The remarkable thing about catalogues is that Annie could lose herself in the glossy possibilities of the pages. She could pretend that her body, swollen by the side-effects of the steroid treatments, once again could wear the same styles that the impeccably tailored models did. And that she had someplace to wear them. The brunette in the cardinal-red cashmere-blend twin-set with three-quarter sleeves didn’t judge. She had a half-smile that welcomed anyone, even Annie, to copy her look. The paisley scarf is available on page 27 where inset photos show just how to wrap it in three simple steps. The classic black pointed toe pumps are on page 56.
The shoes cover six pages of this catalogue. Capped-toe patent kitten heels. Gun-metal grey suede platforms. Croc embossed Chianti chunky heels. Chocolate Napa leather riding boots.
Slowly turning the pages, Annie aches for the time, less than a year ago, when her bedroom closet was full of shoes. With each acquisition she had taken and taped a shoe-portrait – one shoe forward, one in profile – to the front of each box before arranging them by style, color, and heel height on the shelves built-in for this very purpose. Every morning she would dress from the bottom up. Like picking up a menu at a favorite breakfast café – not because you didn’t know every omelet choice, but because you need to see which matched your mood – she’d stand in her big closet to see which shoes matched her mood. The serious stilettos or the funky faux-pony platforms for a new client meeting? So much of the day depended on that one choice.
Not that she had much choice these days. Baggy gray sweats cut off at the knees and her father’s t-shirts accommodated her drug bloated body. With her custom molded white plastic leg braces buckled over knee-high white compression socks, she could only wear sneakers with removable insoles. She had to go up two sizes to fit the shoes over the bulk of the braces. Even with the braces, she couldn’t stand without her four-wheeled-walker. She imagined her compression socks were the same kinds of socks the soccer or softball girls wore. Maybe, with a quick glance through squinted eyes, they’d look like 1970’s white Go-Go boots. She imagined her walker wheels sounded like Hot Wheels zipping around a track as she pushed it around the bare tile floor of her now empty townhouse. Tripping hazards indefinitely stored away.
But no matter how many hours she spent visualizing her legs, remembering calves sculpted by cycling, and thighs built by running, the thick, dull, echoing clunk of each step brought her back to the reality of the illness that ambushed her.
Her care-giver gone for the night, Annie clunk-clumps her walker to the front closet where her shoes have been exiled with her clothes. She browses the shoe gallery remembering the last time they were out. The espresso peep toes? Tapping impatiently under her desk during a Skype budget meeting. The bronze gladiator sandals with straps that wrapped around her ankles? Sunday Brunch with her girlfriends comparing reasons for putting off marriage and children. The red retro spectator pumps? Going toe-to-toe with the Senior Partner to get assigned to the firm’s largest account. She picks up one box. Opens it. Holds one shoe. What is it about this pair? These oxblood Mary Janes? The three inch heels demand attention. The fierce color sniffing out fear like a hound in a room of wingtips.
She feels unworthy, a fraud really. For although Annie knew herself to be shackled, tied to the tedious routine of buckling braces, pushing her wheeled walker, confined to her townhouse, she knew herself to be mighty. A stout hearted voice muffled by echoing thumps and clumps.
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