Dalton sat at the front window of his apartment in Flatbush eating a bowl of Cap'n Crunch and pondering why so many pirates lost a leg. Were they the human equivalent of pigeons? His thoughts of pirates led him to an image of parrots, and before he knew it, Dalton had cruised to Pet-orama. He limped the entire distance—including the subway stairs which he took one at a time—working out the notion of a peg leg. Dalton was thorough that way.
He once spent an entire day without arms by tucking his empty jacket sleeves into the pockets, zipping it up, and slipping it over his head. At first, he folded his arms in front of his chest, but when he observed the effect in the full-length mirror, he decided that the lumpiness of his arms under his jacket appeared unnatural. Not wishing to appear odd, he loosened his belt two notches and tucked his arms into the sides of his pants. It was an exhausting day because he had to walk everywhere. He couldn't swipe his Metro card for the bus or subway and hailing a cab was impossible.
When he arrived at Pet-orama, Dalton was seduced into the aquatic section by a pair of freckled legs. The owner of these legs was bent over, looking intently into an aquarium.
Not overly skilled in the art of flirtation, Dalton positioned himself on the other side of the tank and hunched down to face her. He sucked his cheeks in, making a fish mouth, and flapped his hands at the side of his head like gills. Dalton watched her eyes watch the fish, then notice him. She had a strange look on her face which he had no time to interpret because the tank was full of angel fish, and his mind went racing after halos, saints, statues, incense, pews, the confessional, and his right hand being smacked as an adult voice said, "Dirty boy!"
He stood up, knocking his head against a display of sponges hanging from the ceiling above the tank.
"Your eyes are like marbles," he said to her. Then seeing the marbles in her head glare at him, he added, "Because...because the water and the glass of the aquarium made your eyes small, like peewees or maybe shooters. Although now, on account of your thick glasses, they look more like bumbos, uh, boulders, uh, the big fat...large marbles."
He stopped speaking, looked at a shelf holding bags of colored gravel, river rocks, pumps, plastic mermaids, deep sea divers, and an underwater Santa, and wondered if he should apply for a job at Pet-orama. Then suddenly, she was on the move, and Dalton limped rapidly after her.
She stopped walking and asked him, "What's wrong with your leg?"
Her deep, raspy voice reminded him of that girl he used to call late at night before his credit cards got cancelled.
"I have an ingrown toenail," Dalton responded.
"I work for a podiatrist," she said.
"I see," Dalton said.
The idea of dealing with the sock fluff caught in the corner of someone's big toenail, or their toe jam, calluses, bunions, or pronations, caused bile to lurch in Dalton's stomach.
"I'm on my way back to work now," she continued. "Would you like to visit the doctor?"
The ultimate question came to mind. Dalton had faced it several times when he woke up with a really bad hangover, and again when he wanted to explore the cradle of civilization on the government's money and visited the Army Recruitment center. The last time he faced it was when he wanted to know what it was like to wear a bra, which is what got him fired from J-L Mart. They really should fix those doors in the dressing room.
Is it worth it?
"I don't believe in conventional treatment," Dalton told her, knowing that he could never talk about, acknowledge or have someone else touch his feet.
"What treatment are you using?" she asked.
"I'm dipping it in melted wax."
"Doesn't that burn?"
Dalton felt light-headed from the image of red wax hardening around his foot and cracking when he flexed his toes.
"Not really," he squeaked.
"I've never heard of that treatment."
"I read about it in an airline magazine on a flight to Prague," he said, contemplating for a second or two why Prague and The Hague were pronounced differently.
"I'll have to tell Doctor Gutmann about it. Do you have a copy of the magazine?"
"My name is Dalton," he said to change the subject.
"My name is Jane."
For a moment, Dalton was catatonic as he felt himself holding a chimpanzee in his left arm, grabbing a vine with his right and swinging through a rain forest, screaming at the top of his lungs because an elephant had tipped Jane over and was precariously close to stepping on her head. Where was Boy?
"Hello?" she said and snapped her fingers.
"Can I walk you to your office?" he asked, hoping there was no large plaster of Paris foot hanging outside the building which would send him straight back to the psychiatrist.
"All right," she said.
Dalton limped along behind her, watching her pleated wool skirt undulate with each step. Green, black, yellow, and red plaid. He wondered what clan it was and went off onto bagpipes, shortbread, funny accents, rain, heather, Shetland wool sweaters, itching, men in kilts bashing each other with clubs.
He caught up with Jane and asked, "Why aren't you wearing a uniform if you work for a doctor?"
"I'm the receptionist. I answer the phones and make appointments and put magazines in the waiting room. What kind of job do you have?"
At 28, Dalton had spent his career in retail, mainly shelving apothecary items at a major drug chain. He arranged the items alphabetically by name and methodically aligned them to the edge of the shelf each morning. His tenure ended when the Dr. Scholl's products were moved to his shelving section and he passed out at the sight of the rubber shoe inserts.
