Today's story was inspired by the award-winning musical, Kinky Boots. The shoes onstage in that play were all extremely high, and the play promoted the sexuality of high heels, so I thought it was time for a bit of a tale about an abuse that women do to themselves.
“Damn. Broke a heel.”
Simone examined the offending shoe. Meghan looked up from her paperwork and saw that the stiletto at the end of the shoe had separated from the shoe itself. Opening her drawer, she pulled out a pair of black flats, and offered them to her office mate.
“Here. I keep a spare pair of shoes on hand. I think we probably wear the same size.”
Simone held the proffered shoe at arms length, staring at it with disgust.
“I assure you, it’s clean. I haven’t even worn this pair yet. I only keep it around in case I come in with wet shoes, and it hasn’t rained since I brought them in.”
“Seriously, Meghan? You think I could be seen in public in something that looks like this? No, I will see if I can glue the heel back on. Those would insult my feet…not to offend, mind you. They look…fine…with the way you dress.”
Meghan slipped the shoes back into her drawer. “Yes, I guess I do dress a bit more…”
Simone interrupted her. “Masculine.”
“That isn’t what I was going to say. I just…I can’t wear heels like that. They make my feet hurt. How do you manage it, having your feet crammed into that pointed toe, and standing on those heels?”
“It’s just what I do. My feet hurt, yeah, so what. When I go home, I kick them off and put on slippers where nobody can see me.”
Meghan bit back the urge to point out that no one could see her in the office, either, except Meghan, who wasn’t impressed by the long shapely legs ending in the impossibly high heels. “I guess it’s your body. I just…I couldn’t imagine.”
Simone finished with the super glue, and slipped the shoe back on her foot, grimacing as the shoe reshaped her toes. “There. I feel better.”
The women returned to work, neither of them speaking as they finished up the monthly invoices. This was a busy time of the month, and their usual chit chat was muted by the intensity of the pace. Meghan finished each page, and sent it on to Simone’s desk for the final audit, accepting Simone’s papers flowing the other way, neither of them interrupting the smooth flow.
Neither of the women saw the shadow that slipped into the office and watched them as they worked. The new woman was transparent, and shimmered in the corner until the beep of the daily reminder on their phones told them it was time to quit work. Now they felt like they could breathe again, chatting about trivialities as they shut down their computers and rode the elevator together down to the basement garage. Simone stumbled as the glued heel tottered uncertainly, but righted herself and made it to her car without incident.
Meghan stood at her own car and watched Simon move expertly into traffic. She wished there was some way she could convince her friend that the heels she liked to wear were damaging to her, but it really was her own business what she wore. Still…if only there was something she could do. She had worked too many semesters as a physical therapist aide, and had seen too many twisted and deformed feet to take the issue of shoes lightly.
She slipped behind the wheel of her car, unaware of the shadowy woman that slipped into the seat beside her. As she moved into traffic, Meghan felt something warm envelop her, and she fell into a deep stupor, driving as though on automatic. The shadow seized control of the wheel just in time to prevent them from careening into oncoming traffic. Meghan shook herself, and swerved the wheel to the right, turning down a street that was not familiar. She stopped the car and stepped out into the air, hoping to clear her mind.
“Drive down Mulberry street”. Meghan heard the voice clearly, but couldn’t see anyone near. “Turn left on 19th, and then right on Hopkins.”
“Who is that? Where are you?”
The voice spoke again. “You mustn’t ask questions. Just do as I say.”
Meghan returned to the car in a fog. The shadow assisted her with the ignition, then directed her as she made first one turn, then another. Before she knew how she got there, she found herself sitting in front of an apartment house that was not her own. The voice instructed her to go to the third floor, and enter apartment 3D.
“How will I do that?” Meghan demanded.
“Just do it.”
Meghan stood before 3D, not ready to follow the commands of an unseen voice. The shadow seized her hand, and turned the knob. It yielded to her touch, and she found herself inside a tastefully decorated apartment. A familiar coat was hanging on a hook beside the door, and she examined it, hoping for a clue to remember where she had seen it before. The sight of a pair of discarded red stiletto heels informed her that she was now in the apartment that belonged to Simone.
