“A Young Lady’s Adventure” (detail), watercolor on paper, by Paul Klee, 1921.

by Elizabeth Browne

“What’s wrong with your arm?” the cashier asks, ringing up Martine’s instant noodles, vitamin drinks, and rice crackers and depositing them into a bag. His nametag reads Charoen Wattanapanit and he has a button with a smiley face on it pinned to his Family Mart polo shirt.

“Nothing,” she says, but she tugs her left sleeve down, just in case. With her right hand she lifts her items, one-handed and one by one, out of her basket. Her left arm hangs limp at her side. Charoen Wattanapanit smiles, a bright flash of white that Martine knows is a sign of embarrassment but which charms her nonetheless. She’s been coming to Family Mart every few nights for nearly a month, and every visit she’s greeted by him. Until now he’s stuck to the usual pleasantries—“Hello, welcome to Family Mart!” “Thanks for shopping Family Mart!” “Good night!”—and Martine has responded in kind, trying to be polite, but also hoping to avoid any openings in conversation like this. She’s reminded of how much her light skin and long blonde hair stand out here, and she’s angered by her own carelessness. How could this shopkeeper not notice a tall blonde who appears to have only one working hand; who shops alone in the middle of the night; who speaks fluent Thai; who wears an oversized grey sweatshirt in Bangkok—as if it’s Bangor and the trees are changing color? She slides her wallet out of the back pocket of her jeans with her right hand and produces a stack of baht, fixing her expression into what she hopes is an unfriendly mask.

He knows, she thinks. He knows, he knows, he knows.

The cashier presses buttons, counts out change and deposits coins into Martine’s outstretched right hand. She closes her fingers around the change and thrusts it into the plastic bag of food on the counter, dropping the coins in among the items inside. When she moves to snatch the bag and escape, he puts his hand on top of the plastic. “My name is Charoen Wattanapanit,” he says, in English, then points to his nametag. “You can call me Charo.” The smile reappears.

“Nice to meet you,” she says in Thai, then turns and strides to the door, whose electronic chime accompanies her out into the night.

For weeks now, Martine has wondered how she ended up this way. One day her left hand held the bar on the Skytrain, steadied her camera, and formed the asdf to her right’s jkl. Now, her wrist has grown a ring of blonde hair, and out of that comes the hoof, gray and waxy. A miniature-pony-sized hoof at the end of her otherwise normal, human arm. She fights its weight. She tries, again and again, to wiggle her lost fingers, but she can only make the hoof bob up and down. The effort shames her.

Bangkok is a throbbing, sweating place. The humidity slows time, or at least Martine used to think that, when she first left the States for Thailand seven years ago. So many expats, and the city feels like an overheated version of home—a moister, less obvious New York.

The foreigners abbreviate; the world is all airport codes and Internet speak. Bangkok is BKK; Kuala Lumpur is KLM. They send text messages and buy sleek cell phones. They start Internet companies that make Martine think of a magician she used to see on the street corner as a child, waving his hands through the air to demonstrate how invisible the rabbit had become. At parties the foreigners tell each other that Asia is now, that America and Europe are so over.

It turns out time slips by just the same in BKK as it does in NYC. Martine wonders how it is that a summer trip turned into a seven-year stay, how seven years can yield only transient relationships that flicker and disappear, screens that go dark. How she can live in a place whose daily temperature is higher than her own. Yet she stays. She is, despite the emptiness, despite the air of superiority of the expats she meets, in awe of the orchids that manage to grow on the cement in the alley behind her apartment building. She’s in the habit of strolling the food stalls that mushroom under freeway overpasses, and she joins the Thais that gather there on plastic stools for plates of spiced pork and vegetables that make her pale skin flush and her nose sweat. Mosquitoes dance around bare bulbs. When Martine returns to her apartment, her long blonde hair reeks of chilies and lemongrass.

