Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fairy Tales of Manhattan: The Red-Soled Shoes

Fairy Tales of Manhattan: The Red-Soled Shoes (The Red Shoes)
by Julie Baumgold

"Tyler, not out there," said the mother, then, turning to the only other white woman in the playground, she added "I'm afraid he knows how to get out."

A small blond boy was lifting the knob on the gate and halfway escaped when she got there.

"Maybe he would like to play with Sam," Carol Joy Morris said. "Sam was just three. I'm Carol Joy."

"Alexandra Mortimer ... Sandy."

The two boys were eying each other and then Sam gave Tyler his truck. The mothers both smiled and then smiled at each other and moved a bit closer on the bench.

Carol Joy had already noticed Sandy because of the way she and her boy dressed and her stroller and her attitude when she watched her son which was fixed.

Around them the island nannies had their phones clamped to their ears and, as they talked, their breaths made exclamation points in the air.

"Sometimes I wish I knew Tagalog," Sandy said.

Carol Joy was not sure what she meant so she smiled again and asked where Sandy got her terrific shoes.

"Barney's. They have the best Louboutins, even better than their own store on Madison."

"I really like them. I've been noticing you all week because really we are the only two ...

"Actually, I just stopped being the accessories editor at Vogue and so now I have playground time. My housekeeper used to bring him here."

After checking where they each lived, which was close by, Carol Joy and Sandy Mortimer arranged to have the boys play together, inside, maybe one day a week.

"But not Wednesday or Friday, those are my mornings at Exhale, and, after that I'm just too tired to move and I let my housekeeper take over."

"I've never been to Exhale but I know the building forever."

"Have you always lived here?'

Yes, Carol Joy said, waving vaguely in the direction of Fifth and including the idea of the whole Upper East Side.

"If you can get the morning free you could try Exhale with me and then we can go to Barney's and I'll get Tim over for you. He's my fabulous shoe guy." She said that like Fabulous Shoe was a label.

Carol Joy was crossing her very old Ferragamo flats under the bench in the hopes that her new cool friend would not notice. She liked the idea of such a morning. She was tired of many of her friends, none of whom were as pretty or as inspirationally thin as Sandy who had once modeled. She already sensed a streak of wildness and extravagance in her new friend. Something about her that was different and daring. She would have to be alert with this new person.

As Carol Joy left the park that day, she felt a bit old and stolid, heavy almost, and wondered if she could ever get through the Core Fusion class that Sandy had described. She looked back at the bench where she always sat and where her grandmother once sat for two weeks chatting away with Henry Fonda or so it was said.

She hooked the tricycle over the carriage as they crossed Fifth with Sam telling her all about the wonders of Tyler.
Carol Joy pulled on her sportsbra and her tights, then her peacoat, and headed around the corner for the seven a.m. class at Exhale in the old Parke-Bernet building. Few people thought of it that way but Carol Joy had grown up when the building was that, a time when her grandparents used to take her there for a butterscotch sundae with almonds in the downstairs Schrafft's restaurant while her mother was upstairs raising her paddle for another bid.

She left the large apartment where she lived with Sam, her new nanny, the housekeeper /cook, and her patient, quietly straying husband, Carl. It was an apartment weeded of all inherited pieces where all the furniture was square and the surfaces bare as possible. All traces of fabric and color and life had been removed until the apartment read Downtown Hotel Lobby.

Running down the block, Carol Joy went over what she would wear that night to the Lilac Ball. Actually, she had almost decided the night before, standing in her underwear in the room that had become her evening closet. It was her favorite room in the house because she had planned it with Sandy's decorator and her architect Sven, who drew the mirrored rotating racks for her Louboutins, the red-soled shoes she now collected. She often counted them and felt a warm belonging whenever she looked across a runway and saw other women jiggling their red soles in a line in the front row.

Though she now had a couple of hundred fans on Instagram and Twitter and spent a lot of money paying for the clothes she would be photographed in and credited for wearing, Carol Joy still was seated in the second row.

At Exhale she joined an elevator full of women without makeup texting to avoid contact. Sandy called them The Clickers. She did not wait for Sandy who often came in five minutes late just to be looked at and irritate the others. Carol Joy always saved her a place at the barre. She now went to Exhale three times a week here and once over the weekend in Southampton where she joined rooms full of women in black tights too loose for their legs arcing ballerina arms onto the barre.

All this became necessary when they had started to photograph Carol Joy, when the photographers noticed her clothes and the fact that her pale face reflected rather than absorbed the light. Sandy, who rarely went out, had taught her how to pose and helped her shop.

She and Sandy shared a yoga teacher and had a Pilates instructor come to one or another of their houses. The new nanny and Sandy's girl now sat in the playground, close, but not together.

