“The Red Shoes” by Alex Stitt from Myth and Magic: Queer Fairy Tales from Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Edited by Radclyffe and Stacia Seaman.
It’s 1936 in the South. The nation is still caught in the grip of the Great Depression, but the mayor’s daughter is of marrying age, and weddings are good for the economy. He’s decided the town will host a cotillion. Sixteen year old James is “wed-stock”, a bachelor. As such he’s invited to the soiree.
The trouble with that is two-fold. First of all, his father has been dead for ten years and, like much of the country, James is unemployed. Money is very tight, and the soles of the only pair of shoes he owns are worn through. Secondly, his entire wardrobe is comprised of items that once belonged to his father…save for one article of clothing, a dress James bought while on a job hunt in New Orleans.
As he explains, he has no interest in putting on a suit or spending the night dancing with girls:
I did not think of myself as a girl—for a girl I was not—and who had ever heard of such a thing? But in my desperate hope, I thought of myself as a beauty, warranting the adoration of those tuxedo boys, blushing so obviously against their white ties.
Dutiful son that he is, James goes off to buy a pair of men’s shoes in order to attend the dance. He finds, instead, a pair of burgundy heels that perfectly compliment his cherished dress. Unable to ignore his heart, he buys them.
I worried that this re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale would be as morose and grotesque as the original, but that fear proved unfounded. James’ shoes are bewitched, it’s true, but he isn’t the spoiled girl of the first tale. He’s a good boy who needs a little help “finding his footing in the world”, as his mother so aptly puts it, help that the shoes provide. Because of that, the cotillion scene was a joy to read and this story one of my favorites of the collection.