For about a month I had been noticing that my toenails needed clipping. Every time I walked around in shoes I thought "I really need to clip my toenails," because the nails jammed into the toes, which hurt. Then one day I did it! I don't know where the motivation came from.

I went to meet someone, and she said "you should really clip your fingernails, they're getting out of hand." I don't sleep with this person, but I was proud of the fact that I would not scratch someone in my sleep with my toenails, even though I had not been. I thought she would be pleased, even though she couldn't see my toenails. She just kept reminding me to clip my fingernails! I mean, politely, but still I almost took off my shoes and socks to show her what I had been up to.

There we were, eating chips on his floor. I'm sorry, I lied earlier. I thought it would sound better if he were a she, for some reason. Probably sounded worse. Anyway, I don't think his grooming advice was meant maliciously, because he was very friendly otherwise. "We should get high, dude," he said.

I said, "your floor is really dirty." In my defense, I really didn't want to get high. Or maybe I did, so I really didn't. Semantics, I guess. He didn't seem to hear me, because he was eating the chips really sloppily, getting crumbs all over the floor.

I can't really remember if we talked about life or played video games. I was too preoccupied. I couldn't figure out if I had a right to be angry or not. Besides, I was really quite happy, despite being uncertain.

Apparently, he was quite a chip connisseur. He told me about the factory these chips came from, and how they are made. He had been there once, on a chip tour. The workers were really quite well payed, with lots of benefits, he said. We could feel good about eating them. The Tostitos nacho dip was the ideal pairing for this chip, he said. I was engrossed by all this. I began not to care about how ruthlessly he had judged my fingernails. He had picked out the right dip for us.

It was late by then, and I didn't want to walk several miles home. "You don't mind sleeping on the floor, do you?" he asked. "No," I said, chips & dip already dancing in my head, and possibly my stomach.

In the morning, I looked at his toenails. They looked like mine did before I clipped them, except without the layer of fungus. He rolled over. His eyes were closed, but I could tell he was awake.

"Can I borrow your sandals?" I asked. He squinted. "Okay, but shouldn't we eat breakfast?" "Oh, yes! Absolutely. Never mind about the sandals."

After breakfast I scraped the crumbs off my feet, and put on my socks and shoes. As I was going out the door he called after me "really do something about those fingernails!" in a kind of loving tone.

A month later, I bought sandals. I left the store wearing them. The sun was out, so I walked to a park where children screamed and splashed in a shallow water fountain. I felt there was something strange about a giant fountain designed for children to play in. Someone later told me it's called a "water park." Every time I stopped admiring my sandals and opened a book, I got a whiff of sewage. I looked around at the other people basking in the sun reading hefty books or simply looking at the children playing and burping. Did they smell what I smelled?

I was determined to read just one more short story, but the smell kept nagging. More annoying than the smell, of course, was my inability to ignore it. I walked two blocks to another park, where I nestled low in the reeds, away from the wind. The day and the horizon, now obscured by cheerful vegetation, seemed to become the same thing. I was content. I ate a cookie. I felt I might pass out or throw up at any moment. I don't mind vomit so much; it's the feeling that I'll stop being me. I looked down at my toes. The nails were long and scaly.

Putting on my shoes, I saw a bus that was headed to where I lived. I got on with one lace untied. At the next stop, a man sprinted nearly three blocks to get on the bus. He was panting, but I envied him. Then a troop of children got on, who I recognized from the water park. They were all eating ice cream. I expected the ice cream to drip from their cones onto the floor, but they seemed to be expert at licking their cones to prevent this. It smelled like strawberry flavoring on the bus. More nausea. This time, I felt the absence of blood all over. I felt like I was dying. That's what it is, when you stop being you. I almost texted a friend "I'm dying!" But as I was about to hit send, the feeling passed. Then it returned, and passed again, and so on. I thought that if I sent the text, I would no longer feel this way. Because I didn't send it, I imagined myself collapsing as I got off the bus. Someone would come look after me. Maybe they'd carry me back to my apartment. Maybe they'd take me to the hospital. Maybe they would see my now immaculate fingernails. Or maybe they'd just assume I was a homeless drunk! I became determined to stay conscious until I got home.

As I exited the bus, my shoe fell off. I was embarassed, so I didn't tell the driver, and consequently didn't have time to pick up my shoe. I put my sandals back on. The chip conisseur was knocking on the door to my apartment. "Oh hey," he said, looking down at my feet. "My god! Your toenails are monsters!" I couldn't think of anything to say, so I unlocked the door and gingerly got into bed. He came in looking cheerful. "You okay?" Then he pulled a shiny pair of metal clippers from his bag. "Look what I brought!"

1 June 2013