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????/Joanna Fried MARVELING AT THE DIFFERENCE a little water could make, newly clean Charlotte snuggled her buttocks into the plush brownness of OUver's fat chair. She drew her knees up to her chest under the tent of the crisp, fresh nightgown generous Isabel had taken out of her handy stash of customized costumes for Charlotte to wear. She curled and uncurled her toes Ui an exercising sort of way, exploring them with her fingers, checking between them for the old lint and grit. Gone! But alas! Long gone as weU were the feetsies she coveted, such as are held Ui a mother's lips and tickled with tongue to make baby giggle; as Isabel had done Guy's just now while Charlotte lay watching. Charlotte probed the caUused curves of the heels and the balls of the big toes, the painful corn at the base of the right big toe, the spUt-forever naU on the right baby toe, the wages of aU the walking she'd committed since btith. If she kept her feet up off the floor for a year, was carried from bed to bath to chair Uke Clara in Heidi, she'd never get back what she'd lost—butgood that Isabel had made her roU out ofbed, shed Oltie's pajamas and stand under the shower; and good that Iz had bundled Charlotte's clothes off the floor, had stripped the sheets off the futon Charlotte and Baby Guy shared, had wheeled them down to the basement com machines, Guy perched on top Uke a bluebird, happy and gay. Washing up was a good thing. She saw that now. It gave her a feel for the way life could go, things falling rightly, gently, in place. The fall of the yellow virgin-wool sock from the towel rack over the toilet as she was toweling off, vamping Ui the mirror, her hand sweeping it off accidentally , could as well be a sign as a setback. "Virgin," which she did not make up, had been on the package label, and "wool," as Ui "lamb," was a promise of cuddles, and "yellow" was "here comes the sun!" She'd plucked down the mate of the sock and dropped it in with the other, which floated like a goldfish in a porcelain bowl so white it was blue. She had left them there for Oliver. Let him put his hand Ui if he wanted them back. Would he then deposit them Ui the under-sink trash basket, or would Guy flush them? If they survived would Izzy, who had gotten the bowl so clean, wash the socks then and there, or let them go until the next batch of laundry came due? Everyone got tested, and Charlotte, who'd bought the socks on impulse the very last time she'd been out on the street, would tally the results. 154 · The Missouri Review Charlotte picked at her toe cuticles, scraped dead gunk from nostrils and tear ducts. She looked at the antique side table next to her elbow for a knife, a pick, a bobby pin, something to clean out stits and orifices, saw Oliver's antique typewriter, Oliver's stack of old car magazines, OUver's pewter tankard—nothing small enough for a child of three or under to swallow, thank you, Izzy—looked further afield, saw sharp things galore, all out of reach of the suicidally inclined; but nah! Not her medication of choice. From her snug vantage point Ui the fuzzy chair, she surveyed Oliver's living room, the dirty taU windows, the ceiling pocked with his tackedup hubcap coUection, the long wall at her back (Shush! Otiver snoring away Ui the bedroom behind it on the king-sized mattress he hogged) done in license plates from around the world. Fake Tiffany lamps that cast weird shadows into fake Tiffany corners, the gold-flaked picture frames, the neon SHOE sign over the player piano, the thirteen radios, the phonograph horn, the moose-head hat rack—she ticked them off, as if for the last time. A nice place to visit! Funny how such an interesting guy could be such a bore to live with...


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