The story of Veronica is full of story and legend. According to tradition, Veronica met Christ on His way to Calvary and gave Him a cloth to wipe His blood-soaked face. Christ left the image of His face on the cloth. According to an Italian legend, Veronica kept the veil and used it to cure Roman Emperor Tiberius of some serious illness. Eventually, she gave the cloth to Pope Clement for safe-keeping. She may have married a convert named Zacheus. She may have carried relics of the Virgin Mary to France, where she may have died in the city of Soulac. She also may have been the "woman with an issue of blood" whom Christ miraculously cured. Nothing about Veronica is verifiable, including whether she even existed. However, her story is one of great compassion and sacrifice, an identification with the suffering Christ. For that alone, her story is worth knowing.
When a friend read my last blog on John Bosco, she suggested I post the story that my professor hated so much and let you, my readers, tell me if it's as bad as I was led to believe. Since Veronica has so many stories swirling around her, I thought her feast would be the perfect day to post my story. I still harbor some mental scars from my workshop of this story. And it doesn't help that my instructor has become a somewhat big-name author. (She never made it on Oprah's Book Club, but, as you may recall, she did win the National Book Award.) Every time I see her name or face in print, my stomach still clenches a little bit. But I've decided, in honor of Saint Veronica, to post my story without any changes or editing.
I'd love it if my readers would post some comments and feedback on the story. Let me know if it's really bad. Hopefully, you can be a little kinder than Professor Ihateyourshittywriting. So please, let me know what you think. I'm not sure how many people actually read my blog or simply stumble upon it by mistake and immediately redirect their computer searches. But, if you have the time to read and leave a comment, you will be doing me a great favor. I think. Remember Veronica comforting the wounded Christ. Lay a little Veronica on me. Read on and then leave your opinion. I can take it. I think. The story's called...
Danny and I used to swim naked in Lake Superior when we were kids. Under the July sun, we would strip on the shore, our seven-year-old bodies smooth as polished agates. Our hair glowed, like driftwood bleached white by the summer days. Danny and I were the same age, height, and weight. Our skin tanned to walnut, and as we shed our shorts and t-shirts, the cool air from the lake raised goose-flesh on our arms and legs. Standing beside Danny, ready to charge into the lake, I knew even our mothers wouldn't have been able to tell us apart, if only Danny would have taken off his socks.
Danny never took off his socks. His feet and calves flashed like lighthouses in the dark of the forest when we played hide-and-seek at dusk. When he was allowed to spend a night with us at our family camp in Calumet, we never needed a flashlight when we had to go to the outhouse. I just sent him down the path ahead of me. The white of his socks were like flares. We never went inside the outhouse, instead creeping behind it to pee into the black forest. I imagined deer and bears fleeing in panic from the beacons of Danny's feet.
One night, standing behind the outhouse, listening to our urine hissing against the ground before us, I asked Danny why he never took off his socks. His pee stopped mid-stream and then resumed.
"My feet are different," he said. His voice flattened the noises of the woods, as if the crickets and birds had been stunned silent by his answer.
I waited until he finished peeing, and as he turned to go back to the camp, I touched his back. "Different how?" I couldn't see his face in the darkness. My hand was hot against his shirtless shoulder.
His breath quickened, like he had just finished a foot race. "Mom says," he paused. "Mom says the Greek god Mercury had wings on his ankles. She says he could run faster than a lightning bolt." He turned to face me, and even though I couldn't see his eyes, I felt his stare.
After almost a minute of silence, I reached over and pulled Danny's right sock down. He lifted his foot, and I pulled the sock off. I did the same with the left sock.
The darkness ate Danny's legs. I reached out and found his calf. I ran my hand down to his ankle and felt the smooth knob of bone. His leg was tense, like the eye of a tornado, a boiling calm. My fingers explored his foot, the arch, the veins. Danny lifted his foot again, and my fingertips found the hard callouses on the heel and ball. I moved to his toes, feeling each long digit's joint, nail, ridges, and pad. When I reached the pinkie, I found Danny's secret.
Danny had two pinkie toes, webbed together. I ran my fingers over them again and again, feeling the two nails and the two knuckles branching from a single base. The tissue connecting them was paper thin, allowing each toe to move independently of the other.
I reached over to Danny's other foot and found the same: two pinkies joined in one thin embrace of skin. I moved back and forth between his feet, caressing, flexing, rolling each of the paired toes until their skin burned from my attentions.
Then Danny stepped away from me. His feet disappeared into the darkness, removing from my grasp his toes. I stared down at the discarded socks, glowing in the path like misplaced moonlight. Danny made a noise that might have been a whimper, and then he was gone. I heard him run to the cabin, open the screen door, and gently close it behind him.
I reached down and scooped up Danny's socks, half expecting their whiteness to run through my fingers like water. I stood and started up the path to the cabin. Feeling the packed earth beneath my toes, I wondered if Mercury ever felt the dirt, cool and damp, beneath the miracle of his feet.