Claire was a beautiful woman. There was no denying that. And when she returned my flirtations in the bar down the street from my work, the bar the guys always call a “meat market” but which rarely if ever produced actual couplings, I worked up the courage to ask her out and she said yes. And this was an incredible thing to me because Claire was the kind of beautiful that I think most guys find intimidating. I was so comfortable with her that I took a dump in her place on our second date. Most women don’t realize this but that’s a very positive sign. It speaks to a level of intimacy that goes far beyond nudity. And that was the problem with Claire. She was more beautiful naked; this was something I realized the first time we were involved in more than heavy petting. This was our third date. But this was also our last good date. Because this was the date I saw Claire’s feet.
They were beyond ugly. It was as if her DNA had used itself up everywhere else and just let the feet go. Her feet looked like the chicken feet you let pass at dim sum. Her toes were like the runners in that Monty Python sketch about the 100 metre dash for people with no sense of direction. Feet can be many shapes but hers were a strange combination of round and hexagon. They were the shape of a badly cut t-bone steak. And I couldn’t get them out of my head.
I am not superficial.
I am also not perfect. I hate myself more than anyone else.
After the date, I tried to put her feet out of my mind. I would concentrate on the perfectly round orbs that were her breasts, the loveliness of her belly button, the delicate curves or her shoulders, the smoothness of her thighs. Her sweet smell. The way her dark brown hair caressed her soft, soft back. But always, I came back to her feet.
After the third date, a colleague noticed me staring into nothingness at work and said, “you’re in love.”
“If only,” I said.
“You’re in lust,” he said.
“It’s not that simple,” I replied.
“You’re in lust with a girl you’re in love with,” he said.
I got up and went to the coffee machine.
I image searched “ugly feet” on Google and learned something about fetishes I hadn’t ever imagined but did not find a photo of healthy feet that were remotely as ugly as Claire’s. I saw photos of hideously deformed feet, and amputations, the feet of accident victims and one gruesome shot of a baby’s foot after it had been mauled by a pit bull. Claire’s feet were healthy as far as I could tell. And I asked myself if I would have been more forgiving had her feet been unhealthy, had they been diseased or mutilated, had she perhaps once suffered frostbite while mountain hiking and lost three toes or had been the victim of an attack by sledgehammer.
Then there were the photos of the bound feet from China. Holy crap. What culture could possibly see those feet as anything other than what they were? The Chinese are completely crazy. I can’t square their food – which is, for the most part, one of the great pleasures of life – and their history. And then the bound feet. Claire’s feet didn’t look bound, not at all. If anything, they were unbound. They were the opposite. They were feet that did not understand limits, or even the normal physical properties of feet. They were feet that had ignored the philosophical meaning of featness.
I did not call her for two days. She left messages on my voice mail, each message a touch sadder. Finally, this: “Have I done something wrong?” And she hadn’t, of course. Except that she had exposed her feet to me and I had recoiled so much that I was still moving backwards, as if I had been shot by a cannonball while in outer space. Would you ever stop floating backwards from such a strike? Or would you at some point get caught by the gravitational pull of a larger object and then eventually find yourself recoiling forward, with the cannonball still lodged in your belly? Or would you get hit by a comet at some point? I don’t know, but the sheet ugliness of Claire’s feet made me think such things.
And thinking this I figured it was me. And that I must have really loved Claire, already, to be so hung up on this imperfection, however major it was.
After all, hadn’t I taken a shit in her toilet? Didn’t that count for something?
And when I mentioned this to a friend on the phone, he understood. Amazingly. He said, I get this. He said, you know we all want that perfect woman but there’s no such thing but when they get close, it hurts all the more. He said, it’s like we all want gorgeous women who love to give porn star blow jobs and talk sports and eat like pigs but never gain weight and be smart and funny and so sexy it makes us hurt. He said, and then when we find out they know a bit too much about, say, hockey, like more than us, we start obsessing on that one mole on their neck, or how their blow jobs aren’t quite good enough or who maybe aren’t one hundred percent perfect, like maybe they have one inverted nipple. He said, and we just gloss over our own imperfections, of course. Because we’re guys, he said. And, as guys, we aren’t easy to live with. He said, we give ourselves a hard time. He said, basically we hate ourselves. It’s why the world’s so fucked.
