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THE DIMITY SHOES

 

Melissa was a teacher. She was timid by nature, and could only function in public if she could look down on those she instructed. She was of short stature though. Nothing loath, she took to carrying round a little box everywhere she spoke. It was like a tiny podium. The only problem was that it prevented movement: she could not stalk or sway like the other more dramatic teachers she knew. But they could be safely dismissed. After all, it was vulgar to be too sinuous, Melissa thought. The children had to learn discipline. Some types of stiffness were admirable.

As to appearances, Melissa felt that standards ought to be maintained. She had once attended a poetry reading by Stevie Smith, and was impressed not by the poetry (all that faux-naif  stuff was sloppy) but by the studied avoidance of fashion. Miss Smith had her hair uncompromisingly cut in pudding-basin style  - so easy to manage - but made a concession to decoration by having a tortoiseshell slide. It dragged her hair to one side and kept it out of her eyes, while at the same time hinting at the dangerous world of colour and shimmer. But best of all were the poet’s shoes. They were in dimity style, with a stout strap over the instep. .Melissa resolved that she would never wear anything else, and apart from the odd pair of Start-Rite sandals in summer, she never did.

 

Once Melissa’s career was over and she entered retirement, some problems ensued on the spatial front. She could no longer carry her little podium round with her (she tried for a while, but noticed that people looked askance) and so the Battle of the Vertical was lost. But this meant that  she had to police the boundaries of the lateral with extra care. She had to ensure that people did not encroach upon her from the side. She joined a choir, and was discomforted to find that the company was rather mixed. There were two other teachers there, passionate females, one tall and slim and the other short and round, who seemed immoderate in their tastes. Privately, Melissa thought of them as Goneril and Regan, and suspected them of liking the Gothic and of despising hair-slides. Moreover, they did not mind where they sat. The choir’s seating arrangements were ad hoc, and the conductor was fond of shifting the singers around to augment the musical texture. 

 

Gradually, this became intolerable. Melissa had been asked to move twice. The last straw was when she was asked to move a third time,  to a seat which she thought was  probably unconscionably warm from its last occupant.  Stoutly, she resisted. Grumblingly at first, and then shriekingly. Goneril and Regan were asked to persuade and then lift her. But they could not, because Melissa had taken the precaution of unbuckling the dimity shoes and fastening them tightly round the staves of her chair. They finally lifted her, chair and all, as she became clamped into a rigor of rage and refusal. It was very difficult to get the chair into the ambulance. But once there, Melissa looked round at her captors, and was sure  everyone would think that she was a sweet old lady who would not hurt a fly.

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