The FIRST CHAPTER of my literary mystery/thriller novel The Girl in the Blue Shoes …
The mottled scent of salt and vinegar crisps and lightly peppered tomato swirled around the sun slapped train carriage.
The ruffling air rushed its way into the compartment like rowdy school kids racing in to beat each other out of the best seat by the window or somewhere ever else about the pews. A flame haired baby waved me past, in a back garden by the tracks, the little one held aloft by grandpa, as I flew by with the rest aboard our packed metal caterpillar, at one hundred miles an hour.
I had decided to spend the day in Oxford, my familiar and favourite city. If indeed it could be called that at all, its feel and appearance so much more like that of a petrified country village, or some mythical capital, its medieval tones wonderfully rich and flowing, seeping off seemingly every surface like dripping honeycomb paint. And after all, where else is it more pleasant to spend a mid-spring day than the City of Dreaming Spires? Although, setting off the day felt much more like the middle of summer, a wafting heat lathered onto the day like thick warm syrup.
The city had once been my home. But there had been an accident. I’d fallen off my bike while I had been cycling to Christ Church, my college, one morning and ended up with a stint in the hospital. I was lucky, or so they told me. A bump on the head, a few stitches and that was that, back on my feet in no time. But it had been much more than a near miss. It had shaken me, and it was enough of a rattling of my cadge to change my thoughts, realign my priorities, and track my compass onto what more there might be for me out there beyond college life. It was my wakeup call. My second chance.
Life had been a typical mix of turmoil and intrepidity (I hoped) up until then, as with anyone I suppose. A combination of relationships, one producing a child, stints here and there but never too far afield. Never too far from my comforting corner office and side street flat. The comfy couch, the nearby pub, the illustrations framed upon the walls, catching just the right amount of dust to make a gentle perusal feel like a window into a simple life.
But after the accident I pushed out the boat. After so many years of pleasant regularity I hitched up my pack upon my shoulders and flew into the opposite of my rounded and delightful world. I moved to London.
At first it was a scary dream, a swilling bowl of ingredients which all took their own individual times to digest. After that it became home, and I celebrated the gifts it gave me of which Oxford could not. The light, the rush, the feeling of enveloping oneself within a fold so thick and running with colours that it didn’t matter if you failed, again and again. It didn’t matter who you are or were or could possibly be. Everyone in London was on a reset, or so it seemed to me. They had all been drawn there, like dirty fridge magnets slipping down the fridge door.
Soon though, contemplations of wist aside, I was alighting at the station of my destination. The ever hungry ticket machine gobbling up my pass, I then set out into the street and a familiar comfortability swept over me that I was both expecting and hoping for. I took it in with open arms, the town a dear old friend, and had been an instant love of mine the first moment I had set foot among its ancient midst and rumbling cobbled streets, what now amounts to many years ago.
I made my way as if on autopilot along the same track as I had worn down many times before, taking me towards Christ Church Meadow, and then along the paths that follow the edge of the Meadow itself. I cut through a few other parks and streets and cemeteries before sidling up Parks Road and past the Museum of Natural History.
I looked down at my dusty shoes, a long dry spell in the Shire responsible for this untidy possibility. I shook them around a little under my eyes to no avail. I cast my own pupils back onto my path when I saw her.
That girl … the girl in the blue shoes.
Thin and sharp she walked along, taking no heed of me at all. She was a woman to be more accurate, long legs in navy tights and a cardigan to match her footwear in style and colour too.
I took no hesitation to mind and instantly crossed the street and walked along behind her. She was pretty, no doubt, but all girls are. She was walking but not talking, not waving nor in discussion with anyone. But she looked like she was. She didn’t look right. I don’t mean that she was unhinged or strange or anything of that nature, by far she was a comely example of a girl of the times. But she didn’t look right. Like each town and city street, each park and house is a painting, and she had just walked into the wrong one. No hoe in hand to tend the crop, no scythe of steel to harvest the wheat. What’s more, I didn’t see her approach from any direction. But then again I didn’t notice her until she walked across my eye line, like a swan gliding across a pond, more than likely already there long before you had first lay gaze upon them, even though no splash of arrival had before met your sight.
I dropped my pace and watched her walk a different way than the one my own compass had as heading, and that was that, she was gone. Lost to the winds, and the rest of my day was laid ahead of me.
The sun did me well from then on, and stayed around without obstacle. I spent a few pleasant hours catching up with old haunts and enjoying the company of familiar sites as I soaked up as much vitamin D as possible. As the golden orb crept closer towards its earthen bed I made moves to head back towards the train station.
I walked back along the same path on which I had come, making only a few minor detours, when suddenly there was something as if in a dream. Again The Girl in the Blue Shoes, passing as if she were told to do so, set on a course by another force. Was that a look in her eye? Did she have the exact same expression as she did on her pass of me hours before? This time going in the other direction, on the other side of the street? A mirror image?
Evidence of the forgery may be in the second occurrence itself. It does not exist because it does.
Something is happening, I can sense it, I can taste it in the air. And this isn’t any idle paranoia, it can’t be. Paranoia is never idle anyway. Something has been done, some switch has been flicked, and it’s up to me to find out why. I knew that there and then, not a jot of self doubt did I have in that lightning prophesy, so much so had it sliced, clean and sharp at me right then. The Girl in the Blue Shoes had been their undoing. She and her presence would lead me to it all.
I clocked her again, but with careful eye now gleaming from my sockets. I rested my blood and bones for a moment, taking a spot on a wall opposite the position she was approaching, the low slung stone structure bordering the outside line of the Natural History Museum.
She floated along, I fancied, with similarities within her movements this time that could never be dismissed as coincidence or commonality. They were not identical in technician, I didn’t think, but in feeling and flight. She carried on her way, but this occasion I watched her progress further along the street, the length she went until a building corner blocked my view. I thought at once about following her progress, but next moment dismissed it as folly, some grasp of realism, reality fetching me. For now at least.