First published in rattle journal in 2012.
In the heat of the morning, Vivienne woke with an infernal itch in her foot. Quickly pulling her knee to her chest, she rubbed it vigorously. The skin was smooth as marble to the touch.
In the evening, the superheated stink of the streets and the sweaty people who trampled them bubbled into the living room on a suffocating breeze.
The itch remained in the top of her foot, roasting and boiling. It sunk lower and began to irritate her heel. It slid under and tickled down the middle of her soft arch.
Inside her shoe, Vivienne curled her toes tight and released them, trying to strain away the feeling.
Flipping the page in her book, she realized she didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. She ‘tsked’ and tossed the copy of Being and Nothingness on to the coffee table.
Her brow was moist and a few blond hairs escaped her French twist.
There was the itch again, pooled around the ball of her foot.
Her Scotch was dripping.
Vivienne grabbed it, got up and walked across her small living room to the mantle above the fireplace. She ran a finger along the top, searching for a trace of dust, but nothing was there.
She rocked the ice cubes in her drink, back and forth, and pressed the sole of her foot into the silken lining of her high heel, trying to snuff out the irritant.
The window next to the old upright piano was wide open to the black night.
Vivienne didn’t look.
Instead, she turned away and clipped over to the kitchen. Her steps were stunted by the turquoise pencil skirt she was nearly stitched into.
It was the one she squeezed on that morning, accompanied by a cream coloured camisole and a shock of red lipstick. To complete the outfit, Vivienne had reached for her nude wedges, but ended up with something else underfoot:
High heels – charcoaled leather pulled tight around an extremely pointed toe with tiny black buttons running up the back.
When she entered the kitchen for breakfast that morning, he was waiting for her. His ears were erect to the sound of the heels’ click and he wanted nothing but to swivel between them. She pulled white tuna from the cabinet, carefully forked it into an ornate, ceramic dish, and laid it before him. He didn’t even sniff it.
She almost stayed home from work.
Now it was nearing midnight and she hadn’t changed a thing.
She opened the freezer for more ice, but the chunks in her glass were still large and fresh. Vivienne had replaced them many times already, but had yet to swallow a drop of the Scotch.
The sink and counters were sparkly clean. Nothing needed to be done.
She slowly walked back toward the living room, the stems of her heels snapping against the floor. She glanced to the open window again; there was no sign of him, only black.
There was that itch, that hellish itch!
Vivienne stamped her foot into the ground repeatedly, ramming her toes to the very tip of the shoe. Her drink sloshed over her hand. “Damnit, damnit, damnit!”
She heard a deep purr and looked up.
There he was: Theodore, the cat. He sat tall in the middle of the windowsill, his white coat bright against the night, watching her with glacial blue eyes as round and wicked as the moon.
He was a ragdoll cat by breed and his coat moved like liquid as he walked. He was muscly too, coming and going as he pleased through the always open window, no matter the heat or cold.
Vivienne gripped the dining chair nearest her and sat down.
Theodore approached and began brushing her thigh with the switch of his tail.
She sighed with the silken feeling.
She set her drink on the table, her hand wet with its perspiration, and crossed her legs. The point of her toe was now suspended in the air.
“No,” she murmured, flicking him with the water on her fingers.
Theodore’s ears turned toward her, but his body was rubbing against her leg, weaving around her ankles.
Water had never bothered him. Since he was a kitten he adored bath time.
Now he was pushing his mouth against the stem of her heel, scrapping his teeth against the leather.
Still that pining itch!
Vivienne stood up quickly and snapped over to the fridge. Maybe he would want it now. After a day of catting-around, he must be hungry.
She removed the dish from the fridge and stripped back the plastic covering.
Theodore remained beside the chair.
Vivienne set the dish at her feet. “Come.”
He remained, unmoved.
Her itch spread to the other foot.
Vivienne walked to Theodore and set the tuna down. He began to lap at the white meat. She sighed and sat down in the chair next to him.
She crossed her legs again and stared at her foot. Suddenly his saucer eyes appeared and a pink feathered tongue licked at the flecks of dirt stuck to the sole.
Vivienne kicked him away. “Shoo!”
Theodore was put off for only a moment before he was back, pushing his head beneath her foot.
“Shoo!” Vivienne kicked him again, harder than she intended, and felt the tip of her shoe sink deep into the flesh of his neck.
Theodore choked and stumbled.
The blood drained from Vivienne’s face and she felt as though she might faint.
He slunk low on his legs and crept beneath the chair she was sitting on.
Vivienne held an ice-cold hand to her face. What would she ever do without her Theodore? She shouldn’t have kicked him so hard! It was no fault of his that she had taught him to love her feet. What a wretched woman she was!
Vivienne sat back in her chair and took off her right shoe. She held it up and admired the worn color.
She set it carefully on the floor beside her chair and did the same with the other, making sure to align the tips of the toes with the front legs of the chair.
Next, she peeled back her nylon stocking by slowly pulling it from the skin. It was strange to watch the skin transform from sheer- black to white; so white the blue of her veins shimmered through the surface. She pulled the nylon outside-in and bending it over her knee, removed the other. She took them together and sheathed the left in the right, folding it once and laying it across the toes of her shoes.
