To read this story in the original Spanish Language version, click here.
approx 800 words, ~8 min read time
translated from Spanish by Sabrina Vourvoulias
Shortly before dessert, Luisa started to feel her feet go numb. They were on one of those double dates that her friend Mariana would organize, and that Luisa put up with more out of solidarity than out of interest.
She thought maybe the red wine didn’t agree with her and asked the waiter for a large glass of mineral water.
Mariana told her, “If the feeling doesn’t go away in ten minutes I’m taking you to the hospital. What if it’s food poisoning, and you die on me right here and now?”
Luisa wasn’t worried about dying right then, but she was concerned about the way her toes were coming unstuck, one by one. When she peeked under the table she saw the little chunks of toenail and flesh scamper off, like cute and playful baby mice. She felt no pain, and at least she had a perfect French pedicure.
As Luisa was pointing out to Mariana how the pink toes were scurrying across the restaurant floor, she noticed the head waiter discreetly duck down to pick up one of the toes that had gotten stuck on the corner of the carpet, and then tuck it in the pocket of his pants.
Luisa couldn’t quite see which toe it was, but she assumed it was the big toe of her left foot, which wasn’t very agile even when it was attached.
“That’s the toe I always hit on the edge of the bed. I know it’s a bit clumsy, but I still love it.”
When Luisa tried to stand up to ask the head waiter to return her toe, she couldn’t. Not only because she couldn’t keep her balance without her big toes, but also because without any toes at all, her feet were slipping out of her shoes.
“You go, Mariana, please.” But as Mariana warily approached the head waiter, he was already instructing the other waiters to catch the little escape artists that — though clearly toes, not rodents — must not be allowed to keep running around the restaurant.
The problem escalated when the little toe of Luisa’s right foot slipped out the hands of one of the waiters, and fell into the soup of a diner who — attempting to swallow what he thought was a delicious crouton — started choking. The diner tried to cough-cough-cough it out, but when he started turning an intense purple color, Mariana had to use the Heimlich maneuver to help him finally spit it out.
When Mariana picked the injured little toe up from the floor, it was all chewed up and didn’t move. “It’s dead,” Mariana declared. Luisa cried.
As soon as the diner — who had first turned purple, then green with revulsion, and finally red with rage — recovered from his scare, he started yelling, and called the police and the fire department. Some of the restaurant’s customers were commenting on the importance of having their toes properly adjusted (even as Luisa remained unable to get up from the table), while other diners, like the two who had come on the date with Luisa and Mariana, were so engaged with their cell phones they didn’t even realize that anything had happened.
Mariana had recovered seven of Luisa’s ten toes, and one by one she passed them to her. Luisa carefully put them back on her feet.
The middle toe of her right foot was never found. It had always been a bit of a rebel and had perhaps run away, looking to escape to another country and find a lover.
With eight of her ten toes, including her two big toes, Luisa was finally able to stand up. In her arms, wrapped in a white napkin, she carried her dead little toe, to which she would have to give a proper burial when she got home. Since she lived in an apartment, she decided that the flower pot with the orchid would be a good place to bury it.
The head waiter offered to go with her.
Mariana returned to their table, and once the fire department and police left — taking the purple diner, who they accused of being drunk, with them — she continued with her dinner. Although she would never again go out with the two who had been on the date with them, she would always enjoy reliving the details of that night when they had met in the city. Always paying respect, of course, to the fallen toe and to Luisa, who would never again be able to wear open-toed shoes.
Luisa, who did not believe in love, ended up head over heels with the head waiter, who every night before going to sleep kissed, one by one, not only her remaining toes but also her fingers, and who made sure to never give her red wine to drink — to avoid that peculiar reaction that started with numb toes and ended with her taking a stranger home.
And though every day she was saddened at the thought of her little toe, Luisa used the tears to her advantage, watering the flower pot with them. With that meaningful liquid, the orchid bloomed as it had never bloomed before.
elena felix likes how her name looks in writing with no caps. Her work has appeared in Vestal Magazine and Cease Cows among other publications. She studies writing at the Extension Writers Program at the University of California Los Angeles. When she is not writing, she spends all her time working at an animal sanctuary.
Photo by Alicia Christin Gerald on Unsplash