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Agnes Marton: a poem

The key is lost by default not by the door

You gave names to my toes: on the left, Almondino, Breadcrumbs, Grinch, Joplin, Prideling; on the right Crunchy, Pandour, Dervish, Sulky, Eftsoon.

You were not sucking Crunchy, didn't hum to Joplin, didn't swirl Dervish, didn't abduct Pandour, didn't soften Sulky, didn't roll breadcrumbs in nuts and poppyseed, but you did fawn upon each, did dazzle each, did titillate each.

When I broke my ankle, you cuddled the cast, frowning. Prideling wasn't able to peep out, Joplin and Grinch were steeped in red dust, Breadcrumbs and Almondino were stuck stagnant.

Almondino used to be the pet, now it was Sulky. There's always a darling; a calculable cauldron. She straightened her side, at last. She yearned for her nail to be filed; she blended in with your palm, all of her sulk now frayed.

When the cast was off, you murmured to the physio, and not only one – one for each day as if you'd been keeping lovers. Each therapist had a different mode of touch. You begged so you could take part in the massage, you practised it even sound asleep, it became your pastime just like air guitaring "Layla". You attached on the roll bandage bit of the Game Ready ice machine, you switched the remote control to and fro: start, stop.

You walked me in the park, you took my bag, a Chinese nonsense with a flashy note: Leopards are the fastest animals in the world. You kicked aside the leaves, warned me when a ball of earth was in my way, or, on the grass, a branch, a chestnut. I wasn't allowed anything slippery to step on, but I trampled, deliberately, like a toddler (or like George in Peppa Pig), in every sea-size puddle. I goggled at my footprint for a long time, how it accompanied me. Was it the same me, or a bit less, or not at all? Someone invisible instead; someone spacey.

In China little girls went through foot binding, you told me. All the toes, except the big toes, were broken and bound flat against the sole, making a triangle shape. Next, the arch was strained as the foot was bent double. The feet were bound in place using a silk strip. These wrappings were removed every two days to prevent blood and pus from infecting the foot. Excess flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot.

I pretended not to have heard of all this. I imitated a newborn that can't but respond to every joke with the same babbling. Meanwhile I counted how many times you wedged the word anyhow in your barren harangue.

You described, in detail, how Tarantino filmed Uma Thurman and Diane Kruger. While in action, you said, your foot should never lose its tiptoe, the heels should be closed, the splendid toes and the magnificent arch should make headway, spontaneously, without dotted nail polish, without a sterling silver ankle bracelet, and certainly without kinky stockings.

You told me off, ever so gently, when I was dragging my left foot, when I wasn't bending my knee, whenever I stooped. You kept asking me whether we should sit down but I realised it was you who was wearing out. You collapsed on the bench and put my feet onto your lap. The scars seemed lighter, whiter or pink like a piglet. It's gone, the Christmas ham entrenching upon my tiny foot, my tootsy-wootsy, my pettitoes, my footlet.

I promised I would swirl on the Thonet chair at home, I would squeeze my swollen feet into high-heeled shoes, I would chime the bells with my ankles, with my toe heroes, the injured one and the protector. High-heeled shoes, to me, look like hooves. I'm wondering when the horse-shoes appear, when I'm spurred on to thidder on the blacktop, on the block-pavement.

You believed my feet were still yours but they had become rebels, they were jittering archly, they had collected their own history, they balanced so much they could have been featured in the Cirque du Soleil, they were skipping around, they had grown, toe to toe, their very own ambitions.

This is when you started to have my feet investigated. You were eager to know where they were heading, whose anti-gravity treadmill they hallowed, who re-dressed them in bulky trainers and mirror-glazed ankle boots, who bundled them in fishnet socks or compression tights, who detected their worries during an X-ray, who pecked tiddley kisses on them, who blamed their pace on the zebra crossing, who they woke up and got between the sheets, whose soft spot and super ability they were, who they healed and who they were quack doctored by, who they carried to the nook you had always craved to reach.

Agnes Marton is a Hungarian-born poet, writer, librettist, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and Reviews Editor at The Ofi Press. Recent publications include her collection Captain Fly's Bucket List and four chapbooks with Moria Books (USA). She has won the National Poetry Day Competition in the UK.

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