Carol Joy had finally become thin enough for her smallest clothes. She would tell Sam to punch her sunken stomach and he would pretend to and then wave his hand as though it had hurt him. That was their new private game.

With her black hair and red lips, Carol Joy had come to look rather like Snow White. She had taste and money and but she was not really young and, despite her degrees, had done nothing notable with her life. Still she was invited and she always went. That was one of the wonderful things about her as far as the photographers were concerned. She went, they took her picture and they knew her name.

In the way the starlet Jessica Alba appeared every day in the NY Post, Carol Joy Morris appeared almost weekly on line in David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary mentioned at Wednesday lunches at Michael's, posing, perpetually delighted, at whatever social event. Some of these she now chaired and she donated generously to many such causes. She would pause for Tommy Ton or Bill Cunningham walking into the shows, a piece of shiny bait twirling for the camera fish. To see herself captured, looking pretty, filled the Carl emptiness somewhat and soon she realized she could not stop.

At the hairdressers she had become known as a Chair Girl, one of the women other women recognize so that they feel they are in the right salon.

In the stores on Madison Avenue she was also known by some of the salespeople and she and Sandy were noticed, if not for their regulation leggings and sneakers, then for their unmistakably expensive Madison Avenue matron bags. Being well brought up, Carol Joy was always polite and usually tried to buy a little something.
Carl Morris was not at all happy. After tossing aside a flock of pillows, he would sit on their bed, exhausted from his day, rattling his drink and knowing that nothing would get him out the door that night.

He would be staring as Carol Joy slipped on her shoes, always with that insolent flash of red, and he would think how it would be if she just fell over onto the carpet with a massive definitive stroke.

He had taken this fantasy as far as the front row of the side chapel at Frank E. Campbell's and the opening lines of his speech in which he used the motto of TK:

Cor Roburis Cuna Fors (The heart of strength is good fortune) and then went on a bit on the topic of how good her life had been, that is, until then.

Carl remembered the night when this way of life had begun for Carol Joy on the terrace at Lincoln Center when Peter Martins, the head of the City ballet, came over and asked her to dance and she leapt up from her little gilt chair. She had been wearing that white chiffon dress he liked and her first pair of those red -soled shoes and she had floated in Peter Marten's accomplished arms like a wisp with her black hair, loose that night, streaming out. She looked like one of his dancers, she had taken years of ballet, and Carl loved her then in a way he had not bothered to love her for years.

Or maybe it all began when she met Sandy-the-ex Model, that was how Carl always thought of her: Sandy-the-ex Model because she had become his wife's latest in a long line of Candlewicks, the bad eggs and bad influences who capitalized on Carol Joy's sudden manic enthusiasms.

That night at the ballet gala Carol Joy had told him that her new shoes made her feel light. One of her maxims, lifted from the designer Chanel, was that she never wanted to weigh on a man more heavily than a bird. And now she felt released to soar, twitchy almost, when she had to stay still.

The Louboutins became her dancing shoes and, with a collection of dancing shoes on rotating mirrored racks that approached at the press of a button, she had to go out to dance. Dancing for the people they knew meant those soul- sucking twenty thousand dollar galas where she could pose on arrival and Carl could crumble inside as the lights flashed on her.

She was sitting on the floor of her closet mesmerized by temptation, the flashes of red on the revolving racks as the strappy booties, platform slingbacks, studded red velvets, leopard wedge slides, peep toe patent leathers circulated. She reached for a pair of silvery slingback sandals.

"I need you to go," Carol Joy was saying, using the language of their marriage therapist. "We've taken two tables. We have the Sterns and finally Sandy is coming and just about everyone else. Please…"

Unstated threats hung over her requests like storm clouds.

Carl wondered if this one time he might actually bag the Lilac Ball, have a few shooters, spend a moment with Sam, take a Xanax and escape into his nightmares.

But the do gooder in his wife was going on and on about Prep for Prep, the charity benefiting from the Lilac Ball and those she had captured for their tables. She had a priest from St. Augustine, she had people of color. She was quite nervous, she could not wait to leave. She kept jiggling her shoe and putting on more lipstick.

Her gums showed when she smiled.

The Lilac Ball was all Wall Street except for Johnny Mondrian, the dancing designer who never sat down. He was Carol Joy's favorite partner and that night he told her she was lighter than ever in his arms.

"No carbs and lots of Soul Cycle, "Carol Joy said as she and Johnny danced away to a sad reinterpretation of Happy by Pharell Williams. Carl Morris was not watching but across the ballroom Peter Simon, the arbitrageur, was studying Carol Joy, remembering when he had seen her as a young girl in Paris.

