by Helen Holmes
This morning I had one of those weird moments when you catch sight of yourself in a mirror and don’t realize it’s you. See yourself as others see you – unedifying. I was going into a shoe-shop and facing the entrance was a full-length mirror. I could almost hear your cool assessment: ‘Fine head of hair, but in need of a good trim; cheek-bones a plus, but he’s a bit on the thin side; could definitely do with a shave and a decent night’s sleep. Oh dear…trainers.’
You always loathed trainers, said they looked like mutilated car tyres. ‘But they’re so comfortable,’ I protested. ‘Let’s put it this way, sweetheart, it’s the trainers or me.’ It was you, Rosie, no contest. You’d be horrified to see I’ve reverted. Dug them out from the back of the wardrobe where I’d squirreled them away. Comfort blanket.
It was odd being in a shoe-shop on my own. I remember going with Mum when I was a kid, having my feet measured, shuffling around self-consciously in room-to-grow shoes. ‘Walk round again, Matt, just to make sure. Are they comfy? Let me feel where your big toe is.’ One of the first things you and I did together was a shoe-hunt, so appalled were you by my footwear. ‘Keep them on,’ you said.
Today I had no-one to advise me. The assistant did her sixteen-year-old best, probably bored to salt tears. ‘What sort of shoes are you looking for?’ ‘Black lace-ups.’ She showed me half-a-dozen pairs, and I tried to view them with your clear green gaze. One pair had contrasting stitching, so they were out. Another pair had turned-up toes. I could imagine your reaction to those. A third pair looked like black trainers. I was quite taken with them, until I caught myself. I settled on plain black Oxfords – no ‘frilly bits’, no razzmatazz of any kind. I think you would approve.
Mum and Dad would have liked them, too. Appearances were important to them, a sign of respect for themselves and others. They never went out without considering which outfit would be ‘appropriate’. After Mum died, Dad would still stroll down to the club every Saturday night for a few hands of crib and a couple of pints with his mates. Always army-neat, hair brushed, shoes spit-polished till you could see your face in them. He never went out without a tie. That’s next on my shopping list.
You always got on well with Dad. He liked your directness. He enjoyed your sense of humour, too. You were one of the few people who could get away with teasing him. Mum never could; he’d quickly bristle, stand on his dignity, but you made him laugh. ‘She’s a scamp, your Rosie,’ he’d chuckle, ‘Tiny but lethal.’ His eyes filled with tears when I told him you’d left.
I’ve been wondering whether to let you know about his funeral, at least give you the chance to pay your respects. I think I should. If you do come, I’d like your opinion on these shoes. If you do, I’ll burn the trainers.
Helen Holmes lives in rural Northumberland and writes fiction and non-fiction.