I believed in practise, which was why one summer I walked barefoot every day on the neighbor's gravel driveway, mincing and wincing in the hope of one day being tough enough to walk barefoot over the toughest ground without flinching, like someone in a book, an Indian tracker or a beggar girl in Calcutta, bare brown feet spreading comfortably on the earth, toes f l e x i n g and gripping. But the hard corners toothing my soles never ceased to be painful. The blinding stretch of white gravel was so wide I seemed to see the curve of the earth in its swell. The gravel squeaked underfoot. I lowered my weight slowly and the rocks shifted under me, dealing me new, unanticipated shocks. An stretch unproblematic to the shod became an epic to the barefoot, fraught with doubt. I rewarded myself with a stem of the bleached sourgrass that grew in the shade under the trees on the other side of the driveway, and stood there cooling my sore feet on the grass, dourly chewing the tangy cud while I plotted my way back.

My feet rub each other under the covers at night or while I'm reading, sliding sensuously on each other. The ball of the big toe screws into the arch of the other foot, the toes fraternize, side slides by side. The pace steps up when I'm excited, the foot cranking around the ankle joint in slow circles, toes spreading and then squeezing together: a whole waltz under the covers, very comforting and secret and like company, like two small dachshunds rolling on each other.

One summer I got swim goggles for the first time and became a lurker under surfaces, a spy in the underwaterworld. My eyes never tired of looking into that luminous space into which objects were abruptly born from above, sometimes only piecemeal: a leg punched in up to the knee seemed amputated, sutured to the elastic blanket of the undersurface, which was an oily, undulating sheet, a pewter-greasy blue. Bodies were restfully relieved of the burden of heads. They were cleansed of shadows and the hang of flesh. I hunkered at the bottom of the pool, bobbing a little on my bottom, where my swimsuit snagged slightly on the rough spots, bubbling in a controlled flow through my nose (a pleasant feeling like letting a string of pearls run bead by bead through my nose) and settling a little more surely the more I deflated, peering around in the satisfyingly curtailed and secret world. I knew I could be seen from above, a sketchy figure pulled apart by light, but I felt invisible. I waited for the jumpers and divers, hurled into being in a bag (like a kitten) of air and a sudden architectural column of bubbles. But what I liked most was the feet: all those problematic people, so firmly planted on slavish, characterless feet - like slabs of clay - were suddenly afloat like angels. Their feet swelled and softened. Their feet looked like fruit, like fleshy tropical flowers. They became expressive and gentle, even beatific - they kicked softly at nothing, sought the bottom, and no sooner found it than dabbed at it coquettishly and rebounded away: relieved feet, lucky, suspended as in amber, beautiful and whole and to be considered for their own merits as forms.

I am reconciled only to my own feet; everyone else's are ugly and strange. I understand that they feel the same way about mine. Feet are alien, like a hoof or a wing. They are more like tools or furniture than like flesh, they are so sturdy and well-crafted and so serviceable. Maybe they are a little too far away from the heart to befriend, though at one time I could put my big toe in my mouth, and I aspire to do it again, though without much hope. Besides my own, likeable feet I got to know my mother's from sitting beside her chair and I was quite censorious of the shiny pink callouses, the contorted baby toes. Allowing ugliness was, I thought, a practically moral failure.

I should mention that the glimpse of toe cleavage in women's pumps aroused a passionate aversion in me when I was little, as did the crookedly bunched together two or three toes sticking out the little hole women's shoes sometimes have at the tip. I disapproved of stockings when the tip of them was visible, binding the toes. I felt nervous about socks that had worked their way down so the empty toe flapped loose, and socks that were too big, so the heel stuck out in a bunch above the tops of the shoes. I pulled my own knee socks tight up over my calves, and took great satisfaction in their tight grip on the backs of my knees. My strong feelings about feet have lessened in intensity as I have put distance between myself and them.