A #Christmas #ShortStory The Cinderella Shoes

“I’ll take them,” I hear myself say, and suddenly, my heart is fluttering randomly like a butterfly in my chest. “I’ll keep them on.”

The two young sales assistants exchange snooty glances, rolling black-rimmed eyes at each other. One of them goes to get a bag for my old grey trainers, while the other processes my purchase at the till.

As I teeter out of the store on my new high heels, I hear the ring of their mocking laughter, and my spine stiffens.

I glance down at my feet. Four hundred euros of Swarovski encrusted soft silver leather now adorn each one, balanced on a perfectly crafted, needle-thin mirrored heel.



I push back the panic which is welling into my throat, locking away the guilt for later. I just want to enjoy the elation which is coursing through my body. It is a long time since I have felt the excitement which accompanies an illicit act. I am appalled, and enthralled, by my own audacity.

I don’t just walk around the shopping centre, I float, basking in the admiring glances of passers-by. I may be a woman of a certain age, but in my skinnies, and with a heel, my legs still look good. I drop my trainers in a bin.

It is Culchie Day; December 8th, the day when traditionally, all the country folk visit Dublin for the big Christmas shopping trip. The shops are crowded. The decorations are overblown and gaudy. The seasonal songs are grating. The eagerness to spend, spend, spend is impulsive and overwhelming, a mass frenzy which has people competing to snap up bargains, splash out on luxuries, and procure what will be St Stephen’s Day’s unwanted gifts.

I am swept away on this tide of consumerism, happy to flow for a while in this vast sea of human flesh. I drift where it takes me, like flotsam in the current.

After a few hours, it washes me into Starbucks. I queue for coffee, squeeze onto a vacant bar stool, and with that first bitter sip, acknowledge the uneasy feelings which push against the edge of my euphoria.

I have done a terrible thing.

Emboldened by admission, my guilt breaks free of its bonds, and I am seized by sudden trembling. I set down my cup.

I can feel something unravelling deep inside me, and I don’t know how to stop it. It has been threatening for years, ever since that day six years ago, when the doctors had handed back my new mystery child and washed their hands of us.

They had done everything humanly possible to wrench him from the doors of death. They had fixed up his weak, malformed little body as best they could, leaving me to rear a child so rare, so complex, so unfathomable, no one knew how to help me, or him.

But it’s Ok, because I am strong, so people confidently tell me, while telling themselves I am the kind of woman who can cope with any truckloads of shit life throws her way.

But they’re wrong. Their expectation only piles the pressure on a woman who is already overloaded. I smile and agree, while all the time shoring up the gaps as another piece of me crumbles. It looks solid and immoveable, this great wall I have built. Little do they know it is built on foundations of sand, and now the sands are shifting.

The money I blew on shoes was all I had to buy Christmas gifts for my children, who are eagerly eyeing the advent calendar every morning, counting down the days till Santa’s visit. This year, what will they find beneath the tree? Mama’s glittery shoes. My gift to me.

I feel my mouth run dry as bile rises in my stomach.

When I saw those shoes, twinkling with allure on their own stage beneath their own spotlight, I was immediately star-struck. Before I knew it, they were on my feet and I was strutting up and down, throwing my hard-won cash at the staff with imperious hand.

What had I been thinking? I was just a woman past her best with lines of tiredness in her face, and the flat gaze of hopelessness, sporting the hoodie, jeans and old trainers of someone who didn’t care too much about herself any more.

Feeling the heat of shame burn in my cheeks, I raise my cappuccino to my lips, but it has gone cold. I set it back down on the counter, and take a deep breath. I rummage frantically in my handbag for my purse. A few coins are all that remain. I’ll need them for the car parking.

I grab my phone and check my bank balance; less than a hundred and fifty euros left until pay-day. I feel so faint, I think I am going to fall from my stool. My coffee-swigging neighbours glance at me in alarm. I smile wan reassurance at them.

Inside, I’m panicking. How am I going to create Christmas for my family on that?

My husband will hit the roof. I can’t expect him to understand something I can’t even comprehend myself.

Beneath the table, the first faint throb begins to pulse through my feet. I slide out of my beautiful new shoes, sighing with relief as I spread my cramped toes. I reach down to the tender buds of blisters blooming on my heels, and realise that the more expensive the shoe, the less likely they are to comfortably accommodate anything foot-shaped.

And suddenly, the crowded café with its warm coffee-scented air and its cloying Christmas music is too stifling for me. The more deeply I breathe, the less oxygen I seem to take in.

I stab my feet back into my shoes and stumble out into the mall. I’m no longer floating on cushions of air, but hobbling across a hotbed of nails. I take the pain as penance. I barge through stressy, spent-up shoppers, searching for an exit. I need fresh air.

