The Red Shoes (Story by Risa Peris)

Geez, all I needed was one music interview to meet my weekly story goal and make my editor happy. A man named Jim Bottle was playing at the Woogie Room. I knew a little about him. I saw him on Tiny Desk by NPR. He had a raspy voice and a perpetually tired look. His hair was thinning. You could tell even though he wore fedoras. 

I went to the Woogie Room, flashed my press credential but that didn’t get me far. 

“You still have to pay the 10 dollar cover,” said the doorman. Then he laughed. “You can deducrt expenses. You work for the largest newspaper in the city.”

“This city ain’t that big,” I reminded the doorman. 

I was tired but ordered a gin and tonic all the same. I spent the day chasing down stories in between calls to my divorce lawyer and soon to be ex wife. I wanted to talk to my daughter but the bitch mom was blocking it. She said I was a danger. I did cocaine. That was true. No one is perfect. We all have our obsessions. My wife’s was pillows. There were so many God damned pillows in my house your could have formed a twelve foot mattress. I don’t think I ever loved my wife. With every phone call the disgust and loneliness grew. 

Jim Bottle came on. I listened. There was something bone deep about his voice. His lyrics were original and strangely poetic. He seemed foreign. Like an ancient Greek around a campfire telling tales of suffering, strife, love, and ruin. 

I went backstage. The press pass helped finally. I knocked on the door and a low voice said come in. It was Jim Bottle. His hat was off. I could see a bald spot. He was drinking whiskey from the bottle and looked more tired than a man without days of sleep. He also seemed drunk. I introduced myself and sat down. Jim kept sipping the whiskey. I noticed, on the dressing table to the left of him, was a pair of red, worn high heels. 

“I ain’t got much to say,” said Jim. “Your interview is going to be a bust. My art is my art. I don’t reflect on it too much.”

“What about those red shoes?” I asked. 

Jim little a cigarette. “Love of my life. I met a whore in Omaha. We talked and made love. Yeah, it was love. In the gray morning she dressed and then said she couldn’t do it anymore. Too much shame. She took a syringe out of her purse and injected herself with a killing dose of heroin. They took her body away and cited me for some stupid crime. I kept telling them it was love, but that didn’t negate the crime. When the body left, when the police left…I noticed her red shoes by the bed. That’s what she left me. They go with me everywhere now. I have to bring love to every performance in every fucking dive I get booked.”

I bent over. “Mind if I have some whiskey?” 

Jim extended the bottle. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. 

“I don’t know love.”

“Ah.” He inhaled on his cigarette. “Go find it. Get away from me. Cry in the rain then find a girl, a lovely girl, who brings the sun rays. Be sure to keep something of hers. It’ll get you through if she ever leaves or dies.”