He said, "This is the closest thing to a shoe I've had on this foot all year," and he was smiling like he couldn't help but smile. Reconstructed veins ran fat and blue over the newly built instep. His toes were splayed.
His foot was a fleshy baseball with toes on it, a knot of muscle and bone and stitching. I said, "It looks good."
He said, "Put your swimsuit on. We're going crawdadding."
I said, "Crawdadding?"
"Yeah, it's time to get out of the city," he said. "Get some sun on your skin. I know this creek we always went to when I was a kid." Then he said, "Tracy's not doing too well. I want to take her out of town."
Like everything else, it was about Tracy. I was the driver. I'd had my fill of Tracy. I hadn't even talked to her since the day I'd seen her at her work.
Sonny said, "It'll be nice," and he did his new-foot dance again, kicking his foot toward me.
I said, "Okay."
I put my swimsuit on under my lucky dress, then went down and waited for Sonny and Tracy in the lobby, sitting in the single overstuffed chair. Eventually I heard Tracy clomping down the central stairs, the medulla oblongata. She was barely dressed, in a tiny shirt and something that looked closer to tap pants, meaning underwear, than shorts. She was wearing clogs.
Sonny walked beside her. He was trying not to limp. He slapped over each step in his rubber thongs. He was saying, "...put 'em in with a little crawdad boil, they're done in no time." Then he said, "Or, I could make crawdad étouffée." He jabbed Tracy in the ribs. He said, "...touffée, right? You'd like that? ...touffée? It's good stuff."
Tracy brushed his hand away. She didn't even overreact, the way I would've expected her to. She said, "I don't know anything about eating crawdads." She looked at me, where I sat in the lobby's chair. Instead of "Hello" or "Good morning," or maybe "Sorry for trying to kick you when you came to see me in the bar the other day," Tracy said only, "Ready?" I was just the driver, there to take her out.
As we were leaving, Tino came up the stairs. He said, "What's up?"
Tracy invited Tino along.
Tracy and Tino sat in the back seat of my car. Sonny sat up front with me, pointing out directions. He held a handful of torn sheet strips, and was tying knots in the sheets as we drove. He kept looking down at his foot, wiggling his toes. It was like he wanted to laugh.
His foot was as pale as a newborn baby. It was as pale as a baby from the deformed-baby book, twisted and sad. But it was a foot, and seemed to be working.
He said, "Easiest thing in the world, catching crawdads." He was trying to cheer tracy up.
She looked out the back window. She was sullen.
He said, "And they're clean too. Crawdads can't live in dirty water."
Tracy said, "How clean's a creek?"
He said, "That's what I mean. It's clean, if there's crawdads."
Tino was quietly drinking his beer, filling the back of my car with his empty cans as we made our way out of town and into what was left of the nearby country.
The stretch of creek was a beautiful place off the old highway. We pulled over onto the gravel side, then Sonny showed us a barely visible trail. The trail led through a blackberry thicket and down a crumbling bank where the ground was hard, dried clay. Sonny walked on the lumpy ground, watching his steps, testing out his new foot, trying to look like he wasn't limping. I could see that he was.
Tino walked in big steps, hot in his jeans, kicking his way through the blackberry brambles. Tracy slipped in her clogs and stumbled on the steep incline. Both Tino and Sonny ran to help Tracy. I looked the other way and kept walking. She could take the clogs off and walk just fine.
We waded across the creek. The water was a cold rush. Sonny stepped high, keeping his thongs on against the current.
Tino said, "How's the foot there, angel?" and he pushed Sonny's shoulder.
Sonny ducked, caught his balance again and kept walking, one hand full of the torn sheet strips. I imagined Sonny in the creek as a kid, fishing and crawdadding, back before the scars, and wondered who played Tino to Sonny then? On the bank on the other side, we stopped near the shade of a tree that grew close to the water.
Tino threw himself down on the bank, lying back. Tracy sat as a shivering bundle when it wasn't even cold out. Only Sonny and I waded in the water. We found a place where the water was a few feet deep and the bank cut away. Sonny showed me how to dangle the piece of sheet in the water. After the water settled, we could see crawdads down among the sticks and rocks. Once I knew what to look for, I saw crawdads everywhere below the water's surface. I saw one crawdad reach up, close his claw on my bit of knotted sheet, and I lifted the crawdad quickly from the stream.
Sonny laughed, tossed me a bucket. He said, "Easiest thing in the world."
I liked lying on the bank next to Sonny, looking into the water, but eventually he went further on up the creek. I stayed put. I hadn't been in the country in years--hadn't been out of town. I couldn't believe how quiet it was.
Tino yelled, "Catching dinner, chore boy?" And I wanted to hit him.
Everything was beautiful except Tino, and then Tracy being petulant. I was so sick of Tracy, I pretended not to hear her when she said, "I need to go home." She said, "I'm not feeling good."
I kept dangling my bit of sheet in the cold water. Sonny was upstream, and didn't hear Tracy calling.
She was quiet for a bit, letting everything be quiet except the creek rushing by. Then she said it again.
I said, "Drink some water. It's probably too much sun." I didn't even turn to look at her.
She said, "I need to go home."
Tino said, "Too much of the good life, baby?"
She said, "I'm serious," and her voice sounded slurry then. Sonny turned around, and I saw him stand up fast. He came running, as much as he could run with his deformed baby of a foot on the creek's uneven rocks. He slipped as he ran, and Tino yelled, "Light on your feet there, aren't you angel?"
And then I turned around. Tracy was paler than ever, white in her lips even. She was squatting, something between trying to stand and trying to lie down. She was holding her head, swaying, one palm against the rocks.
When we got to the hospital, Tracy tried to get out of the car but stepped forward and fell on the pavement instead. I helped her up and then she was leaning against me. I should've taken her back into town earlier, the first time she asked. I grabbed Tino's arm; I said, "Help me with this." Tracy was heavy in her awkwardness, stumbling sideways. Tino found a wheelchair near the entrance.
At Emergency, the receptionist asked the nature of the problem.
We all looked at Tracy. Tracy said a slurry, jumbled something, and then she was crying. Tears were coming from both her eyes, but her mouth moved only on the right side of her face.
The receptionist said, "How long?"
I said, "It just started." It started out at the creek, when I was ignoring Tracy.
Tino said, "Now."
Then I said, "Maybe 20 minutes?"
Sonny was holding Tracy's hand, holding her head up, telling Tracy she'd be okay. He was whispering, "They can fix you up. They can fix everything."
Tracy went from the triage to surgery. One doctor said Aneurysm. Another called it a Slow Leak, a Cranial Vascular Accident. They said Smoking and Birth Control and Vitamins and Genetics. They said sometimes, these things happen.
A long time later, they said Tracy was out of surgery, but sleeping, and that we might as well leave. We were outside in the smokers' corner. Tino was eating a sandwich he'd found in a machine.
I turned to Tino and Sonny. "Should we go?"
Sonny said, "What if Tracy's dying?"
Tino, his mouth full of white bread and yellow cheese and pale-white turkey, said, "Shut the fuck up. She's not dying." I saw a bit of food fly.
Sonny said, "She doesn't take care of herself."
I said, "Tracy'll be okay." I put my hand on his arm, and there was no honesty to it because even though it looked like consolation, the gesture was about me. It was me wanting to put my hand on Sonny. Tracy would be okay. She had to be. Touching Sonny's arm was again about wanting to touch something good. I was taking advantage.
My car smelled like crawdads and creek water and Tino's beer cans. The crawdads we'd caught were swimming in their bucket, piled on top of each other.