“Let me see,” Carol says. She’s younger than her sister and anxious to catch up.
Emily gives a sour look, then changes her mind and smiles. “Hold your nose.” She sits on the bed and rolls down her stocking.
“It’s not like I can’t smell it already,” Carol says. For days a faint odor has followed her sister, like almonds rolled in shit. She masks it with perfume, but it’s there if you know where to look.
“Suit yourself.” The sock comes off. The smell intensifies. An Ace bandage has been wound around Emily’s foot. Her toes are deep blue, edging toward black.
“How do you walk?” Carol says. So far Emily has everyone convinced it’s just a minor sprain.
“You do what you have to,” Emily says. “And I don’t want you telling them anything, understand?” Carol nods immediately. Them, of course, is their parents.
“Can I touch?” Carol says.
Emily rolls her eyes. She lifts her foot from the floor.
Carol reaches tentatively. “Does it hurt?”
“I don’t feel a thing.” Emily wipes her mouth with the back of a hand.
Carol touches her sister’s big toe. The flesh is cold and hard, not like skin at all. She pulls away. A thrill of terror runs down her spine. For the first time, she understands how dangerous her sister’s obsession has become.
“Can I finish dressing now?” Emily says.
Carol shakes her head. “I want to see more.”
“Can’t this wait until after school?”
“Now,” Carol says. “Show me or I’m telling Mom.” To her utter shock, she means it. This was a game until now. Could Emily hide the infection from their parents? Once the operation was done it would be too late for them to stop her. Emily’s lower leg would become a graceful arc, her foot spring metal. That was the plan. Now, Carol is having second thoughts.
Emily blows a sigh, but there’s a hint of satisfaction too. She wants to show off for her little sister. She hikes up her pants leg, revealing metal wire embedded in the glossy white skin of her calf. She unwinds the bandage. The smell makes Carol retch. She breathes through her mouth. Emily’s foot is glazed dark blue. Purple veins reach up her ankle.
“Almost done,” she grates between clenched teeth.
“I thought you said it didn’t hurt,” Carol says.
“Everything in life hurts,” Emily says, “even fashion.” She touches the dented skin. “This is where the doctors will be forced to amputate. Enough stump for a good prosthesis fit.”
Carol can’t decide whether she’s horrified or excited. “What color will you get?”
“Probably pink,” Emily says. “That’s what Janine got, and Marie too. Boys love it.” She looks thoughtful. “I’ll get purple for my tread, though. I don’t want to get lost in the crowd.” She presses one end of the bandage to her flesh, and winds the first layer around.
Carol watches open-mouthed, as her sister’s secret disappears, one turn at a time. She imagines her own leg bound with wire. She doesn’t want to copycat, but you do have to keep up with trends. Maybe she’ll do them both when the time comes.
published 20 March 2013