The Red Shoes – Anne Sexton
I stand in the ring
in the dead city
and tie on the red shoes…
They are not mine.
They are my mother’s.
Her mother’s before.
Handed down like a heirloom
But hidden like shameful letters.
The house and the street where they belong
Are hidden and the women, too,
In These Shoes: A contemporary fairy tale
Once upon a time, when I was younger and more beautiful than I am now and when my shoes were plain and made from scraps, along came a well heeled old queen. She introduced me to the finer things. She’d been around the block a few times and had worn down her shoes and she told me: ‘Look at your shoes and be thankful that they are plain…for one has to live very carefully if one’s shoes are too red.’
But I didn’t take her advice. I had a beautiful pair of plain handmade shoes; my own very special creation made from scraps. But I gave them up for something that seemed more attractive and exciting. I gave them up for the very world she warned me about. I had to try it for myself and in my own way. Doesn’t every girl want to slip her feet into a pair of ruby slippers and click her heels? I was looking for a bit of a sizzle!
But all the bouncing from John to Joe to Billy didn’t bring me any closer to real love. These guys couldn’t appreciate my fantastical, sexy red shoes. So I decided to strut down a different street. Cha-Che-Cheee!… 60 quid an hour and he was all mine! A man who finally allowed me to take off my shoes; a man who had to at least pretend to love everyone who walked into his room; a man who gave me some love on the couch.
At times we did the real work. Venturing through my childhood I remembered how I was introduced to drinking at an early age. I was one of those kids who never wanted to miss out; who always wanted to be in on the action so my parents put red wine in my baby bottle to put me to sleep. And now when I can’t sleep I still reach for that bottle.
Cha – Che- Chee… Oh well…I ended it with him. He gave me some pills and I said, ‘How can you be so blasé? This is my mind we are talking about – the mind of a genius who happens to drink too much – but only to get to sleep!
What if I lose myself completely? What if I change beyond recognition?
What if I lose all the bad memories which feed my creativity?
And he said, ‘That’s the point, dear.’
But I wanted to remember all the feelings – bad and good alike. I wanted to be able to tell the truth. I wanted to wear my red shoes.
That left me totally exposed. I forgot to put the condom over my heart and soul. But I couldn’t help myself; I had to try things and have experiences, regardless of the outcome. I couldn’t live a life of fear. I had to click my ruby slippers and go!
I found that the ladies loved my shoes. All of them! The ladies were also easier to get along with… at first. So I tried the Betties, the Veronicas, stilettos, open-toes, sling backs, platforms, lace-ups, pumps, a few Georgias and then I went back to the boys: combats, the docs, steel toes, moccasins, Jerrys, Freds and Chrisses and when none of these brought me any closer to real love, I met a heel. By that time I was ready to do anything to hold on to what I thought was real love.
And then one day the heel surprised me with a brand new pair of white satin shoes. A pair I really loved. They had built in support for all my weaknesses, faults and in imperfections and they made my feet look really good. But it’s never that simple, is it? Sometimes you keep dancing the dance of death… and when he asked me I said ‘Yes’.
On our wedding day I put on my red shoes. So he refused to marry me! I got stood up because of my shoes! I realised, at that moment, that shoes were a lot more important to him that the woman wearing them. I was with my shoes but without my man.
I tangoed alone and eventually the shoes pointed me in a brand new direction. I found that there are always new laces to get myself entangled with.
I know that I tend to always fall heels over head in love, but I’m not willing to cut off my toes like Cinderella’s ugly step sister to fit into someone else’s story. I’ve already got the shoe that fits me perfectly. I have many more dances to dance in my ruby slippers and I’ll keep clicking my heels but my happy ever after is just the way I am.