They had dots. Polka dots. And cute little bows on the noses. Oh and they were red. .Just like every other pair of shoes that ever had a magical attraction on women. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to have them, even though the heels were rather too high for me… God knows I don't need the extra height, not unless I want to scare off men. Which I don't. Even though there are mostly frogs out there, I still hope for a prince someday. The shoes hurt a little when I put them on, but my feet... they looked so tiny, so precious, that even though they hurted enough that I could probably only properly sit as I had them on, I wanted them so, so badly. It was the last pair.
But there was one more reason I couldn't buy them: I didn't have the money to spend on something so frivolous, for which I had no possible future occasion. So, with pain in my heart, I gave those beauties back to the shop assistant. Part of me had wanted to slip them in my bag and walk out.
That was a month ago… I have avoided the shop ever since, knowing that I was going to fall for those shoes if I ever saw them again, money or no money. And I am not interested in getting a record for shoplifting.
Let's get this straight—I am NOT a shoe fetishist. I like shoes as much as the next girl, but I am not the type that collects shoes. Normally, I have no problem saying 'no' to shoes. Worse, I really only wear one pair of shoes anyway—a pair of black ankle boots, which I wear year round, come rain or shine. So, I know I don't even remotely need those heels. I know that. And yet, I have been dreaming about them. Every. Single. Night.
It's doing my head in, I even see them when I simply close my eyes.
But today, there is a SALE sign in the shop window. As soon as I see that, my heart leaps.
But, they can't possibly still have them. They must have been sold by now... I'm sure there must be another woman with a size 7 somewhere that has fallen for them... they are the most gorgeous pair of shoes I ever saw. I can't be the only one who thought that, can I?
Gingerly, I open the door to the shop, as if the shoes might drop off the shelves and disappear into thin air if I open it too loudly. This place is like an Aladdin's cave, if you like vintage and retro clothes. And I do, especially when my budget allows me to. Which, today, it just might. Please God, or whatever almighty being that wants to listen to me right now… let the shoes still be here.
The first thing that catches my eye, though, is a black dress, tea length, with a box pleat skirt and a sweetheart neckline that is covered further up with a mesh of black dots. Every girl needs a black dress… or several of them... You can't go wrong with one, and this is only my… fourth? Plus, it isn't entirely black. It has a red polka-dot sash that ties into a bow tie across the waist, just like the shoes. It's like an sign or something... opefully something good.
Taking the dress with me, I continue to comb through every inch of the shop, especially the shoe racks in the back. No luck, though—I can't find them. They must be gone. I knew it was too good to be true.
Whilst I stare at the changing room, wondering whether it's worth the trouble to try on the dress, when the shoes that would be perfect to go with it are no longer here, I spot them at last..
I can't believe it. They are on a shelf above the door, too high for the tiny shop assistant to notice. Not that she is noticing much of anything, playing on her phone. Who knows how long they have been standing there for? Who cares? They are here!
I try not to run to the other side of the store. It would be ridiculous anyway—right now I'm the only customer here.
'Oh… I had forgotten about those. If you want them, they are half price,' the shop assistant says, as I grab them off the shelf.
Again, my heart does a strange lurch. I wonder if this is what it feels like when you are told you have won the lottery. I haven't, though. I have won a pair of shoes… Which I still will have to pay for, if I take them.
Who am I kidding?
When I take them.
With my treasures, I enter the changing room and undress. I try to avoid looking in the mirror, wanting to see the full effect when I am finished. Putting on the dress, I struggle with the zipper. This is one of those moments I wish I had a guy to help me. You know, the gentleman that zips you up, and then kisses your shoulder, just like in the movies. Of course I can ask the shop assistant for help, but she ain't gonna be there when I get home, is she? And helpful gentlemen do not exist date I was on last night was the perfect example of that.. Jude definitely was NOT the kind of man that would help you into anything, although. with the way he leered at my breasts, he would have probably been only too happy to help me out of clothes. He looked promising enough when he walked in. In fact, he was the best-looking guy I had dated for years… Until he opened his mouth. It wasn't the voice, but rather the words that came out of it. To say he was self-centred would be putting it too mildly—he was a downright narcissist. As I quietly debated whether I should feign injury or just injure him to make it stop, he even suggested that I foot the bill:
'Being a modern woman and all, it was silly that it was expected of him to pay, when I had enjoyed the pleasure of his company', he had even dared to suggest.
