I’m a plain woman, built for work and making other lives comfy, not my own. But I have, at the back of my wardrobe, in a grey wooden box, a wonderful pair of shoes.
These are shoes like no other shoes, though I wear them only once a year. To get to them I have to push aside my uniforms and work cardigans, the fuchsia silk dress I wore the day I married Jack (Monsoon, spring sale 2004, £119), and which is still handy for dos (when I lose weight). There’s the funeral dress and coat (both Primark, summer sale 2013, £19 and £39) – I get wear out of those – and my summer non-work clothes. They’re pretty much the same as my winter non-work clothes but without the work cardigans, which I’m careful with on days off. Behind the clothes rail is my Nana’s over-mantel mirror which doesn’t fit anywhere else in the flat, but if I drag it forwards, and it’s heavy enough, I can slip my hand in at the left and pull out the shoe box.
I have other shoes in the wardrobe, lined up on the floor. There’s an old pair of my daughter’s trainers I wear to the park, sandals from M & Co (end-of-summer sale 2016, £3), some wellies, the funeral/wedding/night-out black courts (bought for Jack’s funeral, but I was so out of it I couldn’t tell you where I bought them or for how much) and my work loafers. There are two pairs of those. Jeanette King told me to keep a good pair in case we have a VIP in, and we do sometimes. I remember once we had Rolf Harris in visiting the old folk, you know, before.
You get a lot more celebs in our place than you ever would in the NHS. They’re supposed to be doing charity stuff, but they have to be paid to come in. Evidently Tony Edgerton charged eleven thousand and had bad breath. But the bosses think it’s worth it for the publicity. Imagine, eleven thousand for an hour of shaking a few rich biddies’ papery claws. I have to work and a year and a quarter for that money. That’s fifteen months – five seasons – of bed pans and twelve-hour shifts, dodging spit and slaps (and not just from the wandered ones), the ancient dames talking to me as if I was the stuff coming out of their arseholes.
The box is heavy. You wouldn’t think there were shoes in it, more like bricks. But when I take the lid off there’s the lovely smell of leather. Real leather, not plastic, leather made from some sort of animal that’s had a soft life – you can see how fine-grained it is on the inside. Outside it’s been patented and shines like a red mirror. I can see my face in the leather, below the stones (I was told they’re garnets). It’s as if I’m drowned in red wine. The heels are five inches of steel polished bright as knives. And before you ask it, I won’t tell you where I got the shoes. And I will never say the price I had to pay for them.
I wondered if I should wear them to Jack’s funeral. He always told me I should wear bright colours, and I’d end up asking how he thought we’d buy me a new wardrobe. Then I felt bad about making him apologise.
I wear the shoes on Hallowe’en. A few minutes before midnight I slip them on, me like Cinderella and both ugly sisters combined. My feet spread a little more each year, but the shoes always fit like gloves and they lose their weight when they’re on my feet. Like they’re made of fur-lined velvet rather than blood-red leather. There’s something about doing up the laces that brings the music into my mind. I don’t need iTunes or anything else, it’s all in my head. I can only remember the melody when I put on the shoes – I couldn’t begin to recall it now, for example – though I know it’s a wild tune, mad and jewelled and blood-red itself.
And then I dance, with the shoes sparkling like red stars on my feet, the steel heels sparking off the laminate (I couldn’t get away with it if I wasn’t ground-floor). My feet stamp and twist, I birl and flap my cardigan and raise my arms and clap my hands together to the silent tune. Faster and faster I dance, as midnight passes, and they say the dead wake and wander. I want them to see what I’m doing. All those rich old cunts to see me dancing on their graves. In my red shoes.