After some rummaging Polly found the shoes at the back of the wardrobe, red silk with ribbons to tie around the ankle, skinny heels and a peep toe. She’s seen them in the shop window every week for a month before she’d plucked up the courage to go in and try them on. The eye-watering price had been discounted to a mere £150 and she reasoned that since it had been a while since she’d had anything new and Norman’s annual company dinner was coming up she could afford to splash out. They’d go well with the go-to black cocktail dress she first wore on their honeymoon. It was a dress Norman actually liked so she’d hung on to it.
She was meeting him there, he’d taken his suit to work and planned on getting ready in the office before heading off to the Castle Hotel. She took a taxi, they were staying the night, an unusual extravagance but he’d insisted. He was obviously trying to make an impression. The porter showed her to the room, clothes were scattered everywhere so assumed Norman had already gone down for dinner. Carefully unwrapping the shoes from their cloth bag she slipped them on and tied the elaborate ribbons with a bow. The new red lipstick glistened under the bathroom light and her long crystal earrings grazed her bare shoulders. ‘Not bad,’ she thought as she grabbed her purse and locked the door.
The look on Norman’s face was a strange mix of admiration and rage, it was an expression she’d seen before but not recently. He walked towards her and placing his hand firmly under her elbow steered her to the patio.
‘Is this a joke?’ he said before she could speak, ‘you look like a cheap tart. You’ve deliberately shown me up in front of the board so go back to the room and change into something more appropriate and wipe that muck off your face.
‘I haven’t brought anything else except a pair of trousers and a top to wear home tomorrow,’ tears threatened but Norman’s grip tightened and she realised she had no choice so she left him there and returned to the room. With the make-up removed, and now dressed in a pair of grey trousers with a formal blouse she usually wore to work, she saw the same drab woman who took the bus to work. Her Cinderella moment had gone and she wondered, not for the first time, what had caused Norman’s over-reaction.
They’d had a romantic whirlwind romance, he was her boss then, older, loud, confident, used to getting his own way but he wooed her relentlessly until she gave in and agreed to a date. Within three months he’d proposed, in six months they were married. She wore a dress and coat, her hair in a bun because he preferred it, there was no showy ceremony and a discreet meal for them and their respective parents followed. Their honeymoon was in Bournemouth, Norman extolling the virtues of staying somewhere where most other guests would be old. ‘Less chance of you running off with a pensioner than some sun-tanned life-guard in Spain.’
She thought then he was being protective but soon she understood he didn’t like people admiring her. In her heart she knew the red shoes were provocative but now she was so much older, and frankly with her hair more grey than blonde, admiring glances were non existent and she figured Norman would like to see her make an effort. She was wrong.
On their way home the following day with Polly, yet again, wearing sunglasses and a scarf tied strategically around her neck, Norman set about explaining how he thought she’d learned after 20 years not to wind him up. ‘I make the effort to invite you to the year-end dinner and you just embarrass me. I don’t know what you were thinking.’
No apology. He never apologised. She’d read often enough in magazines of men who were overcome with guilt the morning after, but not Norman. This was normal in Norman’s book, he was the boss. He would always be the boss. She should be grateful he let her go to work two days a week instead of insisting she stay home to look after the house. He repeated this mantra practically every weekend.
Polly had no-one to turn to, on the days she didn’t catch the bus to work she avoided her neighbours, staying inside rather than take the chance of meeting them, unwilling to explain a cut lip or a bruised cheek. On the days she did go to work it was to a small windowless office above an estate agent where her only contact with anyone was by telephone. She worked for a local insurance agency paying invoices, she only saw her boss infrequently because he was always on the road and deliveries were made to the estate agent who left any mail on the stairs for her to collect. She had no friends, they’d drifted away when it became clear Polly wouldn’t accept their invitations to nights out. Her parents were long dead and her only sister lived in Australia and apart from the odd phone call they had little contact. Norman hadn’t wanted to share her with children, warning bells should have sounded then, but she’d been flattered he wanted her all to himself.
It was letter that started it. A bright pink envelope addressed only to ‘Polly’ sitting amongst the brown bills and junk mail when she arrived for work on Monday morning. Its contents, written in scrawled cursive, confirmed what she’d long known. Norman was having an affair. She wasn’t shocked or even surprised because the tell-tale signs were there, the stale perfume, the unending ping of his phone when text after text arrived, the long hairs on his jacket, the odd receipt for dinner at some exclusive restaurant or tickets for the theatre. She was glad he never took her to dinner these days because inevitably a black eye would follow. She didn’t miss the theatre either or the inevitable bruises she’d have to cover up. No, the tipping point was that his lover was Elizabeth Morris, his P.A. The woman who wore power suits and sky-high heels, whose face was made up like a professional model, whose hair flowed in red waves down her back, the woman who took no shit from Norman. The letter was anonymous, certainly not written by Elizabeth, probably written by a bitter office junior who thought Polly should know. She was glad she knew, glad her intuition hadn’t failed her completely, glad Elizabeth wasn’t subject to the abuse she’d endured for all these years but the truth boiled in her head.
Polly carefully packed her bright pink suitcase, she was taking only hand luggage, rolled dresses, black & red underwear still in their designer packs, expensive toiletries in a ubiquitous self -seal plastic bag. She retrieved the red shoes from the back of the wardrobe and squeezed them alongside two pairs of flat sandals. The black cocktail dress was laid across the top and the skimpiest red bikini pushed down the side of the shoes. Her passport and boarding card were safely stowed in her handbag, her bank card, credit card and Euros were in her purse. She dimmed the lights, closed the curtains and waited.
She watched Norman’s blood form a pool around his head as she wiped the crowbar clean. The look of surprise frozen on his face, his car keys still in his hand. Polly picked up her handbag, wheeled her suitcase onto the doorstep, locked the door and walked down the path.
She didn’t look back.
©Nita Lewsey 2019