Red Shoes

On a youngish woman riding the subway. She wore a winter coat, and blue leggings, and had a suitcase on wheels. Her shoes were so red and shiny, and the pointed toes–didn’t they squish hers? I wondered how she’d react if I asked to take a photo of her shoes, and then the train stopped, the doors slid open, and she stepped out, pulling her suitcase.

Her shoes reminded me of these. Not exactly these, because at the time, I wasn’t able to take pictures–I was too emotional, and it felt disrespectful. But similar.

These shoes–something like them, red and strappy–were in a pile of shoes that was part of an exhibit at Auschwitz, along with hair and baby’s dresses. The red shoes stood out in that pile–they made me wonder about the owner, and where she’d worn them, and whether she was enthralled by the colour of her shoes. And then I thought about all the shoes and the rest of it and the people who’d lived and had had hopes and worries, and I said as much of the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, as I could remember. And I didn’t take any pictures.

I didn’t cry. Tragedy doesn’t make me cry. Instead I broke out in cold sores, large and ugly, all over my lips.

What makes me cry is beauty, and the triumph of our good impulses, and the bravery of someone ordinary–a young woman who wears shiny red shoes, bold in the darkness of cattle cars.


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