From Unfamiliar Fruit, Volume 1 (with an altered ending)
When Amerigo awoke to the smell of eggs and sausage, two familiar thoughts hit him at once: Man, my stomach hurts! and ¿Por qué siempre tengo tanta hambre? By thirteen, Amerigo had watched the scale sail past three hundred pounds. Now, at sixteen, he’d added more than half of his thirteen-year-old self. Appetite dictated every waking moment of his day, even when he tried to think of the other things consuming most sixteen-year-old boys. His few friends called him an eating machine and would tease that the scent of a Wendy’s French fry a mile off could distract him, even with the stench and fumes of twenty city blocks in between. At the Chelsea Ten Cinema, the crinkle of a candy wrapper three rows down would disrupt his focus as fully as if someone had shouted, “Fire!” Worse, like a heroin addict, his cravings would awaken him from deep sleep.
But this morning Amerigo felt surprisingly refreshed. He’d not had trouble breathing during the night; his heart, which had developed stress flutters last year, felt eerily regular, and he felt himself couched comfortably within the confines of his mattress—morning usually meant liberating some fold of his anatomy from painful pinching. Without preparing for the effort, which generally involved scooching to the edge of his bed where he would rock himself off and onto his knees, a process that took nearly five minutes, Amerigo sat up. Just like that. And two more thoughts hit him: Dios mío! What the hell happened to the rest of me? and Could it be my prayers were answered?
Thinking that he was still in a dream, Amerigo tried to leap out of bed, but when his foot hit the floor, he heard the wood planks crack under the carpet, and his bedroom shuddered with Richter-scale effect.
“Amerigo, qué pasa?” his mother called from the kitchen.
“Nada, Ma. I’m okay,” Amerigo called back. And he was. For the first time since his days playing on monkey bars, Amerigo could see his navel, which had emerged from its clammy, blubbery hideout, and he marveled at his shapely thighs, which had reappeared from beneath a gelatinous, abdominal canopy that usually stretched to his knees. He rotated his arms and raised them toward the ceiling—an effort that, just last night, would have ached and felt like lifting barbells.
A smile began to lift his now angular cheeks. “Un miracolo,” he whispered, slipping into one of the three tongues spoken interchangeably at home—the one he reserved for his most impassioned moments. But even as the reality of the miracle sank in, so his gaze settled on the monstrosity replacing his right foot.
If Michelangelo had taken his chisel to stone with the fabled angles of Pablo Picasso, the result might have looked something like the gargoyle attached to Amerigo’s Achilles heel. It was three times the size of his other foot, gray as stone, smooth as marble, but flexible enough to meet basic ambulatory specifications—that is, if it weren’t so heavy.
On Amerigo’s first attempt to walk toward his bedroom door (he couldn’t wait to examine his svelte physique in the bathroom mirror) he nearly pulled a thigh muscle, and he fell over, landing with another thud.
“Amerigo!” his mother called.
“I’ll be right down,” Amerigo shouted in a panic. He wasn’t yet ready to face others.
“Vámonos,” his mother called. “You’ll miss breakfast.” Ordinarily, such a threat would have motivated Amerigo from even the most intense state of inertia, but at the moment all he could do was simultaneously marvel at his limber body and frown at his concrete foot.
On his second attempt, Amerigo was able to drag his leaden extremity across the floor, bunching the rug along the way. By the time he reached the half-inch threshold at his bedroom door, it looked as daunting as the Rocky Mountains to a traveler from the Great Plains (Amerigo was studying the American West in history). Still, with only minor bangs, Amerigo scaled the piedmont and dragged his foot into the bathroom across the hall.
He stared at the strange face in the mirror. Smiling, he worked his fingers carefully but steadily across his cheeks and chin. He studied his chest and arms, flexing them to admire their definition. Muscles. Veins. Tendons. Bone. As far as he could tell, fat had been holding him together all of these years. Gobs of it. Not anymore. His smile broadened until his teeth showed. Even his gums had shrunk to allow his teeth to dictate his smile.
He turned to the full-length mirror behind the door and sucked in his stomach. He laughed. He could actually see a ripple of ribs emerge and project over the concavity of his retracted abdomen. He ran his hands across his belly and sides. His skin felt like velvet. Unexpected tears slid down his cheeks. He wiped them away with the backs of his wrists and sniffled. When his gaze reached his legs, however, he frowned. There stood his foot in all its gravestone glory. Amerigo bent to touch it. It tingled and seemed to pulse. He tried to lift his leg, but he could only achieve a slight shuffle. He wiggled the swollen, paw-like toes.
