Grace Harnois
One Foot in Front of the Other

    Eve had everything she could ever want in her left shoe. The charismatic, conversation-starter socks with frisky seals on the soles, worn toe-holes for added spunk and visible determination, ironic gold glitter nail polish, and a $10 bill. Her little toe was very cynical, as it had never been caressed, and gave her limb a gruff (if somewhat lonely) air. The other toes were clearly affected and swore they'd never find love. Her heel was stained dark brown from summertimes and it liked its space.

    Sometimes Eve slipped a wrapped condom into her sock and pretended she was a prostitute, stomach empty (except for bodily occupational beverages) and eyes ringed with blue eyeliner and sleeplessness. Then the neon lights of the night streets cut through her eyelids and, frightened, she would press the condom on a couple so that they'd have an additional amusing reminiscence to share when the silence grew discontented. She hoped none of the couples would use her gifts because they'd probably think of her during sex and that was more than her toes could handle. They curled in disgusted imaginings of the possibilities. They were better than that.

    When going home from the city, she always chose a second-floor one-seater on the train to avoid the boozy baseball fans and overextended businessmen. Carefully, delicately, she arranged her water bottle, Walkman, and uneaten apple around her until they were in perfect harmony with her lightly crossed ankles and musical thoughts. Everything needed a home at all times, every possession and moment of posturing, or the loneliness of the late night train ride would suffocate her. She didn't have it quite right this evening, and the bottom of her foot itched defiantly, deep beneath layers of plasticized, traveled-upon skin, inside her bone. Frustrated, Eve rearranged her belongings and shuffled her feet against the sticky seatback.

    The itch refused to cease. Her headphones howled unfeeling loverly words Eve couldn't understand. She was dancing her Metra ten-ride in and out of its walleted bed, people-guard down and forced unfriendly scowl at half-mast, when she made eye contact with a man across the aisle. Accidental eye contact was Eve's least favorite traintime interaction. When the giggly prepubescents of that middle school psyche played uncomfortable boy-girl-sexual-activity games of connecting lines drawn between columns of names and sex acts on notebook paper (MASH, Destiny, the whole gawky parade), she always insisted that "eye contact" be one of the actions. This drew typical sneers and unmasked snotty eye rolls, but while other girls wandered the halls pondering BJs and HJs and other mysterious fleshy acronyms, Eve kept her eyes to the peeling ceiling. To lock eyes with a stranger was to slice an unexpected and violating cut into his or her soul. Besides, it made her toes itch.

    Trapped in the greased glass tunnel called politeness, Eve smiled unfeelingly, the corners of her mouth rising for an unnoticeable instant of grimace. The man disobeyed her clear wishes and answered with an intimate grin. His eyes fucking sparkled. (How did people do that? She never knew.) Eve's leg spasmed visibly from the discomfort, knocking her apple to the floor, where it burst into a hundred unexpected grainy blobs. She ripped her gaze to the window and wiped the juice off her shoes, feeling violated. He was one of Those Men and the quasi-fear drew him to her side. Disbelieving, she watched in horror as he shoved through the crowded aisle and approached the seat.

    He was still smiling. "Hi."

    Politeness was dead. She glared at his patterned collar, avoiding the eyes now. He chuckled, somewhat patronizingly. Unresponsive, she cleaned appley mush from her jeans with a forgotten newspaper.

    Silence. Her toes burned with unexpected shame.

    "...Would you like a new apple?" He held out a dusty-looking Braeburn, the sticker still on.

    This was too much. "I don't even know you. Do you really think I'd eat food you gave me?" He shrugged and replaced the apple in his bag. They were quiet again. He sat on the floor next to her, somehow missing the sludgy puddle expanding across the car. He rested his head on the metal railing and sighed contentedly. Unannounced, a Much Improved Smile suddenly pounced as he simultaneously swooped for secondary eye contact. He caught her. Suddenly this man was scruffily, understatedly attractive - the most dangerous type of good-looking - and goddamnit her toes were curling with something approaching delight. She stared at their four feet, his covered in depressed-looking sandals stained with the oily sidewalk cracks of the city.

    "Aren't you cold?" His eyes were roundly caring, embracing, unfolding a blanket of attention over her shivery shoulders. She gripped it tightly as she noticed how his toes curled at her question.

    "My toes need their freedom." To anyone else on the planet except Eve: flippancy, silliness, meaningless jest.

    But it wasn't to anyone else.

   

    This was so foreign that she was sure she had never touched another human being. He turned off the light in his dingy apartment living room as he squeezed her left foot. "I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover." Her mouth opened wide to laugh because Radiohead lyrics as romance were misguided in most ways, but he covered it with his own. Eve reached down and pulled off her socks; it was the only thing left to do. There were dragonflies in the dark air surrounding them and she closed her eyes, digging her heels into the couch to silence their protests.

    But the touching ended quickly. She opened her eyes as he pushed her clothes towards her, urging her to get dressed. There were no more musical words or smiles dripping from his lips. She pulled denim pantlegs up over her quizzical ankles, yearning for something more. She received a shove into the hallway and a door slam, without even a Sub Par Smile for comfort, without tenderness or even thinly veiled lust. The door opened and a hand, accompanied by a sliver of face and tousled hair, extended, holding the same reddish-green apple.

    "Sorry." He placed the apple in the crook of her tightly folded arms and withdrew, disappearing back into the mothy dark.

    She had stumbled all the way to the street corner below his window when she noticed that her socks were gone. Divested of everything, she didn't know what to do but wait. Her toes icicled quickly, lying beside each other like albino baby carrots. As a drizzly sleet fell beneath the streetlight, a hole opened in the side of the apartment building and two scraps of sad blue fabric fluttered down. Eve slid the socks slowly back onto her feet, massaging them back towards sensation. Her toes were unresponsive, resentful of the night. While she was kneeling in the gutter, half-barefoot and disheveled, a red-faced man came bumbling around the corner. "Hey babe, how much?" He leered down at her uncontained long hair and smeared eyeliner, weaving drunkenly towards her huddled form. Eve stood quietly and pushed the apple against his mouth. Surprised, he bit down, and she walked away, leaving the Braeburn hanging in the center of his wide, stupid face, gaping and slick with rain.

    Back on the train, her ankle announced that the $10 bill was gone.