The Shoe Queenby Anna Davis, Eve Karpf
In The Shoe Queen, author Anna Davis immerses readers in the glitter and excitement of 1920's Paris -- where one woman's obsession with shoes leads her into a steamy affair that will make her question what matters most in life. See more details below
In The Shoe Queen, author Anna Davis immerses readers in the glitter and excitement of 1920's Paris -- where one woman's obsession with shoes leads her into a steamy affair that will make her question what matters most in life.
- Recorded Books, LLC
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The Shoe Queen
By Anna Davis
All right reserved.
The fancy-dress theme was refuse and waste paper. Genevieve Shelby King's kingfisher-blue dress was all patched over with pages from old literary journals. Her blue silk dancing slippers were embroidered with fragments of poems and tipped with bows made from sonnets. She was one big mass of poetry.
Handing her fur to the man by the door, Genevieve entered the marble-floored hall on the arm of her best friend, Lulu. Count Etienne de Frémont's grand house was all dressed up like his guests. High above their heads, suspended on invisible wires from the ceiling, hung a selection of bicycle wheels, empty bottles and ancient boots.
"It's very Dada," said Lulu.
"Dada was over years ago," said Genevieve. "Why didn't someone tell Violet de Frémont?" And they swept through to the party, leaving Genevieve's husband, Robert, back in the hallway, fumbling for change to tip the coat man and muttering under his breath. It was often this way -- the girls whispering and giggling together, scheming and sharing secrets, while Robert followed behind.
In the ballroom, they hovered by an enormous collage of old theater programs, sipping champagne and getting their measure of the room. The chandeliers had been removed for the evening and replaced by crazy garbage copies of themselves made from a million glittering fragments of colored glass. Genevieve's gaze movedswiftly over the room to spot her many rivals -- the daughters, wives, lovers and darlings of Parisian culture, American shipping, Italian car manufacture and English blue-blood. The refuse theme, as it turned out, was an interesting leveler. The Princesse Martignac was hung with an assortment of buttons in place of the family diamonds and looked less than happy about it. The famously exquisite Harriet Dupont looked -- well -- bottle-shaped in her shiny-green-bottle dress.
Genevieve, while not entirely satisfied that her costume was more glamorous than anyone else's, nevertheless perceived that sheer, bold confidence might give her the chance to outdazzle the pack. They're feeling small, she thought. Take away the finery and they're nothing.
"Everybody's here," said Lulu, nodding in the direction of Ernest Hemingway, who was dressed entirely in brown paper. Tristan Tzara and Francis Picabia were used métro tickets; Paul Poiret was a bizarre, multicolored tangle of fabric -- was he a piece of carpet fluff? A fur-ball? "Of course, nobody can afford not to be. Or Violet will stop the money for their next little exhibition or journal or show."
Genevieve frowned, "Where is Violet? I can't see her."
The band was striking up a Charleston, and couples moved out across the sprung dance floor, bird-stepping and flapping their arms.
"Come on, Vivi, let's find some pretty boys to dance with." Lulu's dress was covered in shiny candy wrappers. Her earrings and necklace were strung candies, which sparkled in the glow of the garbage chandeliers as she headed off into the crowd without once looking back. Perhaps there was one woman in this room capable of competing with Genevieve....
"Ah, there you are." Robert was dressed in a silver suit that was supposed to look like a trash can. He'd refused to wear his "lid," thereby rendering the costume unidentifiable. "Great party, isn't it? Say, isn't that Harry Mortimer over there? In the newspaper suit? Looks kind of like a fish supper."
But Genevieve wasn't looking at the man in the newspaper suit. She was watching Lulu dancing with two men at once. The short one was the painter Joseph Lazarus, a long-term admirer of Lulu's. The other, taller man, wearing a cream suit, was someone she hadn't seen before. She would certainly have remembered him. He had a broad, handsome face, somewhat in the classical Greek style.
"Is it Harry, do you think?" Robert was still peering off into the far corner.
Genevieve seized his arm. "Come on. Let's dance."
"Oh, honey. You know I don't like to." Gently, he removed her hand. "Listen, I'm going to say hello to Harry. Why don't you go on and dance with your friends? I'll be just over there."
"If that's what you want." Genevieve pursed her lips in irritation. "There are men who'd kill to dance with me, you know."
"Chérie!" Lulu was shimmying wildly with the tall man in the cream suit.
Genevieve allowed Joseph Lazarus to take her hands and draw her close. Even as she began kick-stepping with Lazarus, her gaze was fixed on Lulu and the tall man.
