The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

Violet stopped in front of the shoe shop every day on her way to school and allowed herself exactly three minutes to gaze at the red shoes in the window. The shiny red leather. The silky red ribbons. The silver toe and heel taps. At school she pictured herself wearing the shoes and imagined how they would sound on the old wooden floor of her dancing class.

At the end of the month her mother said she’d saved a bit of money by buying all her cleaning products on special so there was enough left over to buy the shoes at the weekend. On Saturday morning Violet was up early, washed and dressed with her mother’s breakfast ready on a tray in the vain hope of hurrying her through the morning routines of polishing, vacuuming, cleaning the windows, washing the back of the oven and the vacuum cleaner cord, scrubbing the backdoor step and finally covering all the furniture with the old brown blankets. Violet no longer asked her mother why she did this every day when no one else’s mother did because the question made her mother look sad. She once made the mistake of saying how embarrassing it was when her friends came to play and saw all their furniture covered up with old blankets. Her mother’s response had been to curl up on the sofa and cry.

At last, her mother finished the cleaning. She was dressed and polished. They were on the bus. They were walking through the door of the shoe shop. Her mother was frowning. Violet was smiling. She was holding the shoes to her nose and sniffing the new leather smell. She was rubbing the red ribbons against her cheek. She was slipping her feet into the shoes and fastening the red ribbons into perfectly symmetrical bows. She was dancing on the shoe shop floor and thrilling to the tap tap tap.

The clicketty-clack of the silvery taps sounded so good on the floor of the dancing school that the teacher had to keep reminding Violet to stop staring at the shoes while doing the shuffle brush strike, and to lift her chin and smile. At the end of the class she put the shoes back in her brown paper bag. The other girls glanced at the bag and then at each other. Although they said nothing, Violet felt herself shrinking. On her way home she decided the best solution was to get an after school paper round and save up to buy a proper case to carry her shoes in. A brown paper bag was not a worthy receptacle for such beautiful shoes. They needed a proper case in imitation snake skin with red satin lining. Her mother had promised not to buy any more mould spray and bleach until they were on special so there’d be a little extra money to pay for pink ballet shoes with pink ribbons and then silver ballroom shoes. However, there was still detergent, disinfectant, oven cleaner, window cleaner and floor polish to replace soon, given the rate her mother went through cleaning fluids, so Violet knew it would be many months before she would get the shoes. She wondered if she could fit in a morning milk round before school and together with the money from the paper round she might have enough to buy the shoes herself. Once she had the right shoes and a proper case for them there might be enough money to enrol for dancing classes every evening and all day Saturday instead of just once a week. If not, she could spend Sundays weeding people’s gardens to pay for the extra classes. If she could just do all that, there would be nothing else in the whole world she would ever wish for again.

A thin slice of moon and a sprinkling of stars lit the empty street as Violet tap-danced her way home. Her head was full of music and dance steps and plans. She was humming her favourite tune as she opened the front door and saw her mother sticking tape around the sides, tops and bottoms of the doors and windows. She’d cleaned the whole house, her mother explained, and now she was sealing all the rooms to prevent dust sneaking in through the cracks. She turned and smiled at Violet. It was the first time Violet had seen her smile since her father left. She’d found a solution, her mother said. She had set up a tent in the back garden where they would live all through the summer. On cold wet days they would move into the garage. They would cook on the barbecue. They would only go into the house to use the bathroom. That way they could save a lot of money because only the bathroom would need cleaning. There would be enough for dancing shoes and dancing classes and pretty dresses for the end-of-year recital. The only thing was, she added, though it really wouldn’t be a hardship, Violet mustn’t tell anyone they were living in a tent. And she mustn’t bring anyone home.

Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is a novelist, essayist, short story and flash-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her work has been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally and has won several awards. Her flash fiction appears or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Blue Fifth Review and was selected for the UK 2017 National Flash Fiction Day international anthology, Sleep is a beautiful colour.

Why do you write?

