I was at work helping this elderly woman put on a pair of spring sandals. Normally, as a shoe salesperson, I leave people to put on their own shoes, because if they can’t put them on themselves, then they probably shouldn’t buy them, but the customer was inflexible, the sandals were strappy, and she asked me to.
Down there on the floor, I noticed a slight funk coming from her feet. This is nothing new when you work in a shoe store. I simply stopped breathing through my nose and ignored it. We all get funky feet; we all need shoes. Then, her daughter reached down and yanked her mother’s sock from her foot.
“We won’t know how they’ll fit if she has her socks on,” she said.
As the sock was pulled along her leg and past her ankle, a fine cloud of dry skin, speckled with larger flakes, sprung into the air. Breathing solely through my mouth had solved the foot funk problem, but it backfired when it came to flying skin. I felt a large flake fly past my uvula and stick to the back of my throat.
I covered my gag reflex with a few coughs. I was sure I had swallowed a tiny island of death, and I could feel it there, adhering to my insides.
After she left, I swallowed what was left of my bottle of water to fight the gag I had been stifling, but the flake wouldn’t budge. I took a break and bought some food from the food court, thinking that coarser material would scrub it out. The flake persisted.
For days, every intake of breath only reminded me of that spot infected with dead skin at the back of my throat. I felt horribly unclean. I took a chopstick and carefully scratched at the place where felt the blight. It changed nothing. That little piece of death continued to cling. Even the digestive enzymes in my saliva could not break it down.
Part of me knew that that flake of old lady leg skin could not possibly still be stuck in my throat, but my mind would not put the physical sensation of it to rest. I wondered if I would be like those people who get a permanent case of the hiccups and can’t hold normal jobs for all the noise they make, except that mine would be a permanent case of indigestible old lady death that would put people off.
A few days after the incident, the spring weather had finally warmed to the point where I could sit outside for a good long while and enjoy the sun. It was an immense relief after the string of grey days which had been grounding my joy into a grey paste for over a week. I grabbed a beer, sat on the deck, threw my feet up on bench, and took a long pull from the brown glass bottle.
At just that moment, a breeze tossed a tree branch across the street out of the way of the setting sun, allowing the sun’s rays to pierce through the glass and graze the beer’s surface. As I tipped the bottle back, a blinding blast of sunlight ricocheted off the beer and slammed into my left eye. A flood of sunlit beer coursed down my throat while my eye burned, and, I’m not kidding you, I felt the old lady skin slough away. I nearly fell off my chair.
The skin, that nerveless patch of death that had clung to me for several days, had been dislodged, and I was awed by the simplicity of the cure.
If only only beer worked on larger varieties of death, we could all be drunk Methuselahs*.
* In the Bible story, Methuselah was a descendant of Adam and lived to be about 969 years old.
“Marble Toes and Moss” Mavis @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.