The hoof is growing. It’s been a month, and it lengthens and curls, aching and pressing against the opening of the worn sleeve of Martine’s sweatshirt. She runs through the options again and again, then rejects them all again and again. She could meet with a doctor. A vet? She’s thought of moving to a hill-country village. She could live more cheaply and in relative isolation, but her foreignness would attract even more attention there. Flying back to New York has its appeal—she feels somehow that she could hide the hoof more easily in that city’s brashness. But then she pictures the security scanner at the airport, imagines the agents pointing out the oddity at the end of her human bones. Late at night, amputation begins to sound alluring.

Instead she has been searching the sprawl of Chattuchak Market every Saturday for the tools of a farrier. She has done research online and she knows what she’s looking for. It’s just a matter of finding someone to sell her what she needs. She can pay.

She calls in sick at the English-language magazine where she has been working as a photographer. After two weeks, when it’s clear the hoof isn’t going to retreat, she calls again and quits. She tells the magazine’s editor she’s going home to New York, that she’s leaving Bangkok. It happens so often, with so many staff members, he does not sound surprised or concerned. She knows that another farang is waiting to take her place. She is expendable. All of the expats here are; temporary, interchangeable, and expendable.

Martine fears revealing her hoof—the hoof—she cannot think of it as a part of her yet. She’s terrified of what would happen if someone should catch a glimpse of it, and she stays holed up in her studio for some weeks, grazing on snack food from Family Mart, and talking to the geckos that shriek on the ceiling. She shops in the middle of the night, after the last of the office workers has gone home and even the acrid odors of the temporary restaurants have dissipated. When Charo is on duty.

Two nights later she can tell Charo has been waiting for her. He waves when the door signals her entrance. She wants to turn around and slip back into the Bangkok night, but he waves again and calls out “hello!”

She wears the oversized sweatshirt, the sleeves tugged down distractedly — one over her right hand, and one over the place where her left hand used to be. She’s conscious of the hoof always, even after several weeks of its log-like presence at the end of her arm. It looks out of place on her willowy frame, a blunt end to an otherwise graceful physique.

Martine raises her right hand in greeting, then lets it drop to her side. She leans down to pick up a basket and when she stands up, Charo is there, right in front of her. “Welcome back to Family Mart,” he says. That smile again.

Martine grimaces. “Thank you.” She jams her left arm into the kangaroo pouch on the front of her sweatshirt.

“Can I help you?” Charo points to the basket.

Martine wishes he would go away but doesn’t know how to extricate herself without being rude. She hands him the basket and nods.

For a moment they stand in the fluorescent brightness near the doorway. Martine notices Charo is older than she first guessed. She’d assumed he was a teenager, perhaps a university student—Thai youth staffed convenience stores like this all over Bangkok. But there’s wisdom around Charo’s eyes, and a few grays in his dark hair. His skin is tanned like a laborer’s, odd for someone who works in the sunless night. Perhaps he works two jobs, Martine thinks.

“Please,” Charo says, gesturing to Martine to go ahead of him down the first aisle.

She’s embarrassed by his help, and she walks quickly, head down, past the bags of snack chips. She cannot remember what she wanted to buy.

“Excuse me, miss,” Charo says in English. He bends down and produces a package of rice crackers. The same ones Martine has been buying on previous visits. She nods her consent, and he deposits them in the basket, looking pleased.

They continue in this way down the instant noodle aisle. Charo remembers all of her preferences. Martine cannot seem to speak. After they have gone through all of the packaged foods, Charo points to a refrigerated case. “Would you like some juice?” he asks. “Or iced coffee?”

He holds the sliding glass door open for her, and she selects some juices, milk, a few oranges, a Japanese yogurt brand she particularly likes.

They walk to the cash register together, and Charo leaps over the counter. He vaults like a gymnast, muscled and quick.

Charo puts Martine’s food in a bag as he has on every other night. He holds out her change with two hands—Thai custom—and though it may seem rude to him, she accepts it with only her right hand, first the change, which she dumps into the bag, then the bills, which she stuffs into her back pocket. She no longer bothers with a wallet. Later she will empty the contents of the plastic bag on her bed and pick up each item, then the coins, one by one, and in this way, with this chore, some part of the night would pass more quickly.

