The shoes in the shop window are perfect – they’re pink and they sparkle almost as brightly as the new ring on Mum’s finger, the one that said she was going to stay, really, this time (though she’s already seen That Look in Mum’s eye that told her that was as big a lie as last time and the time before).
They look like little girl shoes, and she’s twelve and that’s nearly grown-up, but she’s had sensible, grown-up shoes since forever. It’s not that I don’t like them, she justifies, but…
Grandmama always said, “Variety is the Spice of Life,” back when Papa wasn’t Jim or George or Harry or Dave or whichever actor/singer/songwriter Mum’s dragged in this time and they had the money to visit her in Paris. Grandmama would have bought her those shoes, and pooh-poohed her Mum’s protest of those shoes were only ever invented because of a leather shortage and I’m not having my daughter wearing last war’s rejects and she’ll wear them to bits within a month, honestly Fiona.
She misses Grandmama.
She really wants those shoes.
She looks at them again. They’re made of plastic, yes, but they look as if they would make neat noises on the pavement, a sharp, loud clack clack clack in her imagination. Better than the soft, barely-there tread of her worn-out trainers, or the clomping thuds of her loafers. She wants to make some noise every now and then, wants people to notice her, really notice her…
“Come on,” Mum says, impatiently, nearly to the corner. She’s fiddling with her earrings, standing on the kerb and watching the cars trundle by. There’s no break in the traffic in sight, not as far as she can tell, and so she turns to look at her reflection in the shop window, without Mum looming over her shoulder.
She’s still, after two years of the doctor saying she’s bound to hit a growth-spurt soon, short for her age, her dark hair in two long, slim plaits, her eyes big in her baby-round face. If I slouch just like this, she realizes, looking in the glass, I only look seven…
So she comes back the next day despite the rain, wearing the purple jumper with the kittens on the front that auntie Jenn (not really an aunt, really Jim or George or Harry or Dave’s sister) gave her for her seventh birthday. Bright red wellingtons shine with the wet, peaking out from the pleats of her school skirt.
She’s got a story in her head, and tears saved behind her eyes from Mum’s insistence that no, really, they didn’t have the time for her to go to drama clubs, wouldn’t she like the library instead? She’s got a vague idea that this - that what she's about to do - is not quite right…
But when she leaves its, with the damp wellies in a paper sack, pink plastic shoes on her feet, and a cherry lolly to boot.
And all the way home she dances through the puddles, grinning at the chill of the rain between her toes.