The Red Shoes
They had only made it half way to the front door. I’d remembered to bring them down from my bedroom but left them on the half-height wall in the lounge. It was a habit we had gotten into - leaving things by the stairs to be taken up or down. Our cats had other plans for things left on the walls. Like brave hunters protecting their masters, they would bat items off the wall and onto the floor, forcing the object to submit to their feline dominance.
So, I had moved the shoes in case they should suffer the same fate, the heavy wood heels marking the wood floor. Our landlords were cautious and had forced us to sign extra documents in our rental contract. We would not allow anyone to wear stiletto heels on the timber floor. Do I even know anyone who wears stilettos? We would not have any dogs or cats. Whoops.
The red leather shoes got put on top of a crate in my painting area. I don’t have a studio but a small area lined with a tarp then drop-sheet to protect the beloved floorboards. Plastic crates held my paints, rags and jars with brushes in varying stages of utility. Balanced upon a bar stool, an old tile served as my palette.
One evening alone and half a bottle of pink wine later, the urge struck. I didn’t have an image in mind like I often do. I looked around saw the shoes and thought why not. Loosely sketching the image onto the canvas, I got to thinking about such an everyday object in my life. I’d never been one of those women who own loads of shoes. I only wear shoes that are absolutely comfortable. I prefer flats over heels. Barefoot most of the time, any heels I do own must be able to be run in if the need arose.
There was a well dressed man who I briefly dated. He was a gentleman, sending a car to pick me up for our second date, where upon I met his best friend and wife. It was a well-reviewed bayside restaurant with an indulgent wine list and meal usually beyond my modest budget. I talked comfortably with the driver on the way to dinner. Working in a service industry myself, I’ve always chatted easily with waiters, bar staff and customer service assistants. They often know the best places for a drink or meal.
Over a few weeks, he wined and dined me. One afternoon, he turned up at my work to surprise me with a fancy dinner after work. We walked along the street after I finished up, me giving him the tour of the small country town in which I worked. Holding hands, we looked in the shop windows finally stopping at a popular bar for a glass of cold, white wine – a welcome perk of working in a fabulous wine region.
In the window of one store that I rarely entered due to my tight budget, we stopped and admired a pair of red heels. He asked if I liked them; I responded that I did. The store was closed so I knew he wasn’t going to buy them for me. I assumed he was just trying to learn more about what I liked and didn’t like. The seed had been sown though. I liked the shoes but I knew I didn’t need the shoes. I did, however, envision myself wearing them with jeans, with dresses, floral skirts - anything.
After we broke up, I decided to buy them. It wasn’t retail therapy to cheer myself up as I wasn’t really upset that we’d broken up. There had been something about the relationship that had felt a bit off. Maybe it was that he owned more beauty products and shoes than I did.
It was around this time that I began to reflect on what I had learned from the men that I had dated since my marriage dissolved. From one, I learned that I didn’t like being organized by others. From another, I learned that it is important to me to hear the words ‘I love you’. From the aforementioned gentleman, I learned that I could treat myself to some of the finer things in life.
So I went and spent more money on a pair of shoes than I had ever in my life. I slipped my feet inside and they were perfect – no pinching, no rubbing. And I did wear them with dresses, floral skirts and jeans. I loved wearing them. I felt special. Occasionally people noticed them and I would bend my knee, raise my hem and look down to admire them also. I smiled and said - thank you, I love them too.
I remember one night at a gypsy music bar in the inner north – you probably know it, it only serves crepes, two savory and two sweet options. Red-checked table cloths, velvet-clad chairs, and only one wine glass. If you are early enough you’ll get the wine glass, otherwise it’s a tumbler for you. I’m one of those early type people and while that doesn’t help with my social anxiety that the event won’t even happen, it did mean that the wine glass was generally mine.
I found the bar via a piano-accordion player I briefly tried dating though things never seemed to quite work out there. We seemed to continually miss each other somehow. I did, however, fall in love with the whole bohemian music scene. The swirling cacophony of notes, plaintive vocals and impassioned dancing hypnotized me. I was hooked and kept schlepping from middle suburbia into this exotic other world. My shoes brought me here. They belonged here.
One sultry summer evening, I didn’t feel like going out but had read in a well-meaning friend’s book on dating rules that the first step is just showing up. So I climbed into the low cut black dress that celebrated my curves and my comfortable, reliable red shoes. I did get compliments on my shoes. Small positive words buoyed me. The glass full of wine didn’t hurt either.
Then there was the Italian chef I had previously dated. I was now single. Again, it had been a relationship that didn’t pan out for any apparent reason. I wasn’t hung up on it. We’d both been invited to a party up country by the chef who had originally set us up on our first date. Not exactly a blind date, we had known each other through mutual friends.
Now country parties don’t normally seem like a heels kind of occasion but they had hired a function space and bungalows for the event. And I wanted to impress. I wanted to be the one who was in control. I wanted to be the one to choose to sleep with him or not.
It was going to be a great weekend. I’d taken the time off work, which was rare for me. Parties thrown by chefs are always good. Hospitality people like to drink and I’m not talking casks of Jacobs Creek. Platters groaned with piles of antipasto, cheese, seafood and more. Each surface offered up something delightful to eat or drink.
It was late summer and the drive north was through some dry land indeed. Different shades of brown stretched from one side of the horizon to the other. Bushfires had raged across the hills only a year or two prior and many of the guests were somewhat twitchy. The firestorm was still a very real memory for most.
I’m not a country girl though I worked out that way for many years and had grown to have an understanding of why people chose to live in such an area even though it was remote from the city with the very real threat of bushfire each summer. For me, I was always happy to return to my middle suburban life.
So I brought my shoes along with me. My red wrap dress and the heels worked their magic. I loved that evening. An entertaining group of people - I was with my tribe. I belonged even though I’d only met a handful of them before. I ate and drank with vigor, even danced to delightfully daggy 1980’s music. We did spend the night together. Though nothing further eventuated between us, I was fine with that.
Ten years on the shoes have seen better days – chunks out of the wooden heel, paint rubbed off the rear piece of leather, straps loose and soles very thin. Can they be rehabilitated? Should they be rehabilitated? Are they still relevant in my life? Am I painting a souvenir of times gone by or immortalizing a beloved item in my life?
A few days later, I find myself at the cobbler. She is a short, spunky woman about my age who I slightly want to be. She seems to have found a trade she believes in and loves, that tires her but makes her feel useful. Her calloused, stained hands turn the shoes over and over, evaluating them while I try and explain what I hope for them. I’m not sure if what I’m asking is possible. How can I explain to her in just a few minutes what these mean to me, why I can’t seem to accept that they may have reached the end of their life? She finally looks up and smiles. I think things are going to be okay.