by Marie Bacigalupo
Only the legs mattered. The photographer had shot the bare legs in midstride, the milkshake thickness of thigh, the bony blossom of knee, the quick curve of calf, the plump sandaled feet, the perfect red-tipped toes. Only the legs mattered. They filled the frame. A fringe of bright blue fabric nipped the knee but only the legs mattered.
He sat in the dentist’s office and drank in the sight. The legs dizzied his senses. He could imagine sucking the sweet toes, feeling the living flesh, smelling their heady scent. He didn’t hear the receptionist call him the first time. At the second call he found it hard to put down the magazine.
In the dentist’s chair he closed his eyes and saw those legs again. The vision numbed him to the pain of the drill. The vision thrilled his core. Before he left the office, he tore the photo out of the magazine. He needed to look at the legs. He needed to find the woman attached to them.
At home, he magnified the photo credit. It took two days, but he found the photographer inUnion Squareand showed her the page he carried in the pocket near his heart.
“Who is she?” he asked.
“Who knows? The gig was to shoot seasonal shoes. I turned the lens on the legs. Never looked at the face.”
“Where was she walking?”
“West Village on Bleecker near the Park.”
He worked two blocks away from Washington Square Park. He would spend his lunch hour, he decided, in the sweet spring air under the tender green trees. He would sit on a bench, eat his sandwich, and keep watch.
He observed the daily procession of women’s legs, shorn and sexy, issuing out of flouncing miniskirts and fashionable sports wear. He grew impatient at the passage of male legs, hairy in Bermuda shorts and muscled in cut-offs, weary at the procession of children’s legs with scratches and scabby bruises. At the end of the day, dejected, he rode the Amtrak home.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked his pretty wife. “You seem distracted these days.”
She was a good wife, the perfect hostess. His clients complimented him on her graces.
“The job,” he said. “I have a lot on my mind.”
Weeks passed. It was time for another visit to the dentist. He looked through the same magazine, wrinkled now, outdated and ready for the trash. He perused it for clues he might have overlooked. When he turned the last page, the nurse called.
The dentist drilled, he squirmed.
He tongued the hole in his tooth before the packing went in, and he left the office with a deeper void unfilled.
Through May and June he moved from one park bench to another on pilgrimage. The sun quickened the earth. The trees in riotous bloom formed a ready sanctuary for a missing goddess. In midsummer he added the hours after five o’clock to his vigil. The sun blasted its rays, driving all but fervid seekers of heat to cool interiors. Once an officer of the law looked at him long, at his red-rimmed eyes, his skin pink and peeling; then the officer scanned his cuff-linked sleeves, his striped tie, and walked on without a word.
In the fall he added Saturday to his search. His wife spoke up again.
“Why are we waiting for you on the weekend? Why are we eating dinner later and later? The kids get hungry. I get hungry. I get angry.”
He looked at her. Body still slim after two births. Hair short and curly. Eyes black-lashed. Legs. . .all wrong.
“You should have dinner without me. I’ll grab something when I get home.”
“And the children? Should they wait for Sundays to see their father?
“I do the best I can.”
“I don’t think so. You defend your absences with lame excuses, yet I don’t see evidence of another woman. What’s going on? If you won’t talk to me, talk to a professional. That’s if you want to save this family.”
When the snow fell, his wife took the children to her mother. After the divorce, she owned the house inWestchester, and he rented a studio in the Village.
Now it was always late when he descended the bowels of the subway for the train home. Tonight it was late as he waited on the bleak platform. As he waited, a woman emerged out of the dungy darkness of the tunnel. Behind her the steel mammoth surged in shrieking decibels. She stumbled, turned to face her fate, stood frozen by the Medusa eyes of the monster that screeched to a halt, too late. Her scream echoed through miles of murky urban underground.
When they carried away the sheeted body, he looked down at the tracks. He saw fragments of flesh and bone laid out like quested relics. And beside the fragments, two legs, intact from thigh to foot, the painted toes still in their sandals.
Marie Bacigalupo, a Brooklynite, studied under Gordon Lish at the Center for Fiction, and participated in summer programs of the University of Iowa Writing Festival and the One Story Workshop for Writers. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Microliterature, and Women in REDzine.
Art by Margarita Korol.