THE OLD LADY WITH THE GOLD LAMÉ PUMPS by Kerry Rawlinson

I wonder if you remember her? Whenever we’d pop into the pub, the Old Cock and Bull, she was always sitting up at the bar. Because you loved that place, (not to mention their beer), we popped in pretty much every night. Beautifully dressed, always alone, the old lady would be perched on the high stool, sipping one of her limit of two glasses of beer. Nobody even talked to her, which I found odd. Occasionally her wig would be squiffy; her crimson lipstick slipping sideways. She’d look up into the bar mirror and fix it with a tissue. But the thing is this: whatever her outfit, she always wore the same pair of golden shoes. Do you remember how I’d concoct outrageous histories for her? I’d talk myself into fits of giggles. Like, she was a filthy-rich New York Madam, retired on five-hundred cums a day! She was the heiress of a tycoon who’d made his fortune producing gold shoes. She was a transgendered Air-force General! A futuristic Hologram, beaming her image back through space and time? A naughty Fairy, banished to human mortality? Well, I was a bit bored, wasn’t I, going to the same pub every day, and I always felt that I was the one who had to entertain us. You laughed. You used to think I was so amusing, in those days. It isn’t that funny now, is it, trashing a poor old lady? But we’d laugh at the same things, back then. And we’d drink and laugh and stumble happily back to our teeny-tiny flat for a scrappy-quick supper and a long, glorious fuck. Regular as clockwork…

Then one night, she wasn’t there. And when we went in the next, she was still missing. We asked around, but couldn’t get through to anybody who we were talking about – not even Pete, the bartender. I wondered in disbelief how a human being could be so unseen, even by those who served her daily. But Pete was adamant. He had no clue who we were talking about. It was very odd… So we forgot about her. Well, I know you did. You were always good at forgetting. But somehow, that lonely image of her stayed lodged in my head all this time. I hoped, if she was dead, that someone mourned her. Missed her golden shoes. I would have told her, if I could have, that I missed her.

And then I got pregnant. Just like that, our rollicking pub days were over. Responsibility set in, and with it, the thorny overgrowth and grown-up roadblocks of reality. We tried to make a good go of it, at first. But we really weren’t compatible, were we? Our relationship was based on drinking and nightly sex, not nurseries and nappy-changing. You stopped laughing at me. I stopped finding your drunken antics amusing. Though you could never get through your head the part about quitting, for the family’s sake. We started fighting more. Then we were fighting always. I was so exhausted by the fighting! You took off on “business trips,” as you called them, which were actually just extended into long, single holidays. And my days, working at the Safeway daily and raising the two boys, seemed to roll together into one endless ache of sadness, then disappear into thin air like smoke. Where did the time actually go? Feels like it got sucked into some futuristic vacuum… The problem was this: you were in my heart like a thorn. I couldn’t love you, and I couldn’t stop loving you. The more I wriggled against you, the deeper the thorn dug. I was trapped in this schism like a pebble between two sides of a cliff. My hair fell out in clumps. Stress, the doctor said. So I practiced a little retail therapy. Shoes became my passion – but my hair never recovered its fullness. I actually had to buy myself a wig; the final blow to the chafing of my self-esteem.

Years and years later, after the kids had grown and we’d finally managed to split and go our separate ways for good, I visited the Cock & Bull again. Just to see how it would be to sip on a drink there, without you. And just so you know, everything in it is exactly the same now as it had been, way back then, in those carefree days. Even Pete still works behind the bar, if you can believe it! Though he didn’t recognize me, and I didn’t enlighten him. He’s an old codger now. Well, aren’t we all? I perched up at the bar on a stool, feeling beside myself, somehow. Thinking about fracture, and what we’d lost. My scalp itched. I faced down so that the tears would plop into my beer, not onto my dress, and I got out a tissue. I looked up into the bar mirror to fix my lipstick.

And then, everything became clear.

ART BY BOB SCHOFIELD

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