Buying shoes your mother wouldn’t like….number 1

This is the third time today that they have almost made it inside the shop, but, at the last minute, when Karen’s hand is actually on the door handle, Alison loses her nerve and veers left, pretends to be looking into the window of Head in the Clouds, the hippie shop next door.

Karen sighs very quietly, this is their second visit into Norwich in a month, the bus fares eating into her precious boots fund and each time, Alison has bottled it and the best they have managed is a burger on a plate at the Wimpy near the bus station while looking very hard for the rough boys that Alison’s mother says go to places like that.

Alison is not exactly a friend, but, in a small village in the long summer holiday, you do the best you can and Alison is the best that Karen can do.

Alison is not a friend and definitely not a punk, not even a punk like Karen, the kind of punk who lives in a village called Catton and whose dad is a dentist and whose mum tuts when Pan’s People dance on Top of the Pops.

Alison is not a friend, but, she does have some definite advantages that make her useful to know, Alison’s mum is a forgetful smoker, often opening more than one packet of Rothmans, making theft and the beginnings of a smoking habit just so easy and there’s an unlocked drinks cabinet and best of all, a guest bedroom, where nobody ever goes.

Karen has taken to hiding the stuff, the punk stuff there. The stuff she doesn’t want to have to discuss with her own mother.

So far, the punk stuff consists of ;

2 CND badges

A pair of neon pink socks

A black suit jacket stolen from the Brownies jumble sale

And best of all, the sleeve almost exactly the same colour as the socks, her only punk album, The sex pistols. It’s never been played, neither of them have a record player,  but, over this summer, they have sat together, Karen and Alison, not really friends, drinking Campari from mugs and while Alison reads the problem pages in Jackie outloud, Karen hugs the album to her chest and they both laugh when any of the problems are about S E X.

On the bus from Catton, Karen has done her best to punk up, spiking her hair with soap, using the bus window as a mirror to apply black eye liner and sticking a row of safety pins to the lapel of her jacket.

And now they are outside the shop and this time they are going inside and bloody not really a friend Alison isn’t going to ruin it, not this time.

Karen grabs Alison’s hand, pulls her back and they tumble into Andy’s records, part record shop, part punk hangout and right at the back, so that you have to walk past the scary punk girls on the sofa, who sit, day after day, smoking and definitely Not Going To School, right at the back, are the clothes and shoes.

Alison stands close to the door, her hand is searching for the handle as if she might at any moment simply turn and flee, but Karen has waited too long for this, too much babysitting, too many strawberries picked, too many 50ps lifted from her mother’s purse.

She heads straight towards the black and yellow boxes and there they are, 18 hole black Doctor Martin boots.

They are the punkiest things she has ever seen and she waits for one of the girls on the sofa to stub out her cigarette, stand up and then stand quite still, just to make sure that Karen can take in her complete punk perfection ;

Tartan bondage trousers

Bleached white blond hair

A safety pin as an earring

Black lipstick

And on her feet, exactly the same boots that Karen is gently stroking, 18 hole black DMs.

After all the weeks of build up, the buying is almost an anticlimax, almost the same as buying any other shoes and ten minutes later, the Indian leather purse on a thong around her neck is completely empty and she and Alison are sitting on a bench outside the pub where the art school students drink and Karen is putting on her first pair of DMs.

The boots are heavy, rigid, lacing them up takes so long that Alison becomes twitchy, wants to get moving, is prepared to sacrifice a mooch around Chelsea Girl just so that they can go home now.

Karen and Alison walk towards the bus station, not really friends, just making the best of what’s available and at every shop window Karen stares at her reflection.

The boots are already rubbing, hurting her heels and ankles but that seems right, fitting, part of making a punk identity.

On the bus that stops everywhere between the city and the village, Karen laboriously unties the laces and looks at her white school socks, stained pink where the boots have already rubbed flesh red raw.



About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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