a normal cloven hoof
BY JESSICA LEE RICHARDSON
“It isn’t the worst disease to have,” I told Blaize, watching him untie his shoes to show me his foot.
“How did you know you had it?” He asked with his signature glint. Around the eyes. “Bright light” they call people like Blaize. Perhaps his name helped him acquire the quality.
“Well I broke my foot,” I said, looking down at cement flints and filaments. The conference had a feeling of a festival on the first day and it had made us all a little claustrophobic. Blaize solved it with an invite to his pool. “Which, by itself would have just been a broken foot,” I continued. “But then a month later—it broke again.”
I was in sandals and Blaize looked at my toes, which needed a coat of paint. A woman whose name I forgot brought out a tray of vodka sodas.
“Yours looks good, though.” He said and smiled. I felt encouraged and at the same time shot down.
Some writers were using their feet for PR. Mine looked too healthy to impress the press. Almost as soon as I thought that, I felt guilty. I was lucky be invited into this company at all, I knew. These were real artists, with real audiences, doing what they loved. It was the dream. I was poolside with a bright light, who was married to another bright light, and they had not a dim bulb among all of their copious amounts of fun starry friends. I should be happy to be here, not always needing more, not succumbing to vacuum thoughts that may wilt my eye shine. Or worse, Blaize’s.
“And it won’t even kill us!” I said with too much enthusiasm, trying to compensate for my skip down that vapid thought path.
“Probably.” “Right, probably.”
“Are you ready?” He said, fingers on sock.
“Yes, let’s see this,” I said in a spirit of distant joviality, the world is a game, Darling.
Blaize slid his thumb underneath the white cotton and flicked off the sock. Well.
I didn’t mean to but I stared.
I stared with as much animal confusion and awe as I had when I was two years old and saw a boy with cerebral palsy in an arcade. I didn’t know the body could do that. My face must have contorted in imitation of the boundaries of the flexibility of physical form.
Blaize laughed at me and I snapped out of it.
“It looks like a rabbit foot,” I said. Light. Teasing. To my alarm I touched it. Or a Cloven Hoof, I thought.
“Or a Cloven Hoof,” said Blaize. A naked one. A furless rabbit goat curve, the toenails curling into claws. I laughed.
“I don’t believe in the devil, but I do love that term,” I said. Cloven Hoof Cloven Hoof Cloven Hoof, my brain said in support of loving that term.
“Same,” said Blaize looking at his magnificent and hideous arch. Thinking, perhaps, how this could kill him.
No one knew why artists, writers mainly, were waking up with these problematic wild feet. One a piece. Mine looked positively civilized compared to Blaize’s. I compared our aesthetics for the answers the medical field wouldn’t cough up. But I felt sheepish, like a conspiracy theorist, so I stopped and shut up about it.
“You should see Shelley’s,” he said. His wife. She was upstairs with Time Out Los Angeles, while we spoke and sipped our vodka soda. “It shrunk,” he said, by way of explanation.
“I’d love to,” I said like he was talking about a chandelier and not the mangled appendage of his wife.
“Ours transformed on the same day,” he said. Transformed. Only the glinty-eyed would use such verbs for sudden, involuntary limb contortions. How romantic, though.
The medical community was calling it “Pedungulan Aegopodis” or “PA”. We all felt like loudspeakers.
“Really?” I said. “Mine transformed. More slowly I think.” “It looks like it didn’t,” Blaize said. “Yet,” he offered.
“Yeah but it was in the blood work,” I said more defensively than I meant. Blaize nodded with most excellent kindness. A few of the girls filled in around us with questions about Blaize’s PA. I backed up when another girl angled her slim wet bikini hip in front of me. Luckily, Chrysta was there with a smile squint-‐ plastered across her lovely wide mouth.
“Come with me,” she said.
I hadn’t thought she meant into her Fit, but I hopped in. She was gaga for something. She pressed the ignition, gurgled and pumped up the Kendrick Lamar.
She waited to pull out of the driveway to tell me. “I got you an interview,” she said.
“About my foot,”
“What?” She raised her eyebrow. “No!” “Oh,” I disguised my hurt. “What then?”
“A JOB,” she said delighted. “You’d get to live near me if you got it!” Chrysta was among the few who are truly enthusiastic about adult life. A relief flooded my body in greater and greater amounts as we looped further and further away from Blaize’s overly fortunate neighborhood. Chrysta filled me in about the position. Executive Assistant. Great Money. Great Benefits. Somebody’s bitch. Got it.
“You have a good chance,” she went on. “It’s for a producer who is getting back into directing.” I nodded, rolled the window down. “He wants someone with PA!”
We were already in Glendale. Chrysta zipped into the mall parking lot. What. “What?” I said.
“Come on we have to get you an outfit,” she said. “He wants to see you today!”
Oh lord. I’m three vodka tonics deep! I can still feel the chlorine in my eyes. But I can’t fight Chrysta’s zeal for financial freedom and neighborliness. It would be nice to live near her. It would be nice to have a 401k. How would I write, though? I pictured my own hoof uncloving. Everyone wants to work with creatives, but creatives don’t stay creative under fluorescent lights. They need pool light, eye light, chandeliers. The mall smelled good, though. I shambled on toward a Zara with my mind on cookies and perfume spritzes.
“They’re too big,” I said, relieved. I stepped out of the dressing room to show Chrysta the pants, because too big is a wonderful feeling for a girl.
“LOOK at your ASS,” she said. Marvelously. I fucking love Chrysta.
We buy the too big pants with the subdued pinstripes; we buy them in gray and with a blouse. I wear them out of the store.
We’ll stop at Chrysta’s on the way to borrow shoes. We’ll grab a sandwich to suck up the vodkas and go be impressive to old white men. I am a sea of nods. I will assist the shit out of somebody, I say.
Really, with the PA, Chrysta is going on, you’ll need benefits. You have to be smart. Who knows how it may progress?
I knew how it would progress, though. It wouldn’t, not if I took this job. The shriveling would shrivel. I could feel a tingle in the foot in question. A response. My left. The hills were merciful in the golden sun. I took my shoe off. Chrysta looked over and nodded. In sympathy probably. Maybe for the state of my foot, maybe for how subtle the state of my foot was. My poor normal deformity, there, there. I cradled it.
I wanted to put my foot out the window like I had when I was a kid. With urge. The pant leg brushed my arches and I was only toe, so I hiked them. Chrysta bobbed to a remix of a remix and I sent a piece of stray love into her cheek. I crossed my left leg up and Adam over my right and out into the breeze. There was nothing natural about the position but it felt so good.
“Ha! You’re so crazy,” Chrysta said. She had an approving dance-smile going. I felt my metatarsal stiffen and crunch and I knew I could be ready for all kinds of lights. I pictured the interview out in the flank of telegraph peak. I pictured the bright of San Gabriel granite under my goat foot. We did a little dance with our hands and headed down Sunset Boulevard in search of a shoe that would fit this half transformed thing.
Jessica Lee Richardson spends her time these days by the beaches and rivers of South Carolina, chasing bouncy balls with a magician from Japan and a golden dog from Alabama. She herself is from New Jersey, a hub of relocation, and so is her first book of stories, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides (FC2, 2015), which won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. Her fictions have been recognized by the National Society of Arts and Letters and featured online at The Short Form and Ploughshares. Stories have appeared or will appear in Big Lucks, the Collagist, the Indiana Review, Joyland, and the Masters Review among other places. You can read some of these at www.jessicaleerichardson.com.
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