His mother called to him again. “I’m coming up,” she hollered.
“Be right down, Ma!” Frantically, Amerigo grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his leg, hiding, barely, his superhero-sized extremity.
When he opened the bathroom door, his mother looked at him and shrieked. She turned and stumbled down the stairs, wailing to her husband, “Luigi, Luigi, un extraño, aquí, aquí!”
“No, Ma, it’s me!” Amerigo shouted, shuffling after her. “It’s Amerigo.”
Amerigo’s mother peered around the doorway and looked up at the stranger. She frowned. “You are not my son. What have you done with him?” But she stepped out for a closer look.
Amerigo smiled. “Mira! It is me, Ma.” He turned slowly, straining to pull his foot without losing the towel.
“No lo sé,” Amerigo’s mother whispered, holding her hand to her mouth as she climbed the steps one at a time, scrutinizing the impostor who called himself her son. “Where is the rest of you?” she asked, dry-mouthed, voice cracking. “It does look like my boy,” she admitted as she reached the step below Amerigo. “And it sounds like him.” She poked Amerigo in the ribs and ran her fingers across his cheeks. “How can this be? No sé,” she repeated. A timid smile crept across her face as she stepped up to the landing and circled her son. The towel slid from Amerigo’s foot.
“Dios mío!” Amerigo’s mother cried, pressing one hand to her mouth and wrapping the other around her jiggling apron.
“Cosa c'è?” Amerigo’s father called out. He sounded angry as he trudged through the kitchen. Amerigo felt his stomach twist in knots. He knew his father had no patience for his mother’s histrionics and even less if they involved him, which was often. When his father looked up the stairs, Amerigo turned white. His father looked like he was ready to brawl. “Chi è questo?” he growled.
“It’s me, Dad,” Amerigo squeaked. “It’s Amerigo.” His foot began to throb, a sensation that felt more like a headache than something emanating from a limb.
“What kind of joke is this?” His father climbed a few stairs, ready to provoke a fight. The hair on his burly arms seemed to rise like an animal’s to enlarge his stature.
At that moment Amerigo’s older sister wandered out of her room. Polly yawned as she adjusted her nightgown and rubbed sleep from her eyes; she had returned from her shift at the hospital only an hour earlier.
“What is going on out here?’ she complained. “It’s as noisy as the ward on a full moon.” When Polly focused on the scene, she stopped, and her eyes grew wide. “Amerigo?” she gulped, flipping her glossy black hair over her shoulder to get a better look. Polly made up for her brother’s corpulence with a petite figure, both slight and firm.
Amerigo hastily explained to his assembled family how his prayers had been answered: how he’d awoken to a brand-new body. “Except for the foot,” he said, flexing his petrified toes.
Polly kneeled to examine Amerigo’s foot. “I don’t like it,” she announced after stroking, poking, and testing it for reflexes. “We should get you to the hospital.”
“But I feel great!” Amerigo declared. “Mira! Maybe my foot will get better too. Especially since I’m not so fat anymore.”
Polly grimaced at her brother’s lame logic. “Maybe that’s why you’re not so fat anymore.”
“What do you mean, Polly?” Amerigo’s mother asked.
“I mean, maybe that’s where the rest of Amerigo went.”
“Sciocchezze!” Amerigo’s father said. “Come here, boy.” He beckoned to Amerigo to follow him down the stairs.
When Amerigo took his first step down, however, the board beneath his foot splintered. Amerigo looked sheepishly at his family’s exclamations and concern.
Polly smiled and folded her arms. “Let’s weigh that thing,” she said.
With help from his father, Amerigo made it to the kitchen table, where his mother had prepared his usual breakfast of eggs, sausage, pancakes, toast, cereal, milk, and a wedge of melon. Amerigo salivated at the sight of the food, which he ate with abandon while his family argued what to do, and his sister tried to weigh his foot.
“Es un milagro,” Amerigo’s mother said. She stroked her boy’s hair the way she would when he was five, and she admired the beauty of his lithe adolescent physique.
“Si,” Amerigo’s father agreed. But where Amerigo’s mother embraced her son’s overnight transformation, Amerigo’s father remained suspicious. So did Polly.
“It’s a miracle, all right,” Polly said. “Except for the eight hundred pound gorilla—I mean foot—in the room.”
When Amerigo asked for a second breakfast helping of equal proportion, and then a third, his parents murmured. Even for the nearly five hundred pound version of their son this was a lot of food.