“Why are we here?” Meghan had begun speaking to the unseen voice, not sure where to direct her question, so she directed it to the room at large.
“You are here to help”, the voice said.
“Where are you?”
“I am you.” The voice came from all around her, and from inside her at the same time. Meghan shook herself, hoping to wake from the psychotic break with reality. The shadow resisted, and could not be removed.
Simone wandered through the apartment, dressed in a fluffy white bathrobe and matching slippers. She carried a pair of yellow heels that seemed to be twice as high as the pair discarded on the floor. Meghan could see through an open door to the bedroom, where a bright yellow dress was draped over the bed, a party dress, just waiting for Simone to slip it over her head. The shadow pushed Meghan forward.
Simone started when she heard her name called. She looked straight at Meghan, but didn’t seem to see her. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Meghan.”
Simone held out her hands in the direction of the voice, and groped around as if feeling for someone. “Where are you?”
“Over here. By the sofa.”
Simone stumbled toward her friend, groping as if blind. “I can’t see you. Where are you? How did you get in?”
Meghan put out her hand, trying to guide the groping woman. She touched Simone’s hand, and the other woman drew hers back sharply. “You’re cold. Are you…dead? Oh, my God! You’ve had an accident! You’ve come to say goodbye!”
Meghan shook her head, then realized Simone couldn’t see her. “I’m not dead. I’m…I actually don’t know what I am. I seem to be…under the influence of some sort of spirit. I think…maybe I’ve come to get your help?”
“Help? Why me? I’m not an exorcist, or anything.”
The shadow moved Meghan forward until she was standing next to Simone, who had moved back several steps when Meghan had touched her. “Tell her you are here to help her.”
“I’m here to help you…that’s what the spirit says.”
“Help me? How?”
The shadow began to speak directly through Meghan. “I am the spirit of the mangled foot.”
“What? Mangled foot? Spirit of what? Show yourself.” Simone sounded grouchy, and Meghan didn’t blame her.
“You have been given a unique opportunity…the opportunity to witness your own future. The opportunity to make a change before it’s too late.” The spirit was speaking in a spooky, melodramatic voice.
“You don’t sound like Meghan.”
“I am here because Meghan asked me to come.” The shadow slapped back Meghan’s hand as she tried to cover her mouth.
“I did not!” Meghan took control of her mouth for a minute.
“You did too, just as surely as Jacob Marley asked us to help out Ebenezer Scrooge.”
Simone picked up a vase from the coffee table, and held it over her head. “If you don’t get out of here, I will hit you. I promise. I can take care of myself.”
“You cannot hurt the shadow…”
“Meghan, if you are playing a joke on me, show yourself. I know that was your voice earlier…are you playing some sort of recording? Come out.”
Meghan took Simone by the hand. She understood what the spirit expected of her, and she led her friend to the door. The shadow took control and changed their course. They stood together at the window, and Meghan kept hold of Simone as the two of them exited the apartment from three stories up and floated over the city toward the clinic where she used to work.
“Where are you taking me?”
“I’m taking you to see what happens to women when they cram their feet into pointed shoes and lift them up on stilts”, Meghan explained.
The lights of the clinic came into view. Meghan thought this was probably a futile trip. After all, there was no guarantee that any of the patients in the clinic at this particular time were women who had ruined their feet with high heels.
“Trust me.” Meghan felt rather than heard the shadow.
The clinic was bright, even though it was after the usual hour of closing. Meghan remembered that they held clinics late on Wednesday night, and she headed for the center of the building where the patients would likely be engaged in activities designed to help them feel better.
The two women slid effortlessly through the roof of the clinic, and landed in the middle of a group session. Meghan realized that the voice had guided her flawlessly; it was their Wednesday night session specifically for women with foot problems, a support group where the women learned to walk again after the surgeries to repair their mangled feet.
