Jacquie Clarke

The train

She didn’t know why she did it. Took the train that day. Perhaps it was the way the sun lit the sky even though it was only 6 o’clock in the morning. Or the shade of lipstick that she had chosen. Sally had found the lipstick right at the bottom of her make up bag. The shade of red had made her hesitate. But as she brushed her teeth the light reflected in the mirror and shone off her dark hair and seemed to whisper to her. And so she had reached for it. Sally had left the flat early that day. She hadn’t worried about making her bed and tidying the flat as she usually did before leaving for work. Sally was fastidious about her home – she knew that when you lived alone that the exact state the flat was left in would greet you when you arrived home. And her mother’s voice was usually loud in her ears. Sally also hadn’t agonised over her choice of clothes. Which pair of shoes would work best with the brown pants? What would elongate her thighs? Hide her love of the canteen doughnuts? Today, for once, the choice was obvious. The jeans still fit even though the button strained across her lingering belly. And so here Sally sat: on a train on a Wednesday in red lipstick and jeans.

The rhythm of the train was like a lullaby. The train rushed past the stations, but for once, on this morning, Sally’s breathing was slow. The traffic always made Sally’s mouth dry and her hands were usually shaking by the time her car pulled into the office parking lot. She glanced down: steady. As she looked out the train window at the passing neighbourhoods she felt like a foreigner in her own city. Children’s clothing on washing lines flapped and strained to fly free. The train doors opened and a man walked past all the other compartments to sit down opposite her. Sally shifted in her seat. The man sighed deeply as he shook open his newspaper and turned to the comics. He glanced up and looked at Sally, the smile in his eyes soft.  She felt her face warm and quickly averted her gaze back to the window. She studied his reflection surreptitiously: although the shoulders of his suit seemed too big and his shirt collar was creased, the man’s brown leather shoes glinted in the early morning sunlight. Sally’s father used to shine her black school shoes every Sunday evening. Every week he would say, “I will not send you back to your mother’s house tomorrow with those scruffy old shoes.” They would sit at the kitchen table with the brush and little golden tin of polish. Afterwards they would have their Sunday supper  – baked beans on toast  – and then she would bath in his big Victorian bath and wash her hair. She would sit on the stool in front of his bedroom mirror and her Dad would blow-dry her hair. She loved the strength of the brush on her scalp, and even though it pulled and the heat of the hairdryer made her eyes sting, she sat perfectly still. Her father had few rules, but shining shoes and clean hair were two of them.

As the train slowed at the next station the man folded his newspaper and stood. Sally got up after him. The man was lost in the pulsing of the crowd. She allowed herself to be pulled along by the rush, down into the dark subway and across the street. The crowd scattered in different directions, eyes down, arms swinging. Sally didn’t recognise her surroundings. The main street was filled with quaint and old-fashioned specialty stores. Bertha’s Haberdashery. Fine Clothing and Linen. Hubbard’s Leather Shoes. She stopped in front of the store window, scanning the different shoes on display. They took her by surprise. Hubbard’s shoes were in total contrast to the name of the store. Buckles, leopard print thigh high boots, platforms and Perspex heels. Sally smiled, savouring the joke. She was about to move on when a pair caught her eye. The toes were sharp and pointed, the curve of the soles looked unbearably uncomfortable and the heels dangerous. They were ridiculously impractical and wouldn’t match a thing she owned. But they were red and they were shining. Sally knew that those shoes were hers.

Sally hadn’t wanted to buy anything during her pregnancy. She seemed to lack the nesting instinct that had gripped her sister with such urgency. Even right near the end Sally knew she should at least have been looking at cribs. Her friends had nagged and pressured and teased. Sally had never told anyone, but she had actually bought one thing. A tiny pair of shining Nike trainers with a pale pink swoosh on the side. Size two. She had never seen anything like those shoes before and hadn’t conceived that anything that small could possibly be that perfect, that complete. But they were. Those shoes had filled every single part of her. Had made her catch her breath at the possibility, the hope of it all.

Sally told herself that she should probably have thrown them out or given them away by now. But they sat in her bedside drawer, with the price still attached. They refused to be moved. Those shoes were hers.

Sally noticed the sign in the corner of the window. The shoe shop only opened at nine. It was seven forty-five now. She looked across the road at the children’s park opposite. Sally would sit down on the colourful park bench and Sally would wait.
 

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