Helen’s Big Little Toe

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toes.jpg

Okay…as promised…here is the worst short story you’ll ever read.

This piece began as just a project I created for myself to write a scene where a girl cuts off her toe. It was supposed to be a dark comedy, juxtaposing the girl’s pristine little girly bathroom and her uber-feminine ways with the hacking off of her own toe. (I seriously thought about this…it was gonna be hilarious…I swear.)

However, as I began to write, I found it difficult to give reason WHY the character would be cutting off her own appendage. So, I had to create a back story.

The back story was a mess…too long (starting with her childhood) and too ridiculous. This led me to rewrite (the text below). I tried to keep the back story short and intersperse it with the actual toe-cutting scene.

Well…as you’ll read…it just didn’t work.

And since the back story became more and more a part of the entire piece, the dark humor was whittled away…until the whole thing ended up as some truly terrible pulp fiction.

I’m sure you’re gonna laugh all the way through the piece…because of its sheer ridiculousness (I laugh every time I reread it). I only wish the laughter was from the intended purpose rather than the absurdity of the writing, which is a Grade A Cheesefest.

How would I have improved it? Well, for starters, I would have just written the one scene (as originally intended), and not given any real back story. I would have left most of the back story up to the reader’s imagination from the items around the bathroom (maybe a photo or a diary or whatever). OR I would have gone even more over the top so it would be perfectly clear that the writing was intended to be absurdly dark and ridiculous and purposefully overly dramatic.

Also, when I presented this to the writing group I was in at the time (which was made up of science fiction and horror writers)…there was much debate about how Helen cut off her toe. The guys in my group said the use of the serrated knife wasn’t believable (this coming from men who wrote regularly on werewolves and demons and portals leading to other dimensions). The writing group met at Barnes & Noble, and, suffice it to say, the customers meandering in the biography section on the night of this discussion gave plenty of disturbed glances at the group of four guys and a girl sitting around discussing whether tin snips or poultry shears would be good instruments for self-mutilation of a toe.

Anyway…you asked for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Um…enjoy?

Helen’s Big Little Toe
By Shelley Powers

Fresh out of the shower and wrapped in her big, white terry cloth robe, Helen sat on the lid of the toilet in her white-and-yellow-checkered bathroom. She propped her right foot on the side of the tub and stared intently at the hunk of bone and flesh that protruded obliquely from the outer side of her foot. It was a nearly perfect little toe—pink and healthy, with a swath of red polish on its well-manicured nail. Its only imperfection was that it was number 11, and, although it measured just under an inch long, it had become bigger than Helen herself. But, more importantly, it kept her from Dale.

Her stare traveled slowly up from the toe to her right hand, which clutched tightly around a serrated steak knife. She choked the knife with her grip then choked back her fear. I’ll do this for Dale, she thought.

Helen looked down again at the toe and, as she did, a tendril of her auburn hair fell in front of her brown eyes. She set the knife on the side of the tub and reached to the counter for a coated rubber band. She caught sight of herself in the mirror above the bathroom vanity. She was a pretty girl and she knew it. She was a success at work and with friends. But those things didn’t matter to her. She wanted what she couldn’t have.

She pulled her hair back in a harsh ponytail to keep any other stray tendrils from distracting her work then she grabbed the knife again. She didn’t have long to complete this task. Dale would be coming by within the hour to return the sweater she had purposely left in his car yesterday. She had timed her flat tire perfectly with when he would be getting off of work. Being a gentleman, he offered her a ride home when he found there was no spare in her car. And he continued his gallantry later that night when he called Helen to say she had left her sweater. She had asked if he could drop it by the next night…tonight, her 26th birthday. She would finally tell him how she felt and demand a worthy response. She had tried all other tactics—flirting, being coy, ignoring him, throwing verbal jabs—but all were in vain. Subterfuge was her only option.

Helen clutched tighter to the knife, her knuckles beginning to turn white from her grip. I can do this. She shoved aside the yellow gingham shower curtain. It made her think of Dale’s eyes—green with sparkling flecks of golden yellow. Those eyes first captivated her a month ago when she entered McRae’s shoe department looking for a black satin heel.

-#-

“May I help you?”

