They were red because we believe that red brings good fortune. The first car my parents bought in the UK was red. The front door of the house I grew up in was red. I’d always wondered if that was why my parents had chosen it. They kept the house full at all times, it seemed, with aunts and uncles and cousins, especially on holidays and birthdays. Chinese New Year was my favourite: all those red envelopes…
When I was little, I loved wearing silk dresses and, for a time, refused to wear anything else. I particularly envied my mother’s wedding dress; she kept it safe in the attic but she showed me once, when I was nine. It was made of beautiful, shimmering, red silk.
My wedding dress was white. The bodice was sparkling white, the white lace skirt swept the floor, and my thin white veil floated so delicately over my face that I worried I would sneeze while exchanging vows with my white, English husband.
I still hadn’t found the right shoes. My friends had come with me to every store in the area, scoured every website available, begged their mothers for a loan. “Just choose any pair!” they insisted, a week before the wedding. “They all look great with the dress!”
“But none of them feel right,” I said. I was being difficult, I knew it, but every pair I tried on had pinched or slipped or were otherwise excruciatingly uncomfortable.
It had been a few months since we’d moved into our new house but we were still living out of half-unpacked boxes. A couple of days before the wedding, we decided to tackle them properly. “I know you,” said my fiancé. “And I know you don’t want to be coming home from our honeymoon to a house filled with cardboard boxes.”
“Very true,” I said. “It might be a bit of a shock after the glitz and glamour of the Scottish highlands.”
I found them in a sealed box, marked ‘University’ in my eighteen year-old self’s handwriting. I noticed them immediately amongst all the stilettos and platform heels. Not that vivid red silk shoes were hard to miss. My mother’s wedding shoes were embroidered with peonies and had a low heel.
It was on the day that I would be leaving for university. I was fairly sure that up until that day, they were intent on me staying at home, even though I’d spent the entire summer buying new bath mats and bed sheets.
But it all came to a head when I started loading boxes into my car. It was a green Ford Fiesta.
“Don’t come with me then!” I shouted angrily, after they’d started on the guilt trip again. Just the sight of them standing by the stairs, standing in my way as I heaved my suitcase down, infuriated me.
“Well if you don’t want us to come with you, fine…” my mother sighed.
“That’s not what I said – but you don’t seem to want to see me off, so don’t come.”
“You are so ungrateful,” said my father. “I offered to drive you, I told you I would take a day off work to help you leave your family home – ”
“If you say it like that, no wonder I don’t want you to come!”
“So I was right!” said my mother. “You don’t want us to come!”
I ran back up the stairs for another box. I was exhausted; I’d spent the entire night packing and enduring snippy comments from both my parents. There were no excuses for what I did but I really wasn’t thinking straight. I wasn’t thinking at all. But it was vindictively soothing, climbing up to the attic, grabbing my mother’s wedding shoes, and stuffing them into a box.
By the time I arrived at university, alone, I felt horrible. I didn’t want the shoes but I didn’t want to admit what I’d done. So the shoes stayed in the box.
I never told them about the shoes and neither of them noticed they were gone. I came home at Christmas, Easter, and the summer holidays each year. The accident happened a month before graduation.
I stared at the shoes now, sitting in the box. I no longer felt guilty, just sad. It had been a stupid childish mistake but the fact remained that I had them, here in my house, with my wedding just a few days away.
My fiancé saw me put them on, but he didn’t say a word. My friends, on the other hand, had a lot to say. They thought I’d gone crazy. They thought it was nerves. They thought that a mental breakdown could be the only explanation for the reason why I wanted to wear them.
Personally I thought the shoes looked great. They definitely stood out, almost looking garish with the white, but I liked them even more for it. They were comfortable, fitting perfectly since my mother had been the same shoe size as me. I was set on the idea now, oddly feeling the same level of adrenaline as that eighteen year-old in the attic, except with no sense that it was a bad idea. It felt completely, completely right.
My dress was so long that it didn’t really matter in the end, only the toes of the shoes poking out from the hemline as I walked down the aisle. I doubted that the wedding hall was staring at me for my shoes. I doubted even more that my fiancé was bothered by the shoes, judging by the smile on his face.
He waited until after the reception to comment on them, when we were in the car to the hotel and I was taking them off.
“They were your mother’s weren’t they?”
I nodded. “She wore them at her wedding as well,” I said.
“I think she would have been very touched if she’d seen you wearing them today,” he said, squeezing my hand.
I rolled my eyes. “She probably would have told me off for wearing old shoes on such a special day.”
I hadn’t meant for it to come out so sharply, intended to make a joke, but I instantly regretted the stinging, bitter tone. And suddenly, I missed her. So, so much. She should’ve been here. They both should have been with me today. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Then I felt him brush my hair back, so gently. So I looked at him and managed a smile.
I bought a shoebox for them when I came back from the honeymoon and packed them away neatly. I decided they should stay in there. I wouldn’t be wearing them again.