction among others. Her poetry has been featured in several anthologies. She is the Managing Editor for Novellas and Serials at LVP Publications.

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I write about behavioral health & other topics. I’m Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) for LVP Press. See my other articles:

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