The Enemy Within
The rebellion began suddenly and without warning in perhaps the last place I ever would have suspected.
"My toes are revolting, Katherine," I exclaim as I gaze down at the end of the bed, my size-tens sticking out of the blanket.
"You don’t have to tell me, Robert," she replies.
That’s not what I mean and she knows it; although I can’t see her face as it’s buried in one of her thick paperbacks, I can hear the smirk in her voice.
I’ve never taken much stock of my feet, only really examining them when necessary, like last summer when I stepped on that piece of glass, but now I do.
My long skinny toes have a yellowish tint, almost a jaundice color. They’re crooked and lean in different directions like the planks of a poorly-constructed picket fence. Wild tufts of hair — some of them gray I notice with a pang — creep all the way up to the brittle nails. Blue veins protrude through the skin, crisscrossing my feet like lines on a topographical road map.
I can’t believe these are my feet, the ones that supported me, carried me so gracefully through years of football, track, games with the children in the backyard. Are these the same feet that helped me carry Katherine across our marriage threshold, the ones that she had rubbed so tenderly that night?
I lift the blanket higher. My ankles look like misshapen golf balls callously stuffed into soft clay. More thick veins slither over them up to the sock tan-lines. The difference in skin color is striking. Above the line is a pinkish-brown hue, the result of many afternoons of yard work and golf games. Below is a sickening pale, almost as white as a sheet of paper.
I inch the blanket up further. More wiry gray hairs threatening to overtake the black ones. Ugly brown freckles, the remnants of poorly-healed cuts, small red spots. My calves, once firm, smooth, sculpted even, sag against the bed, creating fleshy puddles.
I raise the blanket higher. My bulbous knees are completely hairless and resemble the halves of an overly-ripe grapefruit. Additional mysterious spots I had never noticed before slink up my doughy thighs to more pronounced tan-lines.
What happened to my legs, my strong, muscular legs? I’m sure they were here yesterday. But now they’ve been replaced with pudgy, grotesque sticks.
I steel myself for what I’ll view next. Slowly, I remove the blanket entirely and stare down at my wrinkled green boxer shorts. I tentatively reach for the waistband, suddenly unsure of what might lurk beneath, deathly afraid to discover what else has betrayed me. But before I can investigate further my body’s mutiny, I hear Katherine put her book down.
“Ready to go to sleep, Robert?” she asks with a yawn.
I nod glumly. She smiles.
“Would you relax? Your toes are not revolting and neither is anything else, you look fine.”
“Yes,” I say, quickly covering myself with the blanket again. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right.”
She kisses the edge of my mouth and then turns away from me on her side.
“Can you get the light, dear?”
Before I turn off the light, I gaze at my wife. Her light brown hair is draped over the pillow, a hint of creamy neck exposed. Katherine has always looked great, she never seems to change. Somehow her wonderfully curvy body remains fiercely loyal and reliable.
Just as my fingers find the switch, I notice something. Katherine’s upper arm, right below the shoulder, seems different — a little bigger, a little chubbier. When did that happen? Two rival emotions instantly converge in my mind. The first is joy; at least I’m not the only one feeling the presence of the advancing armies. But I’m also dismayed. If my beautiful Katherine is losing the battle, what chance do I have to fight back?
And that’s what I fully intend to do: fight back. I won’t — can’t — sit still and let this insurgence continue. I just need a plan of attack. I’d like to stay up, all night perhaps, to devise such a plan, but my treacherous eyelids suddenly feel like sandbags. This is going to be difficult.
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Portland Fiction Project
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