I wanted them to go to a good home. Fifty quid is a lot of money for a pair of shoes, even if I didn’t pay for them and even if they are just about the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I have to hiss, describing them. They are silver sparkly slingbacks. Sss. They look like they are made of glass (like Cinderella’s slippers) or diamonds. They don’t really fit and they keep slipping off, a bit like the man who bought them for me.
(I say ‘man’, he’s a boy, really.)
That’s what he said to me, too: ‘you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ Weird, that he called me a thing, now that I think about it. But I was just made up, cos no-one had ever called me beautiful before (except my mam, but that doesn’t really count, does it?)
We went out on New Year’s Eve. I wore the shoes (sss) and a gunmetal dress, and he kissed someone else at midnight.
So. My Mam’s is about the best home I can think of. We’re the same size so share clothes sometimes, although she’s pear-shaped and I’m an apple, all boobs and belly. But obviously shoes fit OK.
The date was disastrous. There’s a reason they call them blind. It’s all fumbling in the dark, for words, and for each other.
I knew he would hurt me, Vicki’s dad. I just didn’t know how he would do it.
The drink, I thought. He’ll be at the pub every night and he’ll come home and he’ll knock me about a bit. He’ll piss the housekeeping money up the wall, like my sister’s fella. Maybe spend a bit too much on the horses.
Maybe eventually there’ll be another woman, maybe drugs. He had it in him, I thought, that look, that shine in the eyes like a camera flash, ready to wink at and follow any new experience, any distraction.
I was chuffed when he married me, mind you. He was meant to go to London. For a big job. It’s written all over his face in the wedding snaps: ‘shouldn’t be here.’ Him not looking, me grinning like a bloody idiot, bunch of roses held over my tell-tale tummy. Him a cornered fox, might snarl any minute.
But he never snarled, he just laid down. He never drank, hit me or messed me around.
In the end he hurt me with silence.
Not what I expected, really.
He killed me with the wait. Waiting for a hug, a compliment, a smile. Twelve years.
My sister said I was lucky.
He did crosswords ‘to keep his brain active’. Cut the prize crosswords out of the paper week after week and never posted them.
He should’ve been at his big job in London. Instead he ended up with me and Vic and a terrace a hundred yards from his mum and dad’s. He got the factory, the line. Piece work. More boxes you fold and tape up, more money you take home.
In the end, we could neither of us look the other in the eye. Truth is, I missed the shine. I felt really bad for taking it away.
I wore a really nice blouse for the date, and tight jeans, because Vicki says you can always dress up jeans, and look smart, without looking as if you’ve made too much effort. Why is it we all talk about clothes? You’d think working in a place that makes them, we’d be bored of them. We sew up skirts for M&S. Pick the stitches from the faulty ones and sew them again. But that’s all any of them wanted to know, the next day: ‘what did you wear?’
Now, I’ve got my sister, and the girls at the factory. They all say I’ll find someone. Better luck next time.
I took the shoes to the Sue Ryder shop. Call it superstition if you like. Mutton dressed as lamb, he would’ve called me, if he’d seen me, if he’d said anything at all.
The things I can do now, here. I can make a mess. I can read.
I’d never been to a ball before, barely even worn a dress. Now I’m a student I thought I’d better keep it cheap so I went to the charity shop. ‘Vintage’ is all the rage these days, apparently. I would’ve just called it second hand! But no, Jen and Flo and Harriet say you just have to wear ‘a vintage piece’. I suppose they know more about fashion than I do.
You learn more at university than what’s in the lectures. I have learned two things already:
- I can lie to my parents quite successfully. The Sports Science degree I was supposed to be taking has somehow morphed into European Literature. We now have a silent agreement that they will pretend not to know this, will never ask how my course is going (only how my running is going), and in return I will not spend any of their money.
- The feet can blister in three ways, as a result of three different types of footwear:
- Trainers: heels, little toes
- High heels: fronts of toes, ankles
- Bare feet: balls of
He wanted a boy. He wanted a scientist. Scientist Athlete Boy. I dreamed of the boy I should have been, tall, wiry, strong: Jack. I cut my hair and I ran until I looked less of a girl. I lived in trainers and trackies. And Father was always there at the finish line, and my time was always good, but never great.
Now I want to read; sit still for a minute.
My narrow feet, bony and almost pretty apart from a black toenail, stung like crazy. I felt clumsy and out of place, until Tim picked me up. On his back, skitting through the snow, I laughed my newly smoke-filled lungs out.
Then a skid, screech, thud, and I’m on my back, still laughing. Tim has fallen and taken me with him. The ice is both injurer and anaesthetic. At about fourteen stone, he lies on top of me, his back to my front, gasping, breath forming clouds. Then he rolls over, and I try to roll too and slide out from under him but he’s quick and grabs my wrists and pins my hands over my head and it’s a night for firsts as he kissed me. My coccyx is burning. His stubble tickles.
After he skates off, I skip back to the halls, barefoot.
They fell into my possession under a table, along with a disposable camera, a bow-tie, an earring and a used phone-card.
It’s no fun sweeping up posh kids’ detritus.
In my room I have a mattress and a TV and a full-length mirror. And a cardboard box for my finds.
It has a tiny strap that snakes up my leg. My ugly stubbly ankles are embarrassed by the sparkle. A twist, a glint, and I almost cry, but I’ll keep them on a bit longer.