My fiction often draws on environmental elements and their impact on people’s lives. Some of my short stories are set in the Arabian Gulf where I lived for a year and saw ancient buildings buried by the desert wind, and in Brazil, where I watched wind-fanned grass fires disfigure the Cerrado. In New Zealand, scorching nor’west winds rage across the Canterbury Plains in spring and summer, uprooting trees and sucking moisture out of the earth. During one such blistering wind, I saw, scored into a wooden plaque in the local butcher’s shop, the following quote from Gogol’s Dead Souls: ‘The air is torn and thundering as it turns to wind and everything on earth comes flying past.’ Soon after, I read Jan deBlieu’s book, Wind, where she describes the different names hot dry winds are given in various parts of the world and how they affect the inhabitants and the landscape. She relates advice from medical professionals about avoiding major decisions when wild winds blow. With all this in mind I wrote the short story that appears in Headland 8, "When the Wind Blows", which deals with the effect a prolonged nor’wester has on several families who live on the Canterbury Plains.

When I was 12 I watched a film on television about a herd of wild horses galloping through the surf. The film was in slow motion and I was mesmerised by the way the horses’ manes and tails caught the sunlight and sea spray, and the way light and shadow turned their eyes into dark hollows. As soon as the film finished I ran up to my room to write what I’d seen, thumbing through a dictionary to find new words to help me express my awe. I kept coming back to this story over several years, polishing and re-writing until eventually, six years later, I submitted it for a college assignment in creative writing and received a Distinction. That’s when the idea of becoming a writer seemed less nebulous.

My love of language grew from my father’s story-telling. He had been in the Merchant Navy and had travelled to exotic lands. When he exhausted his store of tales about the places he’d seen I gave him the titles and themes of stories I wanted him to make up. He also loved reciting the epic poems of Kipling and Longfellow. The books he gave me were of the adventure type that he had loved as a boy: Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines. Not surprising then that my first career choice was archaeologist. Though the career plans changed, my interest in what lay hidden beneath the surface remained. In my late teens I read my way through the Brontes, Austin, Elliot, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Flaubert, Hugo, Colette, and Woolf. In my twenties, I taught, travelled, married and wrote, mostly poems I had no intention of showing anyone. In my early thirties, after moving from the UK to New Zealand, I began writing short stories for broadcast and publication, drawing on the landscape and interior/exterior worlds.

My first novel, A Distraction of Opposites, published in 1992, also excavates beneath the surface. What began as an image of a big black spider lurking in the centre of a web became a metaphor for how people can become trapped in sticky situations. The novel examines the world of the subconscious in parallel with the conscious and the story is narrated by the female protagonist trapped by the ‘spider’, a mentally unstable male. I completed this novel while holding the inaugural Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary. My second novel, Tomorrow’s Empire, explores the rise of a religious fundamentalist in Turkey and the culture clash between east and west. This novel took ten years to write, off and on, as I needed to do a great deal of research and travel through Turkey. It is narrated through the voice of the Turkish male protagonist and was published in New Zealand in 2000, two years after the Iranian President Khatami declared he no longer supported the killing of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, though the fatwa would remain in place. The previous ten years had seen book burnings in the UK and bombings and killings elsewhere. Sensitivities about Rushdie’s book still ran high. When my publisher tried to have Tomorrow’s Empire published in the UK, not surprisingly, he was unsuccessful.

The grieving process has been the focus of both your academic and creative writing.
A year after Tomorrow’s Empire was published my youngest daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with appendix cancer at the age of 22. She died 13 months later in 2002. In the year following her death I could no longer read or write or listen to music.
In 2003 my husband and I decided to change our environment and the opportunity came to live and work in Oman for a year. It was a good decision and I filled notebooks with the characters we met, the situations we found ourselves in and the beautiful lunar landscape of Oman. We returned to New Zealand via a short visit to Brazil, a country we’d lived in a few years earlier. Back in New Zealand I completed, with High Distinction, a Master’s degree in Creative Writing through CQ University in Australia. Some of the short stories which resulted from this, set in Brazil and Oman, were broadcast on Radio New Zealand and one, The Stone, was included in The Best New Zealand Fiction, vol 4. This story was inspired by finding a stone with our daughter’s initial on it as we swam in the Indian Ocean on the second anniversary of her death.

My reading at that stage consisted solely of books about grief and I found that although there was no shortage of literature on grieving young adult death from suicide or accident, young adult death from cancer was so rare that there was very little material available. I thought that writing my own book might go some way to filling that gap. Because of the amount of research necessary it made sense to tackle the subject as a doctorate. I completed my PhD in 2010. The creative non-fiction part of my thesis, which details my own experience of parental bereavement, was published in 2011 by Canterbury University Press as Sing No Sad Songs. After producing several papers from my exegesis and attending conferences delivering them I was finally able to move on from this topic. In 2013 I began writing a new novel and completed the first draft while I was the recipient of the Seresin Landfall University of Otago Press Writing Residency.