Helen looked up from the elaborate display of the new fall line from Nine West. There he stood. Sandy blonde hair, a fair but rugged complexion, and those green eyes. He wore a pair of khaki chinos, a light green oxford button-down, brown buck shoes, and the most charming smile she had ever seen. His hands were boyishly shoved deep in the pockets of his pants and he nervously rattled his change, obviously attracted to Helen.

“Would you like to try that heel on?” he asked.

She was so taken aback by his presence that she had forgotten she was holding the black satin shoe. “Um, yes. Please. An 8 wide,” was all she could produce as a response.

He smiled again and gently took the shoe from her hands. “I’ll be right back.”

Helen sat in a chair and waited for his return. Get a grip on yourself. He’s just a guy.

A minute later he returned from a back room, carrying two boxes. “These run a little big, so I brought an 8 and a 7 and a half. We’ll try the 8 first.” He squatted down in front of Helen and slipped off her right shoe.

Man, I hope my feet don’t stink. She kept staring at the top of his head, hoping he’d look up and see her smiling at him. Say something, you idiot. Get him to look at you, not your stupid feet. “Um, my name’s Helen. What’s yours?”

The young man looked up and Helen was transfixed again on his beautiful eyes, but something was wrong. His look was odd. He said nothing. What’s the matter with him? Maybe my feet do stink.

“Uh…my name’s Dale.” He quickly stood and took a step back. He shoved his hands in his pockets again and rocked on the heels of his buck shoes. “I think I should get someone else to assist you. You might prefer that a lady help you choose the shoe you need.” He gave a quick, almost indiscernible, glance toward Helen’s foot.

With her face contorted in confusion, she followed his glance down until her eyes landed on the polished red nail of her 11th toe. She hadn’t given it the first thought until now. Dammit. He feels sorry for me. “Wait, I’m sure you can help me,” she said as she casually waved her hand, trying to ease his discomfort.

“No, I really have to take care of some inventory and stuff. I’ll get Dianna to help you. She’ll be right out.” And he darted from Helen and disappeared into the back room.

She was sure he had been attracted to her before seeing her foot. His smile. His look. Now all she could fathom was that he was repulsed by her and this piece of flesh that she had never bothered to hide. She never had reason to. It never seemed to matter before. It was just…there.

-#-

Helen focused on the task at hand. The cigarette lighter she kept in her makeup drawer to soften her eyeliner pencil became a sterilization instrument for the serrated knife. Waving the flame under the teeth, she couldn’t help but remember how she ran into Dale at a beach party just a week after their first encounter. He was sitting next to the bonfire, looking perfectly gorgeous in his blue jeans and wheat-colored cable-knit sweater. The evening was cool and inviting and she couldn’t resist plopping down beside him to reintroduce herself.

-#-

“Hey, remember me? I came in the store last week and you bolted on me,” she said, smiling playfully and extending her right hand. “My name is Helen.”

Dale looked at her with surprise and then smiled sheepishly. He looked down, ignoring her offer to shake hands and began playing in the sand between his knees. “I remember you, Helen. Sorry I left you hanging. Can you forgive me?”

“Sure,” Helen said, trying to play off the handshake by patting his knee. “How long have you been working at McRae’s?” Dumb question, but at least he’s talking to me.

“I started about three weeks ago. I used to work at another department store, in menswear, but left there ’cause I hated all the company policies and stuff. I like it at McRae’s pretty good. Nice people,” he looked up from the sand. “Where do you work?”

Helen smiled, happy to be in a conversation with him. “I’m an accountant for a law firm downtown.”

“Wow, an accountant.”

“Yeah, I love numbers. They kind of soothe me, you know? They’re always the same. Factor the same, no matter what. I can rely on them to be steady even when things in my life aren’t so steady,” she laughed at her own ramblings. “Does that sound corny, or what?”

Dale looked at her and smiled back. “No. Doesn’t sound corny to me. It makes sense. Life does tend to be a crapshoot. I can see how having something to depend on is comforting.”

Helen’s heart fluttered. He’s perfect. She took a chance. “You want to take a walk? I love the ocean at night.”

Dale looked over his shoulder at the dark waters lapping the shore. The bright harvest moon spilled like mercury on the surface of the sea. He looked back to Helen, who raised her eyebrows in anticipation and gave a goofy grin. “Sure,” he said.