“Pig,” Polly said to her brother. “You wake up thin for the first time since you were riding a tricycle, and instead of showing some restraint, you’re in an even bigger hurry to get as fat as a house.”
But Amerigo just shrugged, accepting the criticism as complacently as he always had, burying his true feelings in the mountain of confections and carbohydrates his mother couldn’t help but supply. As he ate, he continued to exclaim how good he felt and how he hardly felt full at all. In truth, he felt uncomfortably full, painfully full, and his foot, the disfigured one, throbbed, but how could he help himself? Eating was what he loved to do. And his mother had always made it easy, putting the food in front of him, expanding her supply to meet his ever-increasing demand. Somehow, Amerigo had always eaten it, accepting the challenge, no matter how much there was. When he was younger, he often felt disgusted after gorging. Eventually, he learned to live with his own disgust the way he imagined a caged animal learned to live with its own reek.
It was Polly, fumbling around beneath the table to try to get the scale positioned right, who soon figured out that the more Amerigo ate, the heavier his foot got. During the short course of his breakfast, it even seemed to grow, if that was possible.
Amerigo shrugged at all the concern. “It’s a miracle,” he said, taking up his mother’s refrain. “I’m gonna enjoy it. Who knows how I’ll wake up tomorrow?”
“You keep eating like that, and you won’t wake up tomorrow,” Polly said, shaking her head. “I always said you had one foot in the grave. Now you really do.”
Amerigo’s father grunted with amusement.
Although he would never admit it, Amerigo did notice after he finished his third gluttonous helping that his foot felt considerably worse, throbbing and itching between the toes.
Even though she ridiculed him as usual, Amerigo could tell by the look on Polly’s face that his sister was worried, more than usual, and that worried him. Over the years, she’d been the only real advocate for his health and an endless source of strife for Amerigo and their family.
Polly phoned several doctors she knew at the hospital. After a few minutes, she’d lined up at least two specialists to see Amerigo later that morning. At first, Amerigo complained about going, but when he tried to get back up the stairs, and he realized that his foot did, in fact, seem heavier, and the pain was nearly unbearable, he reluctantly agreed.
* * *
A few hours later, Amerigo sat in a hospital bed wearing blue patient fatigues. He frowned at his sister, who sat in the visitor’s chair across from him. Polly periodically erupted with laughter as she recounted for one of Amerigo’s nurses their bus trip to the hospital.
“Enough!” the mild-tempered Amerigo shouted when Polly began to describe Amerigo’s most humiliating moment of their journey, which occurred while waiting at the bus stop outside their apartment. A stray dog had walked up and—thinking Amerigo’s foot was some new neighborhood post to which he must stake his claim—promptly watered it. Amerigo could not move his foot fast enough to escape the yellow torrent. Luckily, the toughness of its new hide repelled the urine, and his foot dried as quickly as polished marble.
Amerigo sighed with relief when the doctor walked in and interrupted Polly’s story.
“So, Amerigo,” the doctor said, perusing the clipboard attached to the end of the bed before even glancing at his patient. “What brings—” Catching sight of Amerigo’s foot, the doctor dropped the board; it clanged against the bed frame.
After gaping at the monumental appendage for several moments, during which time Polly rose to join him, staring too, as if seeing the curiosity for the first time, the doctor said gruffly, “Is this some kind of hoax?”
Amerigo shrank into the bed. Only Polly’s reputation and poignant explanation of events prevented the doctor from storming out of the room.
“Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s do this by the book.” Not trusting the numbers on the chart, the doctor ran through Amerigo’s vital signs, shaking his head and concluding, finally, “The boy seems to be in perfect health.”
“But my foot,” Amerigo said in a small voice. Doctors made him nervous. Over the years, they never had anything good to say about his increasingly fleshy condition.
“Let’s have a look at that,” the doctor said as nonchalantly as if he were preparing to examine a cut that might require a few stitches. Polly hunched over the doctor so that Amerigo couldn’t see what they were doing.
“My God, it’s heavy,” the doctor grunted when he tried to lift it.
“I told you,” Polly said.
