I passed a truck on Broadway with walls you could see through. Inside were rows of sport shoes. A woman on the street was writing prizes on a wheel: Pen, Water Bottle, T-Shirt, Shoes. She had shiny brown hair and looked fit. I said, “What is going on?” She said, “We are giving away free things.” The word free was music. My mother used to say, “Nothing is free. There is always a catch.”
The woman writing prizes said she taught yoga. She looked calm. Yoga doesn’t care why you need to be calm. You could be calming yourself for a murder. I was wearing flip-flops, and the soles of my feet were black.
A crowd gathered in front of the yoga teacher like the birds on telephone wires. The yoga teacher made a show of looking out then took my arm and said, “You spin first. You have waited patiently.”
I had done no such thing. I had kept looking at my watch and returned stingy, little answers to her questions. I didn’t want to work for a water bottle or a pen.
The joggers and floaters wanted the shoes. People in wheel chairs wanted the shoes. The yoga teacher noticed the rubber stopper was missing from the wheel. People searched for it, but it had disappeared. She looked worried and said, “Spin, anyway.” I said, “Whatever stops at the top will be the prize.” She said, “Yes!”
I gave the wheel a tug, and around it flew. Everyone watched. The shoes soared to the top and plunged to the bottom, then up again and down. The wheel didn’t slow. After a while the yoga teacher whispered, “I want you to win,” and I wondered if she took me for one of the entrepreneurial, street people who had lately set up shop along Broadway. They camped on the sidewalk, writing in notebooks and pouring over novels behind signs that asked for donations while they weathered a rough patch. Every so often they looked up blankly at passersby in suits. My life wasn’t that different.
The yoga teacher was holding a shoe she used to stop the wheel, calling out, “You win!” It was as if the universe had rolled toward me, even though I don’t believe in the universe. To a colleague, she said, “Bring our winner some shoes.” I said, “Thank-you,” and gave the colleague my shoe size. She returned with a box, and I slipped on silver shoes with hot pink soles and iridescent, green stripes. They were ugly, but what can you do. Other members of the team snapped pictures with their phones, and I wondered where they would be posted and if people would notice my dirty feet.
I smiled. The shoes were springy, and I remembered being 10 and chosen to perform in a promotional film about the new library at school. There I was with my pigtails and eager face. My mother had been a shy, aloof person who didn’t want her emotions read. She was dead now, and I wished I could show her the shoes. She would have said, “How did you win them?” I would have said, “Pity.” She would have said, “There’s the catch.”