Outside, the afternoon is dark, dreary, the pavement rain-washed and pocked with puddles. My shoes light up like a pair of constellations in the headlights of passing cars, but I am no longer dazzled by them. Now they have me gripped in their spell, I realise that theirs is dark magic indeed.

I lean against a wall and suck in damp, wintry air. It chills me, but clears my head a little. People hurry past me to the car-park, laden with bags and boxes, shoulders hunched against the elements. I lift my face, feel my hair pulled back by the wind, icy water tracing a route down my neck with unforgiving fingers.

Then I walk. I just follow the path in front of my feet. It turns intermittently this way and that, and so do I. I cross the car-park exit without raising my eyes, and don’t even flinch when a car screeches to a halt, beeping loudly. I just walk, splashing my designer shoes through dirty puddles with a perverse sense of satisfaction, while I get wetter and colder, and then find myself pausing outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The entrance is brightly lit and welcoming.

I need a drink.

And once again my brain disengages, and I find myself in auto mode. I walk into the foyer, book a room at reception, then buy a bottle of Prosecco at the bar.

The room is a shoebox, dark, well-furnished but characterless. I sit on the sumptuous bed, shaking. I switch off my mobile, turn on the TV, and pour the wine. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but tonight I’m not going home.

***

I swim into consciousness, unsure if the noise I hear is the beating of my heart or the ache thumping in my head.

“Let me in,” calls a familiar voice, and I sit up, wide awake. I’m not sure which is worse, the dizziness and nausea, or the throb in my feet.

“Go away,” I mutter.

He hears me. “Open the bloody door, or I’ll beat it down.”

I let him in. I am afraid to meet his eyes, but he rushes forward and scoops me into his arms. I want to melt into him, but I push him away.

“Don’t,” I say, and retreat. I sit nervously on the edge of the bed. “Are the kids OK?”

He would be within his rights to retort, “As if you care,” but he doesn’t. He closes the door, follows me into the room, and sits beside me. He runs a hand through his hair, then lets it drop helplessly into his lap.

“They’re having a sleepover at Sally’s. Can you please tell me what the hell is going on? I’ve been out of my mind with worry.”

How can I explain something which is incomprehensible even to me? I say instead, “How did you find me?”

He sighs. “I rang all your friends, the hospitals, the police. I didn’t know what to think. Eventually I got in the car and drove down here. Your car’s still in the car park… it’s been clamped. I just thought I’d check the hotels…” his voice trails way, and I see his eyes move to the bed, then back to me. He frowns. “Is there… someone else?”

I almost laugh. Who would want me? Middle-aged, shapeless, invisible, depressed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snap.

He takes my hands. “Then what is it?” I can hear the hurt in his voice.

“Why aren’t you angry?”

“I was. I am. I’ve been through the full range of emotions in the last few hours, believe me. I was so scared that something had happened to you, a car crash, or an accident. I even thought, you know…” he pauses and gulps loudly. “I thought maybe you had jumped off the bridge, or something.”

“I thought about it.” I meet his eyes for the first time. He kisses my hand, not knowing what to say. He looks worried.

“So what happened?” he prompts me gently.

I look away. “I bought shoes.”

He laughs. Just a gentle sound at first, but then his body starts to shake. He throws himself back on the bed and lets the emotion consume him, great guffaws of riotous sound somewhere halfway between hysteria and mirth. Then he lies still.

“I’m glad you find it funny. They cost me every penny of the Christmas money. I’ve just enough left to pay for this room. I can’t afford to get the clamp off the car. There’s nothing left at all for Christmas.”

He pulls me down to him. I resist at first, but he’s not taking no for an answer. “We can take the shoes back when the shops open,” he suggests.

“I don’t think so. I walked around in them all afternoon, and then traipsed through the rain.”

He kisses my hair. “Well keep them, then. Don’t worry about Christmas, we’ll have to tighten our belts a bit, but we’ll manage. I just need to know why. You owe me that much at least. Don’t you love me any more?”

But I am not able to explain. The bottle containing my emotion has been uncorked, and there’s no stopping the flow. So we just lie together through the dawn while my tears slide, silent and unrelenting, listening to the sounds of the world gradually wake around us, and I wish that time would linger and wrap us in a bubble and forget about us.

I am woken some time later by his voice, brimming with amusement. “Are these your Cinderella shoes?” He holds up the offending articles.

They look a little worse for wear after the abuse I put them through. The shiny mirror heels are scuffed, and a few diamantes are missing from the toes. The leather is soaked, discoloured. Their magic has worn off. They just look kitsch and tawdry.

“Not your usual style,” is all he says, setting them down on the dressing table. “I’m going to pay for the room. Meet me downstairs when you’re ready.”

