There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. In half of a duplex, really, a matching pair of shoes on a block lined with other matching pairs. She wished people would call them shoeplexes, but no one ever did.
Her shoe was one of a pair of old lace-up boots, very tall and stately and elegant, and she was proud of this. It had its drawbacks--the leather needed oiling constantly or it would crack in the sun, and the sole leaked sometimes when it rained. Still, she'd have hated to live in a tennis shoe, or in one of the endless pairs of nearly identical loafers that had cropped up during the baby boom.
Not that the baby boom hadn't happened for her as well. Not that she hadn't had her own baby boom of astonishing proportions.
She had, in fact, so many children she was a bit at a loss. Where had they all come from? Well, men, she supposed. So many men. Returning soldiers at first, their fresh faces unspoiled by the war, but then it was just any kind of man who could make her feel for a while like she was a woman, and not just the mother of a hundred and three.
One hundred and four. She forgot to count Mary. Why did she always forget Mary?
Had she learned somewhere that it takes nine months to make a baby? Well if she had, she thought, she'd learned it too late. Too late to do her any good. That showed what came of having an education, she thought. If you went to a proper school perhaps you didn't have to have so many babies. She looked for a pencil and paper, finding the former beneath Brian and the latter stuck to Jane, and tried to work the figures. Nine months, times one hundred and three, no, four babies. Nine hundred thirty-six months. Or seventy-eight years.
Hmmm, she thought, that sounded about right. Perhaps she had taken nine months to have each child. How clever of her. She smiled and gazed out the window in the toe of her home. She wished people would call them wintoes, but no one ever did.
"Look at this," said a voice.
The old woman turned toward the voice, and found a round little face that was unfamiliar.
Oh, it was Mary. It would be Mary.
"Look at what they're saying about us," said Mary. "About you."
The girl thrust a frayed piece of notebook paper under the old woman's nose. It smelled like children. But didn't everything?
"Can't read without my glasses," she said. "You know--"
Mary read it for her.
"It says, 'There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she was a burden on the welfare system.' This was taped to my locker, Mother. They're taped everywhere."
The old woman turned over the paper she'd used to do her figures and held it at arm's length. What do you know, she thought, they are taped everywhere.