Perhaps I’ve seen one too many viewings of The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe I just have a penchant for bright things. But really, I think that my predilection towards red shoes can be explained thus: My mother was a right proper bitch when she was eight.
It goes something like this: When she was eight, my mother was in a class with a girl whose parents bought her the best of everything. It should be said here that while my grandfather was a gentleman landowner, he didn’t see the need to shower his children with all sorts of geegaws and flashy items. So my mother wore hand-me-downs, often, and my grandmother often had to fight to get my aunts and uncles new items of clothing.
This did not bode well for the girl across the aisle from my mother, although she didn’t know it yet. My mom loves pretty things. Lately it’s ruffles. In the 80s it was skinny jeans with zipped ankles (don’t I wish I still owned a pair!). Back then, it was red velvet shoes. The girl across the aisle had them.
My mother went home, dragging ‘cos she didn’t have a pair, and my grandmother asked what was wrong. “Red shoes,” moaned my mother, and proceeded to ask for a pair. Of course her father snorted. She had perfectly good shoes; why would she need red ones? Pretty wasn’t a good enough reason. In the end, she begged and pleaded and finally struck a bargain: if she reached the top of her class in all of her subjects, she would get a pair of red shoes.
Oh, joy! Mom jumped at the chance. She studied hard and got great grades and did indeed reach the top of her class. Her mother sent the kitchen maid to pick up a pair of red velvet shoes.
My mother paced in the courtyard. Back and forth, back and forth. She waited until she couldn’t take it anymore, and then she ran onto the long drive leading from our home to the street. She stood there until she could see the puffs of diesel smoke from the tailpipe of a moped that signaled the maid’s return from her shopping trip.
The maid smiled to see my mother so excited, and then handed over a paper bag. My mother tore it open and set her eyes upon a pair of cheap velvet shoes, colored like dried blood and stiff with sub-par fabric. Her eyes welled with tears. She turned away so the maid wouldn’t see.
“Aren’t they okay, little bear? Just what you wanted?” The maid was anxious to see that she’d done a good job.
“They’re okay,” said my mother, and sat on the ground to pull on her new shoes. She says she remembers what they felt like, crisp and rough against her feet.
The next day my mother wore her shoes to school. And the girl across the aisle had acquired a red velvet school bag to go with her red velvet shoes. My mother saw spots. She pulled the girl’s school bag off her desk, emptied it, and threw it on the floor and stomped on it.
Then she got sent home for the rest of the day.
Yesterday I went shopping with my mom. We got me a pair of red shoes. I am really partial to them.
My mom and I don’t always get along. Sometimes the sense of wistfulness is so great–the sense of wistfulness, I mean, that we aren’t ever really going to see eye-to-eye, I mean–that it’s like a fricking hole in my chest.
But we do, at least, share a love for fine things, the written word, great movies–and red shoes. To me they mean aspiration and joy; hope and envy. It’s pointless for me to try and explain really. But I’m glad I did. And I’m glad I bought these with my mom.