Monday, February 15, 2010
Sometimes, a single foot is a journey of discovery....
An Apple a Day in the anthology Come This Way
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC (April 2, 2007)
Whoever would have thought, Ben had thought often, that feet would matter so much. Clyde's feet, for instance. His gaze shifted to them. Clyde was younger than he was, no more than twenty, twenty-one at the most. He was good looking, in a countrified way, and even in the baggy overalls and the worn work shirt he was wearing, it was evident that he had a lean, hard body, the overalls bunched, his long legs spread wide, and his feet, his—really—enormous feet…
"Don't you think so, Ben?" Clyde's wife, Maude, asked, snapping him back to reality. He looked surprised at her, blushing as if she might know what he had been thinking about her husband. But, what had he been thinking? Now that it was gone, he couldn't remember.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I guess my mind wandered."
"He does that all the time," Angie said in a scolding voice, "I swear, he's the worst husband, he never pays the least attention to anything I say."
"Of course I do," Ben said; but he could not think now what the others had been talking about, Angie's voice droning on and on like the motor of her sewing machine.
"Chickens," he said in a moment of inspiration. They had been talking about chickens. Chicken feed to start, and then chicken recipes and then…but then his attention had wandered.
He glanced at Clyde and found him smiling faintly, as if he knew where Ben's mind had really been—wherever that was.
"Ben's looking peaked," Maude said. She got up from her chair. "I think we'd better head on home, Clyde."
"Oh, no," I'm fine," Ben said quickly, aware of the resentful glance his wife shot him, but Clyde had stood up now, too, and pulled his watch from his pocket to frown at it briefly.
"Ten o'clock," he said. "Didn't know it had got so late."
Everyone stood up. Ben found the couple mostly boring, but he was sorry at the same time to see them go, sorry to have the slight diversion they provided ended. Nothing to do now but call it a day and go to bed.
"How's Ben coming along, Angie," Maude asked her, just as if Ben weren't standing right there. "Is that new doctor doing him any good?"
"Seems to be," Angie said. "Myself, I can't see the sense of running into the city every week just to have some doctor poke around and stick you with a needle, but Ben seems to have perked up some since he's been going."
Maude looked directly at Ben then. "What'd he say the trouble was, anyway, this new doctor? Your glands, was it?"
"Something like that," Ben said. "You know how doctors are, they like to keep everything mysterious."
"Ain't that the truth," Maude said. "Well, Clyde…"
Ben was glad after all when they had gone and Angie had taken the dirty coffee cups into the kitchen to wash them. She detested letting dirty dishes stand, even a quartet of cups.
He made his way upstairs, to the simple bedroom that he and Angie shared, half pausing at the closed door to the room they used now for storage. He had all but stopped wishing for someone to occupy it.
"The doctor says I can't have any," Angie had explained to him time and time again, and she would get sore when he suggested that they might at least try, until he had given up suggesting it. It wasn't the trying that mattered to him. He had never found that as pleasurable as other men seemed to do. It was just that he would have liked to have a son, and that was, after all, how they were gotten. He suspected that Angie's reluctance had more to do with avoiding what she called "that wickedness" and less to do with any doctor's instructions, but he wasn't about to suggest that either.
He undressed quickly and hung his clothes neatly in the closet, the way she insisted, and put on the long woolen nightshirt that hung on the door. He hated it, hated wearing it, hated the feel of the coarse wool on his body. Once, a long time ago, he had tried sleeping without it, but Angie had been furious, calling him a letch and a sinner and so many other vile names that he had sighed wearily and put the nightshirt on after all, and he had worn it nightly since then, summer or winter.
He heard her footsteps on the stairs and closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep. He felt the lights go out. Angie always undressed in the dark. He had never understood how she found her own nightgown, or managed to hang up her clothes so neatly. He wondered briefly what she would do if he just got up and crossed over to her bed. How long had it been since he had done that? He couldn't even remember, except that she had complained bitterly when he did so, and sent him back to his own.
After an astonishingly short time, Angie began to snore softly. Ben opened his eyes and stared into the darkness. Oddly, he found himself thinking about Clyde Akins. He felt pretty sure Clyde and Maude didn't fall asleep right away every night. Once, at their house, he had managed to peek into their bedroom and had seen that they shared one enormous bed. Clyde wouldn't even have to get up and walk across the room if he felt the need. He had only to turn on his side, move closer...
