Damned commercials, you think, reaching for the remote. The TiVo loudly announces that it’s out of buffer and you’re just going to have to sit there in your pajamas and wait, thank you very much. Just then, you remember that you forgot to remember to get the mail, though, so you mute the tube and head for the door.
You peek outside, but it’s dark and late. The ground is wet from rain. You slip out of your bunny slippers so they don’t get soggy and pad out to the mailbox. Briefly leafing through the contents – Pre-approved platinum card!** – Dear homeowner – URGENT, OPEN NOW! – You could be a winner! – you wonder if it was worth the trip after all and take a brief detour to the bin.
“Ow!” you exclaim. Must have stepped on a rock. You make your way more carefully back to the door, but on the very next step – “Ow!” – you feel the same pain, sharper, in the same place. Middle of the left heel. Joy.
You make your way tenderly back inside, keeping your weight off the heel. Your show is on, of course, so you limp over to the remote and pause it before grumpily making your way to the bathroom where you sit down to have a look at the damage. Contorting your body to bring the two extremes into close proximity you see that, sure enough, there’s a tiny speck on your heel (how can such a tiny thing hurt so damn much?) where you got stabbed by a sliver or something.
You probe at it with a pair of tweezers, but they are too blunt and fat; the wound seems tiny, like a pinprick. You clump around the house looking for something small and pointy, but the best you come up with is a small knife. Not razor-sharp, but it may do. Well, there’s not much for it. You make a brief stop at the fridge for a beer, pause, and pour a judicious shot of whiskey too. Down the hatch.
Back in the bathroom you try to get a better look at the situation, but the awkward position makes it hard to get a good look. A small flashlight in the cabinet reveals little but a red spot. No blood, just a dot smack in the middle of the heel. A spot of black or dark, dark red.
You take a deep breath, poke at it with the knife. You can feel something smooth and hard, but light, almost chitinous. Doesn’t seem like a rock. Glass? You feel about for the edge. It’s not very deep, but it feels wider than the hole, like it went in and turned sideways. Maybe on the second step. You have to press into the skin at an angle, but you think – “Shit!” – good Lord, that hurts. You take a few swigs of beer.
Probing around a bit more, interspersed with curses and bouts of sharp pain, you find a few spots where you can get at the edge, but of course prying doesn’t help. It’s dug under the skin, so you’d have to pry it right through your heel, and the moment you put too much pressure on it, the sharpest pain yet reminds you why it’s generally not a good idea to force things through the skin.
By now, you’re sweating with the effort and the awkward position; you decide to rest a moment. Your leg tingles when you stretch it out, like it’s asleep, so you let that fade while you wipe the sweat down with a hand towel, sipping on your beer. The tingling fades quickly from the leg, but there’s still a tingle in your heel. Or maybe a tickle? Round two, fight!
You figure there’s no help for it but to widen up the hole some in the hopes that you can tip the shard of glass (or whatever it is) up sideways and get at it with the tweezers. Gently, or as gently as one can be when slicing at an open wound, you try to nip at the surface, cut away some of the dead skin. It’s slow and painful work; the knife really isn’t that sharp. All your razors are of the “safety” variety, so no help there. You don’t really get anywhere, but you try prying at it again anyway. More pain, and the tingling (tickling?) intensifies.
An idea! (Swig of beer.) You find a pair of nail clippers, rinse them thoroughly under hot water, dry them with some toilet paper. You manage to hook a corner of the clippers into the hole and get a little skin in there. Shnip. It’s not the crisp sound of clipping nails, but more like the wet crunch of water chestnuts. That wasn’t so bad. (Wipe away sweat.) You try snipping away at little bits of flesh to widen the hole, but it’s like Russian Roulette. Sometimes, no feeling at all. Sometimes, sharp pain. A couple times, sudden bleeding, staunched quickly by a bit of TP and a brief break.
Your drink’s empty. You limp-tip-toe your way to the kitchen for another, open the window over the sink and let the cool air flow over your damp hair. You are in a well and truly bad mood, now. You consider your options. You could just leave it there and hope it works itself out, but putting a little weight on your heel reminds you why that’s not going to work unless you want to get crutches. Damn it. You could just suck it up and make a bloody mess of the heel until you manage to get it out. Not looking forward to that. You could go in to the doctor’s tomorrow and have a professional take care of you. I don’t even want to look at my bank balance though. Your heel tickles fiercely for a moment, subsides.
There’s something about this kind of situation, it’s just not right. Rocks don’t belong in humans. Get out of there, rock, you are a rock not a human. You feel compelled strongly to correct this injustice, to put things back the way they should be. You can’t leave it alone, like an accidental insult. Just contemplating ignoring it grates on your nerves. Bloody mess it is. Sigh.
You pour yourself another generous shot of whiskey and make your way back to the bathroom. Back to the kitchen. Back to the bathroom, with beer.
All right. This thing’s coming out even if I have to slash an X in my heel and peel back the skin. The sudden gory thought makes you shudder a bit, but determination fills you. You take the knife firmly and probe around again (Ow.) for the edge. It seems deeper; you curse to yourself. So far all you’ve managed to do is make the problem worse. You steel yourself. You’re gonna pry the damn thing out and damn the consequences. Ow goddammit fuck shit that hurts!