I hurry into the shower, then slip back into my jeans. They are still a little damp from the rain. I sit on the bed looking at the shoes glowing on the dressing table like a glittering work of art.

Then I walk out of the room bare foot. I don’t need them where I’m going.

95 Comments on “A #Christmas #ShortStory The Cinderella Shoes

  1. Oh, I have loved your Christmas stories! Especially the hints of darkness. Also, I’m a culchie, but I’ve decided to let you away with that little Dec 8th jibe. It’s not a saint’s day off any more these days, you know, so we don’t get to spend them shopping anymore!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. ❤️ The ‘shoebox’ of a room–brilliant. And this: “Their expectation only piles the pressure on a woman who is already overloaded. I smile and agree, while all the time shoring up the gaps as another piece of me crumbles.” Gorgeous and heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol! Thank you Sarah, glad you enjoyed it! The shoebox of a room, gorgeous and soulless, was a perfect home for the shoes, but not so much for the protagonist, I think! Happy New Year to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story, Ali – that need to escape, to find something just for oneself…your readers understand it all very well..

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  4. Ali, I know this story. I haven’t bought a fancy pair of expensive shoes like that, largely because I couldn’t even walk around the shop in them but I know that feeling of wanting to runaway for a day and be Cinderella at the ball. I go over to an upmarket op shop and last year, I bought a silk wrap with faux fur trim and it has dimantes which float between the layers of silk. It is like something out of Moulin Rouse, hardly the sort of thing you wear to school pick up but I bought it…$15.00. I hope to oneday wear it to a show perhaps.
    I don’t feel quite the need to escape now my children are older and blogging has also expanded my world in a very satisfying way without needing to leave home.
    xx Rowena

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  5. Ali, what a wonderful story. I held my breath waiting to read what would happen. The ending was so touching and beautiful. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Yes exactly, damn those shoes! Most people interpreted the ending as happy, but I see you didn’t. If it’s any consolation, neither did I. Fortunately it’s just fiction! Happy Christmas, and thanks for stopping by, so nice to meet you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lovely to meet you as well. Fyi, I’ve long coveted those Swarovski shoes! While I found the ending in keeping with the tone of the story I will say this, your protagonist has some real problems (who doesn’t?) but she has one great husband and that may eventually be part of her saving grace. She struck me as someone with a well of strength, she has reached a breaking point perhaps but her reserve will serve her well. So, ultimately happy ending? Maybe. 🙂

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  6. well done! – and I absolutely wanted to shake her!! 🙂 oh and by the way I know the clamp!! we had our car clamped in old Dublin too!! Thank God for credit cards! Though I won’t exclaim that in front of Cinderella!! All the best of the season Ali!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fantastic story Ali! So many emotions tied to those shoes. Shoes do hold a certain power over women, definitely with me. When they speak to us, and let us know how wonderful we will feel wearing them, we can all sometimes just give in to the cost in the moment, and also find they can lose their charm in a same moment. 🙂 Happy holidays.

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    • Gosh that I so true! I really over shoes, I would much rather splash out on a pair of shoes than clothes or anything else. I think no matter your size, they still look good and can make you feel attractive and feminine. That boosts confidence. I dont know. It’s weird and wonderful and complicated! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, no worries, I get it! I’m a shoeaholic. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many pairs of shoes and boots I own. Let’s just say, wellllllllllllllllllllll over 150! It’s a sickness I tell ya! LOL 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow!That IS a lot! Do you wear them all? You must need a room in your house just for your shoes, lol! And yes, I think it’s probably true to say you are a shoe-oholic! 😀😂😄 I dream of owning so many shoes… sigh!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, I used to be very bad with too much time on my hands to shop (and still am when traveling). Many have only been worn a few times, lol. Yes, I have an extra bedroom with wardrobe closets my husband installed to keep my shoes, LOL. Now I look at most of them and dream about wearing them, lol. And some appear to be too high for me to wear any longer. Nonetheless, I must keep them for that proverbial ‘someday’. 🙂

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  8. Ali, you are a master storyteller. I remember buying a pair of shoes that took every dime I had with me. Luckily it was not at Christmas, and like your protagonist, I had serious second doubts – along with blisters – not too long after floating around in them. You’ve tapped feelings and a relationship in a deep and evocative way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Noelle! What is it about shoes? They’re more than just a foot covering. They are definitely connected with a woman’s psyche and how she views herself. Strange isn’t it?

