2 September 2004 | Vol. 4, No. 3
Arriving in One Piece
When I woke up without my little toe, I knew it was going to be the day. In fact, I didn't even notice it was gone until later, when I was at work and nudged my feet out of the flat dress shoes to wiggle each toe under my desk. I'm a toe roller and as I stretched them, pushing each toe into that standard supply office carpet, I knew the little toe was gone. Looking down at the place my toe had been, I felt momentarily sad, like I'd lost a friend, a pal, but what had the toe ever done for me? It was a nuisance. I'd banged it against bed legs, doorjambs, and the coffee table too many times. It's hard to say I'd miss it. So I didn't. But I did keep my shoes off as I resumed the computer program I was writing. Click. Click. Type. Type. My morning was zeros and ones.
By quitting time, each toe was gone, so I rolled the bones in my feet instead. As I slipped in the expensive leather loafers, I knew I wouldn't wear them again. I shuffled out of the office.
A quick dinner and shower, the long blue dress that trails in the back, flats, hair up off the neck and I'll be ready by seven easy, I thought waiting for the train during the after work rush. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, I wondered. I know I'm a bit masochistic, or at least that's what I've been told, but some things should be kept secret.
As I stepped onto the train, bodies pressed against me from all sides. I heard the swoosh of the doors and felt someone step on my shoe. I moved my foot and accidentally slid out it, but as I tried to find it again with my heel, I couldn't. "Excuse me," I commanded to the faces close around me. "I seem to have lost a shoe, if you have an extra shoe near you, please be so kind as to kick it this way."
"Screw you lady," some man mumbled. There was some shuffling, but no one moved a shoe over.
At my stop, I sped off shoeless and hurried up the stairs, over the tracks, and down the sidewalk two blocks to my apartment. As I pressed my key into the door, a group of children pointed at me and snickered. I slammed the door. I knew what they were laughing at and I wasn't about to be a sideshow. I had ankles, but nothing below them. The phone rang. I stomped towards the kitchen, poured a glass of juice, and waited for the machine to screen the call.
"Jenica, I know you're there. Pick up." Crossing my legs, I wiped the purple mustache away and stared at the blinking red light. Five other messages. They were probably all from Miranda; she is what you call relentless.
"Listen. Fine. Don't pick up. I know you're there anyway. Be here tonight. If you don't show, I'll hunt you down. You won't be hard to find. You brought this on yourself. I told you, never tell anyone." I pressed the erase button. She was the one I told.
From the fridge, I opened leftover tomato pesto pasta and forked bites into my mouth as I listened to the other messages. Though they weren't all from Miranda, they were just as urgent sounding. "Be here," they said, "don't forget," and "we'll pick you up if need be." I threw the fork in the empty dish. It's not like I wouldn't show, but I wasn't too sure on my original wardrobe choice.
Relaxed in the tub, I scrubbed and washed, crawled out and toweled off. As I looked into the mirror, I was glad at what I saw: me. Running my fingers through my hair, I tousled it and knew I could let it air dry and it would look all right. My eyes were bright. I could pull it off. I knew it.
Hobbling toward the closet, I sat heavily on my bed. This was hard work, really. I didn't expect that it would be. I had only a few inches of leg below my knees and those didn't quite match the surefootedness of feet. Though, I can't say I'd really ever liked my feet. They were archless. There had been hair on the toes and a few on the top of the feet. They were big; I'd always been told this. And shoes, well shoes were always too tight, too loose, and too unsupportive. By the time my feet and shoes fell in love, the shoes were too worn out to wear.
I picked up some lotion and rubbed it across my remaining flesh, starting with what was left of my calves. I never liked my calves either because they were scarred here and there with nicks and cuts from spending all those mornings bent over them in the shower trying to balance on one foot. Not that I shaved them every day, though my legs were smooth more often than caressed.
I thumped across the room, slid on black trousers, knee high boots stuffed with pillowcases, and a dark maroon button-up shirt. I filled my bag with the papers I needed, called a cab, and waited on the front stoop. The day was shifting, the light changing, and the crickets were rubbing their legs together for song. A daddy longlegs skittered across the cement, precise and elegant in ways I'd never been.
When the cab pulled up, I stood up and walked right out of my boots. My trouser legs fanned out behind me like two long tails. At least now I could use my hands without looking conspicuous. I maneuvered into the backseat, gave the cabby the address, and waited. The cabby made small talk. "Some night," she said smacking a wad of gum. The minutes ticked by in last dollar signs. "You're the third one I've had tonight. Must be some night to see so many of you." She whistled between her teeth for emphasis. "Are you nervous?" She glanced at me in the rearview mirror and then back at the road. It was a quizzical look and harmless to answer her, I thought.
"No. Not nervous really. A little afraid I won't be ready when I get up there."
"Ah, well, don't be. It happens to the best of us."
At my stop, I realized it was picking up. It, the process, the thing that everyone knew about, but never really talked about. Though I knew I had told, I wondered if they were really connected: the process and the telling. It was a rumor, I assured myself.
"Do you need help," she said from the front seat.
"Nope," I said, jumping out and leaving my trousers and underwear behind. I hoped she wouldn't notice. At least it wasn't puke.
