The box is being used to prop up an ancient chair nobody's used in years. She's passed it a thousand times before, never even noticed. Karen grabs the box and the chair falls down. "Sasha" is inscribed on the lid in flourished, golden writing. Karen runs to the side door and down the old wooden steps.
The room is dark, but she knows where she is going. Karen steps forward and pulls the rusty chain hanging from the ceiling. The old light flickers on, illuminating the small basement. Her mother's face, sketched in graphite, stares at her from the wall. Next to it a gaudy watercolor advertises a show long over in a language she can't understand. On the far wall hangs a poster of her mother, fur coat covering a tutu. The city stretched out behind her, building after building, majestic even in black and white.
Karen's bare feet pound on the dirt floor as she walks towards the full-length mirror. She kneels on the ground, puts the box down beside her. She pulls away the pale green lid. The shoes are nestled inside between layers of colorless tissue paper. They taste air for the first time in years. Her fingertips caress the soft satin, the leather sole, the once-pink ribbons, the frayed toes. She imagines her mother dancing in these shoes, all those years ago, astounding the audience with her weightless leaps and endless pirouettes. The light flickers. A shiver runs up Karen's spine as she carefully slips the shoes on to her feet. They're too small; her toes jam against the block and the elastic cuts into her heels. Her slick fingers tie the ribbons into limp bows. The basement fills with the sound of her breath reverberating off the walls.
She stands up. The shoes lie flat on the ground, long and bizarre. They contrast ridiculously with her purple shorts. She flips her head down, gathering her hair into a messy bun. Thinks of how these shoes carried her mother as she enchanted poets and artists and lovers. Dancing at the center of the universe, all eyes on her. She takes a deep breath and hops up.
It will take her ears a long time to forget that sickening crack. Karen's ankles give out and she comes crashing back down to earth. Her head hits the floor and stars flutter through the dark. Every ragged breath brings more pain. The corner of her lip is torn open, the gushing blood mixing with the dirt on the floor. Karen cries out, wordless and guttural. When her yelps subside into whimpers, she rips off the shoes to reveal bruised, bleeding, broken toes.
The next day the box is back where she found it, supporting an unused chair.