How is that I have athlete’s foot when I’ve never been an athlete? Although it may not actually be athlete’s foot. According to all the sources I’ve checked the symptoms of athlete’s foot include itching, which I’ve got, and also an itchy, scaly rash, which, I’m happy to say, I don’t have. There also used to be a commercial for an athlete’s foot medication that showed a guy’s foot bursting into flame which, so far, is a symptom I’ve been able to avoid.
There is redness and cracking of the skin, but that could just be from the itching which causes me to scratch, especially between the toes, and there’s a deliciously terrible thrill in scratching there where the skin is papery and sensitive. In spite of being so ordinary scratching is one of our deepest and darkest pleasures; it tears the skin, causing pain, but releases a flood of pleasurable endorphins at the same time.
The intensity of it has me contemplating the complicated, contradictory nature of a simple itch, so strong I feel like I could run sandpaper between my toes, drawing blood, pushing the itch from a minor annoyance, a discomfort, over into actual pain. Part of me thinks it would be worth it, but then I think of the downsides: blood between my toes, pus seeping, the risk of an infection. I like my feet, although they’re far from perfect. The back soles are heavily callused, and the nail of my right big toe is discolored with dirt that forward growth hasn’t managed to push out, and that the long, narrow file that folds out from the clippers can’t entirely scrape out from underneath. It’s too plain for a podiatrist’s intervention but more than a pedicure could handle, and really only keeps me from wearing open-toed shoes even in summer’s record-breaking heat.
When I was a kid running barefoot all the time meant it was inevitable I’d pick up something, but it was worth the risk, and at least it was only a fungus and not worms. There was a bottle of emerald liquid in a semi-transparent bottle, kept, along with all other pharmaceuticals, in the cabinet under the sink–symptomatic of a simpler time when nine-year olds could be trusted to self-medicate. When my feet itched all it took was a couple of splashes. There’d be a chemical chill and in seconds all irritation would be washed away.
I could have gone to the drugstore, looked for the same thing or its contemporary equivalent, which seemed a better alternative to continuing to dig my nails into the tender skin between the toes and potentially ruining another pair of socks. But I thought I’d sussed out the main ingredient of that old elixir and pulled a bottle of rubbing alcohol out of the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. It wasn’t green but the antiseptic properties of isopropyl seemed like they’d be more than enough to send the source of my inflammation down the drain.
I popped open the cap, applied a few splashes, and with a pale blue whoosh the entire bathroom went up in flames.