Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes


I roll over and put a cigarette in my mouth.

Something is written on the pad of paper I’d been snuggling:

“Fell in love with a pirate. Epic battle in an alien desert where stars moved and made pictures. Everyone in the family was involved. Adam was in it because I needed help diffusing a nuclear bomb. And there was a murder trial. And it went on forever. Buy milk for tea.”

“What the hell?” I ask the pad.

It only laughs. I sigh, tear out the page. I light a cigarette in the dark. I let the smoke settle on my vodka stained gums, then inhale.


I eat a banana and get on my way to the subway. I get to the school five minutes early.

Work begins the same way. Shoes off, hands washed, children materialized.

“Morning exercises.”

I hit play on the boom-box once the pinching, poking, laughing, and crying, subsides.


The children scream along with the song. Some of them even get the words right. The version goes on forever. Another teacher is there with me.

“I think this is hell?” I say.

She nods, eyes wide and sleepy; eyes in search of a reason to go insane. She touches her toes then stands up. I touch my head and smile with drooping lips.

Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes consumes my mind throughout the rest of work.

On my way home, I try to drown it out with some Alanis Morrissett. All I hear is head shoulders knees and toes. Isn’t it ironic.

At home N sits drinking a coffee.

“I think head shoulders knees and toes is the worst invention ever. I can actually feel it inside of me, smothering my heart and spitting acid into my stomach.”

N nods. “That’s why I don’t teach kids.”

“Because of head shoulders knees and toes?”

N nods. “That, and, children’s songs would drive me insane, and while I assume I will probably go insane eventually, I shouldn’t do it around children. Safer for everyone.”

“I think if I go insane, it will be the crying-in-the-corner insane and not the murderous-rampage sort,” I realize, aloud.

N snuffs out his cigarette. “Lucky you.”

“Maybe I’ll write in my journal about it,” I say.

“About going insane?”

“No, about head shoulders knees and toes, like, that would certainly be the worst hell, I think. Maybe if I can get it out, it will just stay in there and not come out until some poor offspring of my offspring opens it and is cursed.”

N raises an eyebrow.

“Don’t knock journaling.”

He shrugs, “didn’t say a word.”

He starts humming.

I point my finger at him.

“Kidding,” he says, sheepish.

An hour later I am back, feeling refreshed. Journaling never helped till a couple years back, I started writing it as a letter to a dead friend. Worked wonders, if a little morbid.

“Feeling better?” N asks.

I take a deep breath. “Actually, yeah,” I say, surprised. The door to the apartment opens. M walks in. He takes off his hat and coat and comes in; cigarette, lit, in hand.

“How was your day?” I ask.

M stretches his back.

“Ah alright. But man, my head is killing me.”

“What happened?” I ask.

“Oh I don’t know, I was carrying my bag all day, so my shoulders are on fire. My knees too, walked for miles. And,”

I glare at him, his smile grows.

“My toes, frozen stiff.”

I look from him to N. N shrugs,

“I texted him,” he says, unable to hold back a smile. I turn, walk to the corner and curl up. “This is it,” I tell myself. This is it.



14 replies to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

  1. The song was immediately stuck in my head once I read the title of your work. Now it’s really embedded after reading this good story. Now I’m going to sit and rock in a corner all alone.


  2. So “Flash”, this story I find particularly successful. And plenty things to think about!! I loved the “pad of paper”, especially “buy milk for tea” … hahaha … Very familiar! I forget everything, so I write it down. Stupidly, I write everything on any paper I find … a pure chaos. I loved you ” vodka stained gums”, your collegue,”in search of a reason to go insane” and your “crying-in-the-corner insane”. Altough I can imagine, that no of them have funny backgrounds. “In the corner” for example is a punishment, even nowadays in public kindergarden, that makes my upset! Everybody hates “haunting melodies”. Children-songs are often. Bad memories of childhood ? Getting rid of them by writing this story? ( or letters to the dead man – Charly? )….and then the enormous End, with the texting treason..this was a grat idea! Bravo, bravo, bravo, even when I know, that I did not decode all!

    Liked by 1 person

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