When I was a little girl, I would sometimes fill my bed with shoes. I'd line them up at night beside my eight-year-old self and fall asleep. I welcomed them into my bed at night to protect my soul, just as their tough leather protected my soles by day.
A couple of years ago I bought 20 pairs of shoes at a contents sale, all but two of them high-heeled, pointy-toed splendours. Their owner had died a month before. I never knew her, but on sunny summer days I used to see her getting into her lipstick-red convertible. She had big puffed-up hair atop a big puffed-up body that was invariably clothed in black baby-doll dresses. Her jewellery was big and clangy and caught my eye with flashes of sunlight on gold. Perhaps that's why I never noticed her feet or what she had on them. But, oh, those shoes!
I was in her apartment the day of the sale selecting a number of large, radiant rhinestone earrings when a woman called out from the basement. "The ruby red slippers!"
I swiftly made my way downstairs to lay my eyes on the fabled red shoes. They were glowing in the dim light on the feet of some Dorothy wannabe.
Her feet were too big for them, so I was spared the embarrassment of having to beg. I swooped in and casually picked up the scarlet-sequined shoes before the four other shoppers could blink an eye. I went on to look through four large boxes filled to the brim with still more shoes in clear plastic bags, all cousins and sisters and aunts of the ruby reds. Every glittery toe and spike heel was in mint condition.
Colourful sequined shoes dot my living room, breaking the monotony, posing heel to heel atop door ledges and perching side by side on window sills and bookshelves in all their glittery artfulness.
Were their original owner still alive to witness this display, she might disapprove of their naked, de-bagged, dust-gathering lollygagging.
But I'd like to think that the Mistress of the Shoes is now joyously wondering why she rarely let these babies out to breathe and pose and cavort toe to toe, to kiss rhinestone to sequin, to dance shiny heel to scuffed sole.
"Ah," she might sigh, "shoes as art!" To hell with looking pretty in dazzling but body-warping shoes, shoes that lead the eye up to shapely calves that move the eye up further to an hourglass figure, if only one could achieve such a thing!
Her daughter told me that her mother had custom-made outfits matching each and every pair of shoes. I saw some of those ensembles, large dresses in black lace or pleather, all with enough fabric to make three dresses for me, were I to get crafty.
But no, I'm perfectly happy with my haul, which I seldom wear - only in private fashion shows where I tramp about my living room. On the other hand, I've only worn the ruby slippers to public places, jumping into cabs and landing at parties where they're instant conversation-starters and friend-makers.
Once, at a magazine editor's soiree, two prepubescent girls stood across the crowded room pointing and chatting excitedly. Finally, they came over to compliment me and ask where I got them. I made sure to impart my Philosophy of Footwear.
"They are merely for dress-up, not for actual living," I instructed like some Auntie Mame.
"In drop-dead high heels," I wanted to tell them, but didn't, "you are likely to end up just another urban doll with a broken heart and blistered feet."
That said, I have perched at the sensual and historic oak bar in the Laurentian Room in the amazing ruby reds. It's an evocative amber-lit room with four fireplaces high up in the walls. It even has what my lover calls a "shoe light" beneath the bar that sets my fabulous footwear ablaze.
At the end of fishnet-stockinged legs, these shoes flash a lustful message. And they can fuel a passionate encounter with just a glint of their silver sparkle in the dark, a flash that flares up from rhinestones or a ray of moonlight kissing crystal.
Not long ago, my good photographer friend took a picture of the ruby reds where they sit on my bookshelf atop volumes by Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. He says it is the best portrait he has taken of me so far.