Red Shoes


“Don’t think—just listen.”

Those were the words that ran through my head as I turned the corner inside the small bright shoe store … just a little ahead of my trick. His name was appropriately called “John,” and he was obviously not going to let me out of his sight. I was there to pick out a pair of dancing shoes—his gift. He noticed that I wore only one pair night after night, and so he made this magnanimous offer—eyes gleaming.

“I wear a size 8, where are the sizes … here they are … oh these are nice!” (the routine).

“Why don’t you pick up several pairs,” asks John dear.

“Oh no, that would be too much. I just need one pair—I want something elegant—a little flashy even—like these.”

I picked up a pair of red high heeled shoes and ran my hands along their smooth surface. I could smell the new leather—high arch, long heel line, elegant tip—sleek. Like me.

I tried them on and they looked wonderful.

“What do you think?”

“Hmm … red shoes ... they look terrific—get 2 pairs—get the black ones too--go ahead—on me—no strings, really.”

“Well, I don’t know ….”

“Come on—it’s a small gift from me. Go ahead and take them up to the cashier and I will pay for them.”

I did take them up—but only one pair—the red shoes--to the chubby woman behind the counter who promptly rang them up. I watched carefully as she stuck the receipt inside one of the bags and handed them over to me from behind the counter top.

“Good choice—they look really great on you,” she said with a big approving smile.

“Do you think so?” I didn’t wait for her answer. I opened the glass door and walked out with John only a few steps behind me into the bright, blasting parking lot. He touched my upper arm very slightly and guided me towards his car.

“I’ll take you home now. Will Deirdre and I see you at the club tonight?”

“Yes, I have to work,” I said trying not to look thoroughly depressed with that horrific prospect.

He smiled his gray, lifeless smile. “Fine.”

We drove down the crowded freeways and by ways, ramps and endlessly long and flat thoroughfares of Dallas. Every tree looked scorched from the sun—dry and dazzled, hanging off center, leaves brownish green. Even the neat rows of endless suburban houses fell victim to that bright, merciless, pounding, malignant, never weakening, all encompassing grip of the sun.

We passed through drug territory—West Dallas—“Mexican Town” my drug territory. I could just smell the chiva and see the little tin foiled papers in my hand. My stomach tightened. I only turned and smiled at my trick and with genuine concern said, “Are you sure this was not too much to ask—you giving me a ride home, plus the shoes? I think I should pay you back—I’d feel more comfortable. That way I won’t feel so bad.”

“Feel bad—why would you feel bad?”

“Oh … I don’t know—I suppose I like to think I am self-sufficient. And after all—I hardly know you or Deirdre.”

He said with a strange sort of sideways glance, “OK—if you want to pay me back, you can.”

I could feel him watching me now, measuring me, studying my hands and arms, looking for telltale tracks, scars, repeating his study already made, again, quietly, subtly. He wasn’t sure at all about me. I had him—he did not have me—not yet, although that was indeed trying to scent out the game.

We pulled up in front of the hotel. Paint was peeling off the small door—cottage #7. For good luck.

“Thank you so much John.”

“It’s really nothing—you know. But I do want to talk to you some more about your singing career. I was really surprised by that tape—what was that guitar player’s name? Anson Thunderbird? You know you have a REAL voice. I could help you make a great deal of money—but you have to trust me. You know? And Diedre really likes you. She’s a smart girl Diedre.

“Oh ya, she’s smart all right. She has a pimp that’s 5 foot 2 who looks like he just dug his own grave and has lived in Illinois forever--where there’s no fucking sun—AND he handles ALL her money,” I thought.

I stretched my back and arms out a bit and smiled at him. “I gotta get ready for work now. Thank you so much John for everything—and sure. We can talk some more.”

“OK.” He nodded and turned towards the car. I watched his white, weird, Chinese looking high collared shirt.

I waited until he pulled out of the motel driveway.

Then I scrambled for the bag and the receipt.

One night after I finished my “dance” Diedre came up to me and said in an iron skillet toned voice—the kind that rings wrong—“Jaahn wants to know why you aren’t wearing the red shoes.”

“I just haven’t thought of it—that’s all. I’ll wear ‘em.

She looked at me and handed me a small white piece of paper. “Jaahn wants you to call him—says it’s important”.

“Sure, sure.” I walked away with my dress hanging from my bare shoulder. And I threw the paper on the floor.

I had to change clubs to dance in. I had pissed off the owner of Geno’s. I had been given a gift—a blue satin jacket—a sports jacket—but it looked sexy and good with my blue eyes. And the owner liked to see me wear it with my jeans. Well I sold it to Cathy—that is the other Cathy. For $15.00 because I didn’t have enough to get myself and my partner well—not both of us.

So—the owner guy found out—nodded his head and looked at me with disgust. Not his favored girl anymore.

I got so tired then—like the bottom was going to spill out from under me. The only way I could keep going was to stay high—high on speed, high on coke, high on heroine. But it was the heroine that worked best for me—took the crawl out of my stomach—took the fear out of my gut.

I was working at the new club now and had managed to keep on top of the motel bill and the heroine bill—the rest was just fluff. I was losing a lot of weight—not good for the breasts. I checked myself in the mirror—a sequined G-sting—beautiful strong legs—my breasts still stood up—I smiled—applied my lipstick.

Then I had a bad day. I had a very bad day. I could not get enough money to get well. It was so damn hot—and it was the end of September. I was at a pay phone when two guys in a pickup truck approached me. I had on a short sequined white sweater and my belly button was showing. They stared at my beautiful belly.

“Say—can you tell us where—we—you know—uh—can you help us get some coke?”

I squinted up at one of them. I couldn’t believe it—a dream come true.

I was inside the Mexican dealer’s house –the cool dark wooden box—hiding under the window sill watching for the white truck. The dealer had ripped me off and sold me mostly cut. I never got well.

“You know—theez is not so gooood—you can get hurd lieek dat. Man oh man. You gotta get outta heah.”

“Yes. Yes.” I kept watching the street.


I was dancing on the front stage when John walked into the new club and headed straight for me—stood in front of me—looked up at me.

“I have been trying to contact you for 7 days now. Diedre says she gave you my number. Now I am giving you my number and I want you to call me tomorrow. I want the money back for the red shoes or else I wanna see the shoes.”

I looked down at the short pimp trick. He made me sick. He turned his back and I immediately threw the piece of paper onto the stage floor and kicked it.

Fuck him.


I had missed 2 days of work. The 2 guys in the white truck were looking for me. I did a no show and then showed up for my check. My time was up. I knew that.

And then in comes Cathy all pissed off.

Back in the long hall of the dressing room with half dressed girls everywhere in there little booths I was tweaking away with my legs propped up high on the artificial wall.

And Cathy knocks my legs down and screams “What the fuck did you do? Some guys came in here last night—and they thought I was you and they dragged me by the hair and tried to pull me into the parking lot. And if it wasn’t for Bob I don’t know what I would a done. And then they crashed into a bunch of cars on their way out—messed up the night for everybody—nobody made any damn money, Cathy! Nobody!

I stood up and smiled, shrugged my shoulders and said …

“Red shoes.”

The End (but not for me!)

© Mary Catharine Lemons, February 1 2012