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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Fiction

Wedding Shoes
Lisa Farrell

As she was heading towards the milk she paused, and stood waiting in the middle of the aisle.  An old woman was squinting at the labels of yoghurts and mousses, lifting them one by one to be examined.
    She watched the woman for a moment, then walked quietly towards her.

Her mother looked up and drew back in alarm, her hands shaking. Then she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
    “You startled me there, Susie love,” she said, “I was off in a world of my own.”

  “Sorry mum.”  Susie narrowed her eyes.  “You know I offered to get your groceries for you, you don’t have to…  Is that a bottle of wine?”
    The old woman shifted, trying to shield the basket with the baggy sleeves of her coat.
    “You know it’s not good for you.”
    “I won’t be having any,” she said, lifting her head proudly.  She was a full foot shorter than her daughter.
    “Then who…”
    Susie shook her head.  She didn’t want to go through all this again.
    “Don’t you worry about me, I can look after myself.  Now I’m in a bit of a hurry, I’ve lots to do today.  Come and see us next week and I’ll cook for you.  We’d love to see you.”

    Susie nodded numbly, and watched her mother moving slowly towards the tills.  She decided to drop in unannounced in a few days; she didn’t want to put the poor woman to any bother.

    She walked stiffly along the footpath, vaguely aware of the cars speeding past on her left and the people barging past on her right.  Her eyes were fixed on the ground as she stooped slightly, a bag of shopping weighing down each arm.  She didn’t mind it, home wasn’t far away and she had bought the ingredients for John and herself to have a fabulous dinner tonight.  She liked to surprise him, although as he aged he was becoming harder to please.  He treated every little inconvenience as a personal slight these days.

    He talked about Susie as if she was responsible for all the ills of the modern world, that was the worst thing.  There were days he refused even to say her name.
    “None of that,” she mumbled to herself, “not today.”

    It was a nice day.  It was warm but the sun wasn’t too threatening, and there were fluffy clouds in the sky, the kind children find pictures in.

    Reaching home, she put down her bags to open the door, pushing it slightly as the key turned.  Her heart lifted as she entered the hall that they had papered together when they first moved in, reminding herself how hopeful they had been then.  She had been large with Susie, and so happy.

    She scolded herself for wasting time reminiscing, and leaving the bags in the hall, went to sit in the living room, where she exchanged her shoes for her slippers.  Her back ached but she was eager to get started.  There was so much to be done before he came home.

    She gripped the arms of her chair and pushed herself upright.  She would start with the dinner, then clean and tidy while it was in the oven.  Her eyes drifted to the wedding picture on the mantelpiece.  He looked so proud in that picture.

    An hour later she was setting the table, almost ready.  She glanced at the clock, an ancient battered contraption which she had never been able to part with because its ticking was so soothing.  She had plenty of time.

    She looked again at the photograph, this time admiring her dress.  It was an extravagant, beautiful cream-coloured thing.  She still had it, though she no doubt wouldn't fit into it now.  She felt strangely compelled to go and get it out again.  It hadn’t been touched for years.

    “Well, I am a sentimental old fool today, and no mistake,” she said, tutting at herself.  “I don't know what has got into me.”
    She went through to the bedroom and opened the wardrobe.  She could see the box at the back, in which she knew her dress was folded neatly away, with a sheet over the top.

    “Oh dear,” she said, realising that to get at it she would have to bend.  With a hand on the bed she lowered herself to the floor.  Her knees ached with the effort, but she took her time and focussed on her goal.  She could see the box.  On top of it sat a pair of shoes.  Her eyes brightened as she lifted them out.

    She pulled herself up and sat on the bed with the shoes in her lap.  They were simply shaped, flat satin shoes, with flowers picked out in dark thread on the sides.  They were in the photograph too, just hidden under the puffed skirt of her dress.
    “Well I can still wear these,” she chuckled, and she discarded her slippers and pulled the shoes over her feet.
    “I wonder what John would say,” she said, smiling.

