A few years ago, I went through a wonderful, creative period in the spring and summer. I had been going to random classes - tap dancing, ballet, flamenco, improvisation, screen acting, screen writing - and I was writing and drawing much more. I read a book called The Creative Screenwriter by Zara Waldeback and Craig Batty, and there was an exercise where you choose three nouns and write a short story with them. I wasn't sure how creative I would be if I chose the words myself, so I asked friends to give me three words that I could use. It was a great exercise, and some of the short stories ended up becoming three-chapter stories or longer stories which I kept adding to.
The story below was written after being given the words "shoes, castle, and bewilderment" by my childhood friend, Pauline. It was written on 28 May 2013.
I thought I'd share it now because red shoes have been on my mind since the sad news about David Bowie; Let's Dance was my first memory of him, late 1970s child that I am. That video is so evocative for me - I must have watched it scores of times when I was young. I didn't know then that the red shoes in the video followed on from their symbolism in the depressing Hans Christian Anderson fairytale and the stunning Powell and Pressburger film (see Lyn Gardner's piece here about the symbolism if you are interested in reading more). I didn't understand the story of the Let's Dance video exactly, but it felt very sad to me as a young child, and (not knowing what acting was) I couldn't understand why Bowie was ordering the man about like a strict teacher.
This story is happier. And, because I haven't felt like writing fiction lately but have wanted to do more photography, I've taken photos of red shoes to illustrate it. As Alice says before she goes down the rabbit hole, what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?
Bored of Brogues
Was this really happening?
It was, but he still couldn't understand what had happened, what had led to this.
He had only gone to the shop to buy some new brogues for work. The sleepy-looking girl had shown him all of the brogues in the men's section, but nothing took his fancy. So, in her hungover daze, she led him to the women's brogues.
He hesitated. He wanted to say that he was fine, he'd just go to the other department shop across town, but when he opened his mouth to speak he just shut it again and followed her.
The women's brogues were definitely nicer. Instead of the rather serious black or chestnut brown of the men's, these seemed to be winking at him with their sexy cherry reds and cobalt blues, their candy pinks and mint greens, and their leopard prints. He picked up a cherry red brogue, but then he stopped. Behind it, in a shiny blood red that he could see his face in, was a pair of Mary Janes.
The toes were rounded, sort of conservatively but teasingly, and the back had a heel - not stiletto high (he'd looked in wonder at the women who wore these to work) but high enough for the wearer to notice and walk taller.
He didn't realise how long he had been looking at them, when the sleepy girl took one of them off the shelf and took the red brogue from his hand. She asked what size he was and he told her. As she went off to get them, he looked around the women's section in bewilderment. Did other men do this? Was it normal?
He sat down and just as he decided he'd been stupid and should leave before she got back, she came through the door with four boxes. She had brought the next size up too, in case they came up small on him. He looked worried and confused, but she gave him a tired smile as she got the shoes out of their boxes. Then she sat on a table and yawned.
He tried on the red brogues first. They were tight so he tried the bigger size. He walked around and looked in the mirror. They felt less stiff than his usual shoes, but he liked the secure movement they allowed. The only problem was they didn't look right on him. Besides, wouldn't it look strange if he wore cherry red shoes with his grey suits and blue shirts? Colour combinations was not something he'd thought about much before - a luxury that came from only wearing grey, blue and black.
He looked at the girl, who was now resting her eyes. He took the red Mary Janes out of the box and held them in his hands for a while. They looked like doll's shoes and even though they were his size, they felt so small. He liked how he could wrap his hand around the middle of each one.
He put one on. It was peculiar, slightly restrictive but not uncomfortable. He tried on the other and stood up. He felt a surge of blood to his head and held onto a shelf for support. When he'd regained his balance, he started to walk. He looked in the mirror, turning to look from all angles, posing in different stances, and walked again.
He wanted to run and jump and dance. The last time he had a rush like this was when he'd been for his job interview and was offered the job straight away. This was incredible. How a small thing could make him feel so different.
He looked at the girl. She was asleep.
He went to the mirror again. He imagined that he was posing at the end of a catwalk runway. He pretended he'd just been rescued from a locked room at the top of a castle and his rescuer had given him these shoes as he was carried out of the castle gates. He imagined wearing them in a dark forest, feeling no fear because the shoes would protect him.
He put his usual shoes back on and put the Mary Janes in their box. He woke the girl up and pointed to the box.
"I'd like to take those."