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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Saturday
Apr132013

« In Which We Moan As He Strokes Our Feet »

You can find our Saturday fiction series here.

Host

by ERICA CICCARONE

They start at my feet and have taken over my ankles, my shins, and two of them have grown in my right knee. We hope that there will be no new ones. We hope that they will fall off soon, or hatch.

They are blue-ish beneath the skin, some small as eraser buds and others the size of peanut M & Ms. Some are raised, like mushrooms growing on a rock. Others are partially exposed, like coral. There have not been any more since last week, so our hope is that the medicine is working and soon they will disintegrate. Hopefully, the medicine will also kill the creature that is living inside of me. What I want to know is, what will happen to it after it dies? Will it come out of me somehow? Will I spend the rest of my life harboring the corpse of an egg laying creature?

When we first noticed the eggs, we were in the car driving back home from a long weekend at the shore. I was wearing my rubber duckies and my feet started itching. Not wanting to take off the monsters, I stomped my feet on the floor of the car. I clicked my heels together, slapped my toes against the dashboard.

“What are you doing?” my mother asked.

“My feet itch!”

“Christ, it’s those ridiculous boots. It’s not even raining!”

The possibility that it could rain seemed reason enough to don the yellow galoshes.

The itching changed to burning, like the blood in my veins was actually on fire. I tore the laces out of the boots and pulled them off, threw them onto the backseat. Off came the aquamarine socks. You know when you’re dreaming and in the dream you sort of know that you’re dreaming? That was how I felt when I looked down at my feet. A cluster of six on the right foot and three dotted the left foot in the shape of a triangle. Eggs.

I am getting used to my eggs. I sit on the floor in the living room eating popcorn and watching the game shows. Mom doesn’t want me sitting on the couch. She’s afraid that the eggs might spread, that the creature will somehow move to a new host. Can I blame her? She didn’t want me to sleep in my bed, either, but Aunt Patty intervened and Mom agreed to let me sleep there if I put down a piece of plastic. Obviously, I am not going to school. Nor am I going to ballet class or horse back riding lessons, because we don’t want the creature burrowing into Ginger either.

Because Mom works and she decided I shouldn’t be left home to alone to develop a psychological neuroses about my eggs, Aunt Patty comes by a few times a day. She works from home doing something with computers so it’s not too big a deal for her to stop by. We play checkers or pinochle and she brings me a turkey sandwich with lots of mayo and tomato, the way I like it. We think that the creature entered me in the sea, and because they say that the human body is something like 75% water, it doesn’t surprise me that the creature has chosen me as its host. What does surprise me, of course, are the eggs. They are growing, very slightly but noticeably. I cannot see them growing, but I keep a chart of their progress, their growth in centimeters. Nor do I see a new one emerge. It is as if that part happens very quickly when I am not looking. One minute, I had nineteen of them and Bob Barker was hugging some chubby housewife, and the next minute there were twenty. That’s the count right now. Twenty. I am hoping that this nice, round number will signal a stop to their growth. Aunt Patty said, “Just four more and we can start selling them by the dozen.”

The infectious disease specialist is in New York City, 1300 miles from where we live in Metairie, Louisiana. Mom’s always talking about going to the Big Apple to see “a show.” She pronounces it “BROAD-way.” When we made the trip last week, scraping together the Christmas savings, I felt overwhelmed by the bigness of it, so many people, like my identity could shift out of me and jump into another body, and I would return home at night with the personality of a forty-year old accountant named Barry. There was now something so unique and exceptional about me that I felt full and original and great. I wanted to run down Fifth Avenue.

The doctor’s office was on the Upper East Side, right by Central Park. Before we went into the office, my mother said, “His name is Dr. Dudu. He is from Bangladesh and he is very brilliant. Please do not laugh at his name.” I could tell she was trying not laugh herself. I nodded solemnly, but I was very excited to show Dr. Dudu my eggs.

Dr. Dudu was very tall. He had a thick, black moustache and the complexion of a polished saddle. I was wearing some slip-on sneakers and thin socks, and when I took these off, his face screwed up—not in horror like Mom and Aunt Patty — but with an expression of fascination and rapture, like he had just seen the light of God.

After he interviewed me, examined me, and drew blood, he determined that I had been infected with a creature. You’d think he’d speak in fancy medical terms that I wouldn’t understand, but he didn’t. He actually said, “You have been infected with a creature.”

My mother, who had been standing, sunk her hips into the counter and her hand rose to her throat.

“What?” she said.

“It probably chose Julie as a host when she was in the ocean. You are a very unusual girl,” Dr. Dudu said to me. “This happens very rarely.”

This notion thrilled me!

“Eventually, with treatment, the eggs will disintegrate and the bumps will get smaller and smaller over the next three weeks, until they disappear. But you will have some scars.”

I considered this briefly and shrugged.

“Three weeks!” my mother said.

“Maybe two.”

“Can’t you cut them off?” my mother said.