When I finished the final draft of this novel in mid-2016 I discovered the New Zealand flash fiction journal, Flash Frontier and its store of beautiful short narratives. I loved the use of language in many of these stories and the way so much could be implied in so few words. I decided to set myself the challenge of writing in very short forms. Flash fiction generates a continuous flow of ideas and I have found it to be excellent discipline for writing longer pieces too. Looking at the flash fiction and short stories I have written over the past few months I see that many of them deal with loss of various kinds, but also suggest new possibilities. The ideas for these stories come from diverse sources – newspapers articles, fragments of conversation, images, memories, but some appear perfectly formed, apparently out of nowhere. An example of this is The Gatherers in Headland 7. This appeared one day as I walked by the Selwyn River with my dog. The sky was vivid blue, the Southern Alps glittered with snow, the tracks were covered in wildflowers, and the only sounds were bees and birds and the dog splashing in the water. These things filled my mind. And The Gatherers arrived.

In your childhood, who in your family encouraged you to tell stories? Who were some of your formative influences?
My love of language grew from my father’s story-telling. He had been in the Merchant Navy and had travelled to exotic lands. When he exhausted his store of tales about the places he’d seen I gave him the titles and themes of stories I wanted him to make up. He also loved reciting the epic poems of Kipling and Longfellow. The books he gave me were of the adventure type that he had loved as a boy: Moby Dick, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines. Not surprising then that my first career choice was archaeologist. Though the career plans changed, my interest in what lay hidden beneath the surface remained. In my late teens I read my way through the Brontes, Austin, Elliot, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Flaubert, Hugo, Colette and Woolf.

You’ve also been a teacher.
In my twenties, I taught, travelled, married and wrote, mostly poems I had no intention of showing anyone. In my early thirties, after moving from the UK to New Zealand, I began writing short stories for broadcast and publication, drawing on the landscape and interior/exterior worlds.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you?
I'm interested in music and art but literature is my primary focus.

What are you working on now?
I'm currently completing a book of flash fiction titled The Girl with Green Hair and other stories.

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
Flash Fiction is a form which has interested me in the last eighteen months. Many people believe it appeals to the internet generation because it is easily accessed and read while multi-tasking. However, I believe the best flash fiction should be read like poetry and returned to again and again for the beauty of the words and hidden allusions.

Shirley: a Novel

Shirley: a Novel

I sat on my bed, against the pillows, and I began to wonder what the house knew, what it had watched, whether it believed in me more than Fred or liked us bot the same? How did I measure up to Sally, or she to Shirley or Shirley to Stanley? I floated somewhere between relaxation and sleep, and I felt the pulsing of the house’s life begin to shrub inside me as if we shared a single heart. Not that the walls spoke, nothing so insane, but I could feel the history of footsteps treading its floors. The slamming of doors, the rumpled bed linens, the broken glasses and books left abandoned by bedsides, the arguments and the laughter, the spilled drinks and worn socks and burnt stews and crumpled pages. I smelled flowers and semen, vomit and sweat, the sour scent of cigarette smoke, the achy sweetness of bourbon in the bottom of a glass come morning. History, the history of lives here lived, our history. The thought was comforting, like the monotonous churn of the waterwheel down in the village reservoir, over and over and over so that crashing water lost its violence, became its own continuing momentum—

thoughts into words into pictures and i closed my eyes. my brain calmed, slowed, foot soldier words aligned themselves in sentences nonsense thoughts i’d never thought such things and as i woozed and floated embryonic in the clock-ticking electricity humming heat rising silence i began to know, to know—

i know who i love, i dreamed it, dreamed the words, was i waking or sleeping, i know i know

stanley—i said to him—stanley, stanela

but i was dead, how was it so, that i was dead and i was her and so i told him, stanley listen

when i was alive, i told him, and we were happy (decades of this, and weren’t we very?), we made a vow that whichever of us went first would be cremated, and i sit in a jar on the dresser in our bedroom, keeping an eye on things.

was i waking or sleeping, i dreamed. i dreamed i was shirley, i dreamed i was shirley. i knew i was shirley i was. shirley

“you, you’ll remarry,” i told you. “men do. you won’t like to be alone.” there was no dig in this (i fucked dylan thomas on our porch, did i ever tell you? there was a party, and all our friends drunk as lords inside and it was winter. too much gin and i took him to the porch, where he grabbed icicles off the roff and tickled my neck with the cold end, then licked my frozen skin. and me, he lifted my woolen dress and drew down my tights, and yes, he fucked me, stanley, on our very own porch with you inside and some eager undergraduate stroking your shoulders as you held forth. but dylan thomas, stanley, dylan thomas—now that was a man worth holding against skin chilled and rubbery, dylan thomas—). i only wanted you to know i would not mind.

