It began with the shoe, one shoe, the left shoe, a purple-plum shoe. He looked longingly at the shoe and slipped it from her heel. Then he looked longingly at the other, as she looked longingly at him.
He admired the leather and the form of the shoe, a pointy elegant toe with a narrow blunted tip, and a low heeled sling-back, tied with a purple-plum bow. He admired the ankle that went into the shoe. He admired the sheer stocking that covered the ankle that went into the shoe. He looked before he touched. At last, half-sighing, he took off her right shoe. French or Italian? he asked.
Two shoes. Two ankles, two eyes looking longingly from the shoes to the ankles, from the ankles back to the shoes.
She had slender ankles, and slender wrists. He looked coquettishly at her ankles and his gaze sidled up to her wrists. He had it down to a fine art, his eyelids, not blinking exactly, but half-winking, narrowing with pleasure. What will you do next? he saw her eyes ask though her lips did not move. He fancied he heard the air perspire. He professed he was a gentleman so he used the word perspire, letting the ‘ire’ linger in the air.
She followed his gaze, and the almost imperceptible flutter of his eyelids. She liked to imagine what he might be thinking. And he liked her looking. He wet his lips with his tongue, an almost invisible movement as if he had sped it up to deceive a lover’s eye. Together they looked at the shoes. He let the silence fold about them on the couch, as though they were in a planetarium staring at stars.
Yes? The purple-plum shoes seemed to say, for that was their color, a rich and throaty color, like plums and coronation velvet. Yes?
If he heard, he ignored them. He stroked her ankles instead. He stroked a little further up her leg. Yes? she said, like the shoes, yes?
Ah, he smiled. He let his fingers run a little further. A little higher. Sometimes, just one finger.
She looked neither at his shoes nor at his ankles; she kept her eyes fixed on the carpet or let them roam along a wall of prints: a Renoir, a pair of Degas ballet slippers, an etching of London Bridge – he was an Anglophile, a Francophile, a Shoeophile shoeing his way into shoe boxes of women’s shoes, preferably French or Italian though the English too had heightened shoe sensibilities – and although his eyes did not follow hers, she was aware that he was looking at her. Eyeing her like an artist eyes a clean canvas, waiting to splash the paint about and color her into something.
Sometimes she thought he was spying.
Her thighs were big, yes they were big, ample thighs. She could wrap things up in those thighs. As his fingers worked with her minimalist black suspenders, he cast glances at the shoes in the corner.
She looked at him looking at the shoes; she didn’t want to draw attention to her thighs.
But he liked big thighs, he liked to stroke and press her strong, soft thighs. His steady, meticulous fingers stripped her legs of their stockings down to her ankles, over the arch of her tender white feet, and dropped the filmy heap onto the floor. Then he concentrated on her wrists, small delicate wrists; he petted the undersides of her wrists.
Like kid-glove, he said.
Actually, he wished that she had worn gloves and he said this aloud, in a warm, regretful voice – he would have liked the satisfaction of peeling them off to discover the undersides of her wrists. A rehearsal for later, more bountiful pleasure. Instead, he discovered the insides of her thighs. They were not so dissimilar from kid glove either.
She felt something in him flicker and take shape. She wanted him to take shape, though she wished he’d stop looking at her shoes, the purple-plum shoes, and just get on with it. Take shape.
He leaned over to touch the waxy leather of the shoes; his fingers glided across it, pausing to let his thumb assess what effect had rubbed off on his fingertips, lightly tapping the pads, then he swiveled back and fondled the skin of her big, soft thighs and her fine, papery wrists.
Oh, so soft, he said, though whether about her shoes or her skin, she couldn’t say.
She danced her finger-tips over the back of his neck, and kneaded a shoulder muscle. She thought she should go further and touch something else. Something inside his head perhaps, something deeper.
The lights dimmed and the shoes became mere shapes in the darkness in the corner of the room.
She touched part of her own shape. She wanted him to touch that part of her too. He knelt down and kissed her ankle. She encouraged his hand up one shape and along and onto another. She directed his hand to her soft falling shapes. He felt the shapes, and then her mound of shape, not at all a shoe shape, he would have liked a shoe shape, but despite himself he quivered.
The lights stayed dim. No-one spoke but the breathing took shape, it took on a bigger and heavier shape, and the room became a tunnel – elusive, pulsating, narrow. She put her hand to his suddenly defined shape, and heard him gasp.
He limbered his fingers, she felt them approaching: light, confident, and rather too assured he plunged his fingers deep into her shape. A gulp of air. He had surprised her. In turn, her fingers trembled and stumbled and found his shape (so now we’re even, they said). Their shapes met in the darkness, they shivered and tingled.
The purple-plum shoes shook their elegant French heads. Tut-tut, they said.
The shapes filled up the room. The shapes filled up each other. They shaped and shuddered in the dim late evening light, while the purple-plum shoes sat witness in the corner. Unwilling.
The shoes blushed. Grew aubergine. Dear, dear me, they said. For a moment their color rose and they pulsed vermilion. They tried to turn on their heels and walk away. We shouldn’t have to put up with this, the left one said. Outrageous, the other replied. Then to their alarm, they turned green, with envy. They looked at each other. Green? We’ve never been green before, they said.
Pants, groans, lush moans darted about the room. Shapes and sounds beckoned to each other until neither could be distinguished and there were only shadows, which flitted along the folds of the curtains.
The purple-plum shoes watched. They tapped their toes impatiently. Their shadows flirted. There was little light, but light enough for shadows.
The shoes sniffed. Two can play at this game, they said. But no mutual, soft kid leather adoration, all right? We’re objects. Not objet d’art. They announced this to the room, hoping for applause. They took a little bow. The room was listening, sitting back – here we go again it said, blasé, getting out its slippers and reaching for the paper. Shoes can do it too, the purple-plum shoes said. If they had hands, they would have placed them on their hips, or where a hip might be. We’ll have a high time. Kick up our heels. We’ll have an uproarious evening, heel to toe, in the shadows. Why didn’t we think of this before? they said.