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She felt the pressure of his left toe, but the richness of her sleep covered her so that she couldn't climb out of it.

While he sang in the shower, she cut the graying length of his big toe and, out of spite, used it to spice his omelet.

She tried to summon her irritation, but she knew she wouldn't leave Joseph just yet.

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Institution            February 1, 2001

Angela spiced his omelet with the pink bits of his toe

by Stephany Aulenback

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After the frantic sex on the first night of their marriage, Angela and Joseph lay side by side in their big creaky wrought-iron bed, side by side on their backs, not touching. Joseph started to snore. Angela pictured the pink flesh at the back of his throat collapsing in on itself. She reached out and pushed at his shoulder until he grunted and rolled over to face away from her.

Then she too rolled over, to face the other way. There was a large space between them on the bed, an emptiness big enough for a third person. Meditating on this space, Angela gazed into the blackness. This space between them was a good distance. So far, no further. Angela sank into sleep. For a while there was no movement in the bed, just the sound of hushed breathing, punctuated by Joseph's rasping snores.

But in the full darkness of the night, the bed creaked and bounced softly as Joseph rolled toward Angela. First Joseph's left foot, then his right, sought out her own. Angela felt the initial pressure of his left big toe on the sole of her own left foot, like a thumb denting the soil to plant a seed, but the richness of her sleep covered her so thickly that she couldn't climb out of it. Instead, she burrowed further away from consciousness as Joseph's big toe grew long and twined around her foot like a root. It attached itself to the side of her own big toe, then gnarled and thickened as it crept upward, circling her ankle, snaking along her calf. Then the three middle toes on her right foot braided themselves around the two smallest on Joseph's, plaiting together neatly at first, growing tangled and hopelessly knotted as the hours passed.

At sunrise, when the alarm clock rang and it was time to get up, Joseph had to rip his rooted toes from Angela's. It hurt them both, like pulling very large and thick scabs off wounds. His big toe in particular had grown far up her calf and Angela had to help him twist and wrench off the muscular length of it so that he would be able to put on his shiny black businessman shoes and go to work. Joseph was matter-of-fact about it all, he seemed to proceed without thinking. He smiled absentmindedly at her as he picked at their knitted skin with his thick fingernails, then yawned. But Angela's eyes pooled and she had to bite her lip to keep the tears from snaking down her cheeks. Her hands shook as she pried their toes apart. The sheets were bloody by the time they finished.

When Joseph went to shower, Angela lay in the creaking bed, holding the rubbery ginseng root of his toe in her fist. 'Whatever possessed me to marry this man?' she thought bleakly. And then she decided: 'I will leave when he goes to work.' At that she got up and hobbled into the kitchen to make breakfast. The slippery broken tendrils of her toes made it hard to walk. She gritted her teeth and used the kitchen knife to pare off the ruined and dangling shoots. While Joseph sang show tunes in the shower, she cut these pink bits up finely along with the graying length of his big toe and, out of spite, used them to spice his omelet. She smiled slyly as she served it to him on a white plate from their set of wedding china, but he didn't notice, simply ate it all up, proclaimed it delicious, and kissed her smack on the mouth before heading out the door.

Holding his dirty plate and tasting his spiced kiss, Angela watched him from the kitchen window as he moved confidently along the sidewalk down their crooked hill of a street. He wore an out-dated bowler hat that made him look jaunty, just this side of silly, and of course those shiny black shoes. His broad shoulders pushed at his overcoat, stretching it across his frame. Locks of his dark hair curled vigorously over the collar. His strong back looked larger to Angela than the vastness of the steel-colored sky and something in her belly twisted. It urged her to run after Joseph, to leap upon him, to wrap her legs around his waist and pull his savory tongue full into her mouth.

Suppressing this urge, Angela dropped the white china plate into a sink full of lukewarm soapy water. She stood up straight and tried to summon her irritation, but she knew she couldn't, or wouldn't, leave Joseph just yet. She knew she wouldn't even sleep on the couch that night. Not yet, not yet, she thought as she turned on the hot water tap and picked up the carving knife. And then as she opened her hand and let the knife slide into the roiling water, she closed her eyes.

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