Kyle Rea is a queer writer from Youngstown, Ohio. They are currently living in Brooklyn and pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the New School. Kyle is an Aquarius with a passion for both hummus and Carly Rae Jepsen. Their work can be found in Dirty Girls Magazine, Jenny Magazine, and now Subnivean.
The foot shavings have been sitting in the Pyrex bowl I stole from my mom for three years now. I add to them with a rigorous heel shave whenever nature calls, a flurry of dead skin cascading into smaller piles that would come to grow into mounds. Getting the bowl to fill up to the halfway mark it’s at now has been a pretty extensive process. I began accumulating the skin-scented dust at U of M when I realized my body was a much more lucrative commodity than my art. I turned to the internet to sell my used panties since I could never sell my paintings and fell into a digital sex work minefield of webcams and secret auctions. I discovered a discrepancy amongst supply and demand for foot shavings shortly after and got right to work to bridge that gap.
The foot shavings were there for me after graduation, waiting in my likely haunted studio apartment to cheer me on when I came back with my BFA in studio art. They moved back home with me to the cute yet racist little town of Girard, Ohio, saran wrapped tight and tucked away beneath piles of shoplifted perfume bottles and four months worth of dirty laundry in my duffle bag that I’ve had since I was a Girard High cheerleader, which was something I had to petition for but didn’t really want to do. I often think the foot shavings will still be here when I’m dead, mourning my loss from their trusty Pyrex bowl once I’m a pile of ashes.
I tell Shayna all of this with a grim expression so they know I’m serious. It’s like a fine wine I say, relying on cliché in order to gain their forced understanding, the longer I hold onto my bounty the better.
“That’s fucking sick,” Shayna says.
“You’re fucking sick,” I say.
Shayna is the only other trans person I know within a ten mile radius of Girard. Besides myself, that is. They’re also the only other person I know who’s proudly given a blumpkin other than myself, so we both know that my argument is heavily supported.
I don’t necessarily expect them to understand. I don’t really expect anybody to understand, not that I even care to have anyone’s understanding about anything.
“Don’t your feet ever hurt?” Shayna asks. “Or, like… you know, bleed?”
“That’s why I only shave once a day,” I say.
I learned that lesson the hard way at the end of my sophomore year. I was shaving my feet upwards of three times a day during finals week that fall semester. I’d shave with my morning coffee and again with my two o’clock bowl of chili flavored ramen, slurping up noodles with my chopsticks in one hand and sloughing off my dead heel skin with the other. I was leaving my apartment with soggy socks clinging tight to bloody heels without even noticing. I’d come home and peel off my no-shows, once an eager, flashy white now a twisted ruby tie-dye that couldn’t possibly be ignored. Still, I’d shave my feet once more after dabbing at the blood with some squares of toilet paper, embracing the pain and making sure to wrap them tight with gauze for the evening so I wouldn’t drip trails around the place.
Shaving so much was fucked up, even I knew that, but there was something about the ritual, about the pain, that kept me going. It was like when Shayna and I used to stick our tongues to the batteries we’d pry from television remotes as little boys, the shock to our system registering as pain but making us feel alive all the same. My dad caught us once and removed all of the batteries from all of the remotes in the house. When he caught us wearing my mother’s heels that same night he put a padlock on their closet door. He always had a way of painting over our childhood impulses with the oily black sheen of shame.
“I can’t talk about your feet anymore, dude,” Shayna says. “I’ve gotta get home and make sure my mom’s using her CPAP tonight.”
Shayna’s mom is morbidly obese, something that isn’t at all uncommon in northeast Ohio. Shayna’s been taking care of her since we were in eighth grade, when their brother moved away to be a screenwriter in LA and never came back. They used to be into fashion, they’d sketch designs on Bristol pads in my basement while I’d brush paint across my canvas, but now they’re not really into anything. I tried to get them to move to Ann Arbor with me for school but they were convinced it would get them nowhere other than in a gaping hole of debt. Now that I’m back home it’s starting to feel like they were smarter than I gave them credit for.
“I love you,” I say. I hug them tight and they get into their 2003 Nissan, waving as they pull off.
I walk back inside my mom’s pastel purple ranch and settle into the guest bedroom. My mom started renting the ranch after my father killed himself the day after my sixteenth birthday. She put our old house on the market and that was that. I rarely leave the guest bedroom. I guess it’s technically my bedroom and it’s always been my bedroom, but it feels more temporary calling it the guest bedroom. I like temporary. I get under the covers and turn on my side, the closet light shining on my face. I see the Pyrex bowl sitting on the top shelf of the closet before my eyes catch a group of blank canvases staring pointedly at me from the floor. There’s a stack of three cardboard boxes next to the canvases, each one labeled snowglobes (don’t open) in my shitty teenage handwriting. I turn to my other side and wait for sleep.
