Little Red Tap Shoes

A new short story by Heather Pearson

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Oh sweet Jesus. She’s wearing the tap shoes again and now the child who cannot stop talking is talking – and shouting – through her feet. The soundtrack to my day, for one week now, has been the tippety tappety clickety clack tap tap of her little feet on the hardwood kitchen floor. She never noticed this floor before the tap shoes. Now the floor is her lifeblood, her place to be, the host and feast and chandelier to her tappety-tap-heel-toe-cha-CHA party. ‘Look at this! Look at this! Look!’ she implores, roughly every four minutes. ‘I am doing a show, come and see me’. She has learnt this summer that if you’re doing a show, I’ll come and see you and I’ll clap and be amazed and shows are special. In the last seven days I have seen twenty-five shows and I’m now imparting my wisdom on the vital nature of practice between shows, if one wants to keep selling tickets.

The tap shoes arrived a week ago in a bag from Mary who had wondered if the wee one might like them, or should she just chuck them in the bin? I told her she would love them and it seems I was right. I phoned Mary to let her hear the evidence, tapping in the background. She laughed and we agreed to chat later, perhaps at an after show gathering with coffee.

Going shopping is respite, even when the buses wheeze by with their puddle-splitting complaints about old age and not enough rest; the beeps, trolley rattles and chatter of the supermarket are a welcome auditory pause until a woman clicks her way down the centre aisle in high heels. I want to send my trolley gliding and grinning towards her, a silent, sinister-faced assailant, journeying into her tight-skirted middle, sending her flying into the bottom shelf of stacked packs of toilet roll from which she might emerge (having removed her shoes and replaced them with slippers), apologising to those of us who needed not to hear her in those moments before. My glare is ignored by her click clack click clack back. I turn to see another woman behind me, checking inside a carton of eggs. I didn’t hear her shoes. I look down at them, they have a rubbery, crepe sole, are dark brown with a green tongue; sexless and comfortable. I love this woman, in this moment, because of her quiet shoes.

I’ve sent the wee one to get beans. I can see her down the aisle, looking at all the tins for the right coloured label. She hums back over, putting the beans into my hand and asking what we’re having for lunch and why are her legs sore when she is not tapping and not sore when she is tapping a show? ‘These shoes are quite sore’, she reports, frowning and sticking her little fingers in between the trolley cage to poke the top of the floury rolls through their cellophane wrapper. ‘These shoes are quite sore and my leggies are sore and can we have eggy bread for lunch? Not soup?’ I send her for more beans and she hums again and, looking down at her wellied feet, she places the ball of one foot down and then slams down the heel, then the other foot. ‘BALL, heel, BALL, heel, BALL, heel, EGGY, bread, EGGY, bread, BALL, heel, CHA CHA CHA’. All the way back to the beans. She’s a one girl artillery of dance and food-based sniper rhythm. A trolley moves to let her through, I nod and smile thank you. I think about containing her in the trolley seat where our hands could grip the bar together. I would pull off her wellies before they fell off and place them in the trolley until we were done but… her independence. She and I can be so close. If I don’t think about ever beginning to let her go, how will I ever let her go? Her journey over eight metres to the beans now is the sign of things to come. I’m readying my padlocked heart for a key. I could barely put her down for the first ten months. I had to learn what it felt like not to hold her again. I found myself hugging a bag of potatoes in the kitchen one day when she had zonked out in the buggy. ‘Cha cha CHA!’ Her voice is the constant line between us, giving me that little bit of time to think here and there, to look down at the shopping list or look up at the sunshine.

We get home from the shops and the tap shoes are back on before the jacket is off. She’s on the bottom stair, frowning again, pulling the tap shoes on over her wrinkly, faded tights and looking at me fervently, willing me to put down the bags and tie the laces and she knows there’s a good chance I’ll say no. I say yes though, against all my better judgement. The minute she sees I can’t resist the smile that breaks across her face, she knows that my fingers are going to make bows. The smile is all tiny teeth and dark brown, twinkling, melted chocolate eyes. Her feet do a little dance on the bottom step and ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ comes from her throat in a wispy ribbon of joy, caught breath and utter delight. Her fingers dance and rub one another in frenzied anticipation. She claps her wee hands then screws up her nose and fists at the same time. Who needs windmills? Here is the purest, most natural energy I’ve seen yet. And the most beautiful. I tie the red cotton laces with their clear, plastic sheathed ends into perfect bows and then double-knot them – to save us both intermittent frustrations. She goes to stand up and I lift a finger to say wait a minute as I smile, my eyes appealing deep into hers for a second or two in the paused moment. I unzip her from her waterproof, windproof cocoon of muffling winter jacket. She is instantly tinier and every part of her is warm to the touch. The tips of my fingers tell my brain she is cared for and loved and safe and mine and it feels like my heart is as red as the laces and shaped liked a valentine, beating love, boom, love, crash, love, bang. Love.

I take the piece of ply board from inside the coat cupboard, it’s been standing in there since we blocked the bottom half of the front door, keeping the kiddo and Grandad’s dog in that day when I wanted the first warm sunshine to fill the hall and the fresh air to push its way around the roomslaying the gentlest, freshest skin on everything. I lay the ply down on the living room carpet and gesture for her to stand on it. Her arms and legs are off again and she is in red tap shoes heaven. She clicks and the clacks are perfection. She marches on the spot, she ball heels. She cha, cha, chas. She sticks a tiny leg out and taps her toe three times on the right, then answers three times on the left. She claps. She is in discussion with herself and her acoustics and I can’t not smile as I put away shopping and momentarily dilute her joyful improvisation with the sound of the kettle boiling.

When she sleeps it’s unnerving. I take myself up to her room just to look at her amidst the quiet and check she’s still breathing. Her silence is so odd that my brain wants to be sure, again and again, that it doesn’t mean she’s dead. I watch her sleeping and enjoy having the time to begin again on taking her all in. Time slows down. The memory of the day zooms by like a train at full pelt then fades out of view. The house sighs and creaks slightly as it settles into the evening. Her brown hair with its short curling wisps round her forehead. Dark, long lashes, kissing together in the greyscale details of her face. Her tiny hands with their velvety skin lie one on top of the other and both on top of the duvet. Her fingers spread in a slow startle, the last of her energy for the day ricocheting away from her like a whispering pinball, finding its way out like tiny, invisible bolts of lightning, fizzing into the room and hanging there for a moment, before releasing her to dreams.

 

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