“don’t love her more than me,” i said, and you studied me, noting the brittleness in my tone, unsure whether i was about to lose my temper.


Pages 195 to 197 of Shirley: A Novel
by kind permission of the author.
Copyright © 2014 Susan Scarf Merrell.
Published by PLUME, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Marooned Bells (for picture credits)

Marooned Bells (for picture credits)

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Red Rhythms by Margaret Garrett

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Marooned on a couch brown raft -rocking lle-de-France
Sullen blackboard jazz blowin from across the navy New Orleans seas. 

Slo-mo angels doing somersaults on my torn red curtain reverie
in these broken Halloween bones and mask
I rummage through the ashes that crashed me into
this pink, new golden face dawn..

floating past jagged-edged icicles into the night melting
chocolate Clark Terry’s “They Didn’t Believe Me.”

Love lost is something we can never afford
head stuck on a starboard mast
crashing through storm waves painted in dead dreams. 

And feeling that familiar frost-bitten regret again- that we never
consummated the close quarters of then,,,what are regrets other than dead
sea gulls floating in a ghost soup sea.

*It may be best to include more public domain or CC images and to avoid using many images which are Fair Use. It's allowable, especially since we're a non-profit educational initiative, but they may have additional restrictions as to size, etc., so it just seems easier to choose public domain or CC.

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Title of Artwork by Artist (CC 2.0)
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The Path of Empathy

The Path of Empathy

“When did the left foot stop walking with the right?
Green Gulf Ranch, California

Head swollen, eyes still blackened and green
from injuries sustained in a skirmish—
I turn to meditation         

My body   this old dog
finds a spot to rest
it is my mind   that rattles
like a snake in a bamboo tube  

Is it not the same with war and peace?
Within   without
my country  your country
I’m right   you’re wrong

Many go to war two by two—
left foot   right foot
left foot   right foot
forgetting they are One.
may cross the entire universe
without ever having left

Every day
I put one breath after the other
just as Someone Else  
puts the other breath before
Breathing out  breathing in–
the world becomes larger
the world becomes smaller--
continuously living  continually dying  

On stage   online   on website blogs:
message in a bottle—
see me  hear me  feel me touch me,
screams a disappearing world in high definition
while I  in my easy chair feed these pages
with bite-size impressions.

3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
in protest of their government
3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
with Jesus in the desert
walk barefoot
with Buddha in the forest
walk barefoot
with Moses on the mountain

The earth is moving
and still I sit
The mountains are moving- 
they are running beside the rivers
But I do not budge--
I hear but I do not listen
I am liquid says the snake your river flows within
I am skin
says the snake  you can peel me like a glove
I am  mindful
  says the snake  you must change 
tobe changed.

‘’When did the left foot stop walking with the right?’’
When did you stop becoming me?

There are many languages
but there is only one tongue
When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
I could feel the dry explosion in the squeeze of my throat.
I could taste the brain’s bitterness on the tip of my tongue
When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
a thousand consonants like stars flew in different directions.
Consonants gagged on spittle and yesterday’s dust
consonants gagged on consonants
and in no particular order

When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
I knew   then   that they would want to blindfold  all my mirrors
and question them until they cracked!
Soon    they are sticking bamboo shoots
under the nails of this sentence to extract its full meaning.
But I do not budge
I won’t give up the vowels


I   a large toad   growing larger on my cushion
transforming in mid-air… nightmare into dream
Eyes that stutter with all the old stories--
the history of my life
written across my bruised body in Braille  

Where is Kindness?
with her thousand fingertips
to trace the shadow of our suffering
and soothe its moan?
What have they done with Quon Yin?
with her thousand arms and cameras flashing–
eyes rolling in the palms of her Hand
eyes to record and to remember. ..
what we leave out!

