“The Red Shoes Know”
by Ken Des Jardins
The shoes didn’t fit. That should have been my first clue.
Everything else was perfect. The dress, the veil, those long white gloves I had dreamed of since that night years ago when I first saw Mother wearing them. Charity ball for orphan chimpanzees, I want to say.
Oh, and the groom of course. Mother found him at a golf event, and I thought, I couldn’t have chosen better myself. He was outrageously handsome — mysterious and swarthy. And if his slicked-back hair and fondness for gold jewelry seemed a little peculiar, well, one must make allowances. With Tara and my other friends closing in, I knew I had to act fast if I wanted him for myself.
But those shoes! I must have tried on a hundred pairs before I found them. They were the last size seven-and-a-half gorgeously elegant white satin heel, not too high, not too low. The kind of shoes that practically require a tiara. Scream out for a tiara.
So there I was in the chapel dressing room, surrounded by my three bridesmaids in delicious emerald gowns with almost-too-daring-for-a-wedding necklines (another inspiration from Mother — Save the Sea Lions maybe?) when I pulled on the left shoe. And pulled. And pulled again.
“Which. One. Of you. Ladies–” I started, but I could tell by their worried looks that this was no joke.
“What is it?” Elise said, trying to keep the panic from her voice. The air was thick with tension and the heady odor of lily and incense.
I slowly hiked up my dress with both hands, revealing my beautiful, perfect, gorgeous shoe with only my pinkie toe trapped outside, trying to fight its way in like poor Amanda that night at the club. (Her hair — what was she thinking?)
My bridesmaids shrieked in unison.
“The Hot Fries!” Elise squealed, advancing a theory about salty snacks, water retention, and swelling of the extremities. It was a plausible hypothesis, given how many I’d scarfed the night before out of sheer nerves, but Amanda provided a simpler explanation: The shop had sent over the wrong size. It was as plain as the label on the box.
The organ music drifting in from the chapel sounded funereal to me now as I cradled the shoe in my lap and watched my bridesmaids search in vain for a substitute pair. At last they gave up and stood in a row, staring at me, their flushed, puffy faces hovering above a wall of emerald silk. The image of Cinderella’s stepsisters flashed into my head, and I remembered how they had cut off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper. I was about to ask if anyone had a Swiss Army Knife when Tara broke the silence.
“Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be,” she said. Elise and Amanda gasped and stepped away from her. “The shoes I mean.”
My scream reverberated off the cinderblock walls as I reared back with the shoe in my right hand and aimed for Tara’s head. At that moment, as the satin slipped from my freshly manicured fingers, Mother flung open the door to investigate the delay. With years of tennis lessons and six months of wedding-fueled anxiety to propel it, the shoe went flying across the room, just missing Tara’s shoulder before sailing into the chapel. I heard a loud thud and the beginning of a wail before Mother slammed the door shut behind her.
“Darling!” Mother gushed, and ran over to embrace me in her bony arms. I shot Tara one of my patented Looks of Death over Mother’s shoulder and she turned on her heel and walked out.
Mother and I wear the same size shoe, and she had brought a change of clothes for the reception, so the day was saved. True, the color wasn’t ideal, but I’m nothing if not a trooper. Later, some of the photos would reveal the borrowed red shoes protruding lasciviously from the virginal white of my gown, giving the impression I’d walked to the alter through a pool of pigs’ blood. But no matter. The wedding went on, with hardly another hitch, save for Amanda’s dramatic fainting spell mid-vows.
It’s been six months now since the wedding. I haven’t heard from Mother at all, except for a single postcard, from Costa Rica. “Keep the shoes,” it said, and, “I’m sure Cousin Charlie will be fine,” and, “Fascinating creature, the poisonous dart frog. So dangerous, but so in need of our help.”
Poor Cousin Charlie. Apparently his girlfriend had been under the impression Charlie was something of a man’s man before he broke down in tears after being nearly scalped by my super-powered shoe. She left him standing at the altar, as it were, and his self confidence never fully recovered. (Not surprising, considering the scar he has to remind him.) I’m told he’s been spotted lately volunteering at the local cat shelter, scooping litter boxes and mopping up vomit.
My so-called friends have abandoned me, and none of them has had the decency to tell me why. I almost had it out of Amanda. I cornered her at her most vulnerable, her feet soaking at the salon, a magazine propped in her lap. When she saw me coming she smiled for a moment, but then a memory crossed her face and she looked down at her gnarled toes. I refilled her glass with the salon’s cheap pinot gris and perched myself on the chair next to her.
“It’s so good to see you,” I said. She nodded. “How are the other girls?”
“Oh fine. Tara’s — everyone’s fine.”
“What’s that about Tara?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing. Would you mind? I need to finish reading this for… I need to… finish.”
I looked into her eyes. What was it I saw? Fear? Jealousy? I’ve never been one for reading the human soul.
“What is it Amanda?” I said. “Why won’t you–” but the technician came and shooed me away.
The next week, I stood in for Mother at her annual Blind Auction for the Bald Eagles. I wore my new Valentino, but you’d have thought I had on flip-flops and a fright wig the way the women avoided me. Standing near the punch bowl, I overheard Tara’s mother talking to another woman about my husband. How he’d charmed and convinced her he could multiply the size of her charitable contributions if only she would entrust him with her hard-earned wifely allowance. And now it was all gone, she said, most likely into his pocket.
“You’re not the only one, dear,” the other woman said, before they spotted me and scurried away.
I wanted to chase after them and tell them how wrong they were, but I knew in my heart they were right.
Now, on days when my husband is away with a client, I draw my bedroom curtains, don the white gloves and tiara, and peer at the few strands of Cousin Charlie’s hair that still cling to the shoe’s heel. I’ll rub the satin gently, hoping the Genie of the Shoe will appear and grant my wishes: For Mother’s safe return, for Cousin Charlie’s sanity, and a little wish for myself — to go back to the old days, before the empty bags of Hot Fries accumulated under my bed like an enormous cellophane tumbleweed. Before my wedding to this man who turned out to be, well, less than what I’d expected.
Because despite what I know, I still allow him to come to me at night, to pound away on top of me while the bags crinkle mournfully from under the bed skirt. I close my eyes and think about how I’ve been there at his side, telling myself I believed in him and helping coax these women, society wives no different from Mother — no different from me! — into trusting him the way I did.
The red shoes know what I’ve done. They call to me late at night from the darkest corner of the closet where they’ve sat for the last six months. They whisper words like “whore” and “monster” and I have to wonder if maybe they’re right. The white shoe offers no condolence from its place of honor on my bed stand. I plead for it to help me, to work its magic before it’s too late. But it just sits there, silently, its only magic having been spent on my wedding day, when I refused to listen.