“Well,” she says, her hand on the bag. “Thank you for your help.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Charo says. As he does so, he nods at her arm, the lump in the pouch on her front. She’s almost been able to forget about it in these few awkward minutes with a stranger in the middle of the night. Realizing that the stranger was aware of it always, she panics, snatches the bag from the counter, and spins toward the door. “Good night,” she says, not looking back.

As the door chimes in her wake, she hears Charo call out in English, “What is your name?”

Since the hoof appeared, Martine has considered each of the friends and acquaintances she’s made in Bangkok. Co-workers and former co-workers, Thais and farangs. Before the hoof she might have counted any number of them as confidantes, but now she can’t think of one she trusts enough to share her new extremity with. Her ex-boyfriend Mark? She’s remained close to the New Zealander—he teaches English at the university in Phra Nakhon—but she can’t bring herself to give him a call. She begins to see her time in Bangkok as out of time altogether. How is it possible to live somewhere for so long and yet have nothing—no one—to show for it?

Martine wonders whether the replacement of her hand was painful, whether she blacked out when her fingers turned to gelatin. She can’t remember anything that might explain the arrival of the hoof. One night she possessed a working collection of bones and joints and tissue, a life line and a love line, fingerprints, and half-moons for nails. The next morning all that identity had solidified into a horny lump.

She mourns the shape of her nails, her ragged cuticles, those whorls of prints. She cannot stop the dreams in which her left hand returns, full of motion and dexterity. She types; she grips a plate of gai pad khing while her right hand holds a spoon; she’s driving a car, hands on the wheel at 10 and 2, just like they tell you to; she’s taking photos, her left hand steadying the camera and adjusting the lens while she controls the shutter with her right. The worst dreams are the ones in which someone—she can’t make out his face—joins her in a double bed, and she slides two electric hands over his skin.

It is Saturday again, and Martine weaves through Chattuchak Market’s cramped stalls, past antique Buddha statues, bootlegged DVDs, bright bolts of silk. She nudges past tourists ogling puppies sluggish from the heat. The hoof is now too long for her sleeve to conceal, so that she has to keep her left arm safely tucked into the kangaroo pocket on the front of the sweatshirt, a tube sock pulled over the end, just in case. Just when she believes she’s covered all 35 acres of stalls, she discovers another alley that leads to more. The heat on the corrugated roofs is unbearable, but she presses through the crowds, sweating, skin flushed.

The weeks of solitude make the normalcy of life around her seem untouchable and faraway, as if behind glass. Her pale eyes dart about and her hair is unbrushed. The hoof’s constant growth and heavy pulseless weight at the end of her arm are creating a kind of claustrophobia in her. She has tried working at the hoof wall with scissors but it resists, and the scissors leave odd markings, like graffiti carved into the trunk of a tree.

She has been avoiding Family Mart, and the aromas from the food stalls make her feel weak. Even the Thai snacks she dislikes—quail eggs, fried fish cakes, silkworm larvae—look appetizing. She knows she is losing weight and the force of her hunger pulls her to a satay seller’s cart. Martine feels a surge of confidence that she’ll be able to eat the meat from the skewer there in the bustle of the market with just one hand. She offers her money to the man and for an awkward moment the seller waits for her to take the skewer, but Martine cannot until the money is removed from her outstretched right hand. Finally, the seller, scowling, lays the skewer on a napkin, then takes her money. Satay secured, Martine sits on a plastic chair in the shade. She is dying to take off the sweatshirt. She wears a miniskirt and flip-flops to compensate for the bulk on her upper body, but still she’s overheated. Her bare feet are black with grime. The meat tastes good, and she remembers the freshness of the food stalls in her neighborhood, misses the old ladies who stir-fry more chilies into her gai pad kaprow because she is “colorless” and add more rice to her plate because they think she is too thin.