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  9. What an incredible story, Ali! I was swirled through all sorts of emotions, and they are still sorting themselves out. I’ve seen my own mom struggle time after time with the label of being strong while others just ile more and more on her, (because she’s just supposed to handle it, right?) Having grown up watching this and then having the same thing start to happen to me as well, I’ve learned that there are many ways to be strong, and not all of them are entirely outwardly evident; and “No.” is a fabulous sentence sometimes. 🙂 Consumerism really is a modern sort of way to numb out, isn’t it? And the excitement really doesn’t last long. I hope you’re feeling the love from all your family and friends, even the ones who live really far away. Have a wonderful Christmas and give Carys a hug from me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Éilis! Yes you have been there haven’t you, and your mom too. Yes, shopping is a false comfort. As is eating chocolate when upset. I mean it works, but only for so long as you can taste it in your mouth. I am feeling the love, Éilis, I hope you are too. Its funny but looking back to this time last year, I feel like I was such a different person. I feel so much more positive and relaxed. I have my own theories as to why, which I won’t go into here, but it’s interesting. You must feel the same, DOCTOR Éilis! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I certainly do, Ali! Foremost for the reason of being done with grad school 🙂 🙂 but certainly for many other reasons as well. It is definitely strange, that feeling of being who you are now and having a hard time recognizing yourself as the direct continuation of who you were before. I’m there more often than I care to admit, or have time to take in, as the case may be. But that’s all toward the good. 🙂

        Oh, LOL about the chocolate, I know what you mean. I’m probably unnaturally obsessed with the stuff but try hard not to use it as a comfort food, it’s just the food version of relying on another person to hopefully complete you, – just regret masquerading as satisfaction. Have you ever noticed how such things we depend on to try to make ourselves feel better like that start losing their value to us? It’s like being desperately needy for and strangely indifferent to the thing all at once: I still fall into it, though.

        I didn’t realize right away that this was a story about the way you were feeling a year ago. I’m so glad we can both say we are in a better place, Ali.

        Liked by 2 people

        • We are in a better place, Éilis, for sure. Still work to be done, but it’s great to know that progress is being done, and you can see the improvements. Happy and peaceful Christmas to you Éilis! Xxx

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  10. That was a fantastic story Ali. I could really relate to the euphoria, the guilt and then the disdain of owning the shoes!

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  11. Without question, the best piece of writing I’ve seen from you. It touches you emotionally right from the off. I think you’re at your strongest when you write about feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Tricia. I’m sorry you’ve been through a time like that, but I think it’s far more common than we realise. I think most mothers can relate to such feelings, even if we don’t like to admit them. This is just fiction, but like all the most convincing fiction, it’s based on an element of truth. I never walked out on my family, but there were times I just wanted to be free and me again. I think that’s just normal, but at the time, it makes you feel like the worst mother in the world!

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      • That is wonderful to hear, Ali. Carys has made such fantastic progress this past year so that may be part of the happiness you are feeling. As an aside, I know that when I get really tired, I feel depressed. When I feel rested, I feel much happier and more positive. So make sure to take good care of yourself and that may help you to feel more positive, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Well that had me guessing throughout. Very well crafted, perceptive and poignant. And the ambiguous ending, the unresolved but now in the open issues, yes a treat and a tease. Can’t say I’m with Jane at a feel good because this doesn’t feel like the last reel. What a great story teller though. You must introduce me!! Seriously good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Geoff! Yes, I was surprised that everyone’s taken it as a happy ending. I dont see it that way myself, although I did leave it ambiguous, because that’s what I like myself in a story, to know just enough to make up my own mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a fabulous short Christmas Story. Sad, funny, thought – provoking, romantic, poignant, and uplifting. It’s never ever as bad as you think💖🌹💝🎄 Thank you for sharing 💝

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your story brought tears, Ali. It might be fiction, but I had a somewhat similar incident years ago. I went shopping (out of town) and had a glorious but exhausting time. Unplanned, I checked myself into a hotel to rest/take a nap, a luxury I’d never afford myself. I had an elegant lunch in the hotel restaurant, then crashed. When I woke up, I didn’t remember all the things I’d purchased, only vaguely remembered how/why I’d taken the hotel room.

    I called my husband to come and retrieve me. On the way home, he checked me into an emergency room. I was having an anxiety attic that felt like a heart attack. Within a month, I sought counseling for some very old, unresolved issues. The hotel/shopping incident was the catalyst. Just thought I’d share my story. 💕 Thanks for yours. Van

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow Van, that’s incredible! How uncanny! I hope the counselling helped. That is an amazing story. Mine is fiction, but is based on how I felt at one time when I was very close to breaking point. Thanks for sharing yours, I think that you felt able to do so shows you have come a long way since then. All the best to you. Xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  15. 1. I loved the shoes in the photo – are they urs?

    2. I loved this the first time I read it – even more this time

    3. You are a phenomenal writer – so raw and vivid the emotions u evoke.

    Liked by 1 person

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