"Isn't she a marvel?" Lazarus was dressed like a waiter, and she wasn't entirely sure whether this was a costume or merely his terrible fashion sense. "Look at the way she moves. She's an empress. She should be in that fresco." He pointed at the ceiling overhead. Genevieve glanced up at jackal-headed men among pyramids and palm fronds. Men with enormous eyes standing sideways. Lulu's eyes were enormous too, and surrounded by a layer of thick black kohl that was certainly reminiscent of ancient Egypt.
"Ladies and gentlemen." The band leader lowered his trumpet. "As I'm sure you've noticed, we have in our midst that spectacular cabaret star, the most painted and photographed woman in the whole of Paris -- Lulu of Montparnasse! Hey, Lulu, let's have you up here. Come on, girl, give us a song."
And before he'd even finished speaking, Lulu was up there on the stage. Saying something to the pianist, who nodded. Turning to face the room, and announcing, "This is a song about Paris. It's a special time, my friends, in this most amazing of cities. And 1925 will be the most amazing year of them all. The song is called 'C'est nous qui avons de la chance.' In English, that's 'We are the lucky ones.'"
Her voice, when she began to sing, was fine silk thrown over broken glass -- covering but not truly concealing it. The words blurred together. You couldn't make them out. It was the voice that counted. Its pain, in spite of the cheery song title. It was the heartache in the big eyes that counted, belying the smile on the red lips, the frivolity of the painted-on beauty spot.
Genevieve was holding out her glass for a champagne refill and looking around for Robert when a deep, American voice just by her ear said, "What's that supposed to be, do you think? An egg or a head?"
It was the man in the cream suit. He pointed at the Brancusi bronze atop its plinth.
"It's an egg that looks like a head that looks like an egg that looks like a head," said Genevieve. He really was very handsome, this man. Broad shoulders, the nicest kind.
"You say that with such authority. Perhaps it's the English accent."
"I have it from Violet. But that's just my précis. Her version took a good twenty minutes." She showed her surprise at the lack of recognition on his face. "Violet? The Countess de Frémont?" And then, when he continued blank, "Our divine hostess. Were you actually invited to this party, Mr...."
"Monteray. Guy Monteray. And no, I wasn't. Not directly. I'm the guest of a guest."
"I see." She wanted to ask him who he was here with, but drew back. Tried once more to spot Robert.
"This is my first time in Paris," said the man. "I'm fresh off the boat. Practically a virgin."
She sipped her wine and looked at him sidelong. "I'm Genevieve Shelby King." She tried his name on her tongue. It had a familiar sound to it. "Are you a poet?"
The whitest of smiles. "Would you like to dance, Miss Shelby King?"
"Oh." The smile flickered for a moment. "I do apologize. Where's your husband? Is he here?"
She gestured vaguely. "He'll be over there somewhere. He doesn't dance."
"Yes," said Genevieve. "Yes, it is."
Robert puffed on a cigar, sipped his bourbon and watched his wife dancing with an incredibly tall, broad-shouldered man in a cream suit. "Fellow's like a skyscraper."
"What a sharp observation." The speaker was so insubstantial that Robert hadn't even noticed him. "Mind if I borrow it?"
Robert's head was a little swimmy with the bourbon. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud. "Borrow it?" He frowned, puzzled. "They're only words. Don't belong to me any more than they do to you."
"A dangerous point of view, that one." A soft voice. A narrow face with glittering eyes and a high color in the cheeks. "If there were many people who spoke that way, well, what would become of us?"
"Us?" Robert watched the skyscraper-man lift his wife clean off the floor before setting her down again and spinning her about. He made it look so effortless.
"Us low-down scribbling types who make commodities of words. Not to mention literature. You don't remember me, do you, Robert?"
The fug in his head was thickening. "You're a friend of my wife's, aren't you?" It was a safe bet. Everyone was a friend of Genevieve's. That was how it had been ever since they'd settled in Paris, two years ago -- ever since she'd taken up with that Lulu creature. He did his best to accept the situation. If you marry a woman as beautiful, clever, outgoing and thoroughly modern-thinking as Genevieve, you can't expect to hide her away at home. You might as well ask a bird not to fly. But sometimes, just sometimes, he wished he could.
"Norman Betterson. A friend of Genevieve's and a recipient of your great generosity, sir." His smile was almost manic. "The magazine?" he added, by way of explanation.
Magazine...Robert groped about in his memory.
"The work's starting to dribble in now. I already have stories from Hemingway and Scott. And poetry from Gertrude Stein. I expect to have enough material to go to press in another month or two." The fellow broke off at this point and erupted into a coughing fit that made him bend double.
"Are you OK?" asked Robert.
"Oh, don't worry about me." He dabbed at his mouth with a large white handkerchief. "I have five years to live. Plenty of time for you to make good on your investment."
