The Girl with the Third Leg

The girl with the third leg was born that way and really isn’t all that different, at least this is what everyone says when they talk about her. This is what we’re told when she isn’t around—not to acknowledge how she’s different than us.
Strangers’ eyes dart to the girl with the third leg and then quickly away because we’re taught that staring is rude. We opt not to look at her at all. Sometimes strangers asked about it in the street. Or children point and ask: how come your leg is like that? And she freezes and before she can reply, the child is hastily rushed off by parents who mumble apologies as they pass, putting as much distance between them and the girl with the third leg as they can. She can hear the parent scold the child for having broken the unspoken rule of non-acknowledgement. The girl with the third leg moves on, enters the grocery store, completes whatever errand she was in the middle of before the strangers burst into her world.
These aren’t new questions for her. What’s it like to have an extra limb? They ask. Why are you like that? They demand to know. Why is your body the way it is? She has yet to come up with satisfactory answers.
A teacher once said to her: If I had your situation, I wouldn’t be able handle it. I’d want to die.
Her friends say nothing and ask no questions. They know, they’ve been told, it would be rude to ask about this extra piece of her, this thing that sets her apart. At the movies, they let her sit at the end of the aisle and she wonders if they notice that she does this on purpose so that she can stretch the third leg out long in the walkway. In the darkness, she can do all these things without people looking or doing doubletakes. If the theater is empty, she lifts her legs up and sets them atop the seat in front and just focuses on the movie.

The girl with the third leg makes her classmates feel inferior because she moves much faster than they do. Speeding down the hallway. Step. Step. Step. One. Two. Three. They can’t catch up. Slow down, her friend says as they walk to class. And she does. She slows to meet everyone else where they are.
She always comes in first on mile day in gym class, leaving the track girls full minutes behind her. That’s not fair, the caption of the soccer team complains to the coach. She gestures up and down with her hand, never looking down, never actually pointing. She’s…you know…like that.
No one ever says what she’s like and an awkward silence stays in the air at the finish line. In keeping with the rule of non-acknowledgement, the coach says nothing and records both their times on a sheet of paper without looking up.
During team sports, she is always picked first because she is the fastest player, provided she doesn’t trip over the extra leg. If she does fall, her classmates rush to help her stand again because everyone likes the girl with the third leg better when she’s frail. When her body demarks her as different from them, they can feel relief in the fact that their bodies aren’t like that, like hers. And still, no one makes eye contact with her as she moves through the field, kicking the ball forward with all the force she has.

It’s impossible to find three pairs of shoes so she had to buy two sets. A collection of spare shoes piles up in her closet. She tries to turn them into pairs but it never works. She can never find pants that fit either so she wears dresses and stretches out the waistline to fit all of her inside.
At a yoga class, the instructor doesn’t know what to do with her. Sitting cross-legged and breathing, pivoting on the back foot into a warrior pose, stepping the right foot up into a lunge—these poses don’t work for her. What does she do with her extra leg? The balance poses can’t apply to her because she has extra weight to stand on. She does her best to follow the class, to modify it for herself. She avoids the mirror and doesn’t watch her body twist in the reflection.
As she gets older, she notices that men like to keep their eyes on her. Eyes flitting down towards her extra limb and then back up and then all over the rest of her body. They buy her drinks and her three matching sneakers dance across sticky floors. Men don’t ask her to dance—usually. And when she fucks them, they put their hands all over the third leg, captivated by the strangeness of her body. After encounters like this she attempts to rinse the sick feeling of their touch off her body by sitting in the shower and brushing the taste of them out of her mouth.
Doctors marvel at her body too, want to know how she was born in such a way, even when she sought treatment for something completely unrelated to being born with an extra leg. Doctors love to use words like miracle around her. They tell her she shouldn’t have been able to survive in the womb or at birth in such a condition. You’re lucky, her pediatrician said once.
Lucky, she repeated without comment.

Christina is a writer and digital communications professional living in Washington, D.C. Her fiction has been featured in HAD, Flash Frog, Litro Magazine, and more. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and for the Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and was a 2022 Pen America Emerging Voices Fellow in fiction.