"At the moment, I'm considering my options," he told her.
They passed the alterations shop, thread, needles, prick your finger, sleep for 100 years, awakened by a kiss from a prince. I'm not gay. The bakery hard rolls, warm buns, sweet turnovers, tart tarts, cream-filled donuts, ladyfingers, bear claws. They should sell condoms. The carwash. Why am I such a failure?
"Well, here we are," Jane said, stopping outside a gate on which hung a sign that read:
We treat feet....
Dalton turned a little sideways, away from the sign on the gate, which he noticed had a small illustration of a foot on it, and kept his eyes on Jane as he asked, "Dr. Gutmann? Shouldn't he be called Dr. Footman?"
"But that's not his name," Jane replied.
"Right," he said, wondering if they actually would ever see each other again deliberately.
"Well," she said, putting her hand on the gate.
"Do you live around here?" he blurted, stalling her departure a little longer.
"I don't think that's an appropriate question, do you?" she replied.
Dalton thought it was a very appropriate question. He needed to know how much farther he would have to go if he was ever to visit her. There was that one day that he spent cross-eyed and he got a migraine. Distance made a huge difference. Dealing with her profession was hard enough, but he couldn't deal with distance issues.
"Are you sure you don't want the doctor to look at your foot?" she asked.
"No. No. I'm fine," he said.
"Well," she said.
"Well," he said.
"Well, here, just in case," Jane said, as she took her business card out of her purse. She wrote something on it before handing it to Dalton.
Dalton looked at the card. Jane Romanzinzho DeZouza. Her name buzzed inside his head as he repeated it silently, thinking of beehives and honey and Winnie the Pooh, Eyore. Tigger. The cowardly lion. The wicked witch. Flying monkeys. He felt a panic attack coming on.
"Well, goodbye," she said, making a little wave of fingers of her left hand.
Dalton made claw-like motions with the fingers of both hands before he limped away. As he turned the corner heading for the Labor Department, he dropped Jane's card into a trash can. He liked her freckled legs and her white blouse. But she had written her home phone number just under the slogan, "We treat feet..." and he could never look at it again.
Six weeks later, Dalton lay in bed all morning staring upward, wondering if he could find something spiritual in the water stain pattern that would make his ceiling worthy of being ripped out and sold at auction. In the afternoons, he prayed to find a Hershey bar with the image of the Virgin Mary in it. Or a ham sandwich that had the shape of Christ. Or at least one of the apostles. Something he could sell. Dalton wasn't religious, but his unemployment compensation was ending in a week.
Sensing his nervousness at having to become re-employed, his mother advised him, "Why don't you go on disability like your father."
Dalton's father had been on disability ever since the 1980s when he got in a fight with his cousin, Phil, over how to hang dry wall and Phil shot Dalton's father in the foot three times with a nail gun.
For weeks, Dalton considered some way of getting on disability without the use of a nail gun. A stapler wouldn't work.
With no alternative, Dalton finally scheduled a job interview at the Hardware Station in Manhattan.
Going into Manhattan would take extra time. Extra time away from his own personal bathroom in Flatbush, and Dalton hadn't been able to use a public toilet since he was six years old and his mother had taken him into the ladies room at Macy's where that little girl had started screaming.
He had made an attempt to urinate at the stadium once after a Brooklyn Cyclones game, staring at the urinal for ten minutes, frozen on account of knowing where everyone's hand had been right before touching the flushing handle. Eventually he entered a stall and tried with all his might to relieve himself. Nothing. When he realized that he might wet himself on the subway train on the way home, he started to cry.
"Hey, buddy what's wrong," a burly voice yelled out from the next stall. "You a Yankees fan?" When Dalton didn't answer, the voice called out, "Hey fellas, we got a Yankees fan in here."
Three rowdy guys broke the stall door open and beat Dalton up.
Dalton's solution to the public-bathroom-job-interview dilemma was to purchase a box of adult diapers. He had become acquainted with them at J-L Mart where he had often wondered about the experience of wearing them. Did they chafe? Were they noisy when you walked? Were they hard to put on? Going home on the subway he looked around at the different people on the train to see if there were telltale signs that they were incontinent.
He got all the answers to his questions when he got home. First of all, it wasn't easy putting the diaper on and getting it adjusted. Then he found that the diaper was so bulky that he couldn't fasten his trousers. He tried on every pair of pants in his closet. The only piece of haberdashery that would fasten over the adult diaper was a pair of overalls, which to Dalton seemed appropriate interview attire for Hardware Station.
He walked around the block several times on Saturday, so he'd get used to wearing the diapers outdoors. He thought the diaper made a squishy sound when he walked. He couldn't tell. Was it making a sound or just feeling like it made a sound? Every few minutes, Dalton bent over to listen to his crotch as he walked. He still couldn't tell.
