By Bill Haddow Allen
Her right shoe caressed the calf of her left leg, up and down, snaking and teasing, as if in ritual courtship to the left. The look-at-me shoes were peacock blue leather, gold four inch heels, and gold straps.
There were still a few faint, but persistent, doubts in her mind about the wisdom of her adventure and she almost gave the taxi driver last minute instructions to take her somewhere else.
She was on her way to meet the Kensington crowd. She had made contact with friends of friends via her old hairdresser and discovered that her old social group still met up at least once a month.
When she had bought the shoes there had been no coo-ing chit chat with the assistant, no ‘...what do you think?...’. She had wanted them as soon as she saw them, felt a remembered nausea of desire, of demon lust - a yearning for the time before stretch marks and stitches. She had forgotten how much she had enjoyed what had become a way of life. It had been a long time since she had bought shoes like these. Since before she married.
She had married ‘sensibly’. She had been fond of him. Might love him if he was ever there. They met at breakfast when ever he was at home, or when he rushed in between flights. Sometimes they had conversations at the open door of his study, interrupting him with news of their son’s progress at university, or to read aloud to him holiday postcards from friends.
She had planned what she might do - or, perhaps the idea for her adventure had sneaked into her consciousness piece by piece while pushing peas and carrots down the sink and during her daily routine. Odd, isolated bits of her plan would interrupt her seek and find mode at Waitrose and she would think of her old contacts. Especially Tommy - ‘Talented Tommy’ as he was known, a sparkling party goer - and so much energy, she remembered.
She had put the shoes in her wardrobe, absentmindedly, pretending she hadn’t bought them, but they were there, ready. She was kidding herself. It wouldn’t happen by default, because she had decided.
When not being the dutiful and charming host to his friends and business associates, she continued with her not unpleasant life of hairdressers, frock fittings, expensive shopping, the pleasure of it evaporating because of its very predictability. She wore the shoes occasionally around the house to get used to them, to re-familiarise herself of the art of wearing dangerously high heels.
The taxi dropped her a hundred yards from the venue and she strode, feeling trampy on the precariously tall heels - higher than she remembered - but she soon regained that hip swaying S shape of the dangerous heel wearer. For a moment she felt self conscious - an unfamiliar discomfort, which prompted unsureness, guilt, doubts about visiting the past. Thoughts of Tommy spurred her on.
“Love the shoes,” said Tommy. He had a thing about shoes, and she had a thing about men who had a thing about shoes.
After thirty minutes of lovely to see you darling and potted biographies and graduation photographs the party died. The remembered sizzle had gone. But there was still Tommy.
It used to be dinner - club or casino - and ending up at someone’s house. Lots of laughter and high spirits, black Russian cigarettes and sex in the laundry room or the garden; and with Talented Tommy it had been exhilarating fun.
She had kept fit and was wearing a twenty year old dress that still fitted. They all looked old and talked of nothing but money, wild boar and avocado quiche, organic muffins, kitchen work tops which just had to be of Brazilian slate. And pension funds. It was all so boring. But there was still Tommy.
She had yet another drink. She homed in on a young man who was grazing at the food table who listened open mouthed, unaware that he was being pulled. Before she went too far Tommy took her arm. ‘His mother,’ he said, nodding in the direction of a non stop gob talking loudly about house prices in Wimbledon
Tommy had drunk a little too much and was talking much too loudly, making her feel uncomfortable.
‘...You always were a bit of a tease - a sexy dresser. You know I never believed all that tosh about your job…’
‘Oh, don't mind him...he’s just...just…’
Him was another grazer at the food table, a quiet man who wasn’t contributing anything at all. She had tried a conversation, but so much food went into his mouth he never actually replied. He worked for a glossy magazine, Tommy said, had been captured by tribesmen in Afghanistan. That was his qualification for being at the party. A special guest. Invited and ignored.
Tommy blundered on ‘...I always had an idea of what you were really up to - all those business clients...but, look , that’s okay by me,’ stroking her arm, ‘I never said anything.’ He was magnanimous.
‘Oh! thanks a bunch, Tommy!’
She remembered Tommy as debonair - energetic - well connected - man-about-town. But he had wasted his expensive education - his money - his life. Now he was a silhouette of a Dandy relying on tenuous connections for opportunities, cosy jobs involving nothing more strenuous than having his name on the list of directors.
‘Why don’t you take me home, Tommy?’
‘One for the road?’ he asked, looking at her shoes.
He gave the taxi driver directions.
‘Peckham!? Peckham!? Are things that bad, Tommy?’
‘Just temporary, old girl.’
She negotiated the shabbily carpeted stairs in her gorgeous shoes. Tommy fixed drinks, and she went to the bathroom.
She remembered the excitement of old times, and her power to WOW. She went back to where Tommy was and leaned on the door frame, wearing nothing but lipstick and her fuckme shoes, the straps straining against the unholy restricted flesh.
Tommy was asleep.
Fast asleep and snoring.
She let herself out onto the street, feeling silly, disillusioned, and at two a.m. in Peckham a little bit afraid. A pirate cab prowled near to her. She waved it away, and was thankful when a black cab responded to her frantic waving.
She left the shoes under a lamp post on Peckham High Street and the taxi sped off with her back to Surrey. Her right bare foot caressed the calf of her left leg, up and down, snaking and teasing, as if in ritual courtship.
Bill lives in West London. Has a poem and two stories published. He has an eye for the stories behind the matter of fact things in life.
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