The Stepsister’s Tale
by Theodora Goss
It isn’t easy, cutting into your feet.
Years later, when I had become a podiatrist,
I learned the parts of the feet. Did you know your feet
contain a quarter of your bones? Calcaneus, talus, cuboid, navicular.
Lateral, intermediate, and medial cuneiform.
Metatarsals and then the phalanges, proximal, middle, distal.
They’re beautiful on the tongue, these words from a foreign language.
My sister cut into her heels, which are in the hindfoot.
I cut into my big toes, called the halluces.
She cut into flesh and tendon and sinew.
I cut into bone, between the phalanges,
through the interphalangeal joint.
That’s in the forefoot, which bears half the body’s weight.
To this day, both of us walk with a slight limp.
The problem is you do desperate things for love.
We loved her, the woman who wanted us to be perfect:
unblemished skin, waist like a corsetier’s dream,
feet that would fit even the tiniest slipper.
And so we played the aristocratic game
Sometimes it’s a slipper, sometimes a ring.
Oh mother, love me without asking me to scrape
my fingers like carrots, cut off my heels and toes.
Eventually, she became your favorite daughter,
the cinder-girl, the princess-designate.
She was the best at being perfect, but abuse
will do that to you.
A woman comes into my office, asking me
to cut off her little toes so she can wear
the latest fashion. I sit her down and say
did you know your feet provide the body
with balance, mobility, support?
Come, let me show you a model: here’s the toe,
metatarsal and phalanges. You can see
how elegantly they move, as in a waltz,
surrounded by your blood vessels and nerves,
the ball gown of your soft tissue,
a protective coat of skin, the delicate nail.
Look, underneath, how beautiful you are . . .
(This illustration is by Charles Folkard, for an edition of Grimms’ fairy tales.)