by Shellie Richards
Harold Epstein sat on the edge of the examining table at the podiatrist’s office but he may as well have been sitting on the edge of a canyon. In his mind, he could hear the ominous cry of the predatory hawk as it circled around. His career as a foot model was over. What had started a small yellow spot on his left big toe, had now spread across all ten. His beautiful feet were now dotted with thick, yellow nails that were flaking off the nail beds. He looked at Dr. Halfpenny as though she was the devil.
“So, you’re telling me there is nothing, nothing at all, that you can do to get rid of this?” He put his hand up in protest before she could answer. “My feet are my livelihood.” He slammed the exam table with his hand. “I live in New Brunswick for Christ’s sake. I mean, you do know I’m a foot model, right? These feet with my toes, my perfect ankles, these are my bread and butter. My Onlyfans foot-fetish page is pulling down 50k a month. I am the Kim Kardashian of feet. I need this to go away.”
Tears stung his eyes and as he spoke, he squeezed one over the edge hoping she might experience the kind of overwhelming empathy that would spur her into the stop-at-nothing-until-there’s-a-cure mentality. He sniffled and turned away for effect.
“I’m sorry Harry. I am. The climate in New Brunswick is different now. The stifling humidity combined with the heat seems to be the culprit. Fungus has adapted. It multiplies more easily than it did before. The medical care you’ve had is state-of-the-art.”
He turned to look at her with an obstinate sneer.
“You know when I began my foot modeling career, everyone said you were the best.” And then, in a mocking voice, “You gotta see Halfpenny. She’s the best. She’s the bomb. She is singular. Blah, blah, blah.” Harold practically spat the words.
“What do you want Harry? I can’t control the weather.”
“Harold.” He didn’t like it when she called him Harry. “I want you to use that big brain of yours and figure out how to get rid of this fungus. I need it gone next week.”
“Even if I could clear it, it would take months.”
Months. There it was. The writing on the wall. It was over. There was no way he could get rid of it before the weekend. Pink Lightning, supermodel and hotel magnate, was coming to town and she wanted to see him. She’d seen his feet in ads. Visited his Instagram and his Onlyfans page. She’d subscribed! She loved his feet and she wanted to see more. She hadn’t said it explicitly, but he knew. He was good at reading people and she wanted him. All of him. He looked at his feet. There was no way Pink Lightning was going to be with someone whose toenails were infected with a fungus. Damn this weather. He would think of something. Maybe he’d be like one of those girls who leaves her shoes on. Maybe he could find some sexy socks? Black silk?
He felt sick.
After a minute of audible sniffling, she broke the silence.
“I know it’s not what you wanted to hear. Maybe there is something…” she chewed the tip of her pen. Harold perked up.
“What about falsies?”
“Falsies? I’ve had a few patients who’ve had really great luck putting false nails on their empty toenail beds. Believe it or not, it looks pretty good—very realistic. And in a photo with a little blur here and there and the right filters…what do you think?”
“You have to ask?” Harold was grinning ear-to-ear. This didn’t solve the bedroom problem with Pink Lightning, but it saved his ass on his Onlyfans account. He’d be discreet.
“When can I go?”
“I can get you scheduled with a nail technician tomorrow morning. First, let’s get rid of these nails.”
“Let’s do it.”
Harold watched as she plucked the thick, yellow remnants of what had once been beautifully trimmed, manicured, perfectly healthy and pink toenails. In his mind, he cursed the weather. He’d wrecked his Range Rover in the January snowmageddon. They’d gotten so much snow in New Jersey, and he hadn’t given much thought to all of the heat and torrential downpours. He looked at his toes, now void of any nails. The first victim of climate change. Maybe that could be an angle? Down the road? Could he be a vessel for change?
“Well, there you are.”
He had ten pink nubs. So unsexy.
“Here’s Trisha’s card. I think you’ll find that she’s quite talented. She’s fixed many an ingrown toenail for me.”
“Thank you, Dr.” You’ve no idea what this means to me.
Harold walked out of the doctor’s office with something he hadn’t had in a while. Hope. The sun was shining in New Brunswick and the air was mild and dry that day. Harold was thankful for the temporary reprieve from the heat and humidity.
The next morning, Harold arrived at Trisha’s nail studio, “Nail Hero” bright and early. He walked into the salon that featured a shabby chic vibe and 80s music. Duran Duran was on the radio singing The Reflex…why don’t you use it, try not to bruise it, buy time don’t lose it. The song resonated and once again, Harold was filled with hope.
It turned out that Trisha was as masterful as Dr. Halfpenny had said. The acrylic toenails looked even better than the originals. The entire process had taken three hours, but it had been well worth the wait. Harold couldn’t believe the result. Maybe, he’d even get a ring for his pinky toe. All he knew was the date with Pink Lightning was on!
Several days had passed, and the weekend was only a day away. Harold’s Onlyfans page was blowing up post-acrylic toenail. One particularly observant subscriber had even mentioned how great his toenails looked and below several new shots of his toes, were heart emojis, fire emojis, and the ever-popular jazzy-hands emoji. Harold was hot. Harold was trending. His toes were fire. And Pink Lightning, his “sole” mate, was on her way from the airport to the hotel where Harold was waiting.
He’d chosen his clothes carefully. He was head-to-toe Ted Baker; his white shirt was untucked, sleeves rolled up, a few top buttons left undone, a pair of olive linen pants, a gold watch and voila, his toes—no sucking allowed—Trisha had been clear about that.
Pink Lightning walked into the hotel lobby like she owned the place. Well, it was her hotel after all…she was wearing all white silk and Harold thought she looked like a virgin bride. Her large sunglasses were also white with blue lenses. Her own nails were French manicured. She was a vision.
The evening had started so well—champagne and shrimp cocktail with escargot and then upstairs to Harold’s suite.
“I want to suck them.” She whispered.
He knew. Harold knew he shouldn’t. The next thing he knew, her signature pink, juicy lips were around his big toe. He was in heaven…but then she was choking. Gagging. Her lips turning from pink to blue.
“Pink!” Harold quickly grabbed to perform the Heimlich maneuver. “No, no, no, no, no! Pink! Spit! Breathe! Oh God….breathe!”
After a minute or two, it dislodged—the acrylic toenail came sailing from her mouth onto the white sheets.
“What is that?” She gasped, clutching her chest, the sinew of her neck so lovely, her clavicle dusted with a shimmery powder.
What could he possibly say?
“Climate change. That darling is the result of climate change.”
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story