Kathryn Michael McMahon
It’s been three weeks since Claire’s right foot stopped belonging to her. It’s still there, but occupied by a radiant blue light that escapes from under the cuff of her jeans. Sometimes the light goes away, but it always comes back.
She needs new shoes. The light has eaten away all of hers. She needs boots. Tall leather ones so the light can’t leak out. For now.
She arrives at the mall early when the seniors are still doing their laps. Some of them squint and shake their heads at her one glowing ballet flat with the holes in it. Two levels above the food court, Well-Heeled draws back its curtains. She can’t pay for college and justify such shoes.
Maybe she can. Maybe she is a god. There was that incident of her foot burning down the apartment. She’d only just kicked the stupid radiator before it erupted into flames.
An Up To 50% Off! sign appears in Well-Heeled’s window. She must be divine.
Stepping onto the escalator sends sparks flying out from her foot, but when she reaches the top, the glow fades.
Well-Heeled’s glass doors are open, the red brocade curtains tied back with gold braid. A chandelier drips smoky glass and plush red carpet spills beneath gold benches upholstered in velvet. She walks in.
The solitary salesman wears a pressed gray suit, no tie, top button undone. Ruddy cheeks are bright below pip eyes and he’s pricked his hair into blond spikes. His nametag reads Mr. Strawberry and he raises an eyebrow at the state of her shoes.
Claire sneaks her right foot behind her. “I’m here for the sale.”
Ignoring the glorious knee-high boots spotlighted on the new arrivals shelf, she browses the discounted items, but none will be tall enough, thick enough, to hide the glow when it returns. Maybe she is not a god. Maybe one just lives in her foot.
She catches the salesman watching her feet. “Find anything you’d like to try on? Oh!”
Through her right sock shines crisp blue light. She tucks her foot behind her again. “It’s nothing…”
Mr. Strawberry strides to the front of the store. “It’s everything.” From his pocket, he draws a gray and white rabbit’s foot, a key chain, and locks the glass doors. He pulls the curtains shut.
Returning, he crouches. “May I?” On his knees, he looks like he’s groveling. Is this being a god? The god in her lets him roll up her pant leg. His hands move like shadows over her foot.
She has heard curious stories. She has debt and no apartment and this strange, luminous medical condition (or god). She has heard sly stories. Thinking of them makes her foot pulse. The god in her foot says, Think of it as skin, think of it as bones. She stands taller and the words squirm out: “Do you know of anywhere looking for foot models?”
His lips twitch. “Gentlemen arrive here at the end of a work day to look for shoes for wives, girlfriends. Mistresses. They like to see how the shoes look on real feet before purchasing them.” Clapping his thighs, he rises. “The tips are very generous.” He pinches a card from his breast pocket and taps it on his chin before handing it to her.
Just skin and bones, toes and tendons.
He walks to the brightly lit shelf and picks up the leather boots. “Consider this an advance.”
• • •
In the storeroom, her foot isn’t glowing.
“Can’t you turn it on?”
But she’s only ever tried turning it off. “I don’t know how.”
Mr. Strawberry huffs and walks out.
The mall is closed, the red brocade curtains drawn shut. Waiting for her turn, Claire sits with the other models. They’ve finished and are waiting to take home new shoes and/or cash. Each wears a charcoal dress, formfitting, but nothing that detracts from the shoes. Like hers, their feet have been cleaned, buffed, and pedicured by Mr. Strawberry himself. He told her about these women, flicking his hand away as he listed their problems: shopping addictions, shoplifting, the wrong backgrounds, the wrong boyfriends. None of their feet are as glorious as hers, he said.
Dark hair pulled up, Odessa lounges by a shelf. Beside Claire, Sarah sits and blows smoke rings, somehow cliché with her short curls and red lipstick. She wonders whose problem is whose and whether they are better or worse than having a god in one’s foot.
The door opens and the women look up as Tamsin enters. “You’re up, Claire.”
Any concept she’d had of modeling does not apply. He’d told her to approach in bare feet. He’d showed her where to stand and how to put on the shoes. These would be chosen by the customer.
Claire walks out, mashing the carpet, stretching her toes as instructed and Mr. Strawberry dims the chandelier. A man in his forties sits on a bench.
The man on the bench holds out a box.
Mr. Strawberry nods. She takes the box. A pair of black, slingback stilettos. The god does not approve. She shoots Mr. Strawberry a look, but he ignores her and strokes his rabbit’s foot.
She stoops, sliding them over her heels, flexing and bending her feet. They are taller than anything she’s ever worn. She wobbles in a circle, presenting each angle of each foot. The man hunches over, eyes on her peep toes. She does not need to sneer. Inside her, the god grows.
His breath catches.
Her foot is glowing.
He takes off his suit jacket, lays it on the bench, and signals her over, but there’s no box. Mr. Strawberry winks and, disappearing into the storeroom, turns off the lights. There is no need for them. Her foot alone illuminates the room.
She teeters over to the customer. He catches the back of her calf and lifts her shoe onto the bench between his knees, slips off the stiletto, pulls her bare and glowing foot towards him and presses himself onto her. He grunts.
It’s just skin and bones, toes and tendons. But a white-hot feeling of not-here flashes through her. The god in her foot is bored of this worship.
Singed cotton and a scream.
Mr. Strawberry flings open the door to the storeroom and runs out. Beautiful heads crowd the doorway.
Gold benches shimmer in the firelight of the man’s trousers as he rolls and screams on the floor. Flames twist around her ankle. She can’t feel them. She can’t feel anything except the one stiletto on which she is balanced. She puts her foot down and yanks the heel off.
Wielding a fire extinguisher, Mr. Strawberry aims to spray Claire. She rips the nozzle off and he drops the tank to the carpet.
Wordlessly, the women move towards him, their naked feet avoiding singed footprints, their eyes flickering with the blue glow of Claire’s foot. They step over burning-pants man. They take Mr. Strawberry and press him to a bench.
He tries to push past them. “This man needs an ambulance. You can’t keep him here. You can’t keep me here.”
The fire blows out suddenly and the man lays still. Claire kneels beside him and peels tatters off his leg. Under the fabric, his skin bubbles. His eyes have rolled into the back of his head, but his chest rises and falls.
Skin and bones, toes and tendons. Her other foot is glowing now. That’s new. Her whole body buzzes with friction. The women watch, still, eyes hypnotic blue. Mr. Strawberry sweats and trembles.
Claire hasn’t noticed his shoes until now. Patent leather, hand-stitched. She sits down and wrestles them off. “Black socks, brown shoes? Do you take your job seriously at all?” When he hangs his head, her foot tickles and she laughs.
She leans onto her bright elbows and presses feet into his socks. “I bet it never gets better than footsy for you.” She bends forward and snatches them off.
Mottled gray and white fur covers his feet.
Mr. Strawberry screams.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” says Claire, the god nodding along. “It’s still just skin and bones, toes and tendons.”