"Right. Of course." Dry-mouthed, Robert smacked his empty glass down on a little table. He would have to speak to Genevieve. She was susceptible to men like this -- men with fancy ideas and poetic aspirations in need of a few quick dollars. He hoped to God that it was only a few dollars...Wasn't her fault -- not exactly. Trouble was she had dreams of her own. Dreams of becoming a poet. Her literary ambitions made her easy to exploit. And, increasingly, her vulnerability was rendering him vulnerable too. What would his daddy have said about this if he'd still been alive?
He tried for another glimpse of her on the dance floor but couldn't see her.
"Your wife" -- the eyes were glittering fiercely -- "is the most beautiful woman in Paris. She's got that aristocratic British thing, hasn't she? Like a racehorse. A real thoroughbred. You're a lucky man. Oh, don't look like that, Robert! I'm not saying she looks like a horse. Far from it. I -- "
She had vanished. And so had the skyscraper-man.
"Excuse me." Robert straightened his jacket and cleared his throat. "I must go and find -- "
The man -- Betterson, or whatever his name was -- was already wandering away.
Robert wished that nobody but himself could see Genevieve's beauty -- its full, powerful dazzle. He liked to think that he was the only man who really knew her. He was ninety percent sure he did. Or maybe ninety-five. There was just the tiniest bit of doubt in him, and he couldn't work out what it was all about.
At the moment Robert set down his glass and began to search for Genevieve, she was standing with Lulu over by the Brancusi sculpture. A waiter on stilts came teetering by with a tray of canapés, all of them colored green, and the girls raised their eyebrows in bemusement. Even if they'd wanted a snack, they'd never have been able to reach the tray.
"Well, that's about the stupidest thing I've ever seen," said Genevieve. "Must have been Violet's idea."
"She's a singularly stupid woman," said Lulu.
"But not so stupid that she can't throw the best party of the year. How could I possibly compete with this?"
Lulu flapped a dismissive hand. "Oh, chérie. Don't even bother thinking about Violet de Frémont. She's nothing. Violet's trying to buy her way in, but she can't get at the real Paris."
"So what about me? Am I a part of the real Paris?"
"Ah, chérie. Stick with your friend Lulu and you won't go wrong. Live your life at nighttime in the 6th, where Violet de Frémont is nothing but a tourist. The rich are mere consumers here. The real Paris is about the art that's in your heart and your mind." And she winked. "Anyway, tell me about Guy Monteray."
"You seem to know more about him than I do."
"Come on, Vivi. You know what I'm talking about."
"I saw the way you were looking at each other."
"Window-shopping. That's all."
"If you say so." But her face still wore that expression -- suggestive, mischievous.
"Stop what?" But now the mischief was evolving into something approaching sympathy. "Oh, Vivi, this insistence on the sanctity of your marriage -- it's sweet but ultimately -- "
"Unrealistic." The smallest sigh.
Genevieve pursed her lips and scanned the room again. "So where's Camby tonight?" Lulu was in love with the renowned photographer Frederick Camby. Had been for years.
"How should I know? The man's a fool." No discernible emotion from behind the makeup mask.
"There's Norman Betterson." Genevieve touched Lulu's arm. "I need a word with him. I gave him some of my poems to read a while ago, and..." But the sentence was left unfinished. She'd caught sight of something unmissable. A pair of shoes...
At the Shelby Kings' apartment on the Rue de Lota in the fashionable 16th Arrondissement, a whole room was devoted to Genevieve's shoes. Floor-to-ceiling shelves, and each shelf crammed with wooden boxes. Boxes that were cushioned on the inside with velvet and silk. Inside each box, a pair of shoes. The boxes multiplied, week on week, month on month. Hundreds of boxes. Shoes made especially for Genevieve by the world's most exclusive designers. Shoes with glass heels. Shoes studded with gems. Shoes so perfect that Genevieve could hardly believe they really existed, so that she'd have to keep taking them out of the box and touching them and then putting them away again -- afraid of soiling them, ruining them.
Shoes that, for the most part, had never been worn.
The shoes were somewhere between ivory and silver, and appeared to be made entirely of lace. Lace layered upon lace, spidery and fine. A slipper shape and a Louis heel -- not too thick, not too high, not too low. Delicate toes. There was something about these shoes...beautiful but subtle. Quietly calling all attention to themselves without the need to scream out. Genevieve's heart ached for them. She wished so much that she was wearing them in place of her own purpose-built poetic pumps. She'd been proud of them at the start of the evening, but now they seemed, frankly, childish. They were no more than fancy dress accessories, and this was wrong. Shoes should always be more than accessories.
She absolutely longed for those lace slippers to be on her feet, and instead...
Instead they were adorning the feet of their hostess, Violet de Frémont.