On Monday, wearing freshly ironed overalls, white shirt, and an adult diaper, Dalton felt so secure that he stopped at Hunky Donuts for a hot chocolate. And when Dalton arrived at the Hardware Station, he daringly asked at Customer Service for the location of the water fountain.
After he had enough water to cause him a belly ache, Dalton found the Personnel Office. Joe Doversky made Dalton wait almost a full half hour past his scheduled interview time before calling him into his office.
Joe Doversky asked him, "Do you have any gardening experience?"
Gardening, mowing, weeding, raking, hoeing, turning rocks over and finding rolly polly bugs.
"NO!" Dalton shouted.
Dalton recognized that expression on Joe Doversky's face. The interview had already gone bad.
"How about construction experience?" Joe Doversky asked him calmly.
Backhoes, mud holes, wooden fences, cement mixers, steel rods, piles of bricks, electrical wiring, getting hit on the head with a manhole cover when Con Ed blew up the street.
Dalton blinked fast and made his stomach hard as he said, "Only with Tinker Toys. And, uh, I painted my bedroom once."
"Are you all right?" Mr. Doversky asked.
Dalton couldn't answer. He really needed to urinate and was busy squeezing his whole body tight.
"Dalton?" Joe Doversky had that look again when Dalton opened his eyes.
"Well, Dalton, thank you for coming in. We'll be in touch."
Dalton stood up.
"Soon," Mr. Doversky said.
Dalton quickly ran out of Doversky's office, out of the store, all the way to the subway station. When he got off the train, he ran down the stairs and all the way to his apartment building. Once inside, ran to his own personal bathroom.
Then, he made a phone call.
"Dr. Meese," Dalton asked, "can you help me get onto disability?"
After several months of waiting for his disability claim to be approved, Dalton spent a morning, practicing tremors in his hands, then his legs. Walking was difficult to say the least, so he changed to practicing seizures. He jerked his head and made himself foam at the mouth by putting liquid soap on his tongue. The soap was very bitter and kept him spitting for half an hour.
He decided to go outside and wander around with his eyes closed. Once he got outside, though, he started doing hopscotch jumps. One, two-three, four, five-six, seven, eight-nine, ten. When he reached ten, instead of turning around and hopping back to one, he did a 360 degree turn on one leg and continued on, one, two-three, four, five-six, seven, eight-nine, ten.
When Dalton reached Flatbush Boulevard, he turned right and walked half a block to stand in front of the window of ABC Medical Supply where his eyes panned the crutches, Latex gloves, scales, rubber tubing, quad canes, boxes of dressings, and a very attractive mannequin wearing a nurse's uniform.
And then he saw the seat cushion shaped like a donut. Although he knew it was for people with piles, Dalton wasn't exactly sure what piles were. He'd tried to find an image on the Internet at the library, but the Reference Librarian had asked him to leave.
Dalton couldn't go inside ABC Medical Supply because he started to have a panic attack at the sight of a model foot with a bandage around it, so he went inside the discount store next door where he approached the register.
"Yeah?" She said.
"Do you sell pillows?" Dalton asked, noticing a display of makeup pencils on the counter that were on sale two for a dollar.
"Are there any socks on aisle two?"
"Socks are on aisle one," the clerk responded.
On aisle two, Dalton found a suitable foam rubber pillow and carried it to the counter. He studied the makeup pencils. One of them was an irresistible shade of red and he opened it and drew a flower on his forearm.
"If you use a pencil, you gotta buy it!"
Since they were two for a dollar, he grabbed a black pencil as well.
When he got home, Dalton cut open the cloth pillow casing and removed the foam rubber. He spent a few minutes poking at it with his fingers before he cut away a section of the length to make it square. He drew an uneven circle on the pillow with his new black makeup pencil. He outlined that in red, just for fun.
With a sharp kitchen knife, he carved out the center of the donut. He decided to cover his donut and used safety pins to close the end of the case around it and put safety pins around the center of the hole. He cut away the cloth in the hole. Then he signed get well autographs all over the pillow case like it was a leg cast.
Dalton carried a chair into the bathroom and sat on the donut posing with crossed and uncrossed legs and arms. Finally, he put the donut on his head and pulled it past his face to sit around his neck like a brace.
He drew stitches on his forehead with the black pencil, then gave himself huge Groucho eyebrows. He drew huge outlines around his lips with the red pencil. He had started to give himself the measles with the red pencil, when his doorbell rang.
Dalton had so few visitors that he immediately ran to the door and opened it. He opened the door in his donut collar and makeup for Mrs. Jenkins the federal disability insurance investigator who was making a surprise visit to determine whether Dalton was actually mentally incompetent or just faking.
BIO: Alana Cash is an award-winning and published short story writer and a documentary filmmaker. A native of Texas, she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her two cats, Agnes Hershkovitz and Bob Ling.