The two walked the shoreline for more than an hour, chatting and laughing. Conversation never lulled. Smiles came easily. Helen wanted so badly to take his hand in hers as they walked, but she couldn’t make the first move. Instead, she leaned on his strong shoulder and reached down to take off her shoe. “I love the beach but hate sand in my shoes. Don’t you?”

He gave a nervous laugh.

She emptied her left shoe and put it back on then steadied herself again and took off her right shoe. Suddenly, a stiff wind blew in from the water and Helen’s balance was thrown. Her hand, which had been resting on Dale’s right shoulder, slipped down his arm and grabbed his hand for support. “Whoa,” she laughed. But Dale didn’t reciprocate.

“I think we need to get back to the fire. It’s chilly out here,” he said as he pulled his hand quickly from hers. “You should put your shoe back on. You’re gonna catch cold.” He gave a quick matter-of-fact smile and shoved his hands in his pockets then began heading up the beach toward the glowing fire and the revelry of the party.

Helen stood there holding her shoe, her right foot freezing in the cold sand. She watched Dale grow smaller and smaller as he briskly walked away. She couldn’t help herself as warm tears began stinging her eyes. She looked at the shoe she held in her hand. She looked at her foot that sprouted the extra toe. Damn you.

“DAMN YOU!”

And she threw her shoe as hard as she could into the cold waters of the unfeeling sea.

-#-

By now the knife was glowing red so Helen grabbed a cotton ball doused with rubbing alcohol to wipe the soot from the blade. The cool of the wet cotton made a hissing sound as it touched the heated metal. Helen grabbed another cotton ball with alcohol and wiped her toe. She took a deep breath as she put the knife against her pink skin. She pushed the teeth into the joint where the toe met her foot, building her courage to puncture the skin.

He can’t accept me with this thing. She began to shake her head. This is the only way.

-#-

It was only a week after the bonfire before Helen decided she had to see Dale again. Under the auspice of buying the heels she had failed to purchase two weeks earlier, she went into McRae’s and began to look around. He spotted her immediately.

“Hi,” he said, walking up.

She kept looking at the shoe display.

“I guess I owe you another apology. I’m sorry for acting like such a jerk the other night.”

Helen refused to give him the satisfaction of responding to his pathetic apology, so she picked up a brown loafer for study. “Do you have this in an 8?”

“Helen, please, I’m sorry,” Dale said, ignoring her question. “I just couldn’t… I didn’t think you’d want to…”

“What? Want to what? Be treated with decency?” she said angrily. “If I repulse you so much then get Dianna so she can help me find what I’m looking for. I need a size 8 wide in this shoe.” She waved the loafer at Dale and gave a glare that dared him to respond. They stared at each other, saying nothing. Then Helen took a deep breath and dripped, “Do you know why I need a wide shoe, Dale?”

He stared at her, his eyes begging her to not answer her own question. But Helen didn’t oblige. “Because I have an extra toe on my right foot. That’s why. And that bothers you, doesn’t it, Dale? Admit it.”

He looked pained but then slowly nodded his head. “Yes, Helen, it bothers me…but not for the reason you think.”

Helen’s heart felt as though it was being ripped from her chest. How can he say this to me? How can he feel this way? It’s just a stupid toe. She managed to gather her wits. “Well, it shouldn’t bother you at all, but since it does then I guess we have nothing else to say to one another.” She slammed the loafer down on the display table and turned to leave.

Dale grabbed her arm, and she looked into his green eyes, which were filled with such longing. He drew a breath to say something and Helen’s heart flickered with the smallest spark of hope. Please, make me understand. Tell me you can move past this. But Dale settled for a pleading stare.

Helen shook her head, pulled her arm from his grasp, and left the store.

-#-

The teeth of knife bit into Helen’s flesh and her knee jerked up in response. But she didn’t let the pain stop her. There was no turning back. She knew Dale cared for her. She knew she had fallen in love with him. This is what I have to do. And she began to saw.

The process was not as easy as she had thought it would be. Her skin moved with the jagged edge of the blade so that the knife ripped more than it cut. The pain was unbelievable as it shot up her leg. Dale’s green eyes flashed through her mind. Then his smile. She hit bone and started to saw even harder. She didn’t even care that blood was trailing down the side of the tub and pooling on her new yellow bath mat.

