Dear reader, I had said I’d publish this short story in ONE GO, but it ran away with me, growing into a longish short story – too long for one sitting! So, I’m breaking it up into 3 or 4 parts, to be published every Sunday (the usual day when I posted The Hotel Unicus series). I’ll be rating it 16+ due to the mature themes, but as is my way there is more mystery in the absence of gory details, which terrify me. Horror/mystery/pretanatural. I hope you like it.
So, how did I come by acquiring
these fabulous Red Shoes?
Don’t pretend you weren’t looking them over, I heard your heart skip. Admiring the high sheen of the patent leather – and, the pointed toe that can pierce many a heart – and, the killer heel. That can stop you dead in your tracks.
Please don’t slobber.
I don’t want them sticky.
I know you thought, with trepidation, the cherry-red too risqué.
Do I look like I care?
Since I found these shoes I’ve been wearing a red lipstick. Glossy as the shoes. And, just as vivid.
In the day.
I heard it, don’t deny it!
These shoes were made for strutting.
You do the tutting.
I went to the supermarket and it took me three times as long… No, it was because they demanded admiring glances – people were red with envy! – and they wouldn’t stop talking to my feet. I said, jokingly, my face is up here!
You can look.
(Just don’t touch).
I’m giddy – and not just because I’m taller!
Now, everyplace is a party and I don’t even have to drink!
Black fades to grey in comparison.
I politely look away from your mousey-hued black. With their safe low starter-heels. Shoes that will never make anyone’s heart skip a beat.
Not like mine.
Sorry, did I forget to tell you the story of how I found them, the Red Shoes?
As far as I can tell they were born in a hot place – Italy – because ‘Italian Leather’ is in black block letters on the soles. The name of the shoemaker is marked too. But, of course, I didn’t find them there.
The finest, softest, most expensive leather is Italian. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the best shoe cobblers are Italian as well.
I discovered them on a low brick wall in the city. It wasn’t a residential area, instead, a pedestrian zone of wide yellow pavements with shops either side with big shiny windows. Displaying their wares of fresh flowers, boutique clothes, continental meats and cheeses and olives and crusty bread, hand-finished chocolates… A nice area, yes. Apart from the betting shop and the pound shop that took some of the shine off. In between Coco’s and Just One Quid! was a circular shaped bench built into a low brick wall; inside, the tree of some exotic sort was wilting. Apparently, someone with too much power and too little sense, as is usual in a city council, had decided the palm was a good idea at the time – but no thought had been given to its future. The only aftercare it received was the scarce watering it sporadically received from the rain that hot summer. Fortunately, though, the weather had been so dry, or else the shoes would have suffered.
I used to suffer from insomnia and would take to window-shopping by street light in the early hours. Although not possessing deep pockets, peering in the windows of Coco’s was a small delight: the studded skinny jeans, the distorted-digital-printed skirts and leggings, the lycra tops with the cut-out-shapes, the acid colours of the dresses that went home to the dance-floor…
On the morning of that fateful meeting, I decided to view the contents of Coco’s from a further distance – of that dictated by the bench built in the low brick wall. I was just too weary with my worries to be up close and (almost) personal.
“You look as good as I feel.” I greeted the neglected palm, before sitting down on something that shouldn’t have been there. It poked my bottom. I swore then stood up.
(I was grateful it wasn’t a drunk).
I looked at what it was; what they were. Then, looked again.
And, then, I did a thorough 360 observation around me. No one was there. Certainly not the woman who had left these behind.
The high heeled shoes were so new they glowed red in the semi-darkness.
Tentatively, I picked up one of the shoes. They seemed to be my size. I looked but there was no size indicated on the soles. Only the made in Italy thing and the maker’s name.
They looked my exact size.
I ignored the fact that I was slumming it in old comfy grey pyjamas and worn-out scuffed running shoes. They made me put them on.
Afterwards, I felt like a million dollars.
For a while.
My sister asked if I was possessed. My mum expressed her concern. My Aunt Nicky tried stealing them off me. Things were not the same; I was not the same.
“Have you heard of the story, The Red Shoes?” Gran said, giving my beauties a shrewd look.
“The original tale by Hans Christian Andersen tells of a girl who behaved disobediently. She was told not to wear the red shoes she was fond of, to church, but she did. Someone ends up cursing the red shoes and so the girl almost dances to her death. She’s only saved by begging the axe-man to cut off her feet – as the shoes do not come off. There is a ‘happy ever after’ though when she is redeemed by her good behaviour and then goes to Heaven. The film – of the same name – is very loosely based on the original tale, telling of a ballerina who is torn between her career and her lover. In the end it is implied that the red ballet shoes danced her to her death, in the path of a speeding train.”
