Shoe shops. Never my favourite place to be. I don’t know about you, but I usually just want a pair of shoes like the pair of shoes I’m already wearing, but new, and they never have them. But this was pretty painless.
“How do those feel, sir?” The attendant was polite, not pushy. It had taken him a few minutes to find a pair in my size, but there was decent music on the shop sound system so I didn’t mind the wait.
I stood up thoughtfully. Stood on one foot, then the other. Bent at the knee a bit, flexed my foot, bounced on my toes – you know, the new shoe dance. Took a careful step over to the mirror, heel first, rolling my sole carefully down then a wee toe-tap at the end. They looked fine. They felt fine.
“These are fine,” I said. As I say, pretty painless.
But then things got a bit weird.
Mrs Owen has taken to sleeping on her back again because she thinks it makes her dream better. Mr Owen, who had become accustomed to spooning in bed, is a little put out by this because where once there was a warm and yielding niche for his knees there is now a rigid bony leg and he can't find anywhere to put his hands. He's compensating by rolling onto his other side, turning his back to the dreamer, and thus another little gap grows between them. The Mrs, Karen, is oblivious - she lies there facing the sky and awaits the onslaught of visions, memories, world changing ideas. This was a habit of hers as a student - the untaxing schedule allowed her an hour or so in the afternoon to lie on her creaky dorm bed, close her eyes and open her mind to the cosmos. Anyone watching would have said she was taking an afternoon nap, but it wasn't quite that: not quite meditation either, something unique and personal and much missed. Of course, back then she was single and the bed was so noisy that it wasn't much use for anything else, but she's been trying to recapture, lately, things which made her happy as a younger woman.
Mr Owen, Kevin, does not really think dreams are important. Over breakfast Karen will try and raise the subject. A night of wild dreams has left her breathless - she was a swan, she was at the centre of a whirlwind of autumn leaves, she was drifting through a house which could communicate with her. "I had the most amazing dreams last night," she will say, to which Kevin replies "I had a weird dream last night. I was walking down the road and this fella came up to me and gave me a hat! Just a normal hat. How random is that? By the way, don't forget to phone your folks today to find out what time they're coming." And that is the end of the dream conversation. A year or two of this had robbed her of her own interest in dreams, and it's that which she's grabbing back now.
It’s funny how things which should be unacceptably peculiar eventually become run of the mill simply through familiarity. If the new Mrs. Wilde had realised this, she might not have been so quick to force her husband to sell up the house his grandfather had built, simply because of one feature which unsettled her. I’m glad she did, of course: her discomfort lent the sale an urgency which worked greatly in my financial favour. She was a city girl, though, and unhappy enough at having to move to the country after her wedding, without also having to lie under the shadow of something which is, when all’s said and done, a long way out of the usual order of things. Me, I’m country, born and bred: I know the value of taking things as they are, the value of pausing for a breather before you make a hasty decision, the simple value of just taking time: and yet even for me this was a bit of a tough proposition. Took me a long time, a long time, to completely forget about the strangeness of this particular oddity. Mr Wilde, though, who’d lived there all his life, who was of the third Wilde generation to live perfectly happily in the house, assured me that he and his family barely entertained a second thought about it, only even remembering its existence on the extremely odd occasions when strangers would notice it and make shocked enquiries. But that was seldom, since it’s not in any normal line of sight: you need to lie on your back in the garden to see it properly, and not many people do that. I wouldn’t have noticed it myself (maybe even yet!) had Mrs. Wilde not met me at the door, the day I went to view the property, in a state of nervous agitation which really begged polite enquiry.
Sounds: footsteps crunching over broken glass; the buzz of an intercom, metallic crackle as the handset is lifted in an upstairs flat, but no speech; sharp click as the door is unlocked. Hand still held, he is guided into an echoing stairwell and urged, almost gently, towards the stairs. Sweat pricks his forehead under the blindfold and the smell of stale urine is sharp in his nostrils as he gingerly climbs, step by step.
One landing. Two. Three. And stop.
“This way.” He feels the breeze of an open window and hears dogs fighting below, then another door is opened and he is pushed through into sudden warmth and a carpet-muffled hubbub. A TV in a nearby room is silenced as the blindfold is pulled off and he finds himself blinking in a dim corridor. It’s not what he’d pictured.
“Bring him through,” says a gruff voice from the room at the end of the corridor. Mike, who has guided him this far, rests his hand on his shoulder and answers his glance with a nod, and through they go. They enter a room with large windows on two walls (corner flat, he thinks), tastefully decorated - furniture plain but good quality, lush patterned rug over deeply polished floorboards, pale walls interrupted here and there with art prints and mirrors: he notes the details, but these unremarkable surroundings serve only to frame the room’s only occupant, who sits upright in a straight-backed chair, unnervingly still, hands bunched into fists on his knees
The square was looking fantastic, nobody could deny that. A low Spring sun was glancing off the cobbles, the bunting strung between the lampposts fluttered in the gentle breeze, and the assembled worthies sat on the staging in dignified anticipation. We were all behind the barricades, of course, but we could still see the finery, appreciate the solemnity of the occasion. All that notwithstanding there was a sense of festival in the air, especially amongst us peasants, and friends were greeting each other, smiling, laughing - it was as if the general population had agreed to suspend their scepticism for the time being, to simply enjoy the significance of the event. Vendors wove through the crowds selling souvenirs, hats and banners made of paper feathers, pictures of the birds as they once had been. I found this a little sad, but others insisted that it was fine, that it underlined the progress of which we were shortly to be the first beneficiaries. I’m not one for confrontation so I acquiesced, but I allowed myself a glance at the empty sky and couldn’t help but sigh.