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It was a cold winter afternoon, and Sarah decided to take a walk. It was coming on to snow, and her new Wellington boots made sharp imprints on the white path. She turned into the dark wood. She noticed that the smaller birds had flown away. Had they been scared away by predators, or had they just gone to roost? Or was it the witching hour? She was just about to walk back home, when she saw a light a little further down the path. She went towards it. There, in the crook of an old tree, was a pair of blue shoes. They shone, they glistened and twinkled. They had silver laces, and they looked to be her size. Sarah had never wanted anything so much.

She sat down, drew off her boots and put the blue shoes on. They pinched a bit. They were, as her mother would have said, a bit “near”, but she was sure she could break them in. She would take them home. But as she tried to get them off, they would not budge. Try as she might, they would be neither pushed or pulled from her feet. Sarah began to panic, as she remembered the Hans Christian Anderson story of The Red Shoes. There, the heroine loves to dance, and she desires and purloins the red shoes. They force her to dance and dance, until in exhaustion she begs a woodman to chop off her feet. She dances to heaven on bloody stumps. Was this what the blue shoes might do to her?

She sat and thought hard, there in the darkness and silence, while the shoes glowed on her feet. The heroine in The Red Shoes had lived only for dancing. Very well: Sarah would never dance. The heroine had single-mindedly focused on one thing. Very well: Sarah would look round widely, and with curiosity. The heroine knew exactly what she wanted. Very well: Sarah would make a virtue of uncertainty. Rocking to and fro, she made her promises to the blue shoes.

And it worked. The blue shoes stopped pinching, even though she could never take them off. She had to organise her wardrobe around them, but that was no hardship. They made walking easy, and she noticed that the more flexible she was in her mind, the more supple they were. The less she was sure about something, the more shiny they became. When she thought about anything in a broad manner, they exuded a sweet and heady perfume, which went before and after her as she stepped out.

Eventually, they loosened, and Sarah began to envisage a time when the blue shoes would drop off. But she wasn’t ready. She bought some more silver laces to keep them on. The heroine of The Red Shoes had danced bloodily to heaven a long while ago: but Sarah would walk there in the blue shoes at her own pace, looking around every step of the way, and wondering about everything.

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