Every morning, I fill my boots with oatmeal. Mondays are milk days. Wednesdays are water days. Honestly, any warm liquid will do. As long as the oatmeal is mealy and full of oats, it doesn’t matter.
After slipping on some socks, I grab my boots and get my pitcher ready. The aim is important. No one wants oatmeal seeping into their carpet. I steady my shaky hand and pour. The mush waterfalls down into the soles and forms an edible pond. My feet will be the mallards. Specks of oat splash up to my face and somehow, their presence is comforting. It’s like looking up to the stars and seeing the little dipper.
With a squish, my sock covered feet dive into their home. I tighten the laces of the boots into a double knot, then into a triple. I can never be too careful. I take a step and the oats stay secure. Today the world will not end. I have done my duty.
My friend Anne lives next door to me. We eat lunch together every day, always at 11:30am sharp. I count the steps it takes to reach her house; I time the trip by the seconds; I am never ever late. I can’t afford to be late. The damage it would cause is unthinkable. I think about it anyway.
Anne looks down at my boots and frowns. She leads me over to her kitchen table. There is a plate of chocolate chip muffins sitting in the middle. Both sides of the table are set with plates and utensils. The left side, my side, has a butter knife instead of a regular one. I didn’t have to ask her to do that for me. She remembered on her own.
“About the oatmeal… aren’t you ever worried about getting trench foot?” Anne asks.
Anne is so silly.
“I’ve accepted that as a possibility, yes. I think trench foot is more likely when it’s cold, though. I’m not going to put overnight oats in my boots. I have common sense.”
“Right,” Anne says. A hint of judgement drips from her voice, but I can tell she’s trying to hide it for my sake.
We stare at each other in silence. I reach across and grab a chunk of muffin. I don’t need utensils for it. In fact, I quickly pick up the butter knife and move it to the side of the table. If I don’t absolutely need it, I don’t want to look at it. I’ll feel uneasy. Anne doesn’t react, doesn’t even blink. She’s used to me.
“Hey,” Anne says softly, “You know that you don’t have to wear boots full of oatmeal, right? Nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t wear them. I promise.”
Anne doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know how the rules work. I forgive her.
I look her in the eye. “You can’t promise that.”
She sighs. “I know.”
“I have to do this.”
Anne nods. “I just wish there was a way I could help. You carry so much on your shoulders,” she says.
I crack a small smile. “And so much on my feet,” I joke, but it comes out more sad than funny.
More silence hangs over us. I move to stand and my feet make a loud sloshing sound. Anne winces at the noise.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” Anne says. I give her a look that says of course I will.
“See you tomorrow,” I call out to her as I walk out the door.
Every step I take feels like I’m lifting a block of cement with my feet. Every move I make comes with a weight I can’t explain. I walk the one hundred and eighty-three steps back to my door. I will do it all again tomorrow, whether I want to or not.
Catie Wiley (she/her) is a lesbian writer from Maryland. She's a contributing editor for Story Magazine and a poetry reader for the winnow magazine. Her work appears in/is forthcoming in HOLYFLEA!, Southchild Lit, and HAD among others. Find her on twitter @catiewiley.