Stained

When I lift my husband’s leg and slip his foot from his house-shoe, the flesh is blue and icy. As in the past—intimate moments, leisurely evenings, times we were estranged—I massage his foot.

It is oddly flat on top, perhaps from the dozen breaks his fragile bones suffered post-transplant. Almost instantly, the hue shifts in my hands. It’s magic: his skin now a regular color. He’s still cool to my touch and his nails are blue and battered, but the flesh is nearly normal.

Normal, that is, until I see his calf. Once he was a runner. What’s the equivalent of a catcall, when it calls a man? Women called out his beautiful legs. Strong and shapely, prettier than mine. He ran until his eyes leaked blood and the doctors said, Stop. And now those calfs, they are wasting away, as tiny as a child’s.

Musculature melting, how will those skinny dowels carry his weight around the house, into showers, up stairs? Or if they don’t, what will, who will? Their skin, too, is all wrong. Blooming with bruises. Parched and wrinkled instead of taut. Empty sacks.

The hospital gown floats over his legs. I let loose the foot. Gravity stains it purple the instant he bends his knee. Up, a white man’s foot. Down, a foreign, violet appendage.

Tomorrow, he returns to dialysis. I picture the amputee whose prosthetics rest against the bed while her blood is rinsed and cleaned. I will avert my eyes as always, as if she is an omen. Today, I nudge his toes back into the slipper.

 

Gail Louise Siegel’s stories have appeared in journals from Ascent to Agni, to Wigleaf and Post Road. She has an MFA from Bennington College.