It takes half a week to write about a woman with a shoe fetish, but I persist. The smell of leather, low slung heels and suede stilettos follows me around the house. Round toed Mary Janes, pumps and a stash of secret moments, wrapped in satin and stored on a dozen shelves in the press. Her spare room is a wardrobe stacked with cardboard boxes. Under the bed is a summer stock of flip flops, espadrilles, slippers, crocs.
The owner of this loot is a bird of a woman with hair flicked out and a black band to keep it neat. She winces at my scrutiny.
‘Fuck off out of my cupboards and get your own story. I’ve enough to deal with,’ she says, pushing an avalanche of runners back in the press.
I run out of words and call a friend for help.
‘It’s crap,’ Joan sighs, when I read an extract. ‘What’s the exercise called?’
‘For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. 300 words.’
I don’t like her pause.
‘Just how much avoidance went into that?’ she enquires.
‘Go write the story’ she instructs.
I pass the baby shoes each day on my way to the bathroom. There they sit, smart navy blue with a green tartan trim, on an upstairs window. Occasionally, my finger checks for dust in the cracks of the leather.
She is dust now and I no longer want to dig her up and polish her bones like they do in Thailand.
I met a woman from Pettigo who dug the dead child up and brought him home. Went down to the grave and shoved a shovel into the earth and started to dig. And kept digging. It must have taken awhile, and I don’t know how she got the box up, but she did. She took him out of its satin wrapping and brought him home and put him in the bed beside her. Her husband took it hard, coming in the back bedroom of the cottage and seeing the dead child propped up in the pillow like that.
‘Aye. What did they expect but? When I woke up from the drugs they gave me, the funeral was done and dusted.’
I get a cloth and polish the shoes and want the ground to spit her out. I want to split the clouds above my head and grab her back. I want to shake the trees that she might fall like an apple into my arms.
By the time we reached the hospital she was dead. The song ‘Going on up to the spirit in the sky’ played on the tannoy as we came through the door.
The electric bulb had blown in the mortuary and a priest held a torch while I washed and laid her out. There was an overwhelming smell of apples. I was calm, elated even. I put on the white dress that Ann had ironed that afternoon and picked up the shoes. Smart navy blue with a green tartan trim. Navy to go with her navy-blue eyes.
I hear a whisper, ‘I’m walking the blue sky now, Mama. I don’t need the shoes.’
The woman with the shoe fetish knocks on my door. ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ she says.
‘Yes. I got my story. It went down well too. Succinct. That’s what he said.’
‘What about the shoes?’
‘Three pairs a year for twenty-five years – I’ve been saving them for you.’