Then the doctor peppered Amerigo with questions, trying to determine if he had any symptoms prior to his transformation. Beads of perspiration lined the fuzz on Amerigo’s upper lip, and thin rivulets ran down from his sideburns. “No,” he said. “No indications.” He didn’t want to tell the doctor that he hadn’t seen either foot in years, at least not without the aid of a full-length mirror, which he shunned anyway. His foot could have turned into a bowling ball or a meat loaf, and he would never have known as long as it weighed something more or less proportionate to the rest of him and got him through his day. And he didn’t want to admit that, lately, he had begun to feel like food, with which he had always associated a sense of comfort and security, was turning against him. Of course, it had made him tremendously fat, but it had begun to revolt in other ways, too. Flavors seemed flatter, less aromatic; some of his favorites, like chocolate, tasted downright rancid, and almost everything he ate nowadays gave him indigestion. Lately, and for the first time on his long, soaring climb up the scales, he wondered if he had reached a tipping point, where food had finally lost its luster in the way that any commodity loses out, in the end, to the relentless twin forces of consumption and inflation. He remembered those terms from his economics class. Should he tell the doctor that lately he had been praying each night before going to bed? Would doctors know anything about prayers?
“We’ll have to run some tests,” the doctor announced—rather menacingly, in Amerigo’s opinion. When Polly asked which tests, the doctor remained vague. “Oh, the usual,” he said, heading for the door. “And we’ll want to keep him a few days,” he called as he exited into the hall. “For observation.”
* * *
“Don’t worry, hermano,” Polly said. Amerigo had endured three days of testing—scans of all kinds, biopsies, blood samples, urine tests, and more. “You’ll be out of here very soon.”
“But the doctors won’t tell me anything,” Amerigo complained. “They keep coming in and whispering to each other, and then they order more tests. And this hospital food stinks.”
“The doctors don’t know what’s wrong,” Polly said. “That’s why they won’t tell you anything. I heard that some specialists have flown in from all over the country to examine you and your foot.”
Amerigo watched his sister smile as if to suggest that he should feel grateful to draw such esteemed attention. He did not.
Polly reached into her bag and pulled out a hefty sandwich. “Mom made this. I wasn’t going to give it to you because I don’t think you need it. After all, your foot seems to have contracted a little over the last few days now that you’re eating normal human portions. But you’re right about the food here. It stinks.” Polly smiled again as she handed Amerigo the sandwich.
Amerigo tore away the wrapper and ate the food greedily.
Polly shook her head. “I have to get to work,” she said. “But as soon as my shift’s over, I’ll try to find out what I can and come by.” She rose from the side of his bed and waved. “Su con la vita! Mom and Dad said they would be by later to say hi.”
* * *
When Polly returned to his room later that day, Amerigo was no longer feeling sorry for himself. Four doctors huddled around his foot, arguing in low but strained tones. Amerigo’s mother’s face had assumed the blanched hue of the linens as she squeezed her son’s hand and listened to the doctors with alarm. In contrast, Amerigo grinned at what he heard, and Amerigo’s father watched the ball game on TV, pretending not to be bothered by the tension surrounding his son.
“Qué pasa?” Polly asked, deliberately breaking up the doctor’s huddle as she made her way to her frightened mother.
“No sé,” her mother whispered, leaning her head on her daughter’s shoulder.
“They’re cutting it off, Pol,” Amerigo announced, looking pleased.
“What!” Polly looked shocked.
“That’s what they’re arguing about.”
“But they can’t do that.”
Amerigo shrugged like he thought amputation was not a bad option.
“Perché?” she said to no one in particular. She flexed her fingers, forming fists and releasing them. Amerigo felt the sudden tension he always felt when Polly took a position.
Polly turned to face her father. “Dad, what do you think?”
Her father shrugged. “Not a good day for the Mets.”
“Screw the Mets!” Polly shouted. “Your son’s about to lose his leg!”
Grabbing hold of the nearest doctor’s shoulder, Polly demanded, “I want to know what’s going on!”
“Please calm down, you’re upsetting the patients,” the doctor said.
“I work in this hospital,” Polly said, brandishing the badge pinned to her chest. “And I can tell you that nothing upsets patients and their families more than a gaggle of arrogant doctors keeping them in the dark!”
Polly’s father smiled at his daughter’s fiery outburst, and her mother folded her arms in approval. But Amerigo frowned. He didn’t want Polly to mess up his chances of getting rid of his ball and chain. Ever since he heard the doctors’ recommendations, he had begun to imagine a life in which he could eat at will and never gain weight. If it meant having a fake leg, so what. He would even settle for a wooden peg if it meant a clean slate. He was never good at sports, anyway. Besides, he saw lots of documentaries on TV about soldiers getting mechanical legs that allowed them to move around without wheelchairs. Some even ran in marathons! All he needed was something to get him up and down the stairs at home and school.
