by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
I’m told pregnant women always notice other women who are pregnant. Similar conditions always find each other.
I went to the doctor on a Tuesday. I had to limp in, holding myself against the wall and moving from one handhold to another. Both of my feet hurt. I hadn’t injured myself. I hadn’t fallen or stepped in a gopher hole. I hadn’t kicked the cat, at least not recently.
The doctor touched my right foot, then my left... Gingerly at first.
“Does it hurt now, Mr. Smith?”
“Like wasps in a broken bottle,” I said.
She took my foot and twisted it like she was wringing out a dishcloth, or at least that’s how it felt. In reality, she hadn’t even grabbed me hard enough to wrinkle my white cotton sock.
“We have a lot of this going around. It happens. The body is a complicated thing. It could be worse, you know. You could try soaking them in hot water.”
She kept talking but wasn’t saying anything useful. It’s like going in for car repairs and they mention finding sheared-off bolts but they won’t tell you where they go. Or they mention oil leaking but want to sell you a new muffler. It didn’t make any sense.
I had to limp to another office to get the x-rays made. They made me move my feet into awkward positions. While the electrons were swirling around they said. “There’s a lot of this going around. Stuff happens. The body is a complicated thing. It could be worse, you know. You could try soaking them in cold water.”
I had to limp to the pharmacy to gather a couple of crutches.
Even as I was sporting my new items, my wife wasn’t very sympathetic. “Will you be able to work?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’m supposed to stand up all day.”
“Are you sure you didn’t step off the curb too quickly or drop something on your foot?”
I answered her. “The last time something happened to my feet was in third grade,” I said. “There was this kid who kept asking if I’d gotten his letter. Whenever I said ‘no’ he’d bring down his foot on mine and yell out, “That’s because I forgot to stamp it!” After a few times of that I started carrying around a fake letter.
“Did you get my letter?” he’d say.
“Right here,” I’d say. And I’d show an envelope with a bunch of hearts drawn on it.
Later I started noticing other people who walked about painfully.
At the grocery store mister Wickert had a hard time working behind the deli counter. He told me his feet hurt all the time. I suppose that was why he always leaned on the scale whenever I bought pork steaks. He let me see his orthopedic shoes one time. He told me they cost eighteen hundred dollars. They looked like they weighed sixty pounds. If my math is correct, his shoes cost about 30 dollars a pound. Figured that way his deli window would have been more profitable if it had been full of shoes. Leaning heavily on the cart I tottered away.
At home I watched as my mailman stopped and rubbed his knees and then sat in the grass. He sat there for a long time. Eventually he tossed my mail towards the box and then crawled away, climbing into his truck and drifting down the street. I could see small flutters of mail escape his van like herds of doves loosed at intervals.
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went to the Internet. I typed in the phrase “disreputable doctors.” Names appeared. An hour later I was in an office hidden behind plywood and crime scene ribbon.
A man in a white coat approached me. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“Make me walk again. Make me dance. Make me run faster than flowers can bloom and taller than shadows on the moon. Make me sing again. Make me stand out in a downpouring rain.”
“I have just the thing,” he said.
They were strange shoes. On the inside, running right down the center, there was a ridge. Not very sharp or tall, just a bead of extra foam running right from the heel up to a place left of the middle toe. The bead was in both shoes.
“You’ll be wearing a series of shoes,” he said. “You’ll come in every week and get the next pair. Each week the bead will be higher. You should know they aren’t comfortable. You should know this isn’t easy to do. Two-thirds of the people who start this procedure don’t finish it. You’ll be pushed about by strange compunctions. You’ll behave in ways that will make sense only later on. But if you do finish this regime, I promise your life will be different.”
I took the shoes. I walked home in them, staggering as though on high heels. As I walked through the park, I wanted to stop and wander around. I didn’t have time; I had to get home. Walking up the steps, I pulled a long piece of grass from my mouth. I’d been absently chewing a blade of grass.
“You’ve been drinking again!” my wife said.
“No, I haven’t,” I said as I fell over the coffee table.
“Then you’ve been self-medicating!” she yelled as she went to her room and slammed the door. I tried to catch her in the hall but I fell over three more times. I sat there staring at the strange shoes.
Eventually I went to the kitchen. I dined on shoots and greens. I filled a bowl with water and drank with my face under the rim.
Later I slept standing up. I dreamt about prairies and green glades, and in my dream small dogs were telling me where to stand and where to go. I heard a strange man whistle instructions and I almost understood what he wanted. I hoped he wasn’t going to call me over to his campfire.
It took a dozen trips to the white-coated imbicile. The last couple of shoes had points where the toes belonged. It was murder pulling them on.
At home, things weren’t going much better. I still had my wife thinking I was hiding something. She did compliment me on how clean the yard was looking. I promised her I wasn’t self-medicating.
I was on the couch eating some shoots.
“Where are you?” she said.
“Out here chewing my cud,” I said.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Not too ba... ba... baaaad.”
“What about your feet?”
And I stood... and I stood... and I stood. I felt taller than ever before. I felt like I could run across the mountain while Julie Andrews sang and twirled. “It’s a miracle,” I said. “A miracle.”
I had just one more duty to perform. I went back to my doctor with a pocket full of money.
He was kneeling before me helping me out of the final mold. I looked down. I stared. “What did you do to me?” I whispered.
“You are different now,” he said.
“I can see that,” I said.
“Nothing to be alarmed about,” he said.
“They’re hooves,” I said.
“But,” he replied, “you’ve never ever seen a goat limping, have you? Or a camel? Or a llama?”
“Does it come with a flute?”
“Your feet don’t hurt, do they?” he asked.
“No,” I said. I had to admit they didn’t hurt. It wasn’t a split decision: they just didn’t hurt.
I paid him. He said I didn’t need shoes, not ever again. I gamboled home.
People stared. “Let them,” I said.
Some said it didn’t behoove me, and others said it did.
My wife met me at the door. “You’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk, I’m happy.”
“For once something I did panned out.”
Without asking me to explain she leapt into my arms. We danced.
Everything went well for almost a year. Then I woke up one morning with congestion and drool and a high fever. I went to my usual doctor.
“I don’t know how it’s possible,” he said, “but you seem to have hoof and mouth disease.”
Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith