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stiletto“These ol’ things?”

No way would I get away with my usual quip if my husband caught me prancing around in these.  Not these black, suede booties with netting, climbing halfway up my calves.  The season’s new gladiator style just doesn’t go with my standard-fare sweatpants and Mommy jeans.

I keep them in my closet.  The shoebox sits at the end of a shelf near the floor, in the corner.  Except for a white sticker on the side, the shoebox is drab and devoid of markings. It’s absolutely perfect, as far as I’m concerned, for hiding my secret and stolen romps in seclusion.  

I remember the first time I saw them.  My daughter and I were meandering the tony, shoe section of an upscale department store.  We were shopping for classic pumps in celebration of her college graduation and new job.  There it was, a single, strappy stiletto.  Sitting center stage atop a display table of shoes, it was lit by a flood like a Broadway stage diva.  The sexy 4-incher perched on a pedestal above the others.  It practically posed on profile, playing up its assets and besting the rest. I’d been absolutely star struck. 

“Would you like to try them on?” a dark-haired beauty my daughter’s age cooed.  “Why not,” I thought, though I was relieved when she returned to report they were unavailable in my size.  “Sorry, Ma’am.” 

Ma’am? Really?

“No problem,” I smiled.  A part of me sighed, Phew. The shoes were too expensive, anyway.

“Would you like to see something else?”  Oh God, no!  “Or, for me to call you if another in your size comes in?” Unlikely.  But she knew how to hunt for a commission. “We ship anywhere in the world,” the salesgirl chirped.

The letters on the shoebox’s white label — Bergdorf Goodman — are followed by a slew of SKU numbers, Black 10B, and a barcode at the bottom.  As it does each time I pull out the box, my breath catches in anticipation, then dread.  Gianvito Rossi, the thick, block letters across the top of the box read.  I still remember the steep price I paid for the Italian designer I’d never even heard of.  I still remember the sing-songy insistence at the other end of the phone line, the same salesgirl calling me two weeks afterwards. 

“I have them,” she’d warbled.  “Do you still want them?”

The manufacturer’s logo is also inked across the tissue paper inside the shoebox.  It’s printed discreetly in pale grey, like a fleeting glance or a mere whisper of promise.  I peel back the crisp tissue as I have a dozen times before to reveal my stilettos in clear plastic sleeves, spooning like lovers, toe to top.  I shudder.  They are Art, these beauties. Like pieces of sculpture.  Yet I’m mortified by this comparison, that I grant such import to something so pedestrian.

The truth is, these stilettos embarrass me.  Their exorbitant price is one thing.  But, the fact that I bought them over a year ago and still haven’t worn them –- not    even    once — is another thing altogether.  This impulse purchase makes me not only a spendthrift but also a fool.  I really have to wonder what forces were at work that day with my daughter, in her search for practical pumps and my flirtation with feline and feminine? 

I could have returned them.  The store would have taken them back and probably given me a full refund.  But I didn’t.  I should have returned them.  Every time I slipped my soles between their braided bondage and strutted across my bedroom, I wobbled like a clumsy schoolgirl.  Just how did I think I’d manage in such high heels?  How would I ever be comfortable?  There I was, a 50-something year old woman, stay-at-home mother of three, driver of a Chevy Suburban, and I was hoarding stilettos like a toddler hoards candy in pudgy, moist palms.

No, I won’t return my stilettos. That’s because these shoes give me swag, even if only in private. There’s a magic that comes over me every time I slip them on. I relish how the suede gently tugs against my skin as I inch the straps over my instep and up my ankles and calves.  I smile when the red of my pedicured toes flashes from the peepholes in front. The slender ascent of my feet, the laces that crisscross and bind them in a mock, reverse striptease, all this, pleases me. I steal a glance at myself in a full-length mirror.  My reflection is exactly the hit I need.  It’s a mash-up of Cinderella and her glass slipper, Rapunzel letting down her hair, and Marilyn Monroe grasping her airborne skirt.  There’s power in beauty and desire.  There’s youth in sexy.  There’s a thrill in imagination.

These days, I have several girlfriends harboring secrets:  an illicit affair; a new tattoo; a nip and tuck, or birthday shot of Botox. We’re all trying to stave off looking and feeling like our mothers.  But my secret is safer and less costly, too.  So, I’ve stopped beating myself up about my shoes.  I’m okay with fishing out my stilettos, pairing them with possible outfits, even packing them for vacations only to return and stash them away again, still virgins. I’ve accepted I may never wear them.  But, the fantasy is mine to pull out at will and cherish.    

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