She lines up the shoes on the far wall of her bedroom where there’s no furniture to take up space, seven pairs of identical black flats with sparkling (dust-coated) silver buckles and waits.
This morning she’s interviewing a potential new roommate, desperate to offset her living costs by having someone else chip in money that’ll dent her mortgage in the long run and give her company in the short term. She’s cleaned the entire place a little more brightly than usual and feels nearly a little high off the cleaning fumes, but it’s almost as good as the weekend ritual.
The girl she meets is perfect, fitting all her criteria neatly and when they get to the shoe-room in the mini-tour there’s not a word spoken. Her last candidates have said it was too weird, made jokes about unusual collector habits and various other things she doesn’t care to remember. For a girl who considers herself the sort of person who could blend entirely into wallpaper, she’d think that she needs some kind of habit, some unexplained little mystery about her, but the others haven’t seen it this way. This girl just shrugs, as though it’s not the weirdest thing she’s ever seen.
She offers the girl the sub-lease contract she’s had drawn up just for this eventuality and they both sign on the dotted lines.
They get along just fine. Sometimes they go days barely seeing each other, when night and day shifts overlap so that one gets home just as the other is going out to work. It feels sensible and normal, unselfish to make dinner in quantities that someone else can take some as needed. Other days they split a pizza and have a TV marathon, never troubling to talk.
For the first time in her life she feels like she fits in somewhere. It’s comfortable and easy-going.
Some weeks later her job comes to an end. It’s nothing personal at all; it’s no reflection on her as a worker. The work has dried up, the company is laying off people in an effort to lessen the cashflow when there’s no money coming in now. She cashes out the last of her accumulated pays early and bolts on the last day, not even pausing to get a reference agreement.
This has been her longest-running job and it was beginning to feel the most natural in the world to come to work here everyday. At some point she’d hoped for a longterm contract but instead she finds herself calculating how long her savings will last.
It’s one less place that she fits in.
She picks the first pair of shoes from the wall and studies them. Perfectly intact, just a bit dusty after months of not wearing them. (Sometimes she finds herself in her bedroom doing something and there’ll just be quiet; she’ll look up to find her roommate with the “thinking expression” she’s come to know so well. Head tilted, lips pursed as though both considering something and drawing breath to speak – she never says it, but she’s clearly trying to parse the meaning of a row of identical shoes).
The buckle is stiff under her nail when she goes to unclasp it, and her polish scratches off. She doesn’t mend it.
The leather is supple, on just the right side of being worn in, and she wiggles her ankles, tests the straps. Flimsy silk blouse, beat-up jeans – she calls it a day and goes.
It’s always the same. The music is always the first signal that she’s getting closer to the club, and she waits impatiently in a line three-dozen deep. They know her here, and she holds out the money more as a token than any real intent to pay; the guy waves her through without hassle.
Getting to the floor is a relief and a stress all at once. Music overwhelms her senses, something with a heavy bass that she doesn’t recognize and yet more dozens of people crowded into the tiny space. It works though, because none of the patrons would know her if they passed her on the street. She slips into a pocket of space and joins the dancers, mimics their moves, throws herself into it.
She feels the leather blistering her heels, tunes out the music until there’s no lyrics left, just the beat in the background and a vague awareness of a woman’s voice, blurs her gaze until she’s parched and the people surrounding her have all formed one indistinguishable crowd.
This is the best time, when she feels as adrift as she has lately. Here she’s anonymous, fitting in without trying because she’s mimicking the behaviour of anyone around her and not caring either way. She catches the eye of a guy – tall, too cute, not her type, but she lets him buy her a drink anyway and then disappears to find more respite.
The oxygen is heavy, soaked in the taste of a dozen perfumes and various hair products, smoke and electricity and alcohol. Her brain switches off all the excessively cyclical thoughts, and all she’s aware of is the rhythm, the endorphins rushing through her body.
At home, she slips the shoes – now scuffed and the worse for wear – into a box in her wardrobe. They’re this weeks’ dancing shoes, and she wears them out within three nights. It’s a new record, and now there are six pairs of shoes lined up.
In the morning her leg muscles hurt, her heels are bruised and she catches her roommate again at her door, lips moving as she counts the dozen shoes that remain.
Neither of them say anything.