What follows is the beginning of a short story – Desert Island DMs - I wrote not long after my mum died in January 2012. It is a story but there are many connections with my own life and the shoes are all ones I have owned and worn. The piece has appeared online previously as it was shortlisted for the then publication FiveStop Story:
Have you seen that advert for shoes? Clarks I think. Looking down, actors chant, ‘New Shoes,’ as if in a trance. When I’m famous and asked to chart my life, I’ll do it through shoes.
I’m two (my mum has told me this story and I’ve seen the photo) and sitting on the step of our house. The front door is red, like my shoes. They have shiny buckles and are probably Clarks, or maybe Start-Rite. I’m dressed in a pink knitted outfit - a coat and hat with kitten ears – lovingly made by my grandmother. I’m squinting in the spring sunshine and looking sweet enough to eat. Soon after the picture was taken I fell into a puddle, staining my lovely pink suit and scuffing my shoes.
Lying on a trolley in the Accident and Emergency Department of our local hospital I wonder why I’ve still got my shoes on. I’m six and bang heads with an eight year old as I run from the classroom following the going-home bell. It wasn’t the first time I’d run out of school. After the first day I decided that I’d rather stay at home. The headmistress had to shut the school gates to stop me escaping. I don’t remember much about the hospital visit, except for my shoes; brown lace-ups. It must have been winter; no buckles this time.
I’m 16 and wearing a pair of platform shoes (usually I wear gym shoes or desert boots) for a night out. They’re candy striped and pretty, but pinch my toes. From O’ Level Biology I know that foot bones don’t fully harden until we’re in our mid 20s. So the shoes we wear in previous years determine our future likelihood of bunions, corns and other nasties. My platforms hurt all the way through the The Towering Inferno and distract me from fighting off my date’s wandering hands. That evening I dump the platforms and the boyfriend; both I and my feet feel happier as a result.
White high-heeled wedding shoes mean I am lucky not to trip over my dress and fall on my face. I cling to my new husband walking down the aisle. At 21 and 22 we are both fairly wet behind the ears. I dye the shoes blue after the honeymoon, but never wear them again. Mum told me I wouldn’t. Simon, my husband, is promoted four times in as many years and I buy court shoes in a variety of colours to wear to works’ events and dinners with the boss. At my job in the local garden centre I stick to my desert boots, or flip flops.
Our years together are tempestuous. During one loud, hot argument in a Greek supermarket I throw a large red juicy tomato at him. He apologises to the bemused, shop owner, pays for the tomato and our other purchases and grabs my hand. We run back to our holiday apartment so that we can ‘make up’. I look at the tomato seeds in his hair as he simultaneously tugs down my shorts and kisses the sand off my toes. I’m still wearing my flip-flops. We grow up together and grow apart. After eight years of marriage we part.
To be continued . . .