I did the guy thing and avoided Claire’s calls. Thank god for call display. I told myself, tomorrow. I’ll answer tomorrow and, well, tomorrow’s always a day away. If I didn’t lothe myself before, and I’m sure I didn’t, I was close to lothing myself now. Very, very close.
Is calling a guy a Neanderthal fair to the Neanderthals? Apparently, they were smart but brutish and even sensitive – they buried their dead with flowers – and not a bunch of lumbering club happy dolts. No. That would be us. Homo sapiens. We knew how to kill better. We were club happy. I asked myself these things when my sister, upon hearing of my dilemma, called, me, among other things, an asshole, a boor, a fuckhead, an idiot, so fuckin stupid, a loser, a jerk, a complete moron, a jerk off and a Neanderthal. And upon hearing all this, I could only think of how much we’ve impugned the reputation of those poor evolutionary dead ends. We’re sore winners.
And my sister was right about everything even the Neanderthal thing in the sense of its widely accepted meaning.
The next day I called Claire. I apologized and told her I thought I was falling in love but had this one problem. She said we should meet. I said no. We needed to talk but not face to face.
“Why?” she asked.
“I’m embarrassed to say,” I said.
“Are you breaking up with me?” she asked. “Because I’m not even sure we had started to really go out, you know? But I thought we were a match and that good things would happen and that maybe even we had a future.”
I didn’t say anything because everything she had said was true and because I tend to clam up when the conversation gets difficult.
“I’ve been trying to think about anything I’ve said or done,” she said. She sighed. “I really like you. I want to make this work. I think it can. But I need you to tell me what’s wrong. I need you to be honest. Without honesty, we have nothing.”
I wanted to say, it’s not you, it’s me. I wanted to say, well, it’s kind of you, have you seen your feet lately? I wanted to say, no, it’s me, it really is and I can’t explain it but that’s the truth and I’m sorry to hurt you. Things that might have given me brownie points had I really deserved them but what guy does in the end?
“Claire, you’re beautiful,” I said.
It sounded as if something got caught in her throat.
“And I think I’m falling in love you,” I said. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” she asked.
“I’m afraid of being happy,” I said.
“I want to help you,” she said. “I want to make this work.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” I said, sounding like, what. If I was trying to add a touch of mystery to my persona, I would fail. I was a fraud but this did not really bother me so much.
I could hear Claire change ears. “What does that mean?” she asked. “I think I have a good handle on you. I know you’re not a bad person. You’re a decent man. You make me laugh. The sex was good.” A pause. “Wasn’t it?”
The sex was ok but I wasn’t going to complain. Guys in the end don’t complain about sex. And definitely not about sex with a woman as beautiful as Claire. “It has nothing to do with sex,” I said.
“Can I see you?” she asked. Her voice was trembling now which appealed to me in a kind of sick way. Her vulnerability made me horny.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I need time.”
Another sigh. I should be honest with her, I thought. I should just say it, I thought. I liked her enough to be honest, to commit to an honest discussion if I was going to break up with her. I wanted to say the word “feet.” Saying it would make everything easier.
“I can’t believe how much I’ve fallen for you after just a few dates.,” she said. “That’s quite a feat.” I almost dropped the phone.
“Why are you telling me this?” I said.
“Can we just meet and talk?” she asked. “I can come over.”
“I was honest about falling in love with you,” I said. And I was. I wanted to yell the word “feet” at that moment. I wanted to yell it and feel better about things.
“I’m free right now,” she said.
What was I going to say? I couldn’t have sex with this woman anymore. I believed this. I sighed. I rubbed my hand through my hair. I checked my watch.
“Please,” she said.
“Come over,” I said. “We can work our way past this.”
By Arjun Basu