I was forty-two years old when it happened, six years ago. I found it in the shower one morning, a shiy red bump on the inside of my left thigh. At that time I didn't think to worry about it, that it was probably just a pimple or a hemorrhoid, and when I got out I dried it off just like the rest of me. I spent all day cleaning house, and had a supper cooked by the time Jerald, my husband, came in from tending to the workers in the cabbage fields he farmed for a living. We all sat and ate in silence, Jerald, my daughter Daisy, who was twelve at the time, and myself, and not even in the stillness of supper did I think back on that bump. Not that day, but every day after that I would.
I checked it again that night in the shower, and it was bigger than before, though for whatever reason it still wasn't big enough for me to care about. So that wretched nub came out that night clean as it had that morning, though now I'm ashamed to think that at any point I might have helped it, even in the smallest way. I went to sleep that night thinking of usual things, and slept as good as always. The next morning was bright and fair and I had a long list of things to do at the front of my mind right away like I always did, so I got up and made for the shower.
I had almost forgotten about that pimple thing until I grabbed the soap, naked, and looked down.
I swooned when I saw it that time, and nearly tripped over the lip of the tub. The tiny protuberance was now something to worry about. It was blook red and stuck out at least an inch, and was pulling up anouthe bump right beside it. Ther was no confusing it, or the tiny lump it was carrying, for anything but what the were; they were toes. They were little toes, small as a newborn's, with infant toenails to match.
I looked down at that toe sticking right out of my skin, a leg away from were toes belonged, and I thought I was going to vomit. This was nothing I would have ever guessed or expected, and even worse than the simple fact of its presence was the rate it seemed to be growing.
I wore my longest skirt, and the longest face that day, to keep my secret hidden. I made breakfast solemnly, and sometimes, if I moved my legs wrong, the toenail at the end of that one big toe would jab into my thigh. I whimpered softly every time it did, and was crying at the sink, with my back to Jerald, as he left to take Daisy to school
I pulled up my skirt to check it again, pressured by the vain hopes one feels in a nightmare, or when checking an empty wallet again and again, wanting to be wrong but knowing they aren't. And boy was I right.
It was two hours after I had seen it in the shower when I pinched the ruffles of my skirt and slid it over my knees, gasping in horrified amazement to see that in those two hours it had grown another half inch. And a third bump was boiling right along the second, which was also half an inch taller. There were toenails on each of them, and the first bump, which had grown into a distinct big toe, had cooled from its burnt red hue into an average, fleshy pink. I scooted my skirt back down my legs, leaned my head down against the table, and prayed to my Lord through sobs and teardrops to make those toes ungrow themselves.
"You alright, hon?" Jerald asled when I'd joined them at the table.
I couldn't speak for a minute, and my mind processed his question slowly.
"Yeah, " I said, and that was all. If I would have tried to say something more, it would have melted right into a scream or frantic ramblings about toes growing on my leg. If they didn't believe me, I would show them, and if I showed them, they would fear me.
I stayed awake that night, eyes wide, insisting repetitiously to myself that the mass between my legs that was holding them open was something other than what it was.
The night passed neither fast nor slow, I hardly even felt its presence, since the presence on my thigh consumed all things.
When I woke, or maybe just realized it was morning, Jerald was already saved and showered, slipping into his finest outfit.
"Don't you worry about breakfast, darlin'," he said to me, slowly. "Me and Daisy are goin' out. Take your time wakin' up, hon. I don't know what sor of sick you're feelin', but there's not a sickness that rest don't hinder. We'll be back in time for church." And then, giving me overly expressed, wide eyes, he left the bedroom, adjusting his collar.
Church? I ahd totally forgotten all about the days of the week. I'd never midded a day of church in all my life, and I didn't aim on missing one when I needed the Lord more than I ever had.
I somehow ambled to the bathroom in a half-waddle and turned the shower on. I looked at my face in the mirror as it started to fog, thinking that the face staring back at me was crazy. This was the face that I stared at as I slipped my top off and then the skirt that I'd worn all night. I didn't look down right away, I just stared into those tired, crazy eyes that had inside them a dread that perfectly mirrored my own. Then I stepped into the shower, standing as straight up as I was able to, waiting until I was wholly within the naked sanctity of it to look down at the efflorescing limb; and this time I did vomit.
The entire foot had grown out, and was dangling, four inches long, at the end of a tiny calf that swung hinged on a kneecap. The thigh of it had grown out nearly two inches already, and two more bumps were effervescing right below it. I stepped back into the shower wall, crying, as if I were trying to back away from it; and I was. But it followed me quicker than anything, and dear God, that little foot kept swinging there on that knee. I watched until it settled, afraid to even flinch in case I got it moving again.
