Frank's Big Toe, cont'd

But Frank wasn't what I'd hoped for. First of all, the place was decorated too nicely, like the hallway his sister led us along to get to his room, which was carpeted with a clean yellow rug while the walls had a flower paper on them. We passed through the kitchen, too, but I barely caught a glimpse of it. We were too busy getting to Frank's room, which was just behind it.

There he was. I almost stuck out my hand for him to shake it, but thought better of it, and began wondering what he would've looked like walking, if he could get up on his feet. It wasn't a pleasant sight to me. He could've been an animal, or even a vegetable, but human?

"I'm Chi Chi," I said. "And this is January."

"I know that," he said, nodding. "Well, you're timing is wonderful. I'm just so happy I'm talking again - and I'm so glad you've come over.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to have that article done at first," he said, his eyes moving between the two of us. "I was so mad back then, but once I did it, I realized my life was changed forever. I realized I could talk to people, even this stranger who I had never met before—Jeffrey who wrote the article. Do you know him?" he asked us.

"Never met him," I said. I felt like coughing, but held onto it.

"Well, I was afraid at first that people would get to know me, but isn't that the greatest thing, to have someone know you like this? And to have my picture taken. And now here you two are, two more people I get to meet." I looked down at his feet. Underneath the sheet, his big right toe was moving like crazy. That thing's his dog, I told myself. It's his man's best friend.

"Ya know, a lot of people like to think that your life is over when you're paralyzed, and I thought that way for a long time, but it's different now. Now I have dreams."

"Yeah?" I said. "What kind of dreams?"

"Oh, we don't have to talk about that now," he said, looking away for a moment. "Are you going to take my picture?" He smiled. I wondered for a moment if this would all turn out to be a joke, because it's something I would have done if the magazine was mine. I would have put the whole thing over on people. But I couldn't imagine Larry doing that.

January walked to the foot of the bed and snapped his picture. He turned his neck to face her and grinned at the lens. He reminded me of a dog.

"Margaret," he called. "Could you bring us some drinks? And some of that chocolate cake from last night?"

"Sure thing," Margaret told him.

January snapped a photo of him calling to her, and then she snapped his big toe through the sheet.

"Oh," he said, "you got my big toe. He dances, ya know." She nodded in agreement, and when he turned to me, I nodded, too, but I wasn't interested anymore. So what? His toe could dance. "I don't think Jeffrey put this in the article, but he dances mostly to the Eighties, and sometimes, when he's in the right mood, he'll do some salsa."

I had to fight to keep my eyes from rolling. "He's got you much different in the article, ya know," I told him.

"Well, I was different," he said, smiling. "That's the change. Anyhow, January, did you know that my big toe can dance?"

"No, I didn't," she said. "But I'd love to see it." She was actually into this. She was buying into this whole thing. I couldn't believe it.

I glared. "What the hell is—" I turned one palm into the air. So what? I wanted to say, his toe dances. But January looked at me coldly, so I just sighed and put my hands on my hips.

"Margaret!" Frank was saying, "could you bring the radio in, too?"

Margaret arrived with the drinks and chocolate cake, then left. A moment later, she came back with the radio.

"Just turn it on, 'kay Sis'?"

She did and Frank craned his neck to catch sight of his own toe. Cyndi Lauper was playing. Frank moved his big toe back and forth with the rhythm as January took hold of the sheet in a gesture that suggested an unleashing of his toe. "May I?" she asked him.

"Oh, of course," Frank said. I could've puked.

January folded the sheet up and we all got a clear view of Frank's big toe, dancing in the sunlight. Then he told us he had another idea, as I felt for the weed in my pocket and looked over at January. Having something like that to turn to would have removed me, but I decided January didn't care for it now. As for smoking alone, I wasn't in the mood. "Let's paint my toe," Frank was saying. "Let's draw a happy face on it and then you can take pictures of that." Great, I thought. Just what I came for.

Margaret giggled and clenched her fists. "Oh, goodie," she said, dancing out of the room. She came back a minute later with magic markers and fingernail polish.

"Okay," Frank said. "Who wants to draw the happy face and who wants to do the nail?" No one answered him just yet. January looked at me, then volounteered to polish his nail.

"I guess that means Chi Chi's doing the happy face," Frank told me.

Margaret came over and handed me the magic markers, and gave the polish to January. How the hell did I get here? I thought to myself. If I wasn't high, I kept thinking, I'd be able to get out of this situation. But there I was. I couldn't move.

"Here," Margaret said. "Give me the camera. I'll take pictures now."

January kneeled over and painted Frank's nail blue. Her eyes were close enough to his toe to take a picture they'd remember forever.

"Okay, your turn," Frank told me when she was done.

I uncapped the red magic marker and leaned in. I saw the lines that encircled the bottom of his toe, the spirals that make up each of our toes and fingers. The lines of his were like the inside of old trees. I looked over at January and smirked, but she only half returned the favor. It seemed we were no longer together.

Halfway down the back side of Frank's toe, I began a line at the left, curved downwards, then back up again. His toe was smiling at me now. I thought about crossing the corners of the mouth, cartoon style, but changed my mind. Instead, I made two small dots for the eyes with the pink marker, and Frank's toe looked at me now. What's this? I thought, beginning to laugh. I laughed to myself. I pulled back half a step, and looked at the face I'd begun, and smiled some more. I think I said, "Wow." I pointed at the toe and looked around the room at the others. "His toe is looking at me," I said.

"Your toe," I said to Frank. And when I turned to January, the look on her face made me lose it. I had to bend over to control myself as the laughter spilled out of me, and tears coated my eyes. My face reddened and saliva gathered at the corners of my mouth. I was all the way to the floor now, bent over, and nearly fell. I looked up at January. She was dying, too. I had to hold my arms around my stomach to keep my guts from falling out, but managed to catch a glimpse of Frank. He was losing it, too. It felt so good! I saw Margaret's feet through the corners of my eyes, tapping back and forth. Her legs shuffled along, now to John Cougar Mellencamp. She was old, but she could move. I turned to the left, back to January, whose eyes were large and round and holding me inside them. They were soft, too; but then, her whole body was suddenly soft. I'd never noticed this before.

I straightened up again. "Oh my..." I said, gathering my breath, like something'd that'd just crashed, but into pillows. I looked around the room. Everyone was dancing, even the toe. Especially the toe. "Woah," I said because it was all I could manage. Frank looked at me and laughed again. If he could've moved his arms, he would've pointed at me and given me five. If he could've moved his body, he would have bent over with laughter, like me, or gotten up and danced. Margaret turned up the volume and I looked back at it. Leaning over to it, I crossed the corner's of the toe's mouth after all, and when that was done, I put eye lashes on, then ears at the toe's edges. They were Dumbo ears, ears without contour. I almost kept adding, but decided someone else might want a try.

"Want a turn?" I asked Margaret. She said yes and I passed her the markers as we switched spots. I stood over by Frank's head and she leaned over his toe. I looked at his face, how it was almost a peach color, how he had the cheeks of a young boy but wrinkles beyond his years. I supposed he was like a flower. Yeah, I thought, a flower. His head was lit all brightly over a body that didn't move, while that toe of his was a root digging.

Margaret was extending the face on his toe into a body that ran down the bottom of his foot. She even gave him feet! I couldn't believe it—not just how wonderful that was, but that I, of all people, was seeing it this way. When she finished, she stood straight up and we were all dancing: Margaret, January, myself and Frank. After all, I realized, the toe was Frank, and Frank was dancing.

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