    She was about to take them off again, but stopped.  There was little point in keeping them nice now, no one was going to be wearing them again.  Susie's feet had outgrown her mother's while she was still at school, so she would never need them.  She may as well leave them on.  It was strangely thrilling to wear them, even just around the house like this.
    “Where has he got to?” she asked the room in general as she went back into the kitchen.  There was a time he would have braved fire and storm to get to her on time.

    Everything seemed ready, so she turned the oven off and went to sit in her chair and wait.  She sat looking down at her shoes.  Gazing at the delicately embroidered flowers she thought she could smell perfume.
    “They really are lovely,” she announced, and then added, “that was a lovely day.”

    Susie struggled to turn one key in the lock, as the others jangled playfully against her wrist.  The door creaked in protest as she forced it to move, and she entered the dark narrow hallway.  She couldn’t help noticing that the floral wallpaper was peeling at the edges, and the faded carpet was in need of vacuuming.  It was just as well that she had come, and she felt a sour pang of guilt.  It had been a while.
    “Mum?  It's me.”

    She was carrying a bag of shopping, so she went into the kitchen and put it on the counter.  She had brought a sponge cake, some biscuits and enough cans of soup to last for weeks.  She put the kettle on and began to put her shopping away in cupboards, which she had to explore thoroughly to find everything a home.  She was shocked at the amount of things that were out of date.

    Then she noticed the saucepan on the hob.  She lifted the lid inquisitively, and dropped it back with a clang.  The pot was full of soggy potatoes, which had obviously been there for some time.  Susie frowned, and peered through the open door into the little living room.  The table was set for two, with her mother’s favourite blue Spode plates and silver cutlery.  In the centre of the table was an unopened bottle of wine, and a tall candle which had never been lit.
    “Oh, mother,” she sighed.  It had been years, and still the woman refused to accept that she was alone.
    She turned to see her mother asleep in the chair by the empty fireplace, where she could often be found.  Susie went to her and took her hand.  It was cold.

    For a moment she didn’t understand.  Then she drew back, staring at the pale, wax-like face.  It seemed to be smiling.  The kettle clicked suddenly in the kitchen as it turned itself off, and Susie jumped to her feet with a cry.  She felt her face heating up and tears forming in her eyes.  She couldn’t believe herself.  It was no surprise; she had known that this would happen.  Surely she could stay calm.

    Susie looked down at the shrunken body, wrapped in layers of cardigan.  Her mother’s cold hands lay in her lap, crisp and fragile.  This is what she would have imagined.  Except for the feet.  Instead of the usual slightly tatty, fluffy slippers the old woman was wearing a pair of cream-coloured satin shoes.  They seemed to glow compared to the dark clothes her mother wore.  Susie looked around as though she expected to see an explanation, as though an intruder might have have broken in just to change her mother’s shoes.
    “Where did these come from?”

    As soon as she’d spoken she wished she hadn’t.  The silence swallowed her words and made the house feel big and empty.  She realised the clock wasn’t ticking, and wondered how long her mother had been waiting for her.

    She looked again at the shoes.  They seemed so arrogant, interfering with the sombre scene.  She wondered what everyone would think when they saw this old woman in these fairy-tale shoes.

    She turned her back and started hunting for the old green slippers.  She checked under the chairs, wrinkling her nose at the fluff and dust she found there.  She checked the kitchen and the hall but there was no sign, so she was forced to ascend the stairs.  She remembered the troll that she had once thought tried to catch her on those stairs, and felt a jolt of a now unfamiliar, irrational fear.

    The bedroom was tidy.  Her father's old pyjamas were laid out upon his pillow, a lace nightdress on her mothers.  The wardrobe door was open.  She cast her eyes to the floor and there they were.  She grabbed them and hurried back downstairs.

    “We don’t want people laughing now, do we?” she said, returning to her mother, “making fun of a poor crazy woman.”

    Susie knelt and carefully pulled the shoes from her mother’s stiff feet, then put the slippers in their place.  They looked much more comfortable.

© Lisa Farrell August 2009

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