At first Martine thinks she is imagining him. I’ve been alone for too long, she thinks, look at me, now I’m dreaming of the convenience store cashier. But as she sets the half-eaten skewer of pork on her bare thigh and wipes her mouth with a napkin, she is sure of it; Charoen Wattanapanit sits at a nearby table with an older man. They lean toward each other, speaking in low tones and taking long, serious drags on cigarettes. Brows furrowed, teeth bared. The older man’s hair has receded and is gray over his ears. He is sun-creased and thin, his bony feet exposed in the cheap plastic flip-flops Thais often wear. Like Charo, he is dark-skinned, like a laborer. The older man stands so abruptly the stool he was sitting on tumbles to the ground behind him. He stubs out his cigarette on the table and barks something at Charo, then turns and marches past a teenage girl selling grilled octopus from a hibachi cart. The smoke swirls in his wake for a moment and then Martine blinks and the man has vanished into the market.

Martine concentrates on the skewer again, eyes down, hoping to avoid a potential meeting with the convenience store cashier and his curiosity. When she tears at the meat, juices from the pork run down the crease in her palm to her wrist, and she licks at the heel of her hand. On the other side of the eating area she sees Charo rise, toss his butt to the dust underfoot, and follow in the direction of the older man. Almost as if there was a timing to it, Martine thinks, as she returns her gaze to the skewer, as if he meant to give the old man a head start.

Martine pauses for a moment by the food sellers’ carts then chooses an opening in the stalls to resume her search. She shimmies past tourists haggling over baseball caps and knock-off jeans, past Thai housewives buying spices whose colors make her think of dried grass and fall leaves. With each step the goods seem to rise higher, closer to the roof. Sneakers tangle around a pole, wool blankets dangle from rafters. The pathways between vendors narrow. Bolts of fabric are packed into shelves that rise to the corrugated plastic roofing in walls of color. Martine scans tables strewn with lacquerware and hammers, kitchen knives and rolls of tape. Glass jars of saffron threads look like bottled flames.

The crowds begin to thin, and the smells of curry and roast pork give way to those of fish guts and the tang of salt water. Martine steps over a bucket of writhing eels. The fishy odor is heavy and she cups her free hand over her nose and mouth. She sidles around tubs of snails and sea cucumbers and anchovies, tries to avoid puddles and hoses. In the heat, the remaining fish barely move. The fresh catch goes early, before the animals begin to suffocate in their makeshift tanks. Some of the stalls are dark—the day’s catch long since sold—and the vacant space in the normally crowded market makes Martine feel uneasy. She’s alone, save for a few men in waders smoking and spraying down buckets and pallets. One flashes stained teeth at her and she catches the word farang in his banter with the others. The word “foreigner” suddenly contains a hint of menace. She walks faster.

At the end of the aisle, an open courtyard. In contrast to the empty seafood vendors’ stalls, it’s loud and bright. A throng of Thai men are gathered around a cement pit, yelling and jeering. The sun is unrelenting. It’s a common area of sorts, with aisles of the market radiating out from this hot center. Martine can hear the desperate squawking of birds and her arm throbs in its pouch, straining for release. She pushes her way into the crowd. Because she is foreign and the only woman the men give her space; because they are entranced by the cockfight they do not hold their stares for long. Those at the edge of the pit yell the loudest, clutch their tickets. The gamecocks squeal. The birds are huge, standing up to Martine’s knees perhaps, and they wear spurs taped to their legs like thorns. They’ve become feathered fiends, claws extended, on the attack.

A shirtless man touches her arm and shakes his head. When he opens his mouth to speak, Martine smells betel and sees the places where his teeth used to be. “You shouldn’t be here,” the man says. “Women are bad luck.” The squeals and squawks of the birds grow louder. Martine backs away from the old man’s breath and superstitions. When she looks into the ring again, one of the roosters bleeds from a wound on his breast. There’s a glinting on the other side of the pit, where the men are jeering and shaking their fists, and Martine sees the curved blade of a knife hanging from a belt. She fights panic. It’s the heat and their exposed chests and stained teeth, the peaceful reduced to the primal. The hoof. Martine knows she should leave, get herself into a more touristed area of the market, that this is the kind of intuition guidebooks say to heed.

