Finding Footing in the Tropics

Submitted into Contest #186 in response to: Write a story within a story within a story within a ...... view prompt

8 comments

Fiction Funny Romance

Him

The doctors said it could have been the ill-fitting shoes. Years of them. Poor people, poor shoes. And that his feet were unusually large in the first place. When he first saw a doctor, and he removed his shoes, she gasped. His feet had hurt for years, always swollen, each toe carrot-like, but squishy, dense. They say feet bark when they hurt. His feet wailed. The arch of the left was ruined—not a support, but a broken bridge. Even after all the treatments, the three surgeries, the right big toe always throbbed, a deep bass note of pain. 

As he moved—stumblingly—through his twenties, every step forward felt like the lifting of a dead weight. When the weight was put down, the soles like a hundred small hammers pounding in a hundred small nails. Can feet scream? Yes, they have their own consciousness, their selfhood. But these feet weren’t themselves. They were aliens, appendages from a freak show. Beyond redemption. 

But then, a fluke: he got to the island. 

No shoes. No one wore shoes on the island. Just flip-flops for walking on the coral-strewn beaches or the soft blacktop road, but bare, gloriously bare feet for the grasses and sand. After one week there, the soakings in the spectacularly blue, salty warm waters and the tropical sun had soothed the pains he’d felt for years. He came with his parents for a vacation, but when they left he remained. 

The work he had was ludicrous: supplying the busy resort where he and his parents had stayed with coconuts for drinks and desserts for the patrons. Only by chance had he discovered, after watching some of the island kids climb the coconut trees barefoot, that he too had a knack, almost a gift for scrambling up the trees. That his gnarled toes and flat soles actually gave him some strange advantage in gripping the trunk and clambering up to secure the fruit. 

He first saw her from the tree.

Her

At first, it was one of those not-quite-conscious things, a tickle that you don’t really feel, maybe your hand absently goes to scratch, and then drops away. She felt it first on the back of her neck, so soft it was only a shadow glancing across her shoulder. Almost like someone gazing at you from above, and the gaze has weight. She’d had that feeling several times since she’d been on the island.

Maybe it was just that strange morning fog. Mornings had been foggy, the warm air thick, palpable. But this was falling fog, dampness like a brushed kiss, more a gesture than real rain. She moved down the path, head slightly up-tilted, the drops falling so softly, so slowly she thought she could count them. She liked the feel of it on her hair; it didn’t penetrate, this was rain at rest, rain on a lunch break. She looked down at her feet in the soft flip-flops, the slender toes betraying the touch of the damp, the flesh still white, pinkish. She’d only been at the resort for a week, and the sun had yet to turn her toes into bronze. The weather here, so foreign from her native Midwest. 

And the weather here, so changeable. The frequent storms always began the same way: There would be that rattling, a shivering, almost metallic sound from the palm leaves, like many cymbals being lightly but persistently tapped. If you were inside, you felt the pulse, the wave of air through the louvered blinds, enough to push your hair off your face, a pressure in your sinuses. Then, the switch thrown, the trapdoor sprung, the anvil struck: no gradation of flow, just water in a torrent, great gushing walls of water, a deluge, an ocean, a drowning. And then, like a dramatic movie screen shut off, the storm past, only the sound of trickling water from the shining leaves.

Him

Perfection. Could a designer have created a more intricate, a more articulately formed sculpture than her pair of perfect feet? Let’s begin with the flow of the ankle, the grace down to the heel, the skin flawless, every contour rounded and supple, the soft pinks. The first time he saw her, twenty-five feet up, he lurched forward, scrambling to get a better view, as she walked down to the nearby beach. Striking in all ways, but her feet—ahh. He almost fell from the tree.

For four days running, she’d passed under one of his trees on her morning walk from the resort to the beach. Once she’d even paused for minutes under the tree, barefoot. He held his breath. Now, the coconuts would have to wait. Every morning since the first, he’d burned to see her. This morning, first things first: concealment, and quickly. Barely dawn, the murky light gave him a quick cloak. He’d chosen the tree with the heaviest foliage close to the road, one that still gave him a clear view below. He wanted—no, he needed, as he needed food, air, water—to see those feet. 

He sat with his legs athwart the highest cross branch, so that he could lean down from the leaves, bracing his arms on smaller branches. He practiced holding the position in silence. He wiped the sweat from the back of his neck and wiped it again, feeling an itch. Damn, ants all the way up here? No, it was just that soft fog that had been forming the last few mornings, the dampness like a brushed kiss, so soft it was like a shadow falling over his head, a soft crown; rain like a gesture half-formed.

There, she was coming. But then he heard the wind rattling, and died inside. It was a squall.

Her

There was something so lovely in walking down to the water barefoot. She could hear the musical tinkle as the waves washed over the broken coral, the damp path warm, soft with rotting palm leaves. Still, the strange tickle, of unseen eyes.

She was moving off the path near the water’s edge when the winds came with that shocking severity. The roar of the palm leaves, and then the drenching, suffocating rain. The rain punished her, pushing her back against the nearest palm trunk. The rains and wind teamed up, gripping her like a doll, a toy, something trifling.

She struggled to get on the leeward side of a big palm, hugging the trunk. And then the storm, like a light switch flipped, turned off. 

Him

She’s under my tree! He shifted to see, and knocked a large coconut to the ground. But it hit one of her feet first. Agony!

Her

Was it broken? And then this crazy man, scrambling down from the tree. Did he throw it at me?

Him

“I can help! I can help, I know feet, I can help,” he shouted. 

Her

And in a second, he had my bruised foot in his hands. Warm, knowing hands.

Him

God.

Her

Damn.

Them

Her feet, warm in his lap. His feet felt fine. In fact, neither of them had ever felt better.

February 21, 2023 17:49

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8 comments

19:16 Mar 02, 2023

Very unique story. The sounds and sights are perfectly described. Well wriiten!

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Tom Bentley
21:12 Mar 03, 2023

Valentina, I'm happy you liked the story. Best to your own writing!

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F.O. Morier
10:36 Mar 02, 2023

I love your story! Great work!

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Tom Bentley
15:41 Mar 02, 2023

Hey F.O., that's most gracious of you—thanks!

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Lou Caviglia
20:01 Feb 26, 2023

Crazy story ... I have been cursed with feet you describe ... part hereditary, part having been a catcher with old school equipment ... your descriptions were shockingly accurate ... i was at a big league ball game and saw all these million dollar babies walking around the outfield barefoot ... they had gotten this new mental health guru and he was teaching them grounding ... had to try it out so started walking around barefoot ... it helps in a million ways ... and like the story, my wife has perfectly beautiful feet ... my grandkids sa...

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Tom Bentley
21:17 Feb 26, 2023

Wow, I suspect being a catcher for any length of time would give you lousy knees, hands AND feet. Lucky for me I was an outfielder, but having played a lot of basketball on my size 13s, they took some wear. But at least I can still walk. I have heard many folks say walking around barefoot is positively stimulating for the feet, but my feet are always cold, so ... Thanks for the comment.

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Rabab Zaidi
12:16 Feb 26, 2023

Interesting.

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Tom Bentley
17:36 Feb 26, 2023

Thanks for checking it out, Rabab. And though I do have large feet, I haven't moved into the fetish arena, yet.

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