Okay, you’re going to cut it open first and then pry it out.
You drag the edge of the blade across the heel this way, then that, in an X shape. Just a light score, you’ve gotta press harder than that. The alcohol has numbed the pain a bit (healthy swig of beer) and you think you can handle it if you can manage to cut deep enough. What was a small pinprick of a hole earlier is now a ragged mess of skin flaps, but at least it’s not bleeding heavily. You carve at it a bit, trying to make a cut that’s plenty longer than the object embedded in your heel; most of the surface skin is dead and painless, but once you get to the tender flesh beneath you change your mind again.
It’s been a good hour and you’ve got nothing to show for it. You care less and less about injury and just want the damn thing out of there because it does not belong but every time you try to pursue this goal the pain staves you off automatically. Frustrated, you try and get another look. You twist around, get in close, pry the skin back with the knife tip. You think you see something black and shiny; a rock, then. You feel the tickling again, strong, and is that… movement? There’s skin and blood and shadow all in the way, your eyes are completely unreliable. But the thought is there, now, accompanied by a sinking sort of feeling in your stomach.
You chug your beer, try to force your thoughts in another direction: your show, the mail, the ridiculousness of the whole situation. You feel a bit better. The feeling passes, and to seal the deal you poke at the rock some more with the knife. Solid, hard. Not moving. Just a—oh god what the fuck is this?! You can feel it through the knife. Dread. A wriggling sort of movement, and undeniable. Panic. The knife point slips off and you feel a sharp pain as you stab into your heel. Slips off? No, the knife didn’t move, the… thing did.
Adrenaline. Blood pounding. You are gripped by this awful feeling, and an imperative to get away! – but you can’t get away. It’s inside you. Frantically you poke and prod at the mess in your heel. Pain is a distant echo, all that matters is the urgent need to get it out get it out get it out. Your heel is a sore, inflamed mess; you are poking and stabbing all around but you can’t find the damn thing. What the fuck?!
You look again, try to see anything, find anything. Your heel is slick with blood; you frantically soak it up with tissue, but all you can see is red. All you can feel is pain. You feel it, but it doesn’t matter; it’s just a post-it note on your brain saying “hey, your foot hurts.” You’re breathing hard and fast, and you realize you’ve been emitting a thin, panicked whine but you don’t care. You want to. You want to scream, but then you might attract the attention of your neighbors and what would you say to them?
Despair. Helplessness. Anxiety. Panic. Fear. Anxiety. Fear. Fear.
You don’t know how much time has passed. You’re lying in bed, wide awake; light pours through the blinds onto your bed. There is a sore, throbbing ache in your heel, but you don’t feel anything else. You regain some lucidity, unball yourself, sit up. I must have drunk more than I realized. Yeah, what the hell were you thinking? You get out of bed, stepping gingerly on your left toes. You put on some clothes, hop in the car, drive to the hospital.
The lobby music is soothing, and for the first time since the damn commercials you feel calm. After a time, it’s your turn. You explain what happened, feeling foolish. The doctor nods, all professionalism, but you can’t help thinking he looks a bit concerned. You lay back on the examination table and he has a look.
“Well, you sure did a number on this,” he says, “but I don’t see anything.” He probes with his finger, asking what you feel, but there’s nothing special. “We’ll do an X-ray just to make sure, okay?”
There’s nothing on the X-ray either. You feel better; you must have got it out without realizing. Between the alcohol and the damage from the knife, it’s no surprise you were feeling weird. The doctor spreads some antibiotic cream on your heel and bandages it up, tells you to do the same for at least a week and sends you on your way.
In the light of the day, sober, with the logic of science on your side, you feel a whole lot better, in fact. You don’t even begrudge the doctor’s fee. You arrive home, plop down on the couch, and finish your show.
You remember the bathroom (it must be a right mess!) and go to clean up. There is a bottle on the counter and another on the floor (unbroken, thank God), smears of blood on the tile, and bundles of wadded up tissue in the trash. You set about cleaning up. Your curiosity is piqued, so you inspect everything very carefully, looking for the culprit of all this trouble. Nothing on the counter, the knife, the tweezers, or the nail clippers. You carefully examine the tissues, then go through the trash entirely just in case. You go over the floor on your hands and knees, wiping up blood with a sponge and looking for anything small and pointy. No luck. What else is new.
Giving up, you rinse out the sponge in the sink, squeeze out the water, and toss it in the trash. As you turn to leave, you notice the far wall. There are some specks of blood (wow, really?) that you missed. And one – the biggest one – has something else. A tiny black speck. A feeling of satisfaction comes over you. Gently, you scoop up the culprit on a piece of clean tissue. You examine it closely, but it really is small. Such a small thing for so large an ordeal!
You dig around your junk drawer for the magnifying glass you never thought you’d actually use. It’s scratched and dirty, but you clean it up as best you can and have a look at your find. It’s flat, semi-triangular, and jagged like a piece broken off of something. One curved edge looks almost fuzzy; you realize it’s finely serrated. Nasty looking thing, you can see why it was so hard to get out.
Something else catches your eye. Next to the shard, there on the tissue. It’s small and fine; an eyelash? But there’s a crook in the middle, a slight bend. It looks more like a… leg. A little bug-leg.
Your foot tingles.