Audiophiles, click here to listen:
“This little piggy went to market.”
“This little piggy stayed home.”
“This little piggy had roast beef.”
“This little piggy had none.”
“This little piggy went wee-wee-wee all the way home.”
“And this little piggy went…away.”
Hannah brought the hatchet down sharply, her aim steady despite the heavy load of pills she’d taken. The blade bit into the joint between her foot and sixth right toe with the particular sound of metal hitting bone. It was a butcher shop sound, but the blood smell was wrong, too hot and coppery to be a side of beef. She pulled the hatchet back with a sharp intake of breath and saw that it hadn’t gone all the way through.
“Dammit,” she swore, focusing again and swiping her long, brown bangs out of her eyes. There wasn’t any pain, not yet, but there would be soon, and she needed to finish before it hit. Hannah raised her hatchet and struck the joint again. Her aim was good enough, and the blade slid through the joint this time, leaving the toe attached by a thin flap of skin and tissue. Rather than trust her aim another time, she ground the hatchet blade back and forth on the stubborn callused skin until she felt it bite into the wood. The toe flopped to the side. That was it.
Blood welled from her foot when she pulled the hatchet away, more than she’d expected. She put the hatchet down on the board and grabbed the toe, an entity with much larger psychological proportions than its independent size warranted. Plunking the toe in a bowl, she felt the first wave of pain, disconnected by Percocet, but still there. It was a real swamping kind of wave, but the drugs made it seem like something she was watching through a window. The real concern right now was the bleeding. She grabbed her sterilized washcloths and suture kit. The stitches were going to look like a three-year-old’s, but she needed to get the bleeding under control.
Several bloody washcloths and five clumsy stitches later, Hannah was done. She unstrapped her foot from the makeshift stabilization board and hobbled to the tub to wash it. The bathroom looked like someone hadn’t survived an attack. She giggled. Her toe hadn’t, had it? There were no survivors. God, those pills were making her loopy. She looked in the mirror and saw her teeny pupils, and that got her going again. Another look and she saw the smears of blood on her forehead and in her hair, vivid against her pale skin, and stopped giggling.
She dried her foot and bandaged it. Her black sweatpants had some blood on them, but not enough to risk changing them. A small stash of antibiotics would keep it from getting infected. A nap would keep her from falling over. A two week “vacation” from work would allow it to heal. She used the crutches by the door to get to her bed and curled into a ball, letting the waves of distant pain crash over and around her until she slept.
Hannah woke hours later, fuzzy-headed and in enormous pain. The pain wasn’t far away, or even next door. It was pounding at the end of her leg and screaming in her face. A couple more Percocet would take care of that, but she had some things to do first.
One—evaluate her self-improvement project. The doctors wanted many thousands of dollars to do this “elective” surgery, and she’d DIY’d it for about $300, including the pills. There was no swelling or heat, and the stitches were holding. It was going to be a gnarly looking scar, but at least she could buy a pair of shoes that fit.
Two—clean up after herself. There was a lot of blood, more than she’d thought, and scrubbing it up exhausted her. The smell of bleach made her nostrils and eyes burn, and she settled for swiping it around to get “most” of the mess. Then there was the matter of the board and hatchet, two items she hadn’t considered disposing of. It’s not like a crime had been committed, probably, but she didn’t think setting them out by the curb was a great idea. The board wouldn’t fit in her small single-person trash can. She put it in the shower to deal with later and bagged the hatchet and washcloths in a series of five thicknesses of plastic. She set the bag outside her back door, hobbling on the inside of her bandaged foot rather than using crutches.
Three—the toe. What did you do with a decommissioned body part? Keep it in a jar? That seemed ghoulish. She poked the blood-crusted toe, now slightly grayish and shriveled. This was the thing she’d fought with her parents about for so many years. God made you perfect, they said, and God didn’t make mistakes, so that extra toe on your right foot is a blessing. It makes you, you! It made her self-conscious and bitter, so maybe they were right.
