“May I touch your foot?” I asked the man. I had taken a seat next to him on a bench, not far from a small lake. The man sat cross-legged and barefoot. “May I?” I repeated. The man had perfect soles, unblemished, the skin taut and stainless. He must have received this request fairly often. “Yes,” the man said. I touched the bottom of his right foot. It felt cool and smooth. Like polished glass, almost slippery. “It’s beautiful,” I said. “Thank you,” the man said. A couple paddled a canoe. Ducks shifted near the muddy shore. It was a pleasant day. My fingers tingled from touching the man’s sole. With soles like that, I thought, this man could walk on water. I imagined him with a running start from our bench to the lake; he would land on the water with a delicate splash and just keep going, skimming the surface, his feet like flat stones rippling past the ducks and canoe to the far shore where he would disappear into the trees. “Impossible,” I said. “Crawling,” the man said. “What?” I said. “I crawl everywhere. I haven’t walked since I was a little boy.” “Crawling?” I asked. “Look at my hands, my knees,” he said, “and see the tops of the toes drag some.” His hands and knees were pocked and calloused, scarred, nubbed and raw in places. They looked mangled. I hadn’t noticed before, but the man himself looked weathered and stooped, perhaps from so many years spent so close to the ground. “But your soles,” I said. “I know,” he said. “Like you could walk on water,” I said. “Yes,” the man said.
Patrick Swaney grew up in Michigan. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in the Indiana Review, Conduit, and Redivider among others.