The Well of Desire
He was physically damaged, born with a deformed right foot that he dragged along when he walked as if he were pulling a heavy stone that had been tied to his leg. His mother likened the circumstances of him being born with a club foot to that of a toy that had been broken on nature’s assembly line. Although he was assigned a Christian name at birth, he was called Toy by his mother from the moment she was told his deformity couldn’t be repaired, like a broken porcelain doll that glue wouldn’t fix.
Unable to bear the shame of siring a son with an imperfect limb, Toy’s father left for India where he bought a tea plantation three months after Toy came into the world and remained there. Toy and his mother were well cared for and lived comfortably in a large, whitewashed brick manor house that was surrounded by rolling hills carpeted with lush grass, purple corncockles, blue harebells and groves of yellow lady’s bedstraw. It took only a few steps from the back of the house to enter the maze-like garden that Toy’s mother had designed and oversaw.
Toy sat on the stone bench and gazed at the new marble statue of the Roman God, Mercury, standing on a pedestal his mother had just installed in the garden amidst a patch of red and white sweet williams. The nude statue had wings on its ankles and wore a helmet topped with a wing. It looked poised to run off or ascend into the sky.
Toy looked down at the specially-tailored shoe that covered his misshapen, bulging foot, and sighed loudly. There wasn’t a moment in his life when he recalled running but he imagined how it would feel to dash freely across the meadows, unencumbered by the malformed weight of his foot. He tried to accept that it was something he would never do alone or with anyone else. The wings on Mercury’s ankles taunted him.
* * *
The late afternoon golden light that shone through the open windows laid like glowing gauze on the tables, easels, shelves and books that filled the room. The warm breeze gently blowing in brought the scents of the marigolds and lavender grown in the garden, filling the room with perfumed air. Filled with canvases, painting supplies, woodworking tools, a sculpting wheel, stacks of drawing paper, pencils, inks and pens, the room that had once been where Toy slept in his crib, had slowly evolved to an arts and crafts room where he spent most of his time. The room was on the second floor of the manor. Its two windows looked out on the garden, the old well at the edge of the garden, and to the meadows beyond that. Toy’s cat, Whispers, had taken up residence in the room when it was very young and, having reached an old age, it spent most of its time lounging on the windowsill in the warmth of the sum.
Rubbing Whispers’s fur, Toy gazed thoughtfully at Mercury. It was the most beautiful statue in the garden.
The door to the room opened and Toy’s mother swept in as if riding on a wave of air, bringing with her the licorice scent of absinthe. She stopped abruptly in front of Toy’s unfinished painting of a galloping white stallion, and as she wavered from side to side she stared at it through bleary eyes.
Toy lifted Whispers into his arms and cradled him. “Why are you here, Mother?”
She whirled about, the skirts of her dress twisting like the tail of a cyclone. “Next week you’re going to be eighteen and it’s time for you to grow up. I’ve made arrangements with your father for you to join him in India where you’ll apprentice in growing tea.”
“But mother, I want to be an artist,” he protested.
“You lack the talent,” she said, her words slurred. “You’ll leave for India the day after your birthday.”
She turned and left the room as if blown by a strong wind, taking the air and light with her.
* * *
Moonlight danced on the blooms in the garden and spread like a carpet on the path leading to Mercury. The scraping and thumping on the ground made by Toy’s foot echoed in the breezy night. The cool air perfumed with the scents of carnations and peonies gently swirled about him. A chorus of crickets and toads sang out from the pond in the meadow. He made his way to the stone bench and plopped down, weighted by the worries he had about going to India and the exertion of dragging his foot. His gaze quickly fell on Mercury being illuminated by the moon. His heart beat fast and unlike any time before, he felt longing and desire.
“If only,” he said aloud.
At first he thought Mercury’s movement was a trick being played on his eyes by the shadows created by a cloud passing through the moonlight. When Mercury stepped down from the pedestal, Toy still didn’t believe his eyes, thinking he had been overcome with a fever. He shut his eyes and squeezed them tight, counted slowly to five, and then opened them. Mercury was standing in front of him.
“How is this possible?” Toy exclaimed.
Mercury bent down and kissed him softly. His marble lips were warm and moist. His eyes were the color of wildflowers.
“You’re only a dream,” Toy said, feeling faint.
Mercury kissed the back of Toy’s hand and then placed it on his sternum. The thumping of a heart vibrated through Mercury’s solid chest.
“You’re so perfect, and my foot . . .” Toy started.
Mercury put his finger on Toy’s lips and mouthed the word “come” as he gestured toward the well at the end of the path. As he ran down the path, Toy stood up, drew in his breath, and clumsily stumbled at a quick pace after him. Mercury reached the well and sat on the brick wall. A seductive smile spread across his face. When Toy reached the well, Mercury leaned back and fell in. Toy climbed onto the wall and dropped in after him.
* * *
As Toy spiraled and tumbled downward, the darkness gave way to a kaleidoscope of shifting colors of paint. He crashed through canvases and sheets of drawing paper. Pencils, paint brushes, pallets, and an array of sculpting tools whirled around him. The warm air that rose up from beneath him whooshed in his ears. He felt as if he would fall forever and then he suddenly landed with a thud on a pile of drawing paper. He sat bolt upright and looked around for Mercury, but realized to his amazement he was in his room. When he slowly stood he stared down at his right foot and gasped in astonishment. It was no longer deformed. The large shoe tailored for the deformity laid nearby on the floor half buried under painting supplies. He walked to the open window, gathered Whispers in his arms, and looked out at Mercury who was bathed in moonlight.
* * *
Two years later Toy placed a blank canvas on his easel and stood back and looked at it thoughtfully. He then turned and scanned his studio and wished he was neater and more organized. Painting supplies and stacks of drawing paper were scattered on the table surfaces. Drawings and paintings of Mercury crowded the walls, each painted or drawn with a different model, each with a large “X” over the eyes, crossed out because they weren’t like the original Mercury’s. He went to the window, looked out at the busy street and inhaled the aromas of curry and cinnamon that floated up from the street market below. His father paid the rent on the studio, happy to have Toy away from the tea plantation and away from him. The miraculous cure of Toy’s foot did nothing to bond him with his son. Toy looked down at the perfect shape of his right foot. He had stopped wearing shoes and often ran through the streets barefooted simply to hear the sound of the soles of his feet slapping on the dirt or pavement.
He looked up in time to see a young man step out of a rickshaw. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door.
Toy opened it. Speechless, he stared at the young man’s face. His eyes were the color of wildflowers.
“I’m Thomas,” the young man said. “I’m here about your advertisement looking for a model.”
Toy scanned the young man’s physique, stopping at the young man’s right foot. It was a club foot swaddled in bright blue Indian silk with print images of wings of various shapes and sizes.
Seeing Toy staring at his foot, Thomas said, “I’ll understand if you don’t want me because of my deformity.”
Toy looked into Thomas’ eyes and smiled knowingly. “You’re perfect,” he said.
Steve Carr (he/him), who lives in Richmond, Virginia, has had over 280 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. Four collections of his short stories, Sand, Rain, Heat, and The Tales of Talker Knock, have been published. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His Twitter is @carrsteven960.