I had to use my arms completely now, as I ambled along the walk. My cunt shivered in the wind as I moved. I could have paused, but didn't want to rest my cunt on the ground and get dirt on it. As much as I never loved my feet or legs, even my hips, I'd always loved my cunt. It was pleasure. It was pain. But it was mine and generally pleased me. I'd be sorry to see it go too.
A line appeared in front of me and I stopped. The queue snaked along the block and disappeared around a hill. Sitting in the grass, I waited. The trees around me rippled in the wind and shook the last yellow and red leaves from the branches. Great branch arms slid back and forth across the moon. The grass was tough and damp, the rain from the day driving the cold through my shirt. I pushed the bag under me, wondering how much longer I'd be able to carry it.
The line moved. I pulled myself up and resumed the trek. It was slow going with the arms, even as I grew lighter. No one teaches you how to use your arms for walking and I wished I'd been smart and wore gloves as some of the others were wearing. My hands were raw and scuffed in places. As I rounded the corner, I knew I'd see Miranda soon and strained to push up onto my fingers, but the path dipped and rose again. It was rather annoying having so many others ahead; it blocked my view, when I'd always had good seats before. But it was different now. I knew it. The line stopped again and I rested on my forearms and what was left of my chest, but not before sliding my bag between me and the chilled cement. Some of the others were in the grass, and I hoped they wouldn't have any trouble getting up.
Tired. The whole thing was tiresome. My belly gone and good riddance. I think once, maybe years ago, I liked my belly and chest, but it's hard to recall. As the body changes, the memory changes and as it shifted and dimpled, I'd stare into the mirror and wonder, hadn't I always looked like this? Was I ever really flat-chested? Did I ever have that belly of full pregnancy?
When we moved again, I was elbows, collarbone, neck, and head. I clutched my bag between my teeth. As the queue ambled forward, a few others stood full-figured off to the side watching us. Pieces of clothing were gently removed from the path and one person collected our bags, putting them on a conveyor belt that was stopped and started by someone on the other end. When she took my bag, the line paused again and I rested. I sighed.
"Jiminy Christmas," the person in front of me said. "I don't think I'm gonna make it. Bureaucracy. You would think that, this being a weekday and all, the line would be shorter."
I sighed again to show her I was listening and nervous, my skin prickled.
"I mean really," the person continued, "this is ridiculous. What are you in for?"
"Me?" I asked, "well…"
"It was my hip. I was getting what they used to call arthritis. I made the mistake of mentioning it at the office, my boss got wind, a day later here I am."
"Wow," I said and hesitated. No one was entitled to discuss illness with strangers or acquaintances. It was forbidden, though friends still talked and I had mentioned to Miranda that I thought my wrists ached after typing. Never tell anyone and I had told. Where had I told her, I wondered, had it been during work on an instant message?
"So," the person said, obviously impatient.
"I'm not sure. I thought this was just our time, you know. And it is so glorious."
"You're an idiot, but so's most of them here."
"What do you mean? I'd only heard gossip."
"Once we got that governmental health care, certain diseases began killing when they hadn't before. Now, reporting any disease meant death or glory," the person said, shrugging what was left of the shoulders. "Maybe you're too young to remember. Well, think about it. You got maybe five minutes to do so."
The line began moving again. I rocked back and forth using my shoulder muscles to zigzag and propel foreword. Once I reached the moving sidewalk, I began to relax. This is it, I thought, what I've waited my whole life for. That other person had to be crazy. Telling or no telling, I did have to go sometime, why not now?
I grinned in spite of myself, felt the wind move my hair around my face and chin that now rested on the walk. The roar of the crowd nearly brought me to tears. This was it.
"Oh" and "Ah," the crowd preened. I knew they'd be sitting in rows even before I could see them: rows upon rows of half circles, each larger than the one before stretching back into the night. Places where I had sat time and again now filled with someone else. "Yeah," the crowd screamed. It was finally about to be my turn.
The person in front of me was lifted up. I watched as the announcer, Miranda, threw the person up and pulled the trigger. The head burst into pieces that disappeared before any could hit the crowd below. "Again," they cried in ecstasy while exploding into applause.
I was lifted up by my hair, Miranda tenderly rubbed her thumb against my nose.
"Sorry," she whispered, "we're running behind, but I think you'll make it." I smiled with my eyes because my mouth and chin were gone. "Jenica," her voice rang for me above the swaying crowd, "wants to wish you all strength and peace of mind," Miranda read the papers from my bag. "She writes, 'When it comes you will know it. You will be ready.' Let's thank her."
"Yes," they shouted and howled with delight. Miranda pulled her arm back and launched me into the sky. I flipped and turned just like I'd always imagined. The sky became the crowd, became the sky. "Oh," they cried. And just as I started to descend, just before the trigger sounded, I was gone.
About the author:
Laura Madeline Wiseman is working on her dissertation at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her poetry has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Blue Collar Review, and Kiss Machine, among other journals and magazines. She is an editor for e4w.org and a reader for Prairie Schooner.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Laura Madeline Wiseman at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 4, No. 3, where "Arriving in One Piece" ran on September 2, 2004. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story, speculative fiction, magical realism.