She kept sawing until the knife got hung on a chip in the bone. Dale’s voice echoed through her thoughts. Yes, Helen, it bothers me. She pulled hard to dislodge the knife, causing the thin blade to snap in two. By now pain was not even a consideration. Anger and passion had numbed her to the tearing flesh and cracking bone. She grabbed a metal nail file from her manicure set and jammed the tip of the file into the little bit of bone that kept the toe—and her—from freedom. She could barely see her work. Blood was everywhere.

Half sawing, half filing, she wore away at the hated toe that wouldn’t let go of her. Almost there. She hacked at the appendage one last time. The bone snapped then gave way. Done.

Still attached by a thin stretch of skin, the toe lay limp off to the side of Helen’s foot. It seemed so little for such a big problem. She took a pair of fingernail clippers from the manicure set and cut the toe free from its birthright. Two final snips and she was free. Then, just as she grabbed a washcloth and more alcohol to begin cleaning up the mess, Helen heard a knock at the front door. She sat in silence—surprised at how guilty she all of a sudden felt.

“Helen, are you home?!” Dale’s voice rang in her ears like a lark at daybreak.

“Coming, Dale!” she sung back, pushing away the guilt.

So excited to see him, to show him, to tell him, Helen gave no thought to her appearance. She quickly grabbed the toe from the floor and jumped from her seat. She ran through the house, aware once more of the pain, which now gouged at her like an ice pick. A trail of blood marked her path from the yellow bathroom to the front door, but she didn’t care. He’s here. With the biggest smile she could muster through the searing agony that was shooting all the way up her body, Helen opened the door, stretched out an open palm to display the mutilated toe, and greeted Dale. “Hi.” Blood covered her hands, her legs, her face.

Dale’s smile melted into a look of horror and, in his shock, he dropped a box, which he had been holding in his right hand. “Helen, what have you done?!”

She nodded at the toe and whispered with pride, “For you.”

Then she looked down at the box that lay on its side on the welcome mat. It had a big red bow and splatters of blood from where Dale had dropped it in a puddle on her doorstep. She reached down and picked it up with her free hand. It was a shoebox and inside was a pair of Nine West black satin heels, size 8 wide.

Helen looked up at Dale with a bewildered smile on her face. His expression seemed more pained than ever before. His green eyes looked lost as he stood there, frozen in disbelief over what she had done. Her eyes moved down his neck, shoulder, and arm, still extended from where it had dropped the box, and landed on his open right hand. She had never noticed before, but it looked smaller than a normal hand. It seemed somewhat odd. And then she realized what was wrong: it had only four fingers. Where a thumb should have been was a patch of skin, a ruddy pink color with scar tissue in the shape of surgical stitches. Then, slowly, three of the digits curled inward, leaving the index finger to point at the shoes Helen held in her bloody grip.

And in a whisper softer than the hush of the wind, Dale replied, “For you.”

Helen couldn’t speak. What have I done? No!

“Happy birthday, Helen.” Then he turned around and walked away.

The End

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14 Responses to “Helen’s Big Little Toe”

  1. Rowan Says:

    Shelley – imaginative and very gruesome! I am feeling a bit dizzy…”her skin moved with the jagged-edge of the blade”…I am staggering through whorls of darkness, looking for somewhere soft to fall. Catch me somebody…

    Yours, much entertained, but hopelessly squeamish

    Rowan

  2. ivoryhut Says:

    Rowan, make room for me in that heap you collapsed into. Shelley, you really have a way of writing, but I had to skim over that part where she actually did the deed. As soon as you mentioned the knife in the beginning, part of me kept dreading the part where the cutting would ensue. There is a reason I do not watch horror movies!!!

    But doesn’t that tell you how good you are at capturing the attention and imagination of your audience?

    Meanwhile, I had to go watch me some British comedy so I wouldn’t keep seeing that steak knife in my head. For those who might need similar therapy, you may want to start here. It worked for me.

    Entertained but suddenly vegetarian for a while,

    Ivoryhut

  3. Squeebee Says:

    Shelley, I read the story earlier this morning, and took a few hours to digest it before I posted. I am no writer, but I think the story has some real potential! I thought about it a bit, and I think it is an interesting commentary on the things we, as women, will do for acceptance. Obviously this is a crazy, over-exaggerated (hopefully!) example, but it carries a powerful message. Thanks for sharing, Shelley!

