Clyde Kilroy showed up for the Lancaster Seat and Feet show with an empty chuckle. That Collins had sent him made it clear, he thought, watching the drops of rain blur his windshield. This was payback.
For what he couldn’t say. Could have been a million things. Clyde knew he wasn’t easy to work around, that he was known around the office as “KillJoy”. But this, this was just cruel. Collins was always after him to “face his demons”. Now they were facing him.
“Feet,” he scoffed, locking up the car and putting himself to the task. “Hilarious.”
Clyde stifled a giggle as he took his place in the front row. Eye level with the footsteps. Platforms. Wedges. Stilettos. He couldn’t look down. Couldn’t bear the thought of the wiggly toes held in the straps. Sweat coated his back, even as he kept his eyes on the faces of the models. But the stalk like legs, the hollow eyes. The shitty music. His mouth went dry.
Feet sent Clyde into a panic. Tickled him crazy. Always had. For years he’d laugh uncontrollably at the site of bare feet. Could have been childhood. Could have been lots of things.
He wiped his nose, covered his face. It was all too much. He needed a drink. Clyde fought through the crowd, refusing help and wheeling past the walls, adorned with glowing portraits of feet. Even in the bathroom.
Hidden in a stall Clyde’s chest convulsed. Painful stabs of uncontrollable laughter. Someone asked if he was okay. He wiped his face, sniffled. From his coat pocket he found the bottle, took a swig to numb the senses.
Clyde scooped himself together, eventually, and like the seasoned pro that he was, finished day one.
Back in his hotel room he collapsed, muffled his cackles with a crisp pillow as not to alert any guests. He rolled around, hysterical with tears streaming down his neck. A good, sloppy sob. Then he hobbled into the bathtub for a soak.
Epson salt. It was the only thing that helped. His nubs ached. From time to time he felt an itch to a limb that was no longer real. He rubbed it in, soothing relief washed over him. Then Clyde leaned his head back, took another drink, and then got to work on his piece.
Day two. A few dickheads at brunch took the bait, making the tactless joke about footless reporter covering a foot fashion show. Clyde headed for the orange juice.
He’d never make it. It was too grotesque. He mercifully dumped the rest of the bottle into his orange juice, wheeled around and made his way for the door.
A feather in his ear, that voice. Clyde turned.
“Hi,” she said, then touching her chest. “Violet. Do you, do you remember me?”
“Violet, of course,” Clyde said, thinking, It’s not possible.
They’d met at therapy, two years ago. Only a few months after he’d lopped off his own feet with a 18” chop saw during a three-day bout with absinthe. Violet had lost both her feet to a shark attack after a shoot in Maui.
“Well, I’m modeling again,” she said, biting her lip. Reading him. “Prosthetic foot wear. I know it’s not Paris, but…”
“No, it’s great. I’m uh,” Clyde set the screwdriver down, felt his heart fling itself back then leap forward. Easy boy, he told himself. “I’m covering the show, for The Times and all.
“Oh, wow. That’s great. And how’s the novel?”
He’d never told a soul but hers. “Mostly in here,” he said, tapping his head. He felt everything stir inside him, dragging the murky pond of drink and depression.
“Violet, this is great, seeing you. This may sound weird but I was just thinking about you.”
She put a hand on his. Sent a charge to his spine. He loved hands. So elegant and attractive, the elongated fingers and perfect nails. “I’ve been thinking of you as well, Clyde.”
Clyde was a new man. He tossed the liquor and suffered through the afternoon proceedings, determined not to laugh out loud at the anorexic models. And when Violet set foot on stage, it all dimmed. The chatter. The lights. The doubt in his chest. It was just her. In a room lit by her aura. He never blinked. Not one time.
Exactly one year later, on a damp, April afternoon, the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing was presented to Clyde Kilroy. Collins was there, along with the staff, barefoot in support and cheering on their beloved staff writer whose novel was set to be published the following year. Clyde rushed up the stage like a teenager—his new legs beneath him—to receive his awards for the groundbreaking piece on one model’s vision to bring fashion to the world of prosthetics.
Clyde thanked his tough love editor, got a few lighthearted laughs at the expense of the team, but then, broke into a tearful account at how he came to write a story about the love of his life.
The attendees rose to applaud. Clyde, standing upright at that podium, caught sight of Violet at the table, dabbing her eyes. He felt his heart, once again banging around in his chest.
Easy boy, he said to himself.