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Mise en Abyme: Part I


It was probably past time to get a professional opinion, but I never liked to be told bad news. The look in Lucy’s eyes was one of practiced composure from her forty-five years as a nurse. I pretended to not be bothered by her lack of enthusiasm and waited for her to give me her diagnosis. This was the closest I would get to a regular doctor without getting thrown into the looney bin and what are three-door-down neighbors for anyway?

Lucy’s home was stark white. The type of white that all matches and makes you feel like you need to squint when you look straight at the sofa. Lucy squinted a lot, especially at me, but she was careful to only ever look me in the eye. She finally sighed and set her white mug down on the glass coffee table.

“Well, I’m not going to lie to you and say this is common.”

“I didn’t expect you would.”

“What happened?”

There is always a chance, so statistically small it is considered impossible, that when you go to kick a wall your foot will go completely through instead of bouncing off. I remember that line from a late-night infomercial; maybe it was for earrings. There is always the possibility that something may not be where it should be. I used to use this argument when I misplaced my keys.

I had swung my legs out of bed like always; with my hip I have to do things slowly. When I didn’t feel my foot I’d figured it was just poor circulation. It’s not uncommon for me to have to lie in bed for a little and let my fingers and toes stop tingling. But when I got up I almost fell back over and had to brace myself on the nightstand. When I looked down, I thought I’d have a heart attack.

My left foot was completely gone.

It didn’t fall off or anything either, I checked. All that was left was the very end of my ankle, rounded off like someone had come along with an eraser.

No drugs either, not for me. I’ve got a severe allergy to whatever it is they put in those plastic capsules these days. And I sure didn’t sell it to anyone either. I knew a girl, Martha, and she swore up and down that a man she had met online stole one of her kidneys. Of course, she was a bat, and didn’t even know where her kidney was from her breast implants. But then she had a stroke, so I’m not allowed to say anything about it.

That first morning, I looked down at my new ankle stump and felt exhilaration. I’m a little ashamed to say it, what with all those charities and stuff out there, but I felt great. I’d lived my whole life as ordinary Linda, married Linda, and widowed Linda. Now I was one-footed Linda and that just seemed so much more interesting. I hadn't felt so good since I fit into a size eight jeans.

I didn’t know where to go first. I wasn’t seeing any of my friends until Wednesday, when the home April and Charlie lived in hosted Canasta. I thought about calling my granddaughter, but she was always busy, and my son worked day and night. I had nowhere else to show it off, so I went to get some groceries. I put on one of my nice, strappy sandals even though it was too cold for them. I kept myself steady with Rick’s cane; they gave it to him when he first got sick. It was a little too tall for me but the wobbling added to the look.

It’s not every day something life changing happens and I deserved to bask a little. But nobody even noticed. I’ll tell you, if Marnie was here she would have gotten everybody’s attention. She’s stuffed up with silicone the way a jumbo shrimp is stuffed with cheese. If she walked in here everybody would hold out a hand and offer to push her cart.

I’ve never been much of a head turner but with Rick at least I always had somebody with me. It’s been about three years but it’s still hard sometimes. He always kept tissues in his sleeves and would tell me when I needed to touch up my lipstick. He smelled like licorice, even in his younger days. I loved that about him.

I was walking through the aisles, not really looking, when I saw another woman trying to grab a pack of frozen corn. Her black, billowy sleeves were too long and kept catching on the shelves. I hobbled over to her and tapped on the glass door she was holding open with her hip.

“Can I give you a hand?”

“Excuse me?” she snapped at me, and then let the door slam shut. “Do you think that’s a funny thing to say to me?”

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to help you.”

“Well, I don’t need any help!” She shooed me off with both arms and when her sleeves flew back, I could see the rounded end of a wrist with no left hand attached to it. She saw me staring and pulled her sleeve back over the stump, embarrassed.

“Can I ask you something?” I asked, excited.


“I don’t want to be rude but... did your... did it just go missing one day?”

She stared back at me. Her eyes traveled across my face and down my body. I waited as she finished her scan and took a step back. I thought she would yell again but she started to laugh, “Did you...”

“Just this morning...” I replied. Her laughter was contagious.

“I’ve never seen anyone else... well I’ve never asked before.”

Her name was Mary, she was fifty-eight, and she had a face that looked like it hadn’t seen a smile in years. She had puffy cheeks that stretched down to a tight-lipped mouth and no creases. We finished our shopping together. The two of us, her with no hand and me with no foot turned more heads than I ever could have imagined. People stared, gawked even, and I tried to stay sensitive enough to muster a blush about it. It came easier to Mary; she kept her sleeve draped over the stump and would not meet anybody's questioning gaze.

We went out for coffee after the store, letting the bags of frozen produce melt in her trunk as we talked. And then we met up every day the rest of that week. We learned a lot about each other. I told her about my children and how I was the last of my friends to live on their own.

Mary mostly talked about her daughter. She had been missing for ten years since disappearing on the way to a friend’s house. She had given Mary a ring for Mother’s Day when she was little and Mary never took it off. It was a plastic ring with big, fake gems on it that sparkled gaudily no matter how dark the room was. She said it had happened a few years before, on the anniversary of her disappearance. Mary had just woken up and the hand was gone. The ring was sitting in the sheets of her bed, so she’d started wearing it on the other hand.

Mary lived in an apartment by herself just like me, but hers was on the other side of town. It was small and poorly decorated but it was the only place she would relax in. I was always talking about how she needed to get out more, but she could get so stubborn. So we’d sit in her living room on her lumpy couch and drink tea. I showed her a picture of my granddaughter and Mary talked about how she used to braid Hayley’s hair for school.

After a month of trying, I finally brought her out for cards. All the girls were there and they just loved Mary. They called us the dynamic duo and Marnie even asked to feel Mary’s stump. Alice made a joke about reading her palm and I could tell Mary loved being around the group. People have to be around other people or they just wither away.

After the card game, Mary stopped returning my calls. I gave it a few weeks, calling and asking around about her at the store and the coffee shop, but no one had seen her. I was getting worried so I dropped by her apartment. The door was unlocked the way she always left it. I looked around but there was no sign of Mary anywhere. She had left a cup of tea in the microwave and her electricity was shut off. I was about to leave, give up for good, when I saw a colorful reflection off the framed, school picture she had of Hayley hanging on the wall coming from her bed. I ruffled through the sheets until finally, Mary’s ring came tumbling out, daintily placed on the single finger still attached to it.

I think that’s all that’s left of her. I think everything just got a bit too much for Mary. I don’t know if she can hear me or feel me there, but I just can’t bear to let her go. I keep her with me now, in a nice little tin in my purse. I make sure she stays clean and I even paint her nail every now and then when I get lonely. It’s nice to have someone with me again.

First appeared in Camas Magazine, Winter 2019