We were late to church, thank God, and by the time we arrived, all those attending were seated and reading from their Bibles. Most of them turned theri curious heads to us as we came in, and most looked away again. But not Margaret Birch, that old bitty, with her x-ray eyes, and beak.
I closed my eyes in prayer, staying there until the service was over, proaying for anything that would help this. Praying, praying, praying.
I tried to leave stealthily, gathering my confused family behind my ridiculously full skirts, sneeking out like a devil trapped in the heavenly reach. And we nearly made it if it weren't for that bitch Margaret Birch.
"Ellen..." she looked at me seriously, "are you feeling okay?"
I stood there, shipwrecked, my mouth gasping for air.
"Ellen's fine, just feelin' a little under the weather," Jerald interrupted from behind, "Nothin' to worry about, Margaret."
Margaret nodded, but gazed at me with those beady eyes.
"Well, it sure looks like something's wrong. Look at her eyes, Jerald. have you been to a doc-"
"No, really," my mouth blurted, "I'm fine. I's just a... a cold."
"Well..." she glared at me, "if you are, you make that husband of--"
Just as she was saying this, I felt a kick against my knee, which was followed by another, and then another. My eyes opened wide and all my muscles tensed, as if I'd almost wet my pants.
"Ellen," Margaret started, "are you sure you're alright?"
It kicked again.
And again after that.
"Y-yes ma'am, I'm f-fine," my voice was quiet and shaky as my lips started quivering in a half sob. Thie thing was relentless, kicking harder and faster, and I could feel its toenail stabbing into my skin. My ind wadded up like a piece of paper, and I was able to only stand there so long without collapsing... I swayed slightly with the blowes, muffled cries pushing through my bottom lip with each impact. I couldn't stop it.
Jerald came to swoop me up, take his little freak show back home when all of a sudden the thing started kicking the front of my skirt, which shot outward in jumps of little fabric geysers, making me cry out loud. I ran, then. Into the truck, grabbing that thing hard for the first time, twisting it under my leg and pinning it there as sobs fought at the stolid gesture I was poorly maintaining. Jerald and Margaret kept talking, looking back at me occasionally, and I could see behind them that I had caught more than just their attention.
"Honey," Jerald started, slowly.
"No," I cut him off. "No. It's not what you think. Leave me alone."
"Tell me what it is, and we'll figure--"
"No! It's my problem. Just leave me alone!"
He looked at me and breathed in deeply through his nose, said, "alright," after a moment, and drove us home. I climbed into bed immediately, and didn't move until both of them had left the next day.
With Daisy at school and Jerald at work, I got out of bed without showering or eating, grabbed two rolls of gquze bandages from the bathroom cupboard, and two belts from the closet, then walked straight over to the barn, no more than a hundred yards off from our house. All of Jerald's tools and devices were stored in there, and it took me a while to find what I needed.
But I did.
The hacksaw was leaning against the wall behind his toolbox. I took it out and brushed it off, then looked at all those razor sharp points in a row. I had an idea just then of how it was going to feel, but I didn't care.
I was going to get rid of it.
Back in the house, I drew the curtains, turned off all the lights, and lit some of those red taper candles for atmosphere.
I took my skirt completely off, and looked down at that limb.
An entire leg, however small, was now sticking straight out so far that its bend kneecap peaked past my right leg. The two lumps that I'd seen sprouting the last time I had looked had actually been the firtst two fingers of a hand, which now had the other tow and the thumb as well, and was attached at its wrist to the base of that leg.
I set my skirt down on a table where it wouldn't get any blood on it, and then took two stools from the corner of the barn and set them together, laing an oil pan down between them. I sat on one of the stools, propped my let atop the other, said some words to God--and then I laid those teeth in.
If felt just as I though it would.
Looking back now, I can't forget the look on my doctor's face when he saw old Ellen from the country, nearly passed out on his table, thigh oozing blood from a greasy, hacked wound. I said it was Jerald's disk plow. I don't think he believed me. He still looks at me askance, even to this day.
And Jeral... Sometimes he won't look at me straight, as if I'd dropped my basket for awhile. He refuses to acknowledge the sinewy scar, and sometimes I have to wonder if I made it all up in my mind.
Daisy hates me, I thin, like all teenage girls hate their mothers for a certain age--lord knows I've been there. Everytime I scold her, or try to urge her to do right, she gets this look--like I don't really know what I'm talking about at all.
And that thing...
I have also accepted the fact that I'll never know just what happened to me, which makes it a little easier to live with. I can never undo that it happened like I undid what it was that was happening with my husband's hacksaw.
And I can never gorget what that leg did just after I cut it awau from me.
Even now, years later, taht moment is still so incredibly vivid in my mind, and I know that I will always remember the way it hobbled away out of the barn. I'll never forget the way it ran so fast, bouncing off its one hand, then foot, then back again, all the way across the field until it vanished into the forest.
And I'll be damned if it wasn't screaming as it went.