When I responded that I was definitely an old-fashioned girl, his face dropped, thereby giving me the one enjoyable moment of the whole evening.
Under any other circumstance, I would have been more than okay with paying the bill. I even would have paid for my own meal, if that had been what he had suggested. But I wasn't going to give this freeloader the satisfaction of a free meal. Especially after he had ordered lobster. As he grudgingly paid the tab, I made sure to slip into the first taxi I could find, repulsed by his suggestion of how I could otherwise repay him. This was definitely another toad that I barely avoided kissing.
Eventually, I get the zipper past that point behind my back that I can never quite reach. The dress fits like it was made for me. Tying the sash, I step into the shoes. They are tight, but they don't hurt quite as much as they did last time. I could possibly even walk home in these.
It's time to look in the mirror. I take a deep breath, and spin. The woman looking back at me looks distinguished.. Accomplished… Ready for a cocktail party with the well to do in some bygone era, yet still perfectly modern. Nothing like me at all. And yet...
'There is a bag that belongs with those shoes. Let me see if I can find it,' the ever-helpful shop assistant now suggests as she checks in on me.
Oh no… Not a handbag, as well… I know I'll end up buying it as well, even before she brings it to me. I have always been jealous of those women who have the perfect purse to match their shoes.
It's a clutch, but with a cord if you wish to hang it over your shoulder, so you don't have to hold it . It is perfect… A polka-dot bow and trim, just like the shoes. I have never felt more ladylike. One string of pearls away from being Audrey Hepburn... that is, of course, if Hepburn had been 6 ft tall… and a now few inches more with these heels...
I know by now I'm going to buy it all, even if it means beans on toast for the rest of the month. Mum will feed me if it gets too bad. Luckily, thanks to a little bonus this month, I can actually afford it. The fact that everything happens to be on sale means that I am hardly paying more than I would have if I had bought just the shoes a month ago. Yes, this will just have to be my early Christmas present for myself. Bought in early August. I might even wear it for Christmas. After all, that is at least one occasion I could wear it, right?
I don't want to take it off anymore. I keep looking at myself in the mirror, going from the purse, to the dress, to the shoes.
'That outfit looks like it was made for you, miss,' the shop assistant remarks, alongside my inner dialogue which is screaming 'Buy it already!'. 'Would you like me to pack the clothes you came in with, so you could wear it out?'
Could she? That would be great. I need to leave because, at any moment, I might spot something else I want, and I can't afford to buy anything else.
'Yes, please,' I hastily agree.
'You know that items on sale can't be returned, right?' she asks, while cutting the price tag out of the dress. This is the point of no return, I guess.
There IS a string of pearls, hanging on a jewellery stand next to the till… I couldn't possibly leave them… Why would I, after just buying an entire outfit that I don't need… but makes me ridiculously happy. I leave the shop with a smile on my face. And a string of pearls round my neck.
Outside, I soon discover my mistake. Where the shoes were feeling fine on the even carpet of the shop floor, walking on uneven pavement is quite another matter. I'm doing a constant balancing act, weaving myself through the crowd, which seems determined to push me in the opposite direction. It's two minutes to the nearest tube station, but it takes me a full ten, and I feel exhausted as I finally make it to the platform.
My knees are literally shaking and I am wondering if I should just change back to my boots. It'll look awful underneath this dress, but what do I care? It's better than having someone stepping on my toes in an overcrowded carriage and getting scuff marks on my beautiful new shoes.
Just as I stare at my toes contemplating it, I hear the rumble of a train coming at me in the distance. The crowd surges forward, and someone pushes me in the ribs, sending me lunging forward. Totally off balance and unused to these damn shoes, I flail over the platform, going right up to the edge.
This is it—I'm gonna die—I'm going over that edge and that train is going to run right over me. I feel a sense of weightlessness as my feet lose their footing.
And then, suddenly, I'm pulled back. Someone yanks my arm and closes me into a tight embrace as the train flashes by. It feels safe, protective. I lean against his chest—it's definitely a him—and keep my eyes closed, as the noise around us dies down.
