When Two Men Touched Feet

Dave had just finished his tuna melt and was reaching for his soda when it happened. Jim, in an abrupt movement, crossed his right leg over his left, and in the process, lightly bumped Dave’s left foot which rested on the floor. Quickly adjusting to what had just happened, Jim and Dave withdrew their respective feet from their momentary and uncomfortable union beneath the table. In the seconds that followed, an uneasy situation emerged, plunging both men into agonizing moments of introspection.

As Jim looked inward, he felt shame. A deep, numbing shame that rested on the final realization of their own clumsiness. He knew he should have shown a more graceful control of the limb. Instead, he had executed the maneuver in a foolish, almost spastic manner. He had practiced the move many times while dining alone, and was confident that had all but mastered it. But when the occasion arose for his discipline to be tested, he had failed.Perhaps he was intimidated by Dave. Or maybe he was simply not meant for such rakish mastery of the self. He stared out the window at the cars melting by. He felt hopeless. His blunder, finally, had confirmed his own haplessness.

Dave was equally furious. Jim’s failure to cross his leg in the appropriate manner was only the latest faux pas in a long string of bonehead moves. Dave remembered the hundreds of meals Jim had ruined. The intimate brunches, the late night suppers, the long leisurely lunches after their visits to the circus-all of them ruined in a careless, inconsiderate bumping of feet. The memories came in an excruciating torrent. He remembered the hours of reassurance as he comforted Jim each time he failed-the long weekends he spent guiding his legs through the proper motions in their backyard training center, the diagrams, massages, hot oil treatments. Trying to help Jim gain control over his body had put him through an emotional wringer over the past eight months. But rage was the only emotion Dave felt now. He detested Jim and he detested himself for being with him.

Jim and Dave finished their meals in silence. Dave slurped his Coke and toyed with his ice cubes with a straw. Jim sat chomping his fries, looking out the window. The festive strains of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” suddenly burst forth from an ancient jukebox and echoed through the diner. A fat cook started banging chairs onto the tables and the few remaining customers slowly filed out of the restaurant. The two men looked at each other, their eyes meeting in a watery stare. They paid their checks and left. Dave walked his own way, while Jim hobbled off into the gloom, cursing his prosthesis as it echoed off the sidewalk beneath him.

-As published in Speak Magazine