I wrote this story when I was doing my Bachelor’s of Arts. My father had struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for several years. He was always a fit and strong man and his arthritis stole a lot of his movement. It’s perhaps a weird homage to pay… to someone’s feet. I’m publishing this story on what would have been my Father’s birthday. I guess it still is his birthday, he just isn’t around to celebrate with me anymore.
“Can you help me put these on?” he called.
His hands swollen with hurt, lay limp beside two grey socks. I walked to the lounge where he sat quietly. I had been watching him from my desk. It was only after he battled with pride and pain that he asked me for help.
His feet are old and tanned. He rarely wore shoes as a child, which is why he has a pinkish scar under his left toes. He stood on a broken bottle when he was practicing his rifle aim in the bush.
It is only in his arthritic discomfort that he has opted for more homely shoes. Ones that are sturdy, supportive. The old feet have run through the bush and climbed trees to snatch away bird eggs. They have supported legs that hold a torso that mounted a gun to kill rabbits, birds, and pigs. That held me as a baby.
It was a different world when his feet were young. The creek would run brown when it rained and there was only bush for a backyard. His childhood house was old and run down. There were no ceilings, just the broken hole-riddled roof. Rain collected in buckets around the house along with the reflections of stars from the night sky.
His toenails are disgraceful, broken, and yellow. They have long splintering lines like pale wood. Underneath the old feet are cracks that travel up the heel. Etched in through wear and tear they remind me of a desert dried in the sun. The tops are also cracked and warn. I tell him to look after himself, but he always forgets.
I sit down beside him and pick up one grey sock. My Father winces in pain as I struggle to put it on his foot. “Almost done,” I tell him encouragingly.
We battle for a while, but eventually he has his two grey socks on to protect his feet from the winter cold creeping into the afternoon.
The feet are there own library of stories that I will never know, never can know. These feet are attached to the only immortal man I know. Although when I look at his old feet, his secret is revealed. He is aging and will never stop. After all, life itself is a chronic illness. And one day my feet will become like his. Old. Worn.
I go back to my bedroom and sit with my bare feet dangling over the edge of the bed. I look out my window and see the afternoon creeping across the sky and I worry that he is running out of life.