The doctor cradled my foot in his hand and looked at my eggs. “I would not do that. The eggs are beneath the skin. It would be like cutting into the yolk of an egg — extremely painful for Julie. And the scarring would be much worse. And besides, they would still grow back. They must dissolve naturally.”

“What if they hatch?” I said.

“The medication will kill them. You are not a natural host, so the eggs most likely are under-developed anyway. I will give you an ointment for them, to help the itching. You must not itch them.” He shook his finger at me sternly. “Promise me you will not itch!”

“I promise,” I said. I liked him.

By the time I hopped off the examination table, I felt like I was taking the news very well. But that night in the hotel room, I felt differently. I couldn’t stop looking at my eggs. I began to imagine things. An alien race of creatures would be born from my feet, and they would kill me and my mother and leave the house to take over Metairie, New Orleans, and then the world. Or maybe they were actually bird eggs, or starfish eggs. I didn’t mind the idea of starfish being born from my feet, but wouldn’t it be painful? Where would the starfish go? I would probably have to collect them and take them back to the sea. And then what? Would the creature lay more eggs? According to Dr. Dudu, I would know that the creature was dying because I would experience symptoms of the flu. So now, we’re waiting.

Aunt Patty takes my temperature at lunch time.

“Ninety-eight-six,” she says every day, “and cool as a cucumber.”

I have been drawing pictures of the creature. I like to think that it has many eyes with very long eyelashes, and one of those flagellums. Basically, my ideas are a mix of cartoon monsters and microscopic photographs of amoeba in science text books. I am starting to miss school. When my friends call to find out where I am, I don’t mention the eggs. We decided on walking pneumonia: contagious and long-lasting, no one would try to visit me. “I’m feeling a little better today,” cough cough, “Just weak and,” cough, “tired. I’m so tired, I’m falling asleep on the phone.” I keep up with my homework and have discovered that I can easily get through life and school without teachers. Except that I need Aunt Patty to help me figure out a geometry problem from time to time. Sometimes I take the needle of the compass and press it against an egg, almost to the point of breaking the skin. I wonder what would leak out of it. Like the yoke of an egg. It is sometimes lonely here with my eggs. At least I have the dog. Yesterday, I woke up and the dog was licking my eggs. I haven’t told Mom and I hope the dog doesn’t die.

Three months later the eggs have spread up my legs. We have been to New York twice, mortgaged the slanted house, consulted more doctors and they have all said the same thing: wait. I wait, and I feel like a mother, waiting for a baby to complete the gestation cycle and be born into the world. School is over. My friends have stopped calling. I caught Reggie Boudreaux looking through the window at me as I sat on a towel in the living room, practicing yoga. I went to a specialist in New Age medicine who suggested it. I meditate, cross legged, breathing in and out, sending thoughts away as quickly as they appear. The eggs are large and bulbous now, and there are dozens. I cradle my feet in my hands when I am in full lotus and smooth my hands over my eggs.

My mother has ceased communicating with me. Aunt Patty comes less and less. Even the dog has lost interest in me.

One night years later, my boyfriend Michael consults my feet, which are pockmarked as a prehistoric egg. I have never told anyone the story. I keep my feet as a secret all to myself, something sacred, a thing of something like shame and homage together. But I like Michael. He has scars and burn marks from when he was younger and damaged. But he is better now. We are in our thirties, and it has been many years since the eggs started to fall off. But still, I wonder if the creature is still living inside of me.

“These scars, Jules,” he says. “Where did they come from?”

I try to tell him the story. With tenderness, I describe the day at Pensacola, removing my galoshes and tiptoeing into the water. I tell him that I stood there, fifteen years old, in a blue bikini, my mother sunning behind me. I tell him how calm I felt as I stood and waded up to my thighs, as I dipped my head into the water and held my breath and my hair spooled all around me like a mermaid. I tell him I wish mermaids were real. How I imagine they’d have problems like this all the time, how it would be no big deal.

“But what is it?” he says.

I tell him that at some point, as I bathed in the gulf, a creature entered my body. I tell him about my eggs, about the hard, certain texture of them. I tell him about the nine months I sat on the living room floor with them. I tell him how I grieved when they started to fall off, one at a time, into tiny carcasses, deflated and hopeless. It took years, I tell him, for me to stop missing my eggs. It was like a part of me was amputated.

“I felt that way when my mother died,” he said.

“I felt nothing when my mother died,” I said honestly.

And here we are, alone, essentially, on this earth, in each other's arms, and I have told him about my eggs, and we lie there, eyes locked, and I feel his foot graze my foot, his toes run up and down it, something starts to happen to me and I moan. I keep moaning as he strokes my feet. I see the surf of Pensacola and hear the waves; I feel the scruff of the bath towel under my butt and I breathe in, breathe out, sending all thoughts away, until I’m underwater again, my legs turned to a slick scaly tail, my hair floating around me, my neck slit with gills. I am part of the ocean, I am part mother and part ocean. I moan and he strokes my feet.

Erica Ciccarone is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her website here.

"Blackberry Way" - The Wonder Stuff (mp3)

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