'There, there, love. Everything's alright,' a rich baritone says to me. A kiss is placed on my forehead. I open my eyes to look into a pair of heavenly blue ones, and possibly the kindest face I ever saw. He looks familiar. I feel like I know him—or rather I should, but I am pretty sure I never met this guy in my life, though. The platform is now empty—it's just the two of us.
'You lost your shoe,' he says, picking it of the ground, and bending down on one knee for me. He smiles mischievously. 'Now, my lady, if the slipper fits, will you be mine?'
It's all impossibly romantic. This is him, the prince I have been waiting for all my life. Kind, courteous, funny... and a life saver to boot. Not stunning, but definitely handsome, he has the air of a gentleman about him. His blond curls are tamed in neat waves, and he's dressed in a way that doesn't quite seem to belong to this day and age.. yet would perfectly match my own current outfit.
We look like a pair. And more, I feel like I belong with him in a way I can't describe. The shoe is gently slipped back on my foot, just like in a fairy tale, and the prince offers his arm.
'Let's get a cab, shall we?' he suggests, and I nod. I really want to get out of here—away from the smell and the sounds, even though the train is now but a soft noise in the distance.
Although I am now getting into a cab with this man, I haven't said a word to him yet, feeling shaken, and tongue-tied. He gives an address to the cabbie that is not mine. I should be protesting, but somehow my tongue refuses. The address sounds familiar. Where have I heard it before? A tall concrete building springs to mind, with windows that reach right up to the sky. It looks Art Deco in style, with its block shapes, and majestic revolving doors that open into a huge hall.
Don't I work there or something? I can't seem to remember. Why does everything feel slightly off? It's like I hit my head and everything got scrambled.
'Tom, let's just go home.' I didn't know his name was Tom, did I? Did he introduce himself to me? The name just seemed to slip out of my mouth, as do the words that followed. I am getting a weird feeling of déjà vu. Anyway, why would he know where my home is?
'Daphne darling, you know I don't want to go either, but we have to. My career could depend on it.' Now he may be Tom, but I am definitely NOT Daphne. My name is Collette. Daphne is a name for show ponies, my mother would say if she were here right now.
I should be getting out of this cab. This man is a complete stranger. Why is he this familiar with me? Just get out, and call my mum. She'll pick me up, wherever I am... after scolding me for being so gullible. Well, I'll just remind her that it was her idea to go out with that Ant… Jude.
God, I think I am getting a migraine. My head feels like it is spinning, I must be. I can't remember ever getting one before, but I must have. Something isn't right. Not even remotely. Maybe it is a good thing Tom is here. I rub my temples hoping to clear the fog. Instead, it gets worse and I close my eyes, taking deep breaths. It's not helping one bit. My head is like a whirlpool, and I'm swimming against a tidal wave. The whole world seems to be shifting on its axis.
And then things quiet down. The monotone hum of the motor seems to pull me back into the here and now. I look at Tom, who is worriedly looking back at me.
'If you'd really rather go home… It's just a job.' I love you more is wordlessly added as he wraps me in his arms and kisses me. That feeling of utter safety washes over me again. Things become clearer as the fog subsides, though there is definitely a hint of clouds lingering around the edges.
Well, that train did give me quite a fright, didn't it. I really shouldn't be such a silly sausage. We sit like this in silence for several minutes, his hand softly stroking my back. I really got lucky when I found him. Or rather, he found me.
Streets glide by and it starts raining. I open the window to let in the fresh air. London is always so much better with a bit of rain to clear away the dirt.
'It's a good thing that I brought an umbrella,' Tom murmurs into my hair. 'By the way, have I told you yet you look absolutely stunning in that dress?'
'Thank you. You are not looking too shabby yourself. They would be stupid not to give you this promotion. You've earned it,' I say, giving him a kiss.
The cab stops, and we get out. Tom holds the door for me, and shields me from the rain under his umbrella.
As we enter the lobby, we shake ourselves off, and I look around. It's an impressive room. Three steel revolving doors on the one side lead up to three large stained glass doors on the other, a large red carpet connecting them. Our umbrella has been handed to the doorman—I can't imagine them would want it dripping in here.
'Have we been here before?' I ask.
Tom shakes his head. 'Not that I remember.'
