I was twenty-seven, divorced, and with no boyfriend in sight. After a painful breakup, I started jogging and swore off sweets and alcohol. I lost so much weight that I needed size 4 clothes. And I wanted new shoes, like ones I’d seen in a French film, with four –inch stiletto heels and thin, elegant ankle straps. I found them, in the least likely place: Paul’s Cancellation, a hole-in-the-wall in a rundown mall. I was home visiting my parents that Thanksgiving, and avoiding the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. The shoes were on sale, though still well beyond my budget.
I spied them from a distance, on the sale rack next to cordovan loafers and lime-green flats. They beckoned to me from across the long, narrow shop. Between me and the black suede stilettos a knot of women tried on shoes, bending over to pull on knee-high boots, or turning this way and that before banged-up mirrors to critique their ankles and calves. Open boxes of shoes lay on the floor surrounding customers, and Paul rushed around with towers of shoes balanced in each hand. He craned their necks this way and that, sweeping the small room with a look of consternation as he tried to remember who had requested which shoe in which size nine.
I made my way to the black suede stilettos, carefully stepping over shoeboxes and handbags littering the carpet. “Sorry. Excuse me,” I said repeatedly, until I reached the clearance rack. I scanned the shoes up and down for the sizes, but saw no labels or signs. Just my luck, I thought. The toes of the black suede stilettos were pointing right at me now, as if to say, “Too bad your feet aren’t smaller, girlfriend.”
I reached out and petted the shoe from vamp to toe. My fingers made a small depression in the suede. I fingered the small brass buckle on the narrow strap. “Nice shoes,” a woman standing next to me said. “What size are they?” I turned the shoe on its side and looked for numbers, but found nothing, then I turned the shoe over, and saw the number 39—European size for eight. My heart leaped. “My size,” I said. When I looked up, the woman had disappeared.
I didn’t wait to find a vacant chair to sink into, but slipped off my clogs. I pulled off my socks and leaned up against a nearby pillar. I slipped on one shoe, then the other, then bent down to buckle the ankle straps. Walking gingerly in the four-inch heels, I maneuvered over to one of the small mirrors. I pulled up the legs of my corduroy pants and glanced at my feet. I remembered how once after college, a boyfriend had said, “Nice gams,” when I showed up at his apartment wearing green ribbed tights and a short plaid skirt. I bought the shoes.
They were fabulous. They were also trouble. They attracted men, but the wrong men: A married man who wouldn’t leave me alone at a dinner party. A handsome Italian poet at a cocktail party of literary scholars. He talked with me about Austen and Eliot and invited me to spend the night with him. A wild-eyed actor with disheveled hair. A talented amateur photographer who invited me to his studio, where we drank champagne and he took rolls and rolls of film of me in the black stilettos.
I wore the shoes through my thirties. They stayed pristine, because I only took them out of their box on special occasions. I aged, they stayed young, as though they had just flown back from a weekend in Paris. After I was married and had children, the stilettos languished in their original box in my closet. One rainy Saturday, I deposited them at the Goodwill van at the Home Depot parking lot. I bought pumps with patent leather toes and gold bands on the chunky one-inch heels– classy shoes for a woman of a certain age. Which is to say, boring, almost sensible shoes.
The stilettos were hard to walk in, up stairs, on city streets, over grates on New York sidewalks. They were impossible to dance in. After I bade them goodbye, I never missed the balancing act or the aching back and feet the morning after.. What I missed—and still do—was that delicious moment of anticipation each time I slipped them on, when I bent to caress and fasten the straps, wondering what excitement lay ahead in the glistening, magical night.
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