One of the women was limping around the room, leaning on the arm of a therapist who guided her in a circle around a group of watching women. As the pair reached the empty chair where they had begun, all the women sitting in the circle began to applaud. “Well done!” “ Bravo!” The limping woman collapsed into the chair with relief, the effort of circling the group exhausting her strength.
“That was great”, the therapist exclaimed. “Tomorrow we will try again, and maybe we’ll be able to do it twice. Who wants to be next?”
No hands went up. Meghan remembered this part. The women were reluctant to try to walk publicly, because it was so difficult. Most of them were still young, their feet reduced to twisted messes before they were even forty. Meghan and Simone settled down into the circle and watched as the women discussed their recent surgeries, their attempts to relearn how to walk, and their difficulty finding shoes to fit their misshapen feet. Meghan felt rather than saw Simone draw her feet up underneath her, as though protecting them from a contagion.
The therapist requested all the women to remove their shoes and socks. She had each of the women display their feet, instructing them not to be embarrassed or ashamed, because they were all friends here. As the women one by one pulled out their deformed feet, Simone gasped and turned away. Meghan gently took her head and turned it back, insisting that she watch each woman in turn. The therapist massaged the women’s feet, and then asked them to stand. The group stood together, each woman holding the next woman for support. When the entire group was standing, they each took one step forward, then one step back. The pain was evident in their faces, and the therapist allowed them to sit.
“That’s all for this week, ladies. Next week, we’ll try to do a bit more. You need to do your exercises faithfully, twice a day, and try to find an opportunity to walk without your assistive devices at least a few steps every day. Now, did you all bring your shoes?”
The women pulled out brown paper sacks, and each extracted a pair of stiletto heels. The therapist collected each pair of shoes, and deposited them in a pile. Meghan remembered this ritual; a different pair of shoes each week, until the women had brought in all their high heels. They were placed in a fireplace that was along one side of the room, and the therapist gave each woman a match. On a signal, each woman lighted her match and threw it into the fireplace. Several women hesitated, but after looking at their feet, threw the match. Meghan knew they were probably new to the group, and this was the first pair of shoes they’d burned. It got easier with each pair.
Megan felt the shadow stirring inside her. She grabbed Simone by the hand, and they were lifted once more into the air, flying out through the ceiling and back over the city. They landed smoothly on the soft carpet inside Simone’s apartment just in time to hear a knock on the door.
“Simone? It’s Mark. Let me in…where are you?”
Simone rushed into the bedroom to get dressed. Meghan opened the door to a handsome young man dressed for a party. She held out her hand, and the young man took it. Apparently she was not invisible to him.
“Simone is getting dressed. If you want to wait on the sofa, she’ll be out in a minute.”
“Just like a woman. Never ready on time.”
Meghan glared at him, but didn’t say anything. “I’ve really got to go. Tell Simone…no, don’t tell her anything. Just…be nice to her, okay?” The young man nodded, and Meghan slipped out the door before Simone had returned from her room.
Meghan woke the next morning with a headache. A couple of aspirin and a cup of coffee eased the throbbing, and she headed for work. Something strange had happened last night…the oddest dream she’d ever had. She slipped into her parking spot next to Simone’s little Mini, and headed to the office.
Simone was already at her desk. “You’re late”, she said. “Been flying lately?”
“Huh?” Meghan was booting up her computer, and not paying attention to Simone.
“I bought some new shoes.” Simone was clearly eager to show Meghan her purchase. Meghan sighed. She was getting a bit tired of Simone’s shoe fetish. “See?”
Simone put her foot on Meghan’s desk. The new pair of shoes was a beautiful blue color to match the shirt she was wearing, but the most astonishing thing about them was the shape. They were a snazzy little boot with a flat heel.
“I thought…maybe it was time to treat my feet like they deserve to be treated.” Simone tried to act casual, but Meghan spotted something in her tone. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Meghan remembered her dream. No, it couldn’t have really happened, because things like that don’t happen in real life. She looked up just in time to catch sight of a shadow that slipped out the door…or was she imagining things?