But in the sun and the press of bodies and the smell of birds and blood, she is unable to look away. The crowd roars with every shriek and flap of feathers. The men spit betel and push closer and closer to the pit. The winning cock hovers above the ground for a moment before lunging at his opponent a last time. Its wings spread in a flash of vermillion and gold. Then there’s a piercing squeal and a spray of blood. Martine closes her eyes.

That’s when she hears his pleading cries on the other side of the pit; knows she’s been hearing them all the while. She turns to the sound: Two men hold Charoen Wattanapanit’s arms behind his back, and he is straining to get free. “Let him go! Let him go!” he yells. Two others have pinned the older man against a cement wall, and they are hitting him, punching him. There’s blood around his mouth and he sags under the hands that hold him up.

Martine pushes through the heat and the smell of too-close bodies. The spectators, distracted by their sport, or wise enough not to get involved, do not meet her eyes as they let her through.

“I’ll pay you!” Charo shouts, and still the thugs are on the old man.

Martine is aware that this is not the way, that a one-handed, one-hoofed farang is an oddity, not a savior, but she’s not going to stop, she has nothing to lose. Her right hand is a fist, and for the first time since she ate she realizes the satay skewer is still in it, has somehow become a part of her hand, like a weapon.

When he sees her, Charo stops struggling, and his sudden lack of resistance causes the men to look in her direction. They are thick bulging men, the kind Martine sees driving BMWs rather than tiny Korean cars or sputtering mopeds. She’s always felt vaguely nervous about passing these types on the street, and now she knows why.

“Let them go,” Martine says in Thai, her voice even and faraway. Her heart hammers. She feels it has risen to the base of her neck. Wonders if being a red-faced blonde will be enough of a distraction.

“Who’s this, your girlfriend?” one of the men says to Charo with a creepy smile that reveals gold teeth and pointed incisors. He’s the leader, Martine understands, and the others his entourage. He nods, and his bodyguards stop punching the old man and push Charo free. Charo says nothing, does not intimate that he has any idea who she is.

One of them points to Martine’s fist. “What’s she going to do, attack us with her toothpick?” More laughter.

Charo looks at Martine, and then, perhaps ashamed, at the ground. His face reveals nothing, but his shoulders slump and he relaxes his fists. The old man crouches against the wall, sweating in the sun, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling.

Martine considers pulling the sock-covered hoof from its pouch, and slamming it into the side of the gold-toothed man’s head. Instead she drops the skewer and turns to the old man. Leans down to speak to him. “Come on,” she says, “I’ll help you get out of the sun.”

His eyes fly open, alarmed perhaps, but he says nothing and allows her to lean down awkwardly so that she can put her good arm under his and pull him to his feet. She’s conscious of the four men laughing still, the leader calling over his shoulder to Charo, “We’ll come back for you, bird shit.”

The cock fighting has resumed and the clamor around the ring grows louder again. The old man limps and mutters as Martine helps him into the shade under the market roof. She settles him onto a wooden palette in one of the darkened stalls.

“Papa,” Charo begins when he joins them. He looks as though he wants to say more but closes his mouth and stares at the ground. There are angry marks on his arms where the men held him. Martine cannot believe this is the same man who beams at her in Family Mart, who exudes cheer and vaults over counters. He looks defeated and broken.

“You owe them money?” Martine says, forgetting to swallow her American directness.

His face transforms when he smiles, and whatever tension he carried seems to rise, untethered, into the city’s haze. It’s a smile of embarrassment though, not graciousness. “My father—” he gestures to the older man, who is looking better already, as if a beating by local thugs is a normal part of his day. He’s craning to see the action in the ring. “Gambling debts.”

“I’m sorry,” Martine says, though she is not sure what it is she is sorry for, or even if she is disappointed.

Charo’s father struggles to his feet. “This is going to be a good match,” he says, pointing to the ring. “Old Mongkut’s fighting a winner.”

“Papa, we need to leave now. You know they’ll be back.”

“Bah! I can put a dent in the account with this one,” Charo’s father says, waving a hand at his son as if to brush aside his concerns. He gives a nod to Martine, and limps over to the crowd.

Charo shakes his head. The crinkles at the corners of his eyes that Martine had seen as evidence of his unassailable cheer now seemed etched from obligation and disappointment.