Shayna comes by the next day, as they do most days. We sit in the guest bedroom taking turns rubbing at the kinks in each other’s shoulders.
“I ran into Keith B at Giant Eagle this morning,” Shayna says. Their thumbs dig deeper into my muscle as they speak, so I lean into the pressure.
“Oh my god, Keith B used to be so hot,” I say. I envision his happy trail snaking out from underneath his GHS basketball tank as he’d jump to make shots during games, my drool visibly falling onto my pom poms from the cheer line.
“He still is,” Shayna says.
“I was hoping you’d say he was hideous.”
“Yeah.” Their voice holds on to the end of the word, searching for something more to say even though they have nothing else to offer. We never really have anything to say anymore. Our friendship has become enveloped in the silence of nothing and everything. “Do you want to smoke?”
I smile and herd them out the back door into the completely empty, tree-lined backyard. This is the only other place I go besides the guest bedroom. Mom would have a fit if she smelled weed in the house. We sneak back into the line of trees that divide the yard from the drab housing development behind it, passing the three foot tall statue of the virgin Mary that stands before their opening. We’re always careful with our steps, tiptoeing around sticks to avoid gaining my mom’s attention inside. The less interaction with my mom the better. Shayna pulls a blunt from their favorite yellow clutch and sparks it, sitting on a fallen tree. We lose ourselves in the anonymity of another blackened Ohio night. We smoke the blunt to a stub, listen to the cicadas click click click, and talk about our old fifth grade English teacher with the potbelly and (apparently) big dick Shayna hooked up with last week. We used to sit in the back of his classroom and paint each other’s nails. Sea foam, periwinkle, mustard. I’d always be sure to keep acetone in my locker to rub the color away before I went home.
“I wanna fuck a teacher,” I say.
“They’re all on Grindr,” Shayna says.
“Actually, I don’t ever want to fuck anyone again.” I take a final drag from the blunt and rub it out on the ground, handing the roach over to Shayna to put back in their clutch. “Did he know who you were?”
“I don’t think so,” Shayna says. “If he did he was too afraid to tell me.” “Huh.” Once we’ve allowed ourselves to be made into meals for the mosquitos we make our way to the front of the house. I play with Shayna’s dreads, twirling the beads they’d dispersed so pristinely amongst the hair between my index finger and thumb, and tell them I want them to give me box braids like they had last summer. They tell me I’m a racist white bitch, we hug, and they leave.
I head back to my bedroom, pick up my PedEgg, and get to work. I watch the flakes fall one by one into the growing off-white banks in the bowl. This house is depressing so the shaving is really the only thing that keeps me going. The walls hold my mother’s PTSD to the point of suffocation. I’ve felt it seeping into my pores ever since I’ve been back, a sticky hot film of desperation and anger layering the air like paint fumes with no open window to escape through. The walls smell like mothballs, which I guess is what depression smells like.
My mother wasn’t happy when I told her I was coming to live with her again. She helped me move my sparse belongings into her home in silence the day after my graduation, which she didn’t attend. We walked my bags into the guest bedroom and dropped them on the floor.
“I have Zumba every evening at six,” she told me.
“Nice,” I said.
“Find a place soon,” she said.
She paused in the threshold on her way to her own bedroom. I felt her eyes gripping onto me, trying to make sense of the woman before her. I was familiar and foreign all at once. I thought that she was seeing me the way I used to see myself.
“You used to look just like him,” she said.
“Now I look just like you.”
She let out a stutter of a laugh, rolling her eyes to punctuate it, and then she slammed her bedroom door behind her.
The guest bedroom is empty besides the bed, a nightstand, some mismatched homely decor, and my clothes scattered about the floor in heaps. I tell my mom I want to go get more furniture and my mom tells me to get my own goddamn apartment. I ask Shayna to come with me to go get more furniture and Shayna tells me to get my own goddamn apartment.
When I wake up in the mornings, I tick the last day passed off of the pug of the month calendar hanging above the bed. It’s the same pug of the month calendar my mom has hanging in the kitchen and her bedroom. Pugs have replaced my father in my mom’s eyes, three of her own rounded up from the kennel to give her all of the slobbery, snort-laced affection she could ask for. I think my mom blames herself for my dad’s suicide, but I know he just couldn’t handle his geeky baby boy becoming the bombshell girl next door, trading a buzz cut and a soccer jersey for a set of bouncy blonde pigtails and a Fashion Nova obsession. Oh, and a bowl of foot shavings. I like to let my mom think it’s all her fault, though. She’ll bring a fourth pug home to add to the symphony of stunted breathing that pervades the stagnant air of our happy little home any day now.