She stared at it for a moment. What did people do with their kid’s baby teeth? Throw them in the trash? That seemed wrong, somehow. Flush them down the toilet? The toe was bigger than teeth, and the thought of having to call a plumber to dig a toe out of the pipes was disturbing. Some people probably saved kids’ teeth in a box to be found after they died. Gross. That was not an option.
The pills were doing their magic now, and she felt her thought process expand. Maybe there was some sort of secret ceremony for teeth! Under the light of a full moon, they buried the little bones in the backyard chanting “NO BRACES” or something. She giggled again. She was going to have to watch how many of these pills she took. She did like the idea of closing the polydactyl chapter of her life with some solemnity, but a full moon was too much to ask.
She found a little box in with her jewelry and dumped the earrings out on her bed. With the toe nestled snugly in the cotton padding, she hobbled to the kitchen to improvise a digging implement. There were a lot of dishes in the sink, a constant in the small dishwasher-less space. A wooden spoon with a crust of jarred spaghetti sauce volunteered itself as a disposable tool.
“Dammit,” she yelped, as she bumped the wound on a chair leg. Breathing in and out rapidly through clenched teeth, she managed to ride the pain out. This was going to suck. Worst. Vacation. Ever.
She managed the two steps down to her tiny yard without another issue, but her energy was fading. She tried to remember when she’d eaten last, and couldn’t. That would have to be next. The little flowerbed scattered with sad, droopy marigolds was right next to the back door, and she awkwardly squatted down to dig. It was almost noon, and the sun was hot already, baking the earth and her back. Sweat traced its way down her spine, one crawling drop at a time. She surveyed the little spot and picked a place where the earth already looked disturbed. She found out why. Fucking cats.
Wiping the cat shit off her spoon, she picked another spot and dug down about six inches. She stowed the little box and said the little eulogy she’d composed while digging. “Fuck you, Sixth Toe, I never wanted you and God does make mistakes.” She covered up the box and rose painfully to her feet. Her bandage was slowly blooming red, the stitches not quite enough to keep her wound closed, and she needed to get off her feet.
Two days went by in a blurry mess of opioid highs and pain, spent sleeping and watching TV. She remembered to eat a few times, though the meds were making her nauseous. She mostly remembered to take the antibiotics on schedule. Her “seam” crusted over and stopped bleeding, but still wept a little when she didn’t stay off it. By Wednesday afternoon, three days after Hatchet Time, she felt like she could clean up and change clothes, a process she started by gingerly removing her awful smelling sweatpants and underwear while sitting on the side of the tub. Her brown hair was greasy and stuck to her head in clumps. Her face, which she’d tried to keep washed, was covered in little acne babies anyway.
As she pulled her stinking shirt over her head, realizing she could have changed it at any time and hadn’t, the doorbell rang. Well, that was going to get ignored. She tried to remember if she had a delivery coming, and couldn’t sort it out, so she gave up. She’d check after the bath. The doorbell rang again, followed by loud knocking.
“St. Anthony Police Department! Is everyone okay in there?” More knocking. Well, shit. Everyone was fine and wanted to be left alone in here, but for some reason that wasn’t happening today.
“Just a minute!” she yelled, grabbing her fluffy pink robe off the back of the bathroom door and tying it while hobbling to the front.
Another round of loud knocking erupted just as she reached the door. “Knock that off, I’m here!” she yelled, and pulled the door open a few inches. Sure enough, there were two uniformed officers on the step, a tall woman and a short man who looked to have about the same volume, just stretched to different heights.
The male officer spoke. “Sorry to disturb you, but we’re doing some welfare checks here in the neighborhood. Everything okay in there? Are you the only one who lives here?”
“Yeah, it’s just me. I’m fine. Thanks.” Hannah tried to close the door, but the officer put a hand on it. Her foot was just out of sight, and she had a feeling she needed to keep it that way.
The female officer was staring intently at her eyes. Shit. She probably looked exactly like a druggie at the moment, unwashed and stinking, with pupils the size of pencil dots.
“You sure?” the woman asked. Her nameplate read “Officer Ash.” Officer Ash was going to be a pain in the ass.
Hannah stood a little straighter and narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure. I haven’t been feeling great and I’d appreciate if you’d let me get back to bed.” She thought maybe “appreciate” had come out a little mushy, but the rest sounded good.
