Out early one morning--this itself a surprise, normally I sleep past noon, spending the most difficult part of the day in bed--I pass a woman on the sidewalk. "Please help me," she cries, "I have lost my feet." I look at her. She wears a blue suit, clutches a tan leather briefcase, and it is true, where I expect to see black pumps, or sneakers for walking to work, I see nothing. No feet. Only then do I notice her unwashed face and unkempt hair. She has been out all night, perhaps the whole weekend; it is Monday.
"Would you take mine?" It is an easy offer to make. The woman can be no more than five feet tall, and my feet, well after all, they are the feet of a six foot man. No woman would want these feet.
"Yes," she answers, and surprised by her acceptance, not to mention her state--she has no feet--I give them to her. She cobbles down the sidewalk, waving her thanks, stumbling on my large feet.
First things first, I am shorter by at least three inches, and my pant legs whisper against the pavement, but worst of all-- balance. I am an athletic man and in good shape, but without feet I'm a wreck. People cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming, and a few youths on their way to school shout, "Drunk!"
I sit on a stoop to rest--walking without feet is tiring-- and a few people walk past. What good would it do to ask for their feet? This game of trading and taking would leave someone, somewhere, without something. Then I stand up and do the only thing possible: I imagine feet. I start to walk again, and the feet flop in the space beneath my legs, slapping against the sidewalk.
After two blocks I walk without a hitch, gliding silently along, with no one the wiser, except I have no shoes. I stop in a small shoe store, and when the clerk asks what size shoes I wear, I do not know. After he measures them--10 D, a size smaller than my old feet; I will have to buy new shoes--I look at my new feet. They are arched--no more flat feet. My toes, which had been almost as long as fingers, are now short, and the scar which I had since I was seven and I stepped on a rake, is gone. I have new feet.
Just as I am about to turn and head for home, a man rushes up to me. He has no hands. Whether he noticed that I had no feet--will it always be that we seek what we need from those who have less, the inescapable logic of "if he has no feet, what use could his hands be?"--I can't tell. Sadness overwhelms him as he grips me in his handless arms--sobs, then shoves me away and shouts curses in my face. Of course I give him my hands--they were ugly, stumpy fingers and oddly lined palms, and I always dreamt of hands worthy of marble or bronze--and he leaves happy, grasping himself with utterly foreign hands.
This goes on all morning until a woman comes up to me not making a sound--why she wants my head I will never know. She has a beautiful body, long legs, slender fingers, small breasts, and a neck that now ends at my head: bearded, balding, creased with the effort of too much imagination.
I look back at myself, one glimpse before my eyes become hers. What was I thinking? I look like nothing more than a perfect scarecrow. Then I look at her with my new eyes--greener than the cold northern ocean--and her smile, which never suited me, no matter what mirror caught my reflection, only makes her more beautiful.
Brian Brennan has a Ph.D. in creative writing from SUNY-Binghamton, and lives in Pittsburgh. The stories, "Walter" and "Morning Walk" are part of a long series of stories about Philadelphia--a city where he lived for most of his life, and which he carries around like a virus, not an illness. He is at work on a novel.