Her feet were bare. Powdered pink scars covered them. She rubbed one with the other; so smooth, all traces of scabs were gone. The light shone off older, whiter scars.
It was hard to find unmarked skin; but the itch told her it was there.
Vivienne steeled herself, sitting up straight, her spine as rigid as a pole.
“Theo…” she cooed. “Theeoooo…please.”
She felt him shift under the chair, but he remained there.
“Come, kitty.” She wiggled her pinkie toe.
He was still.
She had hurt him too deeply. She had gone too far. He was confused now, aloof.
As she thought, she began to scratch the itch in her foot with the big toe of her other. An instant gratification swam through her foot like a river of golden sunshine. She scratched harder and more wildly, snapping the rest of her toes into the arch of her foot to get it along the core.
Then, cutting. A pricking about the toes. And teeth, sinking into the flesh of her big toe.
Vivienne called out in painful relief: he was attacking her feet!
She pulled her feet away, out from under the chair. She caught only a glimpse of flesh hanging from her big toe before he had her foot wrapped in claws.
Eighteen curled razors clamped into the skin, constantly tearing and adjusting with her jerking reaction.
He bit at the toes fiercely, gnawing the tips with the back of his teeth. His eyes were wide and dilated, round and full of pitch.
Vivienne bit her lip, and held her posture. Her back was still as stone.
Her foot twitched below in reaction to each and every claw and bite, pulled in all ways, as if attached to a million little strings.
Amid the searing pain, the feel of his fur was exquisite.
Theodore crunched hard on her pinkie toe and she felt it in the bone.
Vivienne gasped and batted him away with her other foot.
Theodore accepted the offering and turned his attentions to the left.
Vivienne buried her toes in the cashmere hair, finding the softest refuge from the pain.
But Theodore was a clever cat. He pushed his head into her arch, sunk his front paws around the top of her foot and raked back as she fought to rub his head into the floor.
The large veins on top her foot gushed red. Vivienne couldn’t feel it, though it flowed quickly.
She stood up and rushed to the bathroom, nearly slipping as she hobbled across the hardwood floor. There had never been this much blood before.
She sat on the edge of the bathtub with her feet inside.
She had pain in her right foot, where he had bitten to the bone, and it stung and throbbed with a deep ache.
The left was completely covered in thick blood which was now flowing quietly down the tub drain. She flexed her foot and the blood arched several inches, splattering against the enamel. For a minute, Vivienne doubted that it was actually her foot.
Theodore came into the room and hopped into the tub. He sat at the back, looking entirely stately except for the blood that soaked his feet and mouth.
Vivienne turned on the water and started adjusting the temperature to a toasty lukewarm. As soon as the liquid hit her cuts a sweet heat burned through her entire body.
Theodore tilted his head and backed up slightly.
Vivienne removed her feet and bundled them both haphazardly in towels as the water washed her mess down the drain. She pulled a scrub brush from beneath the counter and cleaned the splatter.
Theodore began kneading the bottom of the tub with his paws.
“Coming, Theo,” Vivienne whispered.
She plugged the tub and the water began to fill.
Vivienne stood and walked painfully to the vanity, where she pulled a small, horsehair scrub brush and a tiny perfume bottle full of salt.
She brought them back to the bath, knelt down and bent over the tub. The water was just deep enough to cover Theo’s paws.
He was purring: she had gotten the temperature just right.
She dipped the little brush into the water and sprinkled it with salt. Delicately lifting one of Theodore’s front paws, she began to scrub the fur. The blood gradually broke apart and drifted from his coat as it slowly regained a pearly white.
Vivienne massaged the pads of his paws, spreading them wide and working the brush over every strand of fur. His claws were incredibly long and sharp. She polished those too.
Her feet remained in pain, while her fingers swam in the sleek feel of his wet fur.
She didn’t know what time it was when she finished, just that his coat was returned to its cat self. Not a trace of her blood remained.
Towel-dried and tired, Theodore yawned and walked out of the bathroom.
Vivienne looked down to see she was soaking through the towel. She unwrapped her left foot and once more ran it under the water.
The water pummelled the wound openings here and there, giving her the feeling of being punched from the inside. She reached for the soap but caught herself.
The mild infection from his dirty claws might not set in if she used soap: he carried countless natural pollutants from his transience.
Vivienne turned off the water and bandaged her left foot as well as she could to stem the bleeding. It was still running heavily, but it had slowed. It was not so bad as to go to the hospital. But close.
She cleaned up the bathroom and put the dirtied towels in the washer.
Entering the bedroom, Theodore was already curled at the foot of her bed and sleeping.
As she lay down, the weight was lifted from the soles of her feet and they felt as though they were floating.
Surrounded in a wavering halo of hurt, she stroked the tips of his fur with her ravaged feet.
This was probably the last of the high summer nights.
But soon fall would be here and she would begin to wear boots instead of high heels; boots of brown leather that wrapped all the way up the calf, lined in sheep skin.
Theodore loved boots even more.