As a child I forced my sister to sniff the socks I tramped in for days without a washing. I liked to come up with new and degrading ways to make her life miserable. Shoving a foot in her face was one of the go-to moves. Turning her into my footstool was another. If we sat near each other I’d raise a leg to press my foot against her nose, demanding she breathe a heavy breath. Sometimes the socks were ripped from misuse or bad shoes and my calloused foot skin pressed into her sniffer. When she pushed away my offering I’d unpeel the dirty cotton and throw it at her face; sit up and press the sock to her mouth until she screamed. If the thing grew wet I knew she’d had a taste of simulacrum Eucharist.
I lived in the country and walked around barefoot on summer days. I liked the feel of little rocks pressing into my soles, giving me just enough pressure to enjoy the sensation without it turning to pain. On hot afternoons the bottoms of my feet burnt and I’d run from pavement to grass to cool them. I mowed barefoot so I could pluck blades with my toes and throw them to the motorized wind. So I could see what shades of green my skin turned, as if I’d taken a crayon to myself.
My feet weren’t the worst that walked the house. My haggish mom has cracked, rubbery planks with ten witch scratchers extending from her wiggly tips. She liked to sit and read in bed or on the living room chair. With a good book going she often called me over and asked if I’d rub her feet for a quarter. No matter the answer she’d point to her lotion bottle and set me to work, doubling my rate in accordance with hazard pay. My hands cramped from the pinching motion she demanded. I tried my best to cleanse away the filth, working her toes as she burned through chapter after chapter. But with layers of dead skin accrued over hundreds of years, slathering goop against those feet was like scrubbing at pots and pans with a grease fried dog tongue.
My mother was raised on a dairy farm and so labored outside as a child. This work made her dirty. As an adult she sometimes rubs old coffee grounds into her varicose legs, perhaps in remembrance of youth. Of the times her and her sisters jumped up and down in a cow’s intestinal wreckage to warm their feet through winter. This pay no mind attitude toward bodily dirtiness passed in a delineated form to her children. At our maternal grandmother’s we once played barefoot in the shallow river that cut through the pasture near her house. Upstream from there the Hutterites dumped pig shit into the water. We caked our bodies in this rank mud until a leech latched onto my cousin’s leg and gave birth to its brood. In my grandparents’ barn we walked with naked feet across floors smeared over in cow dung and thought nothing of it. I liked the way I could squish the warm shit between my toes.
Back home we stayed somewhat cleaner. My sister and I played barefoot in the river mud or the garden after it rained. We let our feet sink into the goop that was grey and slick. Our legs came out with a pop, the line of mud cresting at our shins and drying fast. In our garden, when it came to be the end of fall, my sister and I smashed old vegetables. We hurled tomatoes over the grassy bank and into the river. Plop. Plop. Plop. Overgrown zucchinis got whacked against trees until their seeds spilled out. We pelted each other with the dead food until someone was hit with a piece that’d grown too hard. After the play our feet were filthy. We took turns hosing them off with cold water, the mud never quite disappearing completely.
I took a job at a gas station in high school that lasted into college. One of my co-workers was a hot hag with feet more sickly than my mother’s. She insisted on working in open toed shoes, causing me to cycle through feelings of lust and disgust as I cast my eyes downward from her hot mom face to the yellowing toenails. This woman lived with a cocaine dealer down the road from my parents’. She drove me home sometimes and told me about how her boyfriend got up every morning to masturbate to porn in the basement because she wouldn’t fuck him. Later in life she later married someone horrid. He blasted off her head in a murder-suicide. She was a good person who deserved more.
The night before I started college I was filled with nerves and on duty. The hot hag kept telling me to not worry about it. That college was just more school only cooler. I stuffed myself with ice cream, candy, and chips. The stomach pain helped ease the anxiety. She drove me home that night in her old pickup and wished me luck. Her words helped make smooth a worrisome day, though not wholly. In my bedroom I continued to gorge.
The next morning I woke early and sick. In the shower I puked up my food in a series of yellow, chunky sprays. I was in a hurry and so kept the water going. The old food clogged the drain and the bath basin filled as I scrubbed myself down. I stood in puke water until my hair was clean and my face shiny. I got out of the shower with bile on my feet. Dipped my toes back in the water to rinse them off. That day in school I realized I had worried over nothing and so thought of the standing vomit water. Wondered if it was potable. If there were nutrients to be found in those soggy chunks. My food floated in peace for a week before my mother went into my bathroom and found the aftermath of anxiety. She made me unclog the drain and toss the shower curtain. Scolded me for eating junk food.
I never stood in a tub of sick again, but it seemed I’d cursed my feet for freshman year. I took to going everywhere without socks. Strapped on barefoot sandals through all of winter. Walked to class in snow that froze my toes. I often smelled unpleasant things around me but couldn’t nail the source. Before long I realized my feet were the stink. Each morning I gave them a hard loofah scrub in the old puke shower. They always grew smelly by midday.
I remembered how expensive perfumes were used on holy feet in ancient times and so began carrying Axe spray in my bag.
When entering a dorm room I let everyone know that if something started to smell it was me but not to panic. I could take care of it with a few shots of cheap cologne whose alcohol stink would fill the room. I relayed this to a girl who invited me to her dorm. I showed her the body spray in my bag as soon as I sat down, warning her that my feet were troublemakers. She confided that she believed a psychic she’d visited prior to the fall term had predicted we’d meet. That I was to be a love interest. But I kept making jokes about my feet and wasn’t sure if I wanted to kiss her. We never moved beyond jokes. I think I could’ve got fucked in a bunk bed if I’d had the sense to put on socks. Instead I spent the year spending my money on cologne instead of condoms.
It took me until summer and a sit-down with my mother to realize I only had smelly feet because I wasn’t wearing socks. I started back on them and stopped having foot problems. My only predictable dose of bodily filth now coming from splashing my face with toilet water to cleanse the pores. I fully believed I could control my cleanliness. But from reading a lot of biblical manuscripts I discovered I am perhaps forever bonded to dirty feet. That there is no true cure for ancient curses.
My father has big gross toes whose nails grow in. He is a devoted Catholic. On Holy Thursday he comes to the foot of the altar to have children in white robes wash his dirty soles. They scrub because they know it is their duty. Because Jesus was a slimy character who made chicks suck his filthy toes in adoration. Dude had hordes of women bathe his feet in perfume and towel them off with hair he’d later sniff. It was always thought to be an odd practice but they accepted his commands. Never questioned when they saw him writhing in a dumpster full of hair out behind Supercuts.
It was only when he was nailed down that they pulled back the mask to reveal his snail head. He used the perfume all those years to cloak his semislug scent. The hair to dry his fetid goo. His followers realized it was mighty slimy up there on the cross and abandoned him to his slippery fate. To dry out in the sun. He was resurrected not by miracle but instead the damp conditions of the cave.
People came to realize humanity’s feet were cursed not because of Eve but instead the snake’s gooey cousin, Snail Jesus. And so the sins of my feet trace back across a slime trail two thousand years in the making. The path of a false prophet. The man whose image we are all created in.
Jesus could’ve protected his good name if only he’d practiced restraint and donned socks. Instead his feet are licked clean by a billion wagging tongues on Good Friday. Each coarse stroke acting as a source of pleasure for him up there in the floaty afterlife. No socks for the savior. Next time my dad is bent in genuflection, sucking on those crucifix toes, I’ll make sure to have him slip the dude one of my old pairs. Forgive me for spoiling your fun, my slimy lord.