Amerigo grit his teeth. “Pol!” he said, trying to calm his sister. He reached for her hand. She shook it off, determined not to back down from the staring contest that had ensued with the closest doctor.
“Fine,” the doctor sighed. “Beth,” he said, pointing to one of his colleagues. “Why don’t you fill them in?”
The doctor named Beth stepped forward and cleared her throat. “We’ve taken X-rays, MRIs, a CT scan, and numerous ultrasounds. We’ve biopsied several layers of the tissue. We’ve run every blood test we can think of.”
“And?” Polly said, sounding unimpressed.
“We really don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“We don’t know what the foot is made of. It’s organic, we know that, but it’s also machine-like. Some kind of flesh substitute. It doesn’t match any living form of skin, muscle, fat, bone, tendon, cartilage—anything we’ve ever seen before. Man or beast.”
“How did it get there?”
“We don’t know.”
“What happened to the rest of my brother?” Polly pressed.
“We don’t know. But it seems to have settled in his foot.”
“And that’s all you’ve figured out?” Polly said, flapping her hands in the air.
The doctor looked equally exasperated. “What did you want us to figure out?”
“Is it life threatening?”
“It doesn’t seem to be. He’s healthy in all other respects. Very healthy. In fact, none of his prior ailments—high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis, apnea, you know, the usual symptoms of obesity—none of those have persisted.”
“Then why do you want to cut it off?”
“Well, there are several good reasons,” the doctor said. She looked down her nose at Polly. “For one thing, it appears to be immobilizing—”
“Yeah,” Amerigo interrupted, agreeing more enthusiastically than he intended. “It’s immobilizing.”
“Well, why don’t we see if disciplined diet and exercise will help reduce its size? I mean, my brother’s been fat since he could recite the alphabet. Maybe this is a wake-up call. Maybe, just maybe, if this happened to my brother it will happen to others as well. Maybe it’s the start of some new epidemic. God only knows what new chemicals the food industry’s throwing at us.”
The doctors murmured and raised their eyebrows.
Polly pressed her point. “Will you go around amputating everyone’s limbs? It’s medieval!”
“Stop it!” Amerigo shouted at his sister. “It’s my foot. I want them to cut it off.” It sounded strange to hear himself so readily abandon something that had grown with him and supported him all his life just so that he could look good and, more importantly, go on consuming without paying the usual price. After spending so many days and nights alone in the hospital, Amerigo had reflected on his life and state of affairs. In the dark, lonely hours on his ward, he’d convinced himself that God had answered his prayers and presented him with a great gift. But Amerigo knew enough of his faith to know that divine intervention always came with a price. Just as the prophets of the Bible had to make great sacrifices to receive and deliver their epiphanies, so Amerigo would have to sacrifice too. Luckily, it was just a foot God was demanding in exchange for a life of infinite calories. That was his theory. Amerigo had not had the courage to confirm it with the doctors, or with anyone else for that matter.
Beth, the doctor, looked scornfully at Polly. “We could try putting him on a restricted diet,” she suggested. “But it’s possible that this stony tissue,” she smacked Amerigo’s foot with a latex-gloved hand, “has a viral nature. If it extends to his vital organs—well, it’s unlikely he would survive.”
“Are you saying it’s a form of cancer?” Polly asked, maintaining her look of defiance.
“I’m only saying, what if?” the doctor replied, turning back to her colleagues.
“Amerigo,” Polly turned to her brother. “Why would you want such a thing?”
“Because Pol, you don’t know what it’s like to be me. I feel like…I feel like it’s a miracle.” How could he explain that he had long ago given up ever imagining himself thin, as if such self-regard belonged to other boys and other people but not to him? How could he confess that his obesity had become such a curse that he sometimes wanted to die? He had no real friends anymore, mostly because his extreme corpulence and all of its accompanying indignities embarrassed people. Plus, he never had the energy to do much more than what a skeletal routine allowed. How could he make others see what he saw so clearly: that he would have to sacrifice something to be worthy of this divine gift? How could he suggest that a foot was nothing compared to the new life he had just begun to taste? But even as he clung to such justification, its fallibility nagged at him. Something the doctor had said. Machine-like. The phrase struck a nerve. Was he taking the easy way out? A tear escaped, but he quickly brushed it away.
“You…you’ve always been perfect, Pol,” Amerigo said bitterly. “How could you understand?”
Polly stared at her brother, who stared back, refusing to back down as he ordinarily would. Polly sighed. She looked at her mother and father, who seemed bewildered, each in their own way.
