Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by Heidi Heimler

Corn Flakes

I credit my Uncle Bob, the obsessive-compulsive podiatrist, for granting me job security. Posthumously.

Whenever he’d trim a patient’s toenails, Uncle Bob would sweep the delicate clippings into a little plastic bag. At the end of the day, when the staff had all gone and the office was still, he’d gather the day’s collection and shake it into a jar.

He did the same with corns, carefully gathering the little yellow nubs and placing them in another glass container.

But what uncle Bob really relished were dry skin shavings. With meticulous care, he’d scrape paper-thin pieces from cracked, blistering heels. These, too, were ushered into a container and stowed away.

As loopy as he was, Uncle Bob did not lack insight. He was well aware that his predilection for foot dandruff was odd, perhaps even disturbing. For the entirety of their marriage, Uncle Bob managed to conceal his podiatric hoarding from his loving wife, Edna.

This was no easy task, as Edna was also rather compulsive. In contrast to Bob, however, she was plagued by a garden-variety obsession. Edna was compelled to clean. She could not help but wipe, disinfect and polish everything that didn’t voice objection or flee. Including Bob’s workbag. No matter where he stashed it, Edna’s dirt-radar zoned in. Eventually, Bob abandoned the effort.

Bob’s bag did not hold any instruments or ointments. Instead, it contained his precious collection of skin artifacts. They were vacuum-sealed, of course, and the bag was heavily, albeit discreetly, padded. To safeguard Edna from suffering a cardiac arrest, Bob convinced his gullible wife that the jars contained foodstuff. They were delicious little flavor enhancers, he told her, for his otherwise monotonous and bland daily yogurt.

He labeled the yellow-brown corns “dried, minced banana chips.” The skin shavings became “coconut flakes.” The nail-clippings offered a bit more of a challenge, as they didn’t quite resemble anything familiar, at least not in the culinary sense. After much deliberation, he finally settled on “Gobi nut slivers.”

“What are Gobi nuts?” Edna once asked.

“Rare Malaysian ground nuts,” Bob replied. “They taste a lot like licorice.”

Edna hated licorice.

In his office, in the back of his drawer, Bob kept small bottles of banana, coconut and almond oils. In case she was bold enough to open the jars, Bob sprinkled a few drops of a heavily scented extract whenever he added to his collection. In the same drawer, he also kept a stash of sulfites that he used to preserve his work. Detailed instructions on how to preserve human tissue lay in the back of the drawer, though he had long ago memorized his craft.

The accident occurred on a blustery winter morning as Bob steered his little silver hatchback onto an ice-coated road. A large truck hit a slick patch, swerved, and smacked into Bob. Bob, in turn, slammed into the median. He died instantly. Two policemen delivered the news to Edna. Their heads bowed, they handed her the only thing that survived the vehicular carnage: Bob’s podiatry bag.

Shortly after the funeral, Edna turned to me. Eyes as red and swollen from days of mournful sobbing, she held out Bob’s bag. “Sue, I’d like you to have this.”

I hesitated. “That bag meant so much to uncle Bob. Don’t you want to keep it?”

She shook her head. “Every time I look at it, my tear ducts explode. Please, Sue. Take it.”

At home, I opened the bag and extracted the containers from their padded nests. Though their contents looked curious, I trusted the labels. When I unscrewed the lids, a powerful stench assaulted my senses. Much like the putrid yet appetizing odor of Stilton cheese, it was oddly appealing. I made a mental note to use the stuff before it spoiled.

Weeks ago, I’d agreed to bring a baked good of some sort to the office Christmas party. Until now, the company had been springing for a lavish, catered noontime affair. This year, the budget barely allowed for plastic ware. To compensate for the economic cutbacks, we employees were recruited to cook and bake.

Per usual, I remembered the party the night before, long after the stores had closed. I dug in the cupboard, fished out a prehistoric box of brownie mix, and whipped up a bowl of pale, grayish-brown batter. For good measure, and to make the brownies a bit more interesting, I tossed in Uncle Bob’s banana chips, coconut flakes, and Gobi nut slivers.

The brownies were the hit of the party. From the lowly mailroom clerks to the top of the food chain, everyone raved about them. Mr. Smithers, the company president, a known foodie with a penchant for exotic chocolates, was particularly impressed. “A complex marriage of textures and flavors,” he said. “Crunchy, chewy, delicious.”

A week later, I received a frantic phone call from Edna. “Sue. Something dreadful has happened.” She broke into a series of sobs punctuated by heaves and gasps. Finally, she found her voice. “You’ve got to get rid of Bob’s bag.”

“What’re you talking about?”

While cleaning her husband’s office, Edna explained, she made a gruesome discovery. “You know those food enhancers he kept in his bag? They weren’t food at all. The man pickled pieces of his patients.”

Despite her distress, I couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No! I found a skin-preserving recipe, and a log of what he kept in each jar. He even wrote down the amount and type of flavoring he added.”

I tried to mollify her. “He was a bit odd.”

“How can you be so blasé, Sue? My husband was a cannibal!” Edna’s bawling resumed full volume. As I waited for her to calm down, it struck me that I wasn’t all that bothered by Uncle Bob’s little secret. Had I inherited a smidge of his predilection?

“I’ll toss the bag,” I blurted when Edna stopped to breathe.

“Good. And I’ll go take more nerve pills.”

Some days later, the company president cornered my in the hall.

“Listen, Sue. Any chance I could I talk you into making another batch of your superb brownies? I’ve been telling my wife about them. She’d love a nibble.”

I grinned. “Happy to!”

BIO:  Heidi Heimler is a clinical psychologist who lives and practices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in print and online publications, including Mississippi Crow, Mafia De L'ecriture, Liquid Imagination and Pen Pricks.