Either way, it is time to go in. I straighten his bow tie. 'Looking dashing, Mr. Pilkington,' I comment, stopping to give him another kiss on the lips.
'Not as beautiful as you, Mrs Pilkington,' he replies.
As we enter the cocktail party, I feel alright again. There is something I need to remember, but I can't. It must be due to the headache I am having. It's no more than a dull ache now. Still, I hope we will be leaving soon.
The other wives present are terrible snobs, and I know they don't like me. They look down on everyone that actually does something for a living. The fact that I have been continuing to work after my marriage means that I am a terrible hussy to them. I hope that is not why the partners are giving Tom a promotion. So his wife can finally stay at home. It sounds like something Grace would totally whisper in her husband's ear. Well, they are going to be sorely disappointed then.
'We will go home as soon as we can,' Tom whispers in my ear, like he knows what I am thinking. 'Stay away from Anthony.' Like I don't know to stay away from that self-centred creep. A kiss is placed on my shoulder, before he joins the men.
I know he has to do this. I still would rather be anywhere else. Judie comes towards me… Probably with a status report about her twins. I really shouldn't be so mean... she isn't that bad, not compared to the others. Not compared to… Grace, who is also coming my way.
'That's an interesting dress, Daphne. How fashion forward of you,' Grace says, but what she really means is that it's not conservative enough for her taste.
Julie doesn't get the cue, though, and adds, 'You look pretty as a picture.'
I smile at her, which, judging by the twitching of her eyebrow, enrages Grace, and I decide to get myself a glass of babycham. The other women twitter nervously, and I simply join them, not saying a word. Something isn't right, but I can't put my finger on it. It doesn't matter. Tom is coming my way again.
'They are playing our song,' he whispers in my ear, before leading me to the dance floor. He is right, the band is playing 'I'm in the mood for love', just like they did on our very first date. How nervous he was then... how confident he is now. He sways me through the room, and everyone else disappears. I could be in his arms forever.
The song ends though, and Tom's boss breaks us up. 'Quit making us look bad, Tom. You don't need to romance her after you've married her!' he yells at my husband, slapping on his knees laughing.
I guess that explains why Grace is such a sour puss. She is giving me the look from the other side of the room. The one that suggests I am a shameless jezebel for going near my own man.
'Sorry… Thirty more minutes, and we will quietly slip away, alright?' Tom whispers, and I nod. I know he will keep that promise. So, I just need to bite my tongue for another half hour, and then this charade will be over. Well, let's get that status report on the twins…
After fifteen minutes, my headache seems on the increase though. I hide myself in the powder room to see if my purse contains an aspirin, which, thankfully, it does.
As I go out though, I get cornered. I had so hoped he wouldn't be here tonight.
'Well, look at you, all dolled up. Finally ditched that dull hubby of yours?' he asks, smoking a cigarette like a bad cartoon villain.
'What do you want, Jude?' I growl at him as he comes nearer.
He looks confused. 'Jude? Who is Jude?'
What is he talking about? 'I don't know. You tell me. You said it.'
'No I didn't. You just called me Jude,' he insists.
Did I? I can't be. He must have misheard. Still, something is starting to feel off again. 'You are drunk, Anthony. Your mind is playing tricks on you.' Even if he is right, I will be damned before I admit it.
He takes another step forward. 'I think it is more like yours is, Collette… I saw how you were looking at me tonight.'
What? Something in that sentence isn't right. Well, nothing is feeling very right, especially not the way he is leering at me.
I don't trust him, never have, and right now he is looking ready to pounce. This is not going well. I need to get out of here quickly.
'You are dreaming… Anthony.' I stress his name this time. 'I didn't even see you until just now.'
'You have been wanting me ever since we went on that date... There is a thing going on between us, don't deny it.'
And it is true, we have been on a date together. It was just after I had met Tom, and it wasn't my choice.
'Yes, it is called repulsion,' I say, trying to push past him, but he stops me.
The headache is back in full force all of a sudden. Anthony is pushing me against the wall.
'Give us a kiss, Daphne. I know you want to. No use holding out for that husband of yours.'
I can smell the alcohol on his breath as I try to fend him off, hitting him, scratching him, but he doesn't budge. His solid form has me pinned against the wall. I scream on the top of my lungs, but no one is coming.
