Pigalle, by Victoria Briggs

Art: Sex and the City


The shoes have trouble written all over them, starting with their name – Pigalle – a bawdy French moniker printed on the box. And then there’s the price tag, which runs into the high three figures.

‘How much?’ says your mother, in a voice loud enough to draw the glance of shop assistants, other customers, the work experience boy handing out nylon socklets by the door.

It was a mistake to bring your mother with you. You should have known how she’d react: overly critical, over the top. It occurs to you that asking her along is evidence of the kind of internal inconsistencies that keeps your counsellor in business.

You throw the shoes back in the box, glare at socklet boy, then bundle your mother through the door, out into the teeming street.

*

The next day you go back to the shop and buy the shoes.

You go alone and pay on credit.

At home you take the shoes out from between rustling layers of tissue paper and swoon at the smell of virgin leather, at the black patent uppers and red lacquered soles. Their five inch heels are spikes of glory. They’re perfect in every way – apart from the price, which starts to gnaw at the edges of your triumph, making misshapes in your joy.

You screw the little bitch of a till receipt into a ball and toss it in the bin. Then you put on some lipstick, strip down to your knickers and force your feet into the shoes.

Elevated before the mirror you pull in your stomach and practice saying, ‘Fuck me, Graham,’ and ‘Graham, fuck me,’ until it sounds almost natural and what might pass for seduction after some drinks.

*

At four in the morning you wake in a panic about how much you shelled out on the shoes. Money you can’t afford. Money you might have put towards some plan with more reliable foundations. All the good you could have done with it, the lives in the charity TV ads you might have helped to save…

You throw back the bed covers and go looking for the receipt among the detritus of the waste bin, where you find it, brown and sopping, ruined from its embrace with a discarded teabag.

When you try and go back to sleep, your mother’s face looms at you in a half dream, her mouth shaped like a pound sign, her eyes rolling in her skull.

*

Graham is the guy you met online, who works in insurance, who lives in the sticks.

A man you didn’t picture in your mind’s eye when, ten years back, you wondered where you’d be right now. A time when dating websites were unthinkable, when insurance was a no-no, and the provinces were where dragons be.

But now your lines are deepening, your womb is ticking; your ovaries take it in turn to groan. Things flung with abandon from the negotiating table of your twenties are now ripe for reassessment.

His height is an issue though. You wish it wasn’t but there it is.

His personal relationship with Jesus, while not a deal breaker, currently tops your watch list, where it’s underlined in red with a question mark beside it that looks more like an alarm bell. You’re not sure what a personal relationship with Jesus is, exactly, and you hesitate to ask in case cross-examination turns this fragile, nascent thing of yours into something that is toast.

It’s going to be your fifth date. Time to step things up a gear. Time to deploy Pigalle: dissuader of the last train home, destroyer of the chaste, platonic goodnight kiss. If Jesus is your rival then Pigalle will flush Him out.

*

The rooftop bar of The Trafalgar Hotel overlooks the square below, its bubbling fountain, the four bronze lions, where Nelson on his column stands upright in a cloudless sky. The cocktail in your hand is the same colour as your lacquered soles. Everything is perfect. Then Graham texts to say he’s running late. His train is crawling all the way from Hertfordshire – some trouble with the track.

That’s the problem with the sticks, you think: every trip into town involves some fucking big adventure with the transport.

You drain your cocktail and order another.

The bar is busy. It’s a warm night. There’s a pigeon pecking at the ground around you, where the crumbs of somebody’s bar snack lie fallen by your feet. You nudge Pigalle in its direction. You shoo it with your shoe.

But this is Trafalgar Square and the genetic memory of pigeons is stronger than the laws of men that seek to ban them. Where their feral masses, displaced below by selfie sticks and tuk-tuks, remain king of the Trafalgar skies.

There’s a ping from your left as the lift doors slide open. Graham smiles as he approaches and you, stepping back to steady yourself, feel resistance and hear a pop. Something warm licks up your leg. The woman next to you gasps and Graham’s face contorts like the creature fleeing the canvas of Munch’s Scream.

*

You couldn’t sleep. Every time you closed your eyes you saw the pigeon, impaled and lifeless. The outrage in the waiters’ voices, like your shoes had hexed the bar.

Pigalle, the assassin. You wonder where the shoes are now.

In your bare feet you ran from Graham, the scene, the rooftop slaughter. The bird’s blood dried on your calf in rivulets of brown.

When a courier brings a box to your door with a Hertfordshire postmark, you have to summon up courage before you look inside. You take off the lid and see it’s packed with paper. The shoes – the savage cargo – have been cleaned of all remains.

There’s a post-it note on the box lid: You forgot these, Cinders, it reads in spidery script.

As you take out the shoes and touch their scarlet soles, you sense inside your stomach the dark fluttering of wings.


Victoria Briggs is a writer of short fiction and poetry, with recent work published in Unthology, The Honest Ulsterman, Structo, Litro, Short Fiction, Prole and The Nottingham Review. She once won the Asham Award for women writers and has previously been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in London and tweets @vicbriggs.

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