An image of Clyde, in bed, sprang into Ben's mind. He rolled onto his own side. His last thoughts as he drifted off to sleep were of Clyde's big feet. He saw them out of the work boots he usually wore. Bare feet. Naked…
Spring had lingered this year, and the weather was still pleasant. Later, in summer's heat, the walk into town would be more arduous, but for now it was pleasant. The apple trees were in bloom. It would be late summer, early fall, before they began to harvest them; then, the trips into the city would become impossible. He dreaded that prospect.
For now, though, the trip was no more than a little troublesome. Most of the farm was in orchards. The trees needed some attention in the spring, but that he had done already. There were garden crops, but he worked extra hard on those during the other days so that he could have this one day of the week free.
He wore overalls, much like Clyde's except his were older and one knee was patched, and a blue denim work shirt so faded it was nearly white, and he carried his lunch in a brown paper bag under one arm. He glanced up once at the sun and quickened his pace. The last train left at six thirty. If he missed that, he was out of luck.
It was a two hour ride into the city. He got there at eight thirty, and would have to catch the train back at four thirty. Brief, but time enough for his treatment. He passed through the station and was on the street, excitedly aware of the people around him, the cars in the street, the noise, so different from the quiet of the farm.
It was only four blocks to the cheap hotel he had found on his first trip. He went directly there. The man at the desk showed no sign of recognition. He never did, although by this time he was certainly used to seeing the tall farmer in his country clothes come through the swinging door into his diminutive lobby.
They exchanged no more than a half dozen words. Ben paid for the day in advance, and another five dollars for the cheap cardboard suitcase the clerk stored for him. He took that and climbed the narrow stairs to the third floor, to his room.
It was none too clean. Despite the no smoking sign on the wall, someone had smoked there recently and the lingering tobacco scent mingled with the musty odor of a room rarely aired out, and the mattress on the bed sagged alarmingly toward the middle. None of which bothered him in the least. The truth was, he scarcely noticed.
He wasted little time there, just enough to shed his shirt and his overalls, and the long johns he wore under them. He took a skin tight tee shirt from the suitcase and put that on instead, and form fitting levis without nothing between them and his naked flesh, taking a sensual pleasure in the rub of the fabric over his bare genitals. He wore the same boots he had worn on his trip from the farm, but they looked different with the change in costume.
He looked different. It might have been a stranger that gazed back at him from the cracked mirror. He tugged at the bulge of his crotch, pulling himself from left to right, which he had discovered all on his own made everything more prominent. He smiled at himself, trying to feel at ease, but despite the experience of the last several weeks, he still felt nervous each time he descended the stairs, ignoring the clerk who stared at him from behind his shabby desk, going back down to the street.
At lunch time, on a nice day, as he knew from previous visits, the little park would be crowded with loungers, all of the benches taken, but it was only midmorning now, and he found an empty bench and sat down, facing the marble fountain. He did not watch the passersby, but kept his eyes shyly downward. All he saw were their feet, an endless parade of them passing by, some hurrying, some shuffling, some looking like they were about to break into dance.
That was how it had begun, really, with feet. An innocent stroll along the beach. Still early in the season, and in the day, time to kill before his first appointment with that new doctor. He had been alone, or so he thought, until he saw the feet. Bare feet, four of them, two facing two.
Of course, he knew that the feet were not disembodied. He could see where they joined to ankles, and even a bit of calf, and there beyond the feet were bathing suits that must have earlier encased flesh and blood hips before they were cast discarded upon the ground, and shadows discarded there as well, for who needs shadows when the reality is there for the savoring—shadows of torsos and the merest suggestion, but unmistakable for all that, of other limbs. A shadow hand that moved, stroking, and the feet came closer together then, meshed, until they might have been one foundation to a single column of glued-together legs. The toes moved in the sand, wriggling in time to the ragged breathing he could just hear where he stood frozen beyond the bushes. It occurred to him later: if they had looked, they would probably have seen his feet. Maybe seen the shadow of his hand, moving.
He did not have to wait long. For whatever reason, he never did. He hadn't sat for more than three or four minutes before a pair of feet slowed as they came near, paused briefly before him. Someone sat down beside Ben on the bench. Ben looked at the shoes, neatly polished oxfords, next to his old boots, and waited for the stranger to speak first.
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