Then, all of a sudden, he is pulled off me. There is a surprise in his eyes as he loses balance. Before he hits the floor though, Tom punches him in the gut. There is a guttural splutter, as Anthony collapses as a sack of spuds. It all seems to happen in slow motion, as I seem to be nailed to the floor.
As time comes back to speed again, I see there is blood on Tom's face. Panicked, I search for a handkerchief in my purse.
'Tommy, Tommy… Are you okay?' I ask, as nervously try to dab it off.
He takes the pocket square from my hand. 'It's not mine, he didn't touch me. Are you alright?'
I nod. 'Can we please go home now?'
'Yes. Why were you talking to him?' Tom asks me, pulling me away.
'I wasn't. Not by choice...' I try to explain.
'I told you to stay away from him.' He is angry. I can tell by the way his shoulders are hunched, and his hand is slightly shaking. Tom is almost never angry, but right now pure adrenalin is coursing through his veins.
I've seen this before. The sense of déjà vu that has been lingering in the back of my mind all along, is all of a sudden stronger than ever, I literally had this exact argument before. I also can't escape the feeling that I don't quite belong here.
'I needed the powder room. He followed me,' I say, just like the last time. Unlike then, I suddenly realise how lucky I was Anthony didn't follow me in there. Modern times. Modern knowledge. I don't belong here. And yet I do. Here, with this man.
'You know how he hates me. He will literally do anything just to hurt me.' The blue eyes have an intense stare, which he is focusing on me.
I know what he means. Anthony hates Tom. Everything Tom has, Anthony wants. He is a bastard—he has tormented Tom his entire life, undermining Tom's self-esteem wherever he can, by taking his job, his girlfriends, anything Tom had. It's like they have a rivalry that spans lives.
'He will never have me. Never. You know that.' Another line from the past. It's like I'm watching a play where a couple is going through the motions of an argument. Both knowing it is silly, both too stubborn to admit it. He knows that I love only him. But he needs the confirmation, just like he has always done, in every argument we ever had.
He bites his lip. The punch was a rare loss of control. Now he is back to internalising his anger, like always, so it can eat away at him.
'Tommy, stop being so jealous. It's not you,' I beg him.
'Sorry… I'm not jealous…' He is just scared. He doesn't need to say it—I know. 'I can't live without you,' he finally whispers.
Tears are flowing from both of our eyes.
The conversation is changing. Somehow I know it's not 'then' anymore, but it's not 'now' either. We are in a world of our own. 'Why did you have to go? Why couldn't you wait?' he asks me. This is not something I remember. Yet, I know the answer.
'She needed me. You were taking so long. I needed to go to her. There wasn't going to be another chance.' I seem to be talking about my mother for some reason.
'But, if you had let me go first...' He shakes his head. 'Sorry.'
'You could have come after. They do that nowadays. The few years wouldn't have made a difference. You didn't though, did you. What is it with you, and your pride?'
He smiles… that innocent, boyish smile that always gets to me. Even now. 'It's why you love me? If I could change it, I would. It's too late now though.'
'Yes. Rather,' I confirm. I'm not a cradle snatcher. Not by that much.
He wraps me in his arms. 'I've been watching over you, though. As much as I could.'
I kinda knew that. I have always known that. Maybe that is why I remained single. He wasn't out there, he was with me. I could never see him though. So why can I now?
'Stay with me, Colette. We could start over again. Do it right this time. I'll even let you go first, if you like. You can have me as your toy boy,' he pleads, a wry smile playing on his face as he utters those last words.
'What?' I start to feel slightly dizzy. The room is spinning, and Thomas is starting to look translucent. The meaning of his words starts to dawn on me.
'You could stay here. It's not pretty what just happened. Your shoes are ruined, to say the least.' I know what he is saying, but I don't want to. The consequences are too horrible to consider. It's too soon.
My head is getting heavier by the minute. Everything seems to hurt. A weight is pushing down on my chest.
'What about her?' I ask. My body seems to be pulled into one direction, as my soul is torn into another. I can't stay in limbo much longer. I know.
His blue eyes are all I can see now, They are like a beacon, keeping me in between realities for the moment. 'It's your choice,' he says. 'I know she loves you, but I do too. And I miss you.'