3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
in protest of their government
while I    a large toad    a leap of faith
go hopping on one foot across the Universe
across the only One path I know—
the path of empathy

My mother (breathing out  breathing in)
rolled bandages in basements
with women who wore numbers on their arms

My father (left foot   right foot)
could never step into anyone else’s shoes
When he died…they had to cut off both his feet  

‘’When did the left foot stop walking with the right?’’
When did I stop…becoming you?

Antonia Alexandra Klimenko was first introduced on the BBC and to the literary world by the legendary Tambimuttu of Poetry London–-publisher of T.S. Eliot, Henry Miller and Bob Dylan, to name a few. After his death, it was his friend the late great Kathleen Raine who took an interest in her writing and encouraged her to publish. Although her manuscript was orphaned upon “Tambi”s passing, her poems and correspondence have been included in his Special Collections at Northwestern University. A former San Francisco Poetry Slam Champion, her works are widely published in journals and anthologies, among them:  XXI Century World Literature (in which she represents France), CounterPunch, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology, The Rumpus, Atlanta Review; Big Bridge, Levure Litteraire, The Opiate, Iodine Poetry Journal,  Strangers in Paris, Paris Lit Up, Vox Populi, Occupy Poetry (in which she is distinguished as an American Poet) and Maintenant: Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art archived at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She is the Writer/Poet in Residence for SpokenWord Paris.


Interview adapted from a conversation with Linda Ibbotson.

What brought you to Paris, city of writers, artists and musicians?

My brother. I hadn’t seen him since I was 11 years old and, finally, I was 19 and old enough to travel. I was grateful that he had chosen Paris, as Paris had always been at the top of my short list of places that I had longed to visit, and for the usual reasons— the light, the architecture, the culture, the community of artists.  The notion that even if you made but a modest living, you might enjoy the abundance of beauty and spirit.  I like to think, also, that it was fate. 

Which is your favorite café/ Parisian haunt?

For outdoor haunts:  There’s a place at the river’s edge on the Isle Saint Louis that I am very fond of. Also, the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Indoor: The light tiled Moroccan patio of Salon de The de La Grande Mosquee on sunny days, the shaded room of La Palette on rainy.

What motivates you to write and your influences?

The desire to transcend. To share and/or reflect beauty. To heal, to process an experience that might have been less than wonderful and to create positive energy from it. To connect with self and with others, to share thoughts and ideals which make us most human.  Writing encourages empathy as we imagine what it must be like to be in someone else’s shoes. I also enjoy the art of expression, trying to find the better messenger to convey meaning.  Poetry, like music, opens a portal to the mystery of understanding without our fully comprehending.  It brings me closer to Spirit.

And, of course, you never know who you might meet along the way. For instance, I was invited to a rather surreal soiree here in Paris where I couldn’t help but notice a charismatic artist with jet-black hair {and an unreasonably wide but charming moustache) wearing a satin pirate shirt topped off by a small leashed monkey sitting on his shoulder. He spoke to me towards the end of the evening. Told me he had noticed me…that I shouldn’t smile too much…that a woman must be mysterious.  Our brief meeting inspired me—years later– to write ‘’One evening, stand on the sky and learn to paint your world without a wooden frame. Then, climb into the painting.’’

Writers you admire and who influence your own poetic style?

I admire Michael Rothenberg, of 100 Thousand Poets for Change as a Living Poem.  He reached out to me when he heard I was ill and suggested I apply for a grant to Poets in Need, which I gratefully received. He reminds us that communion, communication and community can effect change and transformation in the world. As for writing style—Dostoyevsky, Rilke, e.e. cummings, Anne Sexton, James Wright.

What is your favorite line from one of your poems?

This is like Sophie’s Choice haha, as all of our creations are like our children.  Ok, if I must…
And, still the soul’s marrow
like my own bone’s thinning
moves through and beyond  

the fading bruise of my existence

Your goals and aspirations?

To get my collections of poems published. To finish my play, which I’m afraid is all play and no work right now. I had an opportunity to be published by the legendary Tambimuttu of Poetry London.  I even made a recording for him under the Apple Record label as he had gone into business with The Beatles at the tail-end of the 70’s.  The magazine was then called Poetry London / Apple Magazine. However, I decided I wanted to delay the publication in order to offer, perhaps, more inspired work and when Tambi died the manuscript was orphaned.  I only began to submit my work to journals in the last 7 years.  Now, as I approach 70, I do sincerely wish to find good homes for my poetic offspring.  I suppose it might help, haha,  if I sent them out into the world.