By William R. Soldan
It was late summer, August when the first ones washed ashore. This is what the traveler tells me as we sit waiting for our trains. The feet. Marooned like lost sailors on the small islands dotting the Strait of Jaun de Fuca. Wreathed in seagrass or choked by plastic rings, but undevoured in their shoes. “Fish can’t chew through rubber,” he says.
“I see,” I reply. “And where do they come from?”
“The world is full of mystery,” he says and gazes down the platform into the settling dusk.
“There are theories, of course. Boating accidents. Plane crashes, tsunamis along the coast of Japan.”
“That’s a long way.”
He tells me that once the feet have disarticulated—this is the word he uses, and what better word is there?—they might drift on the ocean currents for years, buoyant and free. “Others think wild animals or drug cartels,” he says. He suggests a serial killer. An unscrupulous mortician, dumping bodies.
“But they’ve stopped looking,” I say.
“Mystery is better than truth,” he says. “We don’t want truth.”
We remain silent for several minutes, and finally, his train arrives. He raises his voice over the hiss and din. “Happy travels to you,” he says, then tips his hat, picks up his bag, and is gone.
I check my watch. My train is late. People mill about, some no doubt bound for the quiet towns and villages far north of here.
I see them and many others on coastal sojourns. Flocking to see the feet—new swallows of Capistrano, cherry blossoms in the Capital. Families posing for pictures with feet on rocky beaches. And as more wash ashore, people begin keeping them as mementos. Something for the mantel. A centerpiece for the dining room table.
Ducks no longer paddle the banks and shallow inlets, frightened away, and old widowers have taken to tossing bits of day-old bread to gaggles of feet, their only ward against lonely days.
The destitute, those without shoes, gather ones of matching size, scoop out the rotten flesh, leave it for diving gulls.
An announcement from a platform speaker informs me my train, seven o’clock to St. Louis, has been delayed, so I go into the station for a newspaper. In the upper right: Seattle, Two Feet Paired, Matched to Missing Body. Full Story C4.
For a moment, I think of explosions and flying limbs. Disarticulated. I stop reading before I reach it and toss the paper in the trash. Mystery is better than truth. I approach the window and exchange my ticket.