She was in the bootmaker Capobianco's on the Faubourg St. Honore being fitted for a pair of custom made red leather boots. He had just started at Yale and the sight of her in her fur coat bent over to lace the new red boots, intently cris-crossing the long leather laces had mesmerized him. It was the same girl with the black hair flying around. She had pretty shoes and very small feet for her size. He made a point of finding out just who she was. He had always hated Carl Morris ever since the Penn-Dixie deal. He had a feeling that Morris, who was slumped back in his little gilt chair, might just be sleeping.

Up close, peering down into her very white face, Peter Simon noted the lavender half moons under Carol Joy's eyes. He felt the sharpness of the bones on her back and he thought he could feel her hipbones under the thin cloth of her dress when he spun her close, then closer.

"Don't think of the danger/ Or the stranger is gone" she was singing to him. Then that little shit Johnny Mondrian cut in again.

And finally, when they were playing "Happy" for the third time at one in the morning and had raised well over a million dollars, when the waiters had cleared off the collapsed untouched desserts, Carl Morris' head fell onto the table waking him up and he went over to his dancing wife and took her home.

In the arrival photo from that night Carol Joy looked tired, and, most alarmingly, almost her age. In the one of her at the table she was cross-eyed. Sandy pretended she had not seen them in the Social Diary when she called.

Carol Joy was still thinking of Peter Simon, an even better dancer than Johnny Mondrian and a man who had shown interest.

"I think I am going out for a run this morning," she told Sandy. "I need more exercise."
It was the last benefit of the season. Carol Joy was twirling around with Peter Simon. She had not touched the specially requested gluten-carb-animal free food on her plate. Carl was looking across the almost empty table at Janey Maxwell noting her bosom and her upper arm which looked just like a real arm.

He moved over to sit next to her. She had a film of sweat between her breasts and her blond hair hung lank. She was fanning herself with the program and with every wave a musky scent floated toward him. She reminded him of warm bread.

She obviously had done nothing to her face and was a bit loose under the chin. She had been his wife's friend from school and was now divorced. Carol Joy had always needed a beautiful friend to make her strive and concurrently someone to whom she could feel superior. Janey was that relaxing friend and that was why she had outlasted all the others.

"She never stops, does she?" Janey said, watching the dance floor.

"I don't think she can," Carl said and suddenly realized it was true.

"Diaphanous," Janey was shocked she had spoken her thought out loud. "I didn't mean…"

"No, I see just what you mean."

The bread smell was stronger now and Carl leaned in a bit closer.
Sandy lent Carol Joy D. V. the book about the old editor of Vogue, Diana Vreeland. Once she read that Diana Vreeland had her maid polish the soles of her shoes, Carol Joy decided she must polish her red soles. Then, when she crossed her legs she would not have to see scuff marks. She would get Marina to help her and they would do all her shoes.

She went to Sam's room looking for either red magic marker or maybe a red crayon. When Carol Joy decided to do something it had to be done right away that second.

She found a big bright red crayon and began to color the soles of her very first pair of Louboutins. If she didn't look too closely the shoes looked much better. Then she decided to put some of Carl's neutral shoe wax on top.

Carol Joy walked out of Sam's room onto the polished marble floor of her foyer.

It was the new chef, the one who came in every night to cook two hundred calorie dinners, who first heard Mrs. Morris's scream. He found her crumpled on the floor with one red sole in the air and the other skidded across the floor. Marina ran in carrying a shoe. Both of them bent down over her tiny form.

Though she was only forty three years old Carol Joy's bones had become so thin and porous through intermittent but frequent starvation that she had broken her hip. A piece of fatty marrow had broken off a bone causing an embolism that entered her bloodstream and traveled straight to her brain.

The service at Frank E. Campbell's was at the familiar but ever inconvenient hour of 11 am. Flanking the rosy brown stone entrance was one of the photographers who had captured the living, dancing, arriving Carol Joy. He photographed Alexandra Mortimer, already weeping on arrival, Johnny Mondrian in his double breasted chalk stripe suit and sockless as usual, Peter Simon who stepped out of his car texting. He stayed still and silent for Sam who came with the new nanny. He ignored many mourners including the Barney's shoe salesman and many of the mothers of Sam's friends who did not quite know Carol Joy but felt they should be there because of her premature death. Carl was waiting inside, as was David Patrick Columbia who would describe the scene the next day, noting the women in black suits and red-soled shoes who filled the rows.

Janey Maxwell sat close to Carl who was heavily drugged. Above the heavy floral scent of the gardenias, freesia, and Casablanca lilies, Carl was almost sure he caught the smell of warm bread.