You have surgery on your foot and your foot changes. When you wake up, you’re heavily medicated, so you don’t notice the difference. By day three, though, the foot has become bitingly honest, saying things like, “I’ve never seen so much dead skin in my life. Now’s not the time to pull back on the hygiene.” Then, to make matters worse, your foot makes a bold decision and declares its gender male, even though you’re not necessarily sure what that foot is. You could have been consulted, at least. By the time you’re able to walk around on crutches, it drags behind, not out of pain, just because it’s fun to create the kind of social awkwardness that occurs when you’re late to your friend’s show.
Your foot, your foot. Is it even your foot anymore? Is ‘he’? Perhaps this surgery was just the thing to make this foot its own foot. The bunionectomies and neuroma removal are enough to let your foot out of the closet to be who he is. A dick.
This was once a pretty good foot. It wasn’t demanding and, while painful toward the end, it was wide, with a bunion on each side. The extra width sometimes came in handy. In a yoga class, you could stand in tree pose forever.
Now, this foot fucks with you. It goes to sleep when you are not asleep, when you cannot sleep, creating resentment. When you wake it, the toes tingle and numb up. Other times it just twitches. All this you can take but it — he! — also gets under your skin, tells you you’re too old to enter the job market in any kind of meaningful way ever again. He did the research and gives you the data. “You are fifty-four,” he says, and laughs at you.
“So are you,” you say with a little too much venom. Oh, your foot knows he’s getting the best of you.
“I look younger, though,” he says, “because I’ve been sheathed in socks for the better part of each year.”
When you write, your foot says, “Write about me,” but then doesn’t like anything you have to say. He tells you the story he thinks you should be writing, one filled with an unrealistic amount of footwork and picking locks with strong toenails. There’s a gratuitously violent eye gouging with a pinkie toe.
And then, freakishly, he makes a pass at you. He tells you something about how each of his toes looks shorter than they actually are.
“What?” you say, letting this sink in.
“Each toe gets longer if it were to be —”
“I know the length!” you say.
“Well, you’re up too high to judge,” he says, and then adds in a cheesy, sexy voice, “get closer.”
The two of you have to go to therapy after that. You can’t unhear something like that, not from your own appendage.
On the way to therapy, your foot tries to take control of the car and gets you into a fender bender. You don’t exchange numbers with the other driver, just apologize and look truly sorry. The driver seems satisfied with that until she hears your foot yelling up at you: Who cares? Who cares? She looks at you like, Real mature. You knew you should have worn closed-toed shoes.
At the therapist’s office, the foot is on his best behavior so, of course, the therapist bonds with him and also slightly flirts with him. Such warm feelings pass between the two of them, even though you are the one who is most attached to them both. You’re attached through years of therapy bills paid to the one and literally attached to your foot. Your foot, whom you’ve known since infancy, is a traitor.
Once the doctor is certain that the foot is on it’s way to healing nicely, you announce on all social media channels — to the seven people paying any attention to you on Twitter and to the fifty or so still scrolling through your Facebook feed, and to his three new followers on Instagram — that your foot and you have not been getting along for a while, so you’re breaking up, though you’ll still live together amicably. You’re still a part of the same body, clearly, but you’re not bonded with him like, say, the other foot, or either arm.
“You’re making a big mistake,” he says. “You cross me and I will easily attract a fungus, no matter how sanitary the conditions.”
At night he calls your friends by going through your cellphone and pressing your contacts with his toes. He sways everyone to his side. They want to have an intervention for you two, but you are not up to it and have to argue with all of them in the middle of the night. You are still hobbling around! You are still taking the occasional codeine so this is not the time! That’s not even what an intervention is for!
You can hear your foot laughing down there from inside his wool sock, surgical boot and blanket wrapped around him, your attempts to muffle his voice. At 2:00 a.m., after assuring your sister that it wasn’t you who called, it was Mr. Big Foot, you try to go back to sleep but it’s impossible. He is still explaining and explaining everything to you, giving you useless instructions about how he manages to make the calls.
“Toes are always the heroes of your stories,” you hiss. “Plus, I have fingers, the real deal!”
He doesn’t respond to this, just tells you the intervention is on for Tuesday and asks you to put it in the calendar.
Lizbeth Herbert is a writer based in Philadelphia. Her last published short story, “Jenner,” appeared in The Philadelphia City Paper. Lizbeth holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University.