Red patent leather winks out from the central window of the store. On the left uniformed dummy-girls wear pleated gymslips, bound with fixed girdles of red or green or blue. One is uncomfortably bumfled up in an unseasonable Burberry. On the right, boy dummies in short or long trousers, blazers with badges, segmented caps and stripy ties look unrealistically clean. Satchels and socks, berets and scarves, too neatly strewn on the floor, little resemble the real world of a child’s bedroom. Homework haunts the back lot of my dreams but in the theatre that is the shop window, those red patent shoes hang ripe on my mind. I would hint at liking them but hints need to be carefully staged and subtly delivered not to earn a smack. Instead, each time we pass, I look and love at a tantalising distance with feet that long to dance.
This time of year the greengrocer’s has punnets of this and that — jewelled fruits with hidden juices and exotic names — not quite forbidden but scarcely affordable. I rehearse their names; apricots, plums, damsons, cherries, grapes.
“Four of each today?” the man asks, meaning oranges, apples, pears. He serves them into brown paper bags and my mother hands over her basket.
“I’ll take a punnet of strawberries too,” she says, “and two bananas.”
“Well, if you’re feeling flush, the cherries are just nice for eating.”
They wink at me — shiny like the shoes.
“Well, go on then. I’ll take a wheen.”
He weighs a ‘wheen’ like sweeties on the big scales. “Sixpence, a shilling, two bob…”
She’s feeling flush. I might just mention those shoes… Wrong decision. My leg smarts.
Later in the playhouse, I prepare privet salad with rowan berry tomatoes, bits of clay for meatballs and wee potato stones; I set the plate in front of my doll and give her a nice cup of clover leaf tea. She remains expressionless — ungrateful child.
There’s a cherry on top of the condensed milk on top of the fruit salad, for tea. My sister smacks her lips.
“Mind — there’s a stone in that,” says Mammy, and gives it to me. Maybe it’s an apology for the smack.
So I nibble away the flesh and it tastes like… It doesn’t taste like anything at all. Just sweet — like any other piece of fruit; only not like strawberries taste of my birthday and not like grapes taste of hospital, not like dates and tangerines taste of Christmastime. Disappointment lingers unspoken on my tongue.
In the store they measure my feet and bring a pair of sturdy, black, StartRite, lace-up shoes. The assistant undertakes the unfathomable task of cross-lacing and tying.
The red patent shoes have a little button on the side, a little red button with a white eye that stared at me on the way in.
“Those are a bit dearer than I planned,” says my mother, feeling for my toes inside each shoe and probably regretting the cherries.
“She’s a double EE width fitting,” explains the assistant.
They look at me as if it’s my fault.
“Take a wee walk,” says Mammy.
I march up and down the thick carpet and dare not say I don’t like them for there is no choice and one of others will have to have cheaper shoes.
“Are they comfortable? Remember you have to walk all day in them. Will we take those?”
I nod my head and on the way out, carrying the box, I don’t look in the window at the reproachful patents shining on their stand. They are not for the likes of me, with broad feet and narrow prospects, but still they’ve hung on my heart for all these years — like all the people I can never be — forever ripe and elusive as the taste of cherries.
Oonah V Joslin is Managing Editor at Every Day Poets. She has 3 Micro Horror prizes, an honorable mention in The binnacles Shorts Poetry comp 2009 and 2011. Inclusion in several anthologies, A Man of Few Words, The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008 and 2009 and Toe Tags. Read her at Static Movement, The Shine Journal, A View From Here, The Ranfurly Review 10FLASH Quarterly and most recently in New Rising Sun — a Red Cross book for Tsunami victims, Twisted Tales and Ether Books and Writewords’ own Anthology Pangea. You can find links to these at Parallel Oonahverse. Oonah reads some of her poetry here. Other work including her Novella, A Genie in a Jam, can be found at Bewildering Stories. The list is updated in The Vaults at Parallel Oonahverse and on her Facebook. Oonah’s ambition is to have a book published.