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Toe Jam

Updated: Jun 24



by Sylvia Catello


There was blood on the carpet. 


A few days before quarantine, the new carpet arrived. The one that looked so smart with my green, velvet futon. The one that made the unfinished basement palatable enough for my husband to work there each day. The one that gave us another “room” to escape to during lock down.


“Mom, you’re bleeding,” my daughter said. “Are you okay? Where’s all that blood coming from?”


I didn’t know. I did a mental scan of my body. I started at the top of my head and worked my way down. 


Is my head okay? Check. My arms? Check. My legs, my knees, my ankles? Check, check, check.


I seemed fine, but fresh blood stained the white part of my new black-and-white rug. 


Then I felt pain, a hot, burning discomfort coming from the underside… of my big toe.


You’re laughing, I know, but I’m sensitive about my big toe. 


Most women worry about their weight, their cellulite, their pizza-box butt. I worry about my Flintstone feet.


If this is an unfamiliar term to you, Flintstone feet refers to flat, wide feet in which the toes descend in height from largest to smallest.


I have Flintstone feet. Yabba dabba doo. Lucky me.


People have always commented on my big toe, amazed by its sheer size and bulbousness, joking that it should have its own zip code.


Once, fresh out of high school, I went to a pool party and my friend introduced me to this older, cute guy.


“This is Sylvia,” my friend said. “Meet Rick.”


I knew Rick’s younger brother, Jeff, from school. Both brothers had lean, muscular bodies and model-like features, probably perfect feet, too. Gorgeous, but not my type. They were too perfect and besides, they played soccer. Soccer players seemed attracted to plain-looking girls who wore ripped jeans and Jesus sandals, girls who had long, straight hair and never wore make-up.


Standing there in my red-bandana bikini, my curly black locks, and a full-face of Maybelline, I looked far from Rick’s type and more like a fly-girl from In Living Color. I was a good dancer, and, for a flash, I thought about impressing him with my best Jenifer Lopez routine. 


Instead, I looked up at Rick in all his perfectness and said, “Nice to meet you.”


Rick scanned my body, his perfect eyes making their way down my petite frame.


His perfect eyes widened in amazement.


“Holy big toe,” Rick said, and walked off.


Just like that, our interaction was over.


I slipped on my flats and went inside.


While giddy girls and horny boys splashed around in the pool, I sat in the basement, alone, watching Star Trek and downing orange-flavored jello shots. I wished the oversized chair I wallowed in would swallow me and my big toe whole and beam us up and out of there. 


I ventured to go where no girl had ever gone before. I unveiled my tootsies at my first semi-adult pool party only to be stubbed.  


It takes courage to be a barefoot big-toed girl, but big big toes make choosing footwear a big challenge, too.


Once, in my early twenties, I went clubbing with friends. 


I felt so cute in my sexy get-up and high-heeled sandals that I thought it a good idea to dance on the bar. The music was pumping, the party was jumping, and my big toe was thumping.


The inside of my shoes became slippery with sweat. My feet slid forward, causing my big toe to hang over the edge of my shoe. 


The strap, meant to cross all my toes, could not accommodate both my big and pinky toes at the same time.


I readjusted and readjusted, but something had to give.


I saw two girls pointing and laughing. My big toe no longer hung off the edge, but now my pinky toe stuck out from the side of my sandal, below the strap.  


A wayward piggy.

A piggy that didn’t belong. 

A piggy that climbed off the bar 

and cried, “wee, wee, wee,” all the way home. 


I don’t go clubbing anymore, nor do I dance on top of bars, but I still love to dance. I dance all the time, but instead of sexy outfits, I dance in my robe and slippers. Instead of sticky bars, I dance in front of the sink and wash sticky dishes. Instead of DJs pumping up the jams, I pump up the volume on my Bluetooth speaker. 


These days, I make up my own dances. I dance the Latin Lockdown, the Quarantine Quickstep, the Pandemic Polka.


Dancing is a workout, and for all the cooking and eating I and my family have done these last weeks, I need a workout.


For distance-learning gym class, my daughter must earn 5,000 steps a day. Most days we walk around the pond or the trail near our home, but tonight we decided on dancing -- well, sort of.


We decided to Zumba in the basement. 


I want to keep my new carpet new and, aside of my slippers, I have no inside shoes.


I put YouTube on the TV and searched “Latin Dance Workouts.” We settled on a 30-minute, fat-burning routine.


I slipped off my slippers and danced barefoot.


An energetic instructor named Nicole, an African-American woman with long, straight hair, model-like features, and probably perfect feet too, told us to raise the roof and ride that pony. We whipped our heads and popped our hips and made large circular motions with our arms, like lassoing a cow was a natural everyday thing. 


The music was pumping, our bodies were jumping, and once again, my big toe was thumping.


The carpet, my bare feet, and all those cha-cha-chas rubbed my big toe the wrong way. It chafed. It bled. 


“Mom, I’m sorry that your big toe is so fat,” my daughter said.


“This has probably never happened to anyone in the history of mankind,” she said. 


She said, “That’s wicked.” 


A compliment, maybe. 




Sylvia Catello is a writer, cook, and author of the food blog The Night Time Cook. Her poems and essays have been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Robot Butt (where this piece first appeared -- thanks, Robot Butt!), and elsewhere. She lives outside of Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two children.











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