A short story I wrote a while ago.
Phoebe Walker, wife of the Rev. Martin Walker, was dusting when the doorbell rang.
Phoebe pattered over to the vicarage door and opened it to find Helen Lewis. Helen was a slim, dark haired lady in her forties. She was wearing a floral dress and sandals.
"Helen, it's nice to see you," said Phoebe.
The visitor stepped into the house.
"I've come to show you the Sunday school rota I've drawn up. I wanted to check it with you first," said Helen, as she entered the hallway. "We definitely need to get it done before the term starts and before everyone goes on holiday. I know Mary is planning on going to France for three weeks and Louise is away most of August. We also need to put Tina on the rota now that she said she could help.."
What Helen was saying barely registered with Phoebe. All she could think about was the sight of Helen's sandaled feet moving across her carpeted hallway, desecrating and despoiling it.
Phoebe took her eyes off Helen's feet.
"Have you forgotten something, Helen?" asked Phoebe.
Helen looked back blankly.
Phoebe couldn't believe that Helen had forgotten about the shoes-off rule in the vicarage. She had visited plenty of times before, including coffee mornings with a whole bunch of ladies in their stocking feet. Not to mention the huge pile of shoes, sandals and boots she had just walked past.
The vicar's wife gave Helen the look she always gave people who forgot to take their shoes off. She looked down at Helen's feet, then looked up at her, making a faint smile with gritted teeth. It usually did the trick.
"Ah, of course. I forgot," said Helen with a smile. "You have to take your shoes off here. I'm visiting the Mosque. Or is it a Gudwara?"
Phoebe was a little irritated at Helen's sarcasm.
"We get visitors every day. We don't want to wear out the carpets," said Phoebe.
Helen did not move away from where she stood on the carpet. She seemed to be standing her ground.
Phoebe looked down at Helen's feet again and stepped forward.
Helen was forced to retreat towards the door. Instead of removing her shoes, she gave a laugh.
"Very sensible, Phoebe. What with the weather being so awful," she said.
The woman was of course being sarcastic. The weather had been delightful over the past week with sunshine and not a drop of rain.
"Whatever the weather, the streets are never clean," replied Phoebe.
Phoebe knew the game Helen was playing. She wanted her to say It's okay, you can leave your shoes on.
Helen looked down at her feet, as though contemplating removing her sandals.
"I'm only going to be five minutes," she said.
Helen seemed to be testing her limits, seeing how far she could push the other woman. Her eleven year old niece had behaved the same way when she had stayed at the vicarage for a week, straining at the boundaries of her aunt's patience.
"It won't take you long to put them back on again," replied Phoebe.
Helen gave Phoebe a pleading look. She was still hoping that Phoebe would say It's okay, you can leave your shoes on.
The visitor lifted up her leg, as though about to slip off her sandal. She gave Phoebe one last desperate look, trying hard to look a little like Bambi just after his mother had been shot.
Phoebe remained silent.
The defeated Helen removed one sandal and dropped it to the floor by the door.
The vicar's wife was starting to look forward to the prospect of unruly children at Sunday school.
Knowing the game was up, Helen finally removed her other sandal.
Phoebe wondered if perhaps Helen did not want to be barefoot.
"Did you want to borrow some socks?" she offered.
"No thanks. As I said, I'll only be five minutes, I'll be fine in my bare feet," she replied, giving a loud sigh.
Phoebe smiled, elated at having stood her ground. Was that really so painful?