Ticking off the days was another habit of mine, and I guess I picked it up from my dad. He always had a desk calendar laid out in his office, the days crossed out of existence as each one disappeared into the void of the next.
When I found him with Shayna it was the night after my sixteenth birthday. Shayna and I had snuck into Utopia, the only gay bar in the area, and walked into my childhood home around three in the morning, tiptoeing passed the office just off the foyer to get upstairs unnoticed. Shayna saw him first, clutching my shoulder so hard that their fresh acrylics left marks above my collarbone. My head turned in his direction but my eyes glued themselves to the desktop calendar, unable to look any higher than his feet that dangled just above it. They swayed slowly, peacefully, from right to left, having already knocked over a picture of six year old me by the Christmas tree holding a snow globe with the name Daniel inscribed around its base. The glass in the frame was in shards.
“We should wake your mom up,” Shayna said, their words barely snaking around the lump in their throat.
“Go get a knife,” I said, my eyes following his feet. “Let’s get him down first.”
I can sell the shavings whenever I want. I’d say I’ve got a solid sixty-four ounces by this point. It’s at least enough to make some middle-aged white guy happy for nine months. I just want to optimize my profit and aim for a year’s supply. So day after day I open the rickety mirror doors of the guest room closet, reach above the piles of canvases I plan to touch but never will, and get the bowl down from the shelf above. Shave shave shave. Shayna tells me to sell the bowl and makes a twisted face like a Picasso painting anytime they see it sitting on the bedside table or resting on a clothing pile in a corner. I tell them that they don’t understand the market, which is true but they still get offended.
“What the fuck are you even talking about?” they usually ask.
“The market is cyclical,” I usually say.
“You don’t even know what that means.”
We smoke a blunt in the trees. We hug. They leave. I shave.
I know that the more I build my shavings the more I’ll make. I know that the longer I let the piles grow the larger my profit will be. So I keep shaving and I don’t explain myself. Maybe I’ll never sell the shavings. I read this article last October when I was working on a thesis show studying indigenous cultures and their spiritual practices that talked about how hair carries trauma. I think that’s also true of my foot shavings, and I just don’t know if I could trust someone with a bowl full of access to the most personal parts of my being. I could unpack that with a therapist but I don’t think therapy would sit right with me.
One night I take a break from shaving and find a guy off of Grindr on Shayna’s recommendation. They told me I needed to get fucked and forget about my goddamn feet. I told them that I’m unfuckable and my feet are all I have. Still, I download the app while my mom’s out at the bar with her Zumba friends. My picture is my bowl of foot shavings and my name is “Tootsie." I get a message from a blank profile and ask for a picture. It’s our fifth grade English teacher with the potbelly and (apparently) big dick. I did say I want to fuck a teacher. I like to stand by my word.
He rings the bell as I’m getting out of the shower. I glance at my phone for the time and decide I have at least an hour before my mom gets back. I rush to throw on an oversized U of M crew neck and don’t bother with underwear. I open the door to a fifty year old man in chinos and a Lacoste polo. We say our hellos and I search for recognition in his eyes. I realize he doesn’t know it’s me without a buzz cut and cargo shorts and I feel safe to proceed.
We go inside and start to makeout in my mom’s guest bed. We don’t talk much, which I’ve learned is the standard protocol for this kind of thing. We’re going at it pretty heavily so I go to loosen his belt buckle, the cold shock of metal stinging my fingertips. That’s when he sees the Pyrex bowl sitting on the nightstand.
“What’s that?” He asks.
“My most prized possession,” I say, wiping spit from my lips. “Want to see?”
He nods his head with interest so I stop to bring the bowl to the party. I shake it up and we watch the foot shavings fluttering around beneath the see-through lid. I think of my snow globes sitting in the stacked cardboard boxes. San Francisco, New York City, Boston. My dad used to bring them home for me from his business trips when I was a kid. They’ve been sitting in those boxes since the day after my sixteenth birthday when I packed them all away with shaking hands and ticked December eighteenth off the calendar. When mom moved into the ranch I stuck them in that closet, out of sight until these past few weeks. I imagine the Golden Gate Bridge standing proud in its glass orb, my foot shavings falling silently onto its illustrious red archways.
I pop open the bowl’s lid and we stare at the newly settled mounds.
“This bowl is full of all of my hopes and dreams,” I say.
My face gets tight and warm, red rushing to my cheeks instead of my heels.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I put the Pyrex bowl aside and pull him toward me, holding back my sobs until my face is completely out of sight. We sit there for a while, my chest rising as his falls, my tears weighing the fabric of his shirt down like the blood in my socks. My feet dangle off the side of the bed. They sway slowly, peacefully, from right to left. I pull myself away and wipe my tears, smiling.
“Do you want to see my snow globes?” I ask.