“You work at night to pay your father’s debts,” she says, the realization coming as she speaks it.

He nods. “And you, why are you awake in the middle of the night?”

Martine scans his face. She jams her left arm into the pouch as far as it can go. She feels sweat rolling through her hair, tastes it on her upper lip.

“Let me see your hand,” Charo says.

The men roar — something has happened in the cockfight. “Hurry,” he says. “They’ll be done soon.”

Martine scans the crowd and realizes Charo is right—no one will notice her here. The stakes are too high.

She stares at Charo, her blue eyes hard, and the events of the previous weeks flicker in her thoughts—awakening with this unfamiliar appendage, and then retreating from everything. She takes in Charo’s angular cheekbones, his kind eyes, the thickness of his hair.

Martine drags her right sleeve across her mouth. She’s shaking.

Then she pulls her left arm out of the pouch and peels back the sock.

Charo’s face registers nothing, but he gestures to her to cover up. She slides the sock back over the hoof and jams her arm into her pouch.

“You will come to Family Mart tonight?” Charo says, as much a demand as a question, and she nods.

The men by the ring spit, laugh and exchange money. The winning bird shrieks as he is returned to a wicker cage. A bare-chested man grips the loser by its yellow legs. The bird’s neck sliced, blood dripping to the hardened ground below.

As she turns to leave, Charo calls out. Khaap kun krap. Thank you.

Back in her apartment that night, Martine undresses, wrestling with the sweatshirt to extricate herself from it with only one hand. In the shower she squirts shampoo on the top of her head, then massages it in with her right hand. For the first time she takes care to lather the hoof. She scrubs it with a brush she uses to clean the tile and feels pleased when the hoof wall squeaks under her fingertips.

After toweling off, she dons a pair of shorts, then reaches for a tank top to wear under the sweatshirt. The sweatshirt lies in a heap on the bathroom tile and when she retrieves it she smells the day—the many days she’s worn it. It reeks of grilled meat and tamarind, sweat and exhaust. She looks at it for a moment, then flings it into the corner by the shower nozzle. Impatience and rage spread from the hoof through her body and the nozzle is in her hand and set to “jet.” She aims for the gray lump of cotton terry. It shrivels, hit, and a darkness spreads outward.

Outside, the humidity lingers still, and there is the smell of garbage in the street. Family Mart’s lime green and blue sign blares into the darkness. A stray dog lies near the door. Already Martine can smell the sausages, fish cakes, and shrimp burgers that broil under the heat lamps by the register. She jogs toward the store, her flip-flops smacking the asphalt.

The dog watches, ears alert, as Martine steps into the air-conditioning. She halts just inside: the fluorescent brightness reminds her that she can no longer hide under the sweatshirt, that she’s traded it for a tank top. Her left hoof shines after its cleaning, though the wall is still long, cracked and curled. The smell of food gnaws at her, and she can’t help but make her way toward it and place her right hand on the glass of the case where the sausages are spinning and the shrimp burgers slide over hot rollers. Charo is emptying a box of cigarette cartons behind the counter, and he turns around, smiling, to let her know that he knows she’s there. When he sees her, he stops. Martine does not miss the quick flash of alarm at her exposed hoof, then the careful rearrangement of his features. He puts the carton of Krong Thips he’s holding back into the box on the floor. Martine raises her left hoof thinking that she might wave with it; instead she puts the sole of the hoof to the palm of her right hand and bows in an attempt at the traditional Thai greeting. Charo puts his palms together and bows back. The wai is more graceful with hands than hooves, Martine thinks, and at the grief she feels at not being able to put her hands together, such a simple gesture—she begins to cry.

They sit on the floor in aisle two, among the rows of snack chips. Charo brings her the shrimp burger she was coveting. It’s wrapped in foil, and he kneels down next to her and peels back the wrapping, then holds it to her lips.

Still her tears come, but the food is irresistible. She does not object when Charo pulls a bottle of green tea from the case, twists the top and holds it up for her to drink. Thai pop music plays over the loudspeakers and Martine lets the lyrics run together and disappear as she swallows.