  4. Rowan Says:

    Ivoryhut – yep, fet a bit lightheaded, on and off, today, reliving some of the graphic images of Helen wih her wee remaining flap of toe…(Bang! Loses consciousness momentarity and hits head on desk.)

    Thanks very much for the video clip. I loved this series. Forget Will and Grace…I want to share a rambling old house with Stephen Fry, with an old library with a real fire (not maintained by me – been there and done that one) Lots of old books and two deerhounds and an Old English Sheepdog (also not maintained by me.) Oh yes, and cocoa and nice slippers. Shelley – write us a mini-series, please. Even a pilot will do… But I am not amputating anything, unless you schedule in a tummy-tuck, under the appropriate anaesthetic.
    o–{:8)}

    I kind of want to know what happened to Helen afterwards…is there a sequel brewing?

  5. nolagirl Says:

    Ewwww! I guess I am squeamish too – I cringed at “the deed” too. I found myself thinking “Wouldn’t this crazy biotch have passed out from the pain???”

    Thanks for the interesting read, Shelley!

  6. Ridearoundsally Says:

    Vomits over keyboard..(at the gruesome details)..blech!

  7. MDoc Says:

    Shelley, as soon as you started talking about serrated steak knives in the intro, I started cringing. This from a person who almost fainted with fearful anticipation when getting her ears pierced at the ripe old age of 16.

    Thanks for sharing. I see what you mean about what you would change, though. I have not written fiction (well, my dissertation does not count) since high school when I a wrote horrible, awful, load-of-crap, pseudo-historical short story. You have my respect for 1) writing and 2) sharing. Thanks!! I actually liked the gruesome details. There was a sort of freaked-out edge to the story and the details worked for me.

    Ivory, I just got Season One of A Bit of Frye and Laurie. I am looking forward to watching it as soon as we finish watching the last season of 24.

    Rowan, Helen is hobbling around, embittered and self-loathing. She recognizes that, had she just let Dale finish his sentence, they would have been perfect digital soulmates. Alas.

  8. Rowan Says:

    MDoc – Oooh, yes, but that is soo final, and that horrible black hood of regret…worse than the physical pain for her. Do you think she could go back to the shop, hand him the shoes, and tell him they’d been given to her in a gift, but were too big? Could she lurch through the door, and could he claw it back? Are such hopes of reconcilliation an extraneous appendage requiring excision?

    24 now…I haven’t been able to watch that. Kiefer looked soo anxious in the trailer for the series, it made me feel truly ill for him. I am not good with torment. Tell me it all works out well for him in the end, that he doesn’t have to swig anti-acids all the way through, that he has a nice long holiday – and I may consider giving it a glance next time.

    Fry and Laurie are fab.

  9. shelley Says:

    Wow…only 8 comments.

    I told y’all the story was bad.

    Yikes.

    o–{:8)}

  10. suzi-q Says:

    Told Shelley that this was The Gift of the Mad (as Insane) Magi 🙂

  11. Shrewspeaks Says:

    I was in research all day…cut me some slack…wait…ignore that I asked for that…lololol

    I think it is pretty good…put some dialogue around it and you have a modern script for Twilight Zone!

  12. shelley Says:

    Okay…I just went back and reread all the comments. Y’all are great! I love the input…even the barfing on the keyboard, Sally. Ha!

    And don’t worry about the low comment count…Shrew. I figured it would be a light day….Mondays ususally are…as are days that I post fiction. It just doesn’t leave a lot of room for real discussion.

    Ivoryhut…I just watched the video…hilarious…but I wanted more Laurie. He said almost NOTHING! (But he looked totally YUMMY!) You know, I LOVED him in Sense & Sensibility.

    Hmmmm…Rowan…I like the idea of a series for the blog.

    Let me kick it around…see if I can develop some characters and get a plot going. That would make it really fun for me! Maybe a new chapter every week or every other week! Give me a bit to chew on it. Great idea!

  13. Mind Doc Says:

    At my work, every once in a while we have a story that gets passed around. One person starts it and each recipient has to add to it. It ends up being very funny and pretty surreal.

  14. shelley Says:

    That’s hilarious, MindDoc.

    Sounds like you work in a great office.

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