The countess was wearing a black dress overlaid with paper doilies, and had a doily hat perched on the back of her head. She was a good-looking woman but with features a touch too soft to be conventionally beautiful. That nose was almost piggy. She had something, though. She'd been painted and sculpted by everyone, and not just because of her money. And her ankles were perfect, her feet tiny. The shoes were divine on her.
"Genevieve, I'm so glad you could come." Violet, clutching a glass of champagne, was making her way over. "Oh, and Lulu, darling, the singing was wonderful. I wish I had a voice like yours."
"Sensational party," said Genevieve. "And may I say, those shoes are adorable."
Violet almost purred with pleasure. "Aren't they?" All three of them looked down as she turned her feet this way and that to be further admired. "You know, last night I had to get out of bed at some ungodly hour just so that I could take them out and put them on and look at them in the moonlight. Etienne woke up and found me dancing around in my negligé with the curtains open, gazing at my own feet. Can you imagine? He thought I'd gone stark staring mad!"
"I hadn't realized you were such a shoe connoisseur, Violet," said Genevieve.
"Really? You must come round to see my collection some day. Oh -- oh!" And now she seized Genevieve's arm. "But look, here comes their creator! Genevieve, Lulu, this is Paolo Zachari."
A velvety-looking man stood before them. Thirty-five or so. Soft black eyes. Black, tufty hair that was slightly too long -- you wanted to stroke it, smooth it. His unusual suit was very dark -- almost black, but with a luminous glow that just hinted at blue. No refuse costume for him. His face was serious but with something subtle happening at the mouth -- something that was not quite a smile. His face was somehow familiar.
When he bent to kiss Genevieve's hand, she almost felt the tip of his tongue against her knuckles. Almost.
"Have we met before?" she asked as he straightened.
"We have indeed."
She frowned. He was raising Lulu's hand to his mouth. Complimenting her singing. He was too thin to be conventionally handsome, but was attractive all the same. One of those men who make themselves more attractive by dressing cleverly and by flirting. Yes, very flirtatious. Even as he was talking to Lulu, Genevieve saw his gaze flick across to her. He gave another of those almost-smiles and looked her up and down. Blatant. Impudent.
"It's strange," she said, after a moment. "I know we've met, but I can't recall the exact occasion."
"Can't you?" He turned to Violet and whispered something in her ear. Something that made her laugh out loud.
Genevieve felt herself blush. But why should she be embarrassed?
Now he bent to whisper to her, his mouth close. "Am I so forgettable?" And his lips actually brushed against her ear.
"Of course not!" The words came out too loud, but the countess seemed not to have heard. She was deep in conversation with Lulu. And as Genevieve lowered her voice, words started coming out of her mouth. Words that she hadn't meant to say. "I've heard all about you" came the words.
"What have you heard?"
"That you choose your clients like you'd select a piece of fruit, just because you like the look of their feet. That you only make shoes for twenty women. That once a woman has worn a pair of Zachari's shoes, nobody else's will do."
"Is that so?" He raised an eyebrow.
"You're a very talked-about man, Mr. Zachari. Some people say you're from Italy. From Calabria. Or maybe Naples. Other people say you're from the East Indies. Or else that you're an East Indian from Calabria. Or a Neapolitan from the East Indies. I've heard so many stories about you."
"My, my. All those rumors." Zachari shook his head sadly. "I know a little about you too, Mrs. Shelby King."
"What do you know?"
Again he bent to whisper in her ear, and she felt his breath hot against her neck.
"That man, Zachari." Genevieve leaned against a marble pillar while the room began gently to turn.
Lulu shoved a canapé into her mouth. "What about him?"
"What do you think of him?"
"Dark horse. Perhaps a little too deliberately so. He likes to handpick his clients, I gather. Obviously enjoys the exclusivity. I'm suspicious of his criteria."
"I can't believe he makes shoes for Violet de Frémont," said Genevieve. "And not for me."
Zachari and the Countess de Frémont were dancing together. He held her close, his hands planted firmly on her back.
"I've heard he's sleeping with her," said Lulu.
Genevieve groaned. "How could the man who made those delectable shoes have such appalling taste in women?"
"I must have a pair. I simply must."
Lulu shrugged. "Well, go right over and tell him. Sometimes a girl has to swallow her pride and speak out. Tiresome though that may be."
But Genevieve was shaking her head. "He hasn't chosen me. And now he never will. On our way in here tonight I mistook him for the footman. I shoved my fur at him, Lulu, and asked Robert to give him a tip."
Copyright © 2007 by Anna Davis
Excerpted from The Shoe Queen by Anna Davis Copyright © 2007 by Anna Davis. Excerpted by permission.
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