“What’s been going on?” Officer Ash wasn’t letting it go.
“Just some stomach flu, you know, things are going around.” That sounded stupid and didn’t explain her tiny pupils. “Plus, I got hurt at work and stuff, just a lot of things,” she rushed to add. Great. Stupider.
“Oh, too bad,” the other cop said, an “Officer Melville” per his chest. He was looking a little too closely at her now. Their cop sensors were in sync. “Must be hard taking care of all of that by yourself. What kind of injury was it?”
“Back.” Hannah decided that elaborating further was a bad idea. She’d given them enough to go away, she thought.
“That can be rough,” Officer Melville said. “My brother had the surgery and was off work for a long time.”
Hannah relaxed. He sounded like he believed her. Then again, why had they come at all? She suddenly needed to know. “So why are you checking on me? Did someone call you?”
“We got a call, yes, but it wasn’t about you specifically. Your neighbor,” Officer Ash pointed two doors down, “has a cat that likes to bring her ‘gifts,’ and the cat brought her a human toe yesterday. Looked like it was pretty recent. We’re just making sure it doesn’t belong to anyone here.”
Hannah let out a shocked noise. She was shocked, but not the way they thought. “Those cats are such a pain in the ass.” Confusion crossed Officer Ash’s face, then her eyes sharpened. That was not the right thing to say here.
“You sure you’re okay in there, Ms…?”
“Hannah Jackson,” she replied automatically. Officer Melville took a little notebook out of his shirt pocket and started writing. Shit. Now she was official record.
The female cop had the scent. It was in her eyes. “Ma’am, can we come in for a minute? It’s hot out here on the step and we may have a few more questions, since you’ve been home the last few days.”
The Percocet weren’t exactly prescribed for this use, or for Hannah for that matter, and she couldn’t immediately remember where the rest of them were. She wasn’t 100% percent sure if chopping off your own toe was a crime or not, but leaving it out for the cats probably was, and the drugs were definitely illegal. She looked at Officer Ash for a minute with wide eyes, blanking on what she should do.
“Ma’am?” Ms. Jackson?”
“Oh. You want to come in,” Hannah repeated. “Sure, I guess, but I need to get dressed. Can’t have a tea party in my bathrobe.” Wow, she was more out of it than she thought. Four police trained eyes narrowed. “Really! I’m naked!” she protested and slammed the door.
She took one look at the enormous mess in the living room and knew she’d never find the pills in time. If she stayed here, she was going to jail in her bathrobe. The front door banged with more knocking and she jumped. They weren’t going anywhere, so she better.
Hannah ran to the back door as quickly as she could, wincing with every step. Nothing she ran by in the house seemed useful. The plastic-bundled hatchet was beside the back door, and she stopped. That was evidence…of something. Better take it. Or maybe it wasn’t, but Hannah didn’t have time to make a considered decision as she snatched the bag. She dimly heard the police yelling out front as she sprinted clumsily through her back gate, hatchet in hand and fuzzy pink robe flying behind her.
The Story: I get into some weird conversations on social media. This will surprise no one. Even with all the pitfalls and overbearing social engineering of media, I like to riff off whatever the subject of the day is. More than just keeping me entertained, it’s another way I exercise the muscles that enable wordplay and punchlines. Sometimes, I even win the internet.
This story came about after a conversation with Paul L. Crowley, where the line “This little piggy goes….away” was contextually and comedically appropriate. I don’t remember the context, but I wrote that line down to use later. The obvious choice is a straight-up horror/torture sitch, but that didn’t interest me. I look at story ideas in three dimensions–I literally envision the idea as a three-dimensional object in my mind and turn it over, look at all its angles. When I saw someone who would be glad to be rid of a toe, I bit. Not the toe. I don’t bite feet. You know what I mean.
Next installment will be the conclusion of this story. I have a good idea how it ends, and it makes me laugh…so come back in a week or so and find out why.
P.S. Thanks so much to everyone who is following along with this project and all who have contributed ideas. It’s a big chunk of my time, and I really appreciate every bit of participation and interest.