“Fine,” she said. “But you’re making a terrible mistake. And for what, Amerigo? You can’t consume your way to happiness. There are no elixirs, even if these doctors try to convince you there are. You might feel better for a little while, but you’ll be worse off for taking their shortcut.”
Something Polly said rattled one of the doctors. Or maybe that doctor had been arguing against the other three. “For the record,” he said, stepping away from his colleagues, “I would not recommend surgery at this time. I am calling for a strict dietary regimen supplemented by extreme doses of statin.”
“Statin?” Amerigo and his family said with one voice.
“Yes. The predominant organic compound in the biopsies appears to be lipid-based. Thus, it is my feeling that we may be able to break down the deposits by attacking them with a cholesterol-lowering drug. You’re very lucky, young man, that this tissue settled in your foot and not in your arteries!”
“You’re all nuts!” Polly shouted and stormed out of the room.
* * *
Amerigo sat at the kitchen table, alone. He could hear his mother humming to herself as she moved through her daily chores. Polly and his father were at work. It had been more than a month since the amputation and, until recently, everything seemed to be going according to Amerigo’s plan. He was getting used to his artificial foot, which enabled him to maneuver much more adeptly than the five-hundred-pound skin suit he used to wear. And, even better, he’d been able to eat with abandon without growing fatter. Polly said that she refused to watch him kill himself, so she boycotted family meals. Amerigo’s mother seemed to be as happy as ever to have her son’s handsome features back. Preparing all of that food for him every day did not seem to bother her. Amerigo’s father still treated him with indifference, largely ignoring the changed condition of his son. Without saying so, he seemed to side with Polly.
Amerigo stared at the buffet his mother had prepared for his lunch. It covered every inch of the table. On any other day, he would have been halfway through this feast. Not today. Today, his prime pursuit had taken on a sinister manner: his trusty pastry and delicatessen subjects looked hostile and unfamiliar; even the fruit, which Amerigo had always considered the most innocent confection, had taken on an evil hue.
He reached under the table to touch his remaining foot, which throbbed and ached at the sight of so many calories amassed like enemy troops; it ached enough to shake him to his foundation.
Two days ago, Amerigo’s idyllic new world had shattered like a shell when his good foot mysteriously began to itch. He thought its skin looked shinier, maybe a little metallic, its texture stony. It frightened him. He wore long pants and tube socks to hide the budding transformation. Last night, his foot had begun to throb, and this morning it would not fit into his shoe. Not even close.
Amerigo shoved the heaping plates and bowls away. They rattled like gunfire as they struck the linoleum and shattered in rapid succession. He pounded his fists on the empty table and glared angrily at the steaming piles and oozing puddles on the floor. His lips trembled.
“Amerigo?” his mother called.
Amerigo hid his face in his hands. He hated his mother for providing so willingly. He hated his father for having nothing to say. He hated his sister for being so perfect. But mostly, he hated himself. He had buried himself under a mountain of calories, feeding his flesh, starving his soul. Along the way, he'd stopped caring about the consequences, and he stopped thinking about his future, pushing them out of his mind as if they were someone else’s problem. He hated himself for giving up so easily.
He looked down from his mechanical foot to the one that had begun to transform. Dio mio, he mouthed. For the first time, he saw himself truly: he'd become a machine, mindless in its pursuit of instant gratification, reckless in its desire to consume at all cost. Amerigo, it seemed was fully and finally lost.
With that dark realization, a howl of despair gathered deep in Amerigo’s core and rose with volcanic intensity. The sound that erupted from his mouth was otherworldly. Nothing human about it.
The change that followed was rapid, starting with his remaining foot and accelerating upward, rushing through his limbs and chest. But even as it threatened to petrify his head, a second, decidedly human sound followed—a sob. Tears flowed freely down Amerigo's cheeks, softening his despair like spring rain on a frozen field.
Another shudder ran through him. His chair groaned. He heard the front door slam.
Moments later, Polly strode into the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks and dropped her bags amid the shattered bowls and splattered food. Her eyes grew wide as they took in the scene, settling at last on the table. Then a smile broke across her face. She ran to Amerigo and wrapped her arms around him.
That his sister's outstretched arms could not encircle his frame made Amerigo laugh. He wiggled his toes and knew that his nightmare had ended. He would need his feet—both the natural and the mechanical—to regain all that he'd lost. For some reason, he no longer found daunting the long road ahead. He'd been loitering on the edge of his own journey far too long, weighing himself down while he wavered.
"Will you help me clean up my mess, Pol?" he asked.