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42 Toes on Raspberry Road.

42 Toes on Raspberry Road.

By Ethan Dante Bello

            A series of taps in wave-like succession sounded against the tiled floor. She did that when she was lost in her studies, often tapping her toes for hours on end. She sat in the café, the one only a bock away from her apartment, occasionally sipping away at her sixth (or is it seventh?) cappuccino. Maybe it was the constant smell of percolating coffee, the mechanical noises coming from behind the counter, or the all-day hubbub of the in and outs, that it kept her focused? Regardless, it helped her get through the sixty-five-page chapter on the cannibalistic tribes of Melanesia. Every time someone entered or exited, the front door would make a dinging sound. Raspberry Road didn’t mind it, and she also didn’t look up anymore to see who it was. The happenings of that café had become so clockwork to her, so predictable. Someone would enter, approach the counter, and place an order before glancing around. The curious moment of seeing a petite girl at a table by the window with no shoes on was always instantaneously followed by the sudden jaw-dropping, as he or she stared at Raspberry’s feet and began a mental count. “Five, six, seven,” they’d go on, “seventeen, eighteen, nineteen…” But they never finish counting. There isn’t enough time; the barista always comes back with the order midway through. If they did finish counting, they’d have found forty-two. Raspberry Road was born with forty-two toes, twenty-one on each foot. She didn’t wear shoes because, even as a child, she could never find any that fit. She exhaled a deep sigh, which turned into an even deeper yawn—the type that prevails after a fifth hour of study. The next chapter of her textbook read, in bold, yellow letters, “Western Intrusion on Tribal Rituals.” She read the title three times over. Maybe I should take five minutes?             It was a bright summer day, the sun’s resplendence magnified by the window. Raspberry watched a kid play with his dog by the side of the road. She watched an old lady push a shopping-cart to-and-fro the supermarket. She watched a man turn the corner and approach the café. He was very peculiar, dressed in a long greenish-grey raincoat, and a fedora with the rim so wide it extended past his shoulders. But what seemed most strange about him was that he held a newspaper, opened all the way, in front of his face, but didn’t seem to stumble. Not even when the boy and his dog stopped in his path so that the dog could do his business on a telephone pole. I should get back to work. The front door made yet another dinging sound. “Let’s see, Western Influence on Tribal Ritual,” she read to herself, whispering the words. She scanned the opening paragraph, though only got two sentences in before her mind began to trail. Focus, Raspberry, focus!             “Yes, let me have a large coffee, black, with a triple shot of espresso,” she heard someone say in a whiny voice. It sounded like he needed to clear his throat and blow his nose. The voice caught Raspberry off guard. It was him, and even as he spoke to the barista, he kept the paper up in front of him, blocking his face. Raspberry took a closer look at the man and noticed something even stranger: the headline of the paper read, “Fire at Basketville Museum,” an event that occurred over three months ago! A voice suddenly popped into her head: the voice of priority, or maybe it was the voice of her anthropology professor reminding her that she needed to finish the assigned chapters before class tomorrow. She reread the first two lines of “Western Influence on Tribal Ritual,” twice, than a third time, and forth, but the words wouldn’t sink. A loud grinding noise sounded from a few feet away. “What now?” She looked up again from her book to find the man moving a chair out to sit at the table only a few feet away. Still, the paper remained in front of him. She scanned him up and down before finding yet another strange quality: there were two holes cut out of the center crease of the newspaper. Raspberry stared at the holes, trying to understand, before finally catching a set of eyes looking through them, directly at her. She jumped up in her seat, and wildly turned back to the textbook on the table. “My god! Could it be? How interesting!” the man said. Raspberry knew the man was talking to her; she’d heard such words before when strangers catch wind of her toes. Still, she glanced about the café hoping she was wrong. “Excuse me?” “Your feet!” “What about them?” “How many are there?” asked the man. “Thirty? Thirty-five?” “Forty-two,” muttered Raspberry. “Forty-two? How wild!” “Can I help you, sir?” “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, ma’am. I wasn’t trying to be a rude.” He shuffled the paper and turned his eyes away. Raspberry returned to her readings. She could still feel his gaze. It burned. She tucked her feet behind the legs of her chair. “No, no, don’t do that. Don’t be embarrassed,” said the man. She glanced back up. He was staring at her toes in a way she’d never seen. It reminded her of a photo of one of the cannibals in her textbook. Raspberry grabbed her things, placed her book into her knapsack and began for the door. “No! Please don’t go!” called the man, just as she grasped the handle. “Seriously, I’m not trying to be mean, or anything. I just find your feet…your toes…to be so…beautiful!” Raspberry froze for a moment. “I’ll have you know!” she began, spinning around and pointing a finger at him, “I’m not just some freak! I’m in college, and I’m working very hard, and I get good grades, and I’m not going to let people like you ruin this for me!” She stomped her foot up and down. The whole café watched. “No doubt you are,” he replied. “Such a breathtaking woman! I’ve waited my whole life to find you!” “Who are you?” yelled Raspberry. “A stalker? Are you one of the students in my class? Are you the professor?” “I’ve never met you before. Don’t you see? It’s all chance!” “So then why are you hiding behind that paper?” His eyes squinted and looked about the room. “Oh, no reason. I assure you.” “Are you just some voyeuristic creep?” she yelled, “Is that it?” Raspberry stormed across the café, over to the man, close enough that her toes were only an inch away from his sunken raincoat. “I just…” the man fumbled. “If you’re going to go around town messing with people, at least have the courage not to hide your face!” She ripped the paper from his fingers and threw it to the floor. He let out a loud, frightened shriek, and, as they met eyes, free from the boundaries of the newspaper, Raspberry Road had suddenly become the jaw-dropped one. His thirteen noses were the most handsome things she’d ever seen.
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