Emily gets off the bus every morning outside Brighton’s most aspirational boutiques. Hands forced deep into pockets, she hurries past windows showcasing glitter and spangles, leather and velvet and chiffon and linen, bags, belts, watches and jewellery, other people’s lives. Emily prefers practical, comfortable clothes from M&S, like her mum suggested when she started at that office 8 years ago.
Emily can’t walk in heels higher than 2 inches and even then, not for all day. If she is to be on her feet a lot, she slips those little fold-up ballet shoes into her handbag and changes into them underneath her desk. Her wardrobe is totally colour coordinated, so her shoes are always black and always go with everything.
So Emily is taken by surprise when she finds herself drawn to a pair of patent red stilettos in the window of Karma, one Tuesday in November. There is no price tag and only 3 pairs of shoes make up the entire display. She hurries on to work, but thinks about the shoes in idle moments during the day. It’s dark when she goes home but she sees them the next morning, and the next, each day holding her attention for a little longer. Standing next to her boss, she wonders what it would be like to tower over him which she never does over anyone when she is wearing her flats.
On Friday morning, she catches a later bus so that the shop is open when she arrives at her usual stop. She gets off the bus and walks to the door, pushing it open before her conscious mind has chance to stop her. Emily looks at the window display and sees the shoes without a glass barrier for the first time. They are even more beautiful close to. As she lingers, a svelte girl appears at her side and asks if she can help. Emily points to the shoes. “Can I try them please?” she asks.
There are 2 pairs left in the shop, size 4 and size 7, but Emily wears a 5. She says the 4s please and sits to take off her black, low-heeled court shoes. The leather is so shiny you could lift fingerprints from its surface. Inside is suede with tiny golden letters, discrete Calibri branding and a burst of stars so realistic they might come off on the foot. Emily turns them over in her hands, enjoying the opulence before trying them on when she expects the spell will break.
“They do run slightly large,” says the girl and Emily hopes just maybe they will fit. They don’t quite, but they give Emily a sculpted calf and ankle to make Victorians blush. Her toes don’t look too squashed. She can even stand up and take a few steps. She decides they will be perfect sitting down shoes and says she will take them. Knowing the maxim ‘if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it’ and being aware she can’t afford them even if the price were in 3 inch letters, she doesn’t ask, just hands over her card.
Emily hurries on to work and has used only 30 minutes’ flexitime to spend 47 hours’ salary. She takes off her court shoes under the desk and changes to another pair as usual. It’s only when she passes to visit the bathroom that some people notice she isn’t wearing her fold-up ballerina pumps today.