'A Taste for Shoes' by Anne Summerfield
Emma eases her feet into the snug linings and feels stiletto heels tilt her above ground. The green leather is the colour of the tops of leeks, intended for short steps out of taxis, spotlessly swept up-town streets, the carpeted lobbies of hotels. Cinderella shoes. Emma buys them with the petrol money her mother gives her as if she’s still a student.
Even without donations, she’s faithful enough daughter to make regular trips back but sly tricks of forgetfulness prove she’s full-grown. Each time she returns her parents present her with gifts of home-grown veg. Mud-caked carrots, onions fat as teapots, apples wrapped in pages from the Daily Mail. The car fills with an organic stink of wet soil and vegetation. The leeks are overpowering on warm days.
Back in the flat she unpacks into fridge and cupboard. She’ll use what she can but her life of prick and ping affords little chance for country cooking. Confined to smoked plastic coffins at the base of the fridge, lettuces soften to seaweed then liquefy. In the cupboard’s dark, potatoes wrinkle and bolt, their finger roots tangling and distorting. Onions discover new hearts of green while leeks spring back to life, their tops reincarnated into mutated curves.
On an autumn visit while they’re alone in the orchard picking unwanted fruit, Emma’s mother tells her that her father has appointments for tests. He won’t attend, of course, he is the sort who believes that growth should be left unobserved below ground. He’s embarrassed, her mother says, he’d gone for a tetanus booster, mentioned something to the nurse and now there’s this fuss.
They go inside for tea, don’t speak of it in front of him. The sandwiches are filled with home-grown salad, wet and unspun, a little gritty. Her father says the lettuce is a new kind that keeps growing from the root even after the top leaves have been picked.
At the flat, Emma unpacks potatoes, carrots, Bramleys big as babies’ heads. She has no idea how or when she will use them. She takes her unworn green shoes from their box, tries to conjure their magic power. But the phone call comes all too soon. Her father has been passing blood. It won’t stop, her mother says, they rushed him off in an ambulance. I’ll come home, Emma promises. Her mother insists on a night’s rest, driving back in the morning.
Emma gets out her largest pan, pulls veg from the cupboard, peels off the soggy bags, scrapes and slices and chops. Heaps up pale potatoes, acrid onions, jaffa bright carrots. Whooshes them into hot oil, stirs hard so they won’t stick. No leeks. She looks around and sees what she needs, lays them flat on the board to cleave into jagged chunks. She stews and stews. The cupboard is clear and she wipes it clean. No more unobserved growths in the dark. Then she settles to this last supper, learns the taste of green leek shoes.