Sep 9th 2022
I call him Barry because he reminds me of my uncle. Uncle Barry is a drunk, with a red bulbous nose and some sort of skin condition that makes him look flaky, like a lizard midway through molting.
I don’t know where I caught Barry. It must’ve been during my less-than-stellar highschool swimming career. I was unremarkable, mostly a body needed to fill relay rosters. I never won anything, except Barry. I like to think that Barry came from one of the fast boys who could break state records in difficult strokes, like the butterfly. It gives me comfort to think that something as extraordinary as Barry could happen to me just as it could to these prime athletic specimens. It makes me feel like I belong to the same species they do.
For the most part, Barry doesn’t bother me. He — I’ve always thought of him as a he, not an it — spends much of his time hidden beneath my white cotton socks, and I feel he knows that he is to remain out of sight, because it isn’t safe to show himself to the world.
At first, I misunderstood what Barry was. He’d withdraw completely for weeks at a time, and I’d start believing that he might be gone for good. When he would reappear, I’d slather him with over-the-counter antifungals, to which he’d grow enraged and spread up my calf all the way to the knee, burning like a motherfucker. In that, too, he reminded me of Uncle Barry, who would transform from an agreeable drunk to a profane, belligerent nuisance whenever my mother tried to cut off his booze at family reunions.
Even after I’d realized what Barry was, I kept treating him, in some ways, like he was just foot fungus. I always wore plastic shoes in the dorm communal showers, telling myself I was trying to be considerate and not give the condition to others. But if I’m being honest, I simply didn’t want to share him. He’s far too valuable.
I first realized Barry was special when my roommate Matt stopped going to class. He wouldn’t get out of bed and wanted me to leave him alone. But I could hear him — I could hear Matt’s mind, at first very softly, then just like someone was playing a video in my head on low volume, somewhat garbled, but they were his words, his thoughts, and they were dark and sticky, like tar. I could see him being dragged down into their depths, and I could feel his despair, his helplessness as he got swallowed, sinking deeper and deeper, with no way out. After that, I contacted Student Services, who got ahold of Matt’s parents, who then promptly came and took him away. I hear he’s at a hospital now but should be OK. His mom keeps sending me baked goods, thanking me for saving her son’s life, but it was all Barry.
I’d never been great around girls, not in high school, not now in college. Until Barry. He knew when I really liked someone, and when I pursued them for the wrong reasons. My foot burned and itched when I was about to approach a girl only because she seemed lonely or a little more desperate than her friends. The foot would get pleasantly warm, almost erotic, when I thought about a person who really appealed to me. Best of all, Barry would let me know if the girl really liked me back. I could hear the whisper of her thoughts, feel the beating of her heart, sense the arousal coursing through her veins.
Barry is why I now have Amy, and I swear I’ve never been happier.
But I am kept awake at night by the images of her feet getting red and flaky, of deep invisible tendrils growing throughout her body and burrowing into her brain, and I can feel a small part of me screaming in agony, a part so tiny and crying from someplace so far away, hidden so deep within me, that it almost feels like it isn’t a part of me anymore… As I finally drift asleep, the unsettling pictures escape the grasp of my mind, and instead I envelop a sleeping Amy, feeling deeply content, and I throw my leg over hers, my red pulsing toes aligned with her still pale ones, and I rejoice for a little while at the gift that we will soon share.
Author Bio: Maura Yzmore writes short fiction and long equations somewhere in the American Midwest. Her speculative flash has appeared in Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://maurayzmore.com or on Twitter @MauraYzmore.
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