A Toe Story

I choose Everclear, figure the potent grain alcohol will act as a sterilizer. Jack picks whiskey, says he won’t be able to handle anything stronger. The bartender pours our shots into stemmed cocktail glasses. Donning a captain’s hat, she reveals the secret ingredient, two mummified big toes.

“All right, boys,” the bartender says, waving the blackened toes under our noses, “you can drink it fast or slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”

There’s no monetary prize. The bar doesn’t even cover the cost of the shot. All you get for swallowing is a filigreed certificate with your name written on it and bragging rights. You’re paid in experience, which is fine by us. Experience is what we’re after. 

The bartender drops in the toes. I slam the shot. The Everclear scorches my esophagus, burns away the old me. The toe nicks my top lip, feels like kissing leather. Jack sips until his toe begins to slide. When he goes for another taste, I tip the end of his glass upward to complete our baptism. 

“Congrats,” the bartender says over Jack’s coughing.

What next?

Southern California.

I’ve got a high school buddy who lives down there, who’s made a killing smushing grapes. Once I tell him we’re on our way, he’ll set us up with gigs under the sun. No more coming home smelling like pig guts. No more frozen joints.

On Monday, we’ll punch in at the plant, make a few cuts so the supervisors don’t get suspicious, then both pretend to go to the bathroom. We’ll sneak out through the unlocked door in loading. The forklift drivers there are good guys, won’t say shit. When those untrimmed pork bellies start piling up, they’ll see how important we were, how needed, but we’ll be gone. We’ll be cruising down Highway 71, subtracting the population of Podunk by two.

We’ll stop in bars like this one, order their specialty drinks. We’ll lie about who we are. I’ll be an injured college football player making my comeback to the pros, Jack my personal trainer. We’ll shoplift bags of Doritos and tall boys. We’ll steal lawn ornaments, give them backstories, and dump them a town over. We’ll carve our names into picnic tables like Zorro. We’ll dine at nice restaurants and skip out on the bill, making sure to tip the waiter before fleeing. 

We’ll be nowhere and everywhere.

“I’ve been thinking,” I say, finger thumping the counter, a drumroll. “We should pawn my sedan and take your truck. We could sleep in the bed and save on motels.”

I watch Jack bite his cheek in the mirror behind the bar.

“Technically, it’s my mom’s truck,” he says. “I shouldn’t leave her without a vehicle. Maybe we should wait a week or two, you know, think things over. Yeah, let’s wait.”

Like that, the toes become just amputated, frostbitten toes.

I wave down the bartender. She points at the Everclear. I shake my head no and ask for a simple Budweiser.

Will Musgrove
Will Musgrove

Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in trampset, Cleaver Magazine, The Lumiere Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.