When she’s finished the sandwich, Charo wipes her mouth with a napkin, then dabs away leftover tears from the corners of her eyes. He picks out a brush from the beauty aisle and carefully removes the tangles from her hair.

“Just a moment,” Charo says, then disappears into the back of the store. Martine hears the clang of metal on metal. When he returns he has a small, frayed duffle bag slung over one arm. “I brought some tools to take care of your hoof,” he says, as he unzips the bag and pulls out a pair of nippers, a hammer and chisel and a rasp and lines them up on the floor. Martine has been scouring Chattuchak for tools she might have found at any good hardware store and she understands suddenly that her crisis was not the tools she could not find but rather the lack of a partner to wield them.

“Can you help me?” she whispers.

Charo drops to his knees in front of Martine and puts out his hand.

She begins to shake all over. The fact that she can’t control her body mortifies her, and she looks down at her pale knees. Charo lifts her hoof gently into the palm of his hand. Then he traces the thin wisps of hair where flesh meets gelatin. He turns her arm over and examines the bottom of her hoof, the soft tissue that forms a “V” down the center, the almost-imperceptible white ring that hugs the outer wall. He runs his fingers down the front of the wall to the point where it curves longer and splits.

Martine closes her eyes. It’s been a long time since she’s been this close to another human being. Charo’s face is too near; she feels dizzy and tries to take a deep breath. As if he senses her discomfort, he stands quickly and heads toward the brightness of the drink cases. Martine feels the absence of his touch on her arm, right at the place where touch dissolved into the unfeeling wall of the hoof.

Charo returns with a can of iced coffee, which he pops open and gulps quickly. Martine tries to remember why everyone she’s known in Bangkok seemed so distant, so unknowable. Charoen Wattanapanit is here, she thinks. His presence reminds Martine of some life she knew before Thailand. She feels comfortable with him—a sense that he will not, like others she’s known in this country, disappear. She reaches for something to say about the men in the market that afternoon, how she understands his troubles, but she cannot risk shaming him. She settles for an offering of sorts: “My name is Martine.”

“Martine,” Charo says, and he kneels, sets his empty can on the floor by the rasp, and puts both hands on her shoulders. “Those men, they come here sometimes, to Family Mart.”

She searches his face, the gentleness around around his eyes, and she can’t tell if he’s worried for her or if he’s asking for help, for money. It doesn’t matter. She’s flooded with relief at being invited into a predicament that has nothing to do with being a farang with a hoof. She shrugs in the way that Thais often do, as if to say there’s nothing to be done.

Charo sits back and drops his arms to his sides, looking relaxed for the first time since the door chimes signaled her arrival. They both look to the tools on the floor.

“Do you know how to trim it?” Martine asks. Images fly through her head: The ruthlessness of the thugs in the market, their punches, the red-hot metal of horseshoes being forged and nails that pound them into place, blood. She is in this now, too.

“Don’t worry,” Charo says, picking up her hoof. He lays the sole flat against his upper leg. He pinches the nippers to mark the place where he would cut away the hoof’s growth, then he presses the handles together. Snip. Charo glances at Martine to make sure he isn’t causing any pain. After he trims the excess growth away, he files the rough edge of the wall with the rasp. Soon waxy shavings appear on his jeans, but he keeps filing, moving the rasp around the half circle of hoof with care. Martine can see the hoof growing shorter and more rounded. She feels as if she’s getting a haircut; she’s surprised by her anticipation of how the hoof will look when Charo is finished. He draws the rasp across the now-rounded edge of the hoof wall a final time, then sets the instrument on the floor. Then he picks up the hoof and holds it in both hands, as if considering its weight. The sight of them, neatly folded around her newly trimmed hoof, makes Martine’s breath catch in her throat.


Elizabeth Browne holds an undergraduate degree in Japanese and has lived and worked in both South Korea and Japan. She earned an MFA in nonfiction from Emerson College in 2006. Her short stories and essays have appeared most recently in Unstuck, Minnetonka Review, and Clare. She is at work on a historical novel.