Sunday, 3 November 2013

The monk's toes

Tarrawarra Abbey, All Souls' Day

So it turns out I have feet. Two of them. They squat like white toads on the green grass, wrinkled, sprouting hairs. Every once in a while the toes twitch and sometimes when they do this a blade of grass pops through one of the cracks between the toes. It gives me joy to see the grass pop through so suddenly.

It appears there is something wrong with the toes, for each of them has grown a curious yellowish claw. What are they for? What will the feet do with these sharp protrusions? Use them to catch prey? Dig holes? Peel fruit? They could, I suppose, be used to soothe me if I brought my mouth down very close to chew them. Chewing the nails along my fingers is a thing that I have always liked to do, and I have always found it soothing. But the toes do not look appetising, and besides, a centipede is making his way across one foot and I would never want to startle him or to bite his little legs off by mistake. Walk on, little brother! I will keep an eye out for you and make sure no harm comes to you!

And how did they get so wrinkled, my toes? The rest of me is young, youthful, very fresh and new, a  spring chicken. But the toes are prunes. They look, if I am not mistaken, nearly a hundred years old. There must be some mistake. I check my legs, running both hands from the knees down to the ankles. No, there is no denying it, those feet are definitely my feet, the toes my toes. Well. That is disappointing. I forgive you, toes! I hold nothing against you!

Just think, I must have been lugging these toes around with me all this time but never knew it. Oh, I suppose I might have caught a glimpse of them from time to time. I recall trimming the nails once or twice. I recall showering, toes being washed and dried with a towel. I must have noticed them too the time I cut my toe, for I must have cut it once upon a time, the scar is proof. I am sorry if I hurt you, toe. Forgive me! Let us speak no more about it!

Let us say then that I have seen these toes before, yes, that I have quite definitely seen them, but had never truly noticed their existence until now, until today, until I pulled my shoes off and sat down under this kind wise tree and prayed and stared for one hour at my toes.

The centipede has stopped to take a look around. He cannot decide whether to walk across the toes, five arduous hairy hills, or to go back where he came from. He is sniffing around with his antennae. Perhaps he is trying to establish if this is all dead meat, these feet, or a living thing; he wants to know if he should start eating me now or come back later. A little later, brother! A little longer and I will lie down in the ground and feed you.

The tree's big shade is very good to me. It makes it good to sit here praying and looking at my feet. The branches creak when the wind comes up the hill. Some of the leaves fall down but not too many. I lie back in the grass and look up at the branches that stretch into the sky, a leafy ladder. Sometimes, I have often felt it, a great urge has come upon me to climb the ladder. I would go up to the highest branches and look out from the treetop. I would love to climb your branches, sister, and to look down at the river. Nobody would see me there but I would see the winding river and the bridge and the cows over the first or second hill. One day I will do it, I know I will. One day, sister, when I am younger I will climb every branch until I reach the top. And then I will climb back down smiling at the terrific secret of it and climb down under the ground and rest there in the shade with my toes tucked under your roots for fertiliser, deep down there beside my brothers, and all of us will pray under the ground and feed you and feed the grass and I will be a great feast for the little tickly centipedes which I love.

But not today. I am only resting. This is just the dress rehearsal. Some days, on days like this, the thought of dying grows so big in me that I am frightened that my face will break in two from smiling.

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