Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Altogether Unpleasant Discovery

"I can't say for certain," I said, "but, yes, that certainly does appear to be a toenail."

Additional examination led to certainty, and it was clear that what I was looking at was the entire nail from someone's big toe, with a good deal of skin or tissue still clinging to it.

My lady friend had found this curiosity on her kitchen floor upon returning from work. She lived alone and kept a very neat house.

For the time being, at least, this disturbing discovery had trumped a personal crisis of my own; I had recently --four days earlier-- been released from the secure psychiatric ward of a local hospital after attempting to kill myself. I had been home in bed, in a medicated stupor, when I received the call from my lady friend.

The thing was, she was now saying (this as we were both crouched over the toenail in the middle of her kitchen floor), was that the moment she walked in the door she had sensed something amiss. She had the distinct feeling that someone had been in her home. Nothing seemed immediately out of place, at least in the living room off the front entrance. As she surveyed the rest of the house, however, she found in the bathroom a paring knife, tweezers, a bottle of peroxide, and a wad of bloody tissues in the sink. She went through the house room by room but didn't notice anything else that seemed unusual or out of place. There was, she noted, a trail of blood from the bathroom to the kitchen.

"From the way the blood had dripped and splattered it appeared that whoever did this was hopping," she said.

"Well, yes, hopping," I said. "I suppose that would make sense."

"Where are we here?" she asked. "Is there any way this is a crime? I mean, a crime that would obligate me to call the police?"

I admitted that I could think of no precedent, unless someone had broken into her home or committed some sort of damage to the property.

The door, she said, had been locked and all the windows secured.

I noticed as she said these last words that she was studying my face with a clear mixture of suspicion and alarm. I had a key to her home. There was obviously plenty of reason to believe that I was not quite in my right mind. All the same, I was offended.

"Jesus," I said. "You can't be serious. I swear to you I've never set foot in your home when you haven't been present."

I was already somewhat maniacally untying my shoes. I removed my left shoe first, wrestled the sock free, and waggled my foot --with its wholly intact set of toenails-- in her direction. As I turned my attention to my right shoe she was pleading.

"Please, Robert, don't be ridiculous. Stop this right now."

I had finally succeeded in extricating my right foot, and angrily tossed the shoe across the kitchen floor. At this point I noticed that my lady friend was gaping with horror at my stockinged foot. I followed her eyes and was stunned to discover that the sock still covering my right foot was soaked through with a great deal of blood. At the same time I was suddenly aware of the terrible throbbing.

I very slowly rolled the sock down my ankle and peeled it from my foot. My lady friend had scrambled to her feet and was now standing with her back to the refrigerator, one hand pressed to her lips.

For a very long moment I could sense her studying my face as I stared at the gore at the end of my right foot.

"Well, I'll be damned," I finally said.

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