By Lena Cohen-Greenberg
Last year, Michelle met a charming podiatrist. She had noticed a protrusion on the bottom of her foot. She sat down against her bathtub and touched it, slowly, like it might not be safe. It felt rough and squishy. She was being invaded by evil. Her body disgusted her for the first time since she had broken her arm as a teenager.
Michelle, unsatisfied with her cubicle job and mundane life, only ever felt extraordinary because of her ordinarily perfect body. (She was slim and medium tall, with long legs and long, straight brown hair.) She resented it for not being perfectly smooth and clear, the way she worked so hard for it to be, with her shaving and plucking and exfoliating. For weeks, she wore socks constantly, removing them only to shower.
But the protrusion became painful and unignorable. .
“Callus-y mound on the bottom of foot,” she asked the internet. “Mildly painful.”
The internet replied blister?, wart?, clogged sweat gland?.
On the phone, Michelle’s doctor declined to see the foot–Michelle detected in her tone a hint of disgust–and gave her the number of a podiatrist, Dr. Lewis.
When Michelle went to his office, she was struck by its warmth. She’d thought that all doctors’ offices were unfriendly, like her physician’s, with blank white walls and tiled ceilings with bright white lights.
But Dr. Lewis’s office wasn’t like that. It had teal walls and warm lights and a nice table in the waiting room with fresh magazines, not Good Housekeeping, but thick Vogue issues. She read the 2020 Rihanna issue while she waited, pulling open one of the perfume samples and, after looking around to see if anyone was there, rubbed it on her wrists..
“Michelle?”a woman with a clipboard and scrubs called.
“Ah,” Dr. Lewis said after just a glance at her foot. “A plantar wart. Golly, I don’t know why your physician would have any trouble recognizing this.”
“It’s nothing crazy?” Michelle asked.
Dr. Lewis chuckled.
“Not at all. Frankly, I’m bored.”
“I’ll just coat it with routine medication and cover it with a Band-Aid. Remove the Band-Aid when it starts to sting and wash your foot.”
Dr. Lewis explained it to her simply, but not condescendingly. Michelle found this attractive. She found him attractive. He had a kind face that was just symmetrical enough, subtle dimples, and deep brown eyes. He was tall with approachable broad shoulders.
“And then what happens? After I wash the medication off, I mean,” she asked.
“Your skin will naturally react to that initial medication and it will slowly start to heal. I’ll put you on the calendar for two weeks from now to see how it’s doing. It might even be gone by then.”
“Good?” Dr. Lewis asked, like he really wanted to know if he was doing his job well.
A week after her second appointment, Michelle’s wart was still there. It was less painful and rougher to the touch, but still, it clung to her mind until something more pressing took over, which almost never happened. Except for now, when she curled her hair over her bathroom sink and thought about how her podiatrist had asked her on a date.
“I think you’re beautiful,” John had said, so earnestly as she was leaving his office. “Could I take you to dinner?”
If he hadn’t been so handsome, she would have thought it was unprofessional.
John kissed her on their second date, the day after their third appointment.
“It feels especially stubborn. Is that weird?” Michelle had asked him in his office. It didn’t hurt anymore, so it shouldn’t have been much of a disturbance, but it was. Sometimes, she would dream that she cut the wart clean off of her foot and blood streamed out of her until her body was dead and dry.
One night, when the wart had not quite disappeared, John kissed Michelle from her toes to her forehead, and then they went to sleep.
“I love you,” she said the next morning, laying her head on his chest. She’d never told anyone that before. She listened to herself say it, new but so comfortable.
“Mm,” John hummed, grinning, “I love you.”
When the wart was finally gone, Michelle brought expensive champagne to John’s house. They drank and kissed. Michelle felt sexier than she had in months. She didn’t stay the night. She went home to write in her journal. She only did that when she was content. She wanted her life to be documented as a happy one.
The first time she thought she wasn’t in love with him anymore, or maybe that she never had been, they were visiting his parents’ summer house on the Cape, a month after the wart had gone.
She was sitting in the living room, pretending to read, listening to the conversation John was having with his mother.
“You seem to really like her,” Mrs. Lewis said cheerfully.
“I do. I really do. She’s perfect”
“I don’t care what happens to me,” John explained, “because I got to be loved by her.”
Michelle wondered what it might be like to feel that way about someone.
In three weeks they had broken up. Michelle began to meditate three times a day with an app a friend had recommended. She meditated when she woke up, when she got home from work, and right before bed. It was, as her friend had said, “The season of you!”
Now, she sat on her floor at night with her legs criss-crossed. She was at peace. She was coated with confidence and certainty, and she was grateful. Outside her window, the sun was romantic, the neighborhood quietly awake. Soon, she would be falling asleep, fulfilled, with a mind that wouldn’t twist and scream as she tried to rest. But now, as she opened her eyes, feeling grounded as ever, she spotted, on the middle of the sole of her left foot, a small but undeniable plantar wart.
* * *
Lena Cohen-Greenberg is a recent high school graduate. She’s taking a gap year and working as a stitcher at a costume shop before heading to college next fall. You can find her short story, “Spill Your Guts,” in the Portland Review.