“No wonder you’re so happy, Gran, reading and watching stuff like that.”
“Mocking me won’t save you! Pride comes before a fall!”
Later, much later, her words came back to haunt me.
Did you hear about the story of the Red Shoes, which were found by a down-on-her-luck young woman, whilst walking about at dawn because she couldn’t sleep for her worries? Discovered on a vacant city bench outside Coco’s? She wore them all the time and never took them off, so proud was she of them. Eventually, they almost cost her the ultimate price.
“Expensive. How can you afford these? Or, maybe I shouldn’t ask.” My best friend, Lilly, said.
Lilly and me went to school together; but whereas I couldn’t wait to leave at 16 to go to work, she was more clever, envisioning a better future for herself, and stayed on. After college, she and a college friend set up an accountancy firm together. Today, at 25, she might not be a millionaire and she doesn’t have many luxuries because of the business costs, but she has a regular income and something real on which to grow.
And, me? I couldn’t wait to be grown up and earn my own money. For the past eight years, until last year when I was made redundant, I always worked in retail. Beginning with a Saturday job, that later became a full-time position in a nationwide clothing store – that went bust five years ago – and, ending with my last job, at Furniture Land, selling bedroom and kitchen furniture (as long as it was pine). In-between, I had stints at a pet shop, petrol filling station, and, a pawnbroker’s. I left the pet shop because I was more frightened of my boss than of the large spiders, snakes and rats; I was fired from the petrol station when the business changed hands; and, I thankfully left the pawnbroker’s after only one month to work in the furniture store, because it depressed me so much seeing all those people struggling to survive.
Talk about a Dog-Eat-Dog kind of world.
Anyway, back to the conversation with Lilly…
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I said slyly.
Lilly stared hard at me, then narrowed her eyes. “You’re not the same, are you? Are you taking drugs?” And, then obviously thinking of my new-looking expensive shoes: “Selling drugs?”
“No; no; and, no.”
Lilly snorted in impatience.
I grinned. No doubt the red lipstick I recently took to wearing, my teeth were now sporting. I didn’t care. “I found them. No, actually, I believe they found me.”
“Whatever nonsense is that, Fran?”
“Well, you know that I was recently finding it hard to sleep?”
“And, that I walk about when I can’t?”
Another nod, in which her glasses moved.
“I went to sit down on the bench outside Coco’s – but sat on these shoes.”
“You mean no one was wearing them?”
“Do you think I steal people’s shoes, and, while they’re wearing them!”
“Sorry. It just sounds so…absurd.”
“Like, who in their right mind would leave their shoes on a bench to be taken?”
Lilly nodded. This time, her black spectacles had completely slid down her pretty retoussé nose. “Those shoes remind me of a client…” She absently pushed the glasses back up.
“You know I have to abide by client confidentiality…”
“Just between you and me: your shoes look exactly like the ones worn by my ‘working-girl’ client.”
I thought of the poor souls selling their bodies for next to nothing for their next hit on Cobblers Street, the red-light area of our city.
Being close friends we can read each other’s minds. Or, something akin to that. “No, not one of those girls; my client was more sophisticated than that, did the job purely for financial gain, no addictions. Working out of nice hotels and her ‘working’ apartment.”
“It could be ‘is’ and ‘does’. Except, I haven’t seen her in a long while. We used to meet on the first Tuesday of the month – the last time we met was four months ago.” The spectacles slid a tiny bit.
“Why’s that?” I asked. Intrigued but not really bothered.
“I don’t know. Except…for a while everything seemed to be going super-good for her but the last time I saw her she was ill. She didn’t say what it was, I didn’t ask.”
“Poor woman.” I said.
Lilly shook her head and her eyewear landed on the tip of her nose. “I couldn’t get hold of her, her mobile phone was switched off and my emails went unanswered. In the end, I had to terminate our agreement.”
She took the glasses off and silently polished them.
I thought of my shoes on the bench. Just who had left them there? And, why?
“Could my shoes really be hers?” I asked Lilly.
“They might have been, but for one thing.”
“My client’s feet are tiny.”
…………to be continued!
Did you enjoy this story?
If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Inspired by: My own red Italian shoes (in another life when my life was more high heels than wheels).
The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen
The Red Shoes, the film, 1948
Copyright Faith McCord 2016
Story and artwork belongs to Faith McCord who is the author and artist holding the copyright. This is not a public domain work. Worldwide rights.