This isn’t your everyday discovery. I first notice the aberration while trimming down my dragon lady toenails. Counting each one off in my head, I chirp out, “Five! Done!” But then I realize I’m not. Transfixed, I stare at my pinky toe — or should I say my second pinky toe?
I phone my mother. “Did you know that I have six toes on my right foot?” I scream into the receiver.
“Calm down, Marie,” she says, because she’s known all along.
I cannot fathom how I missed this. I’m twenty-one, damn it. It’s not like I’ve not had enough time to realize I’ve one digit too many.
Suzanne’s eyes bulge when I march into her dorm room, flip off my sneaker and point to it. “WHAT THE HELL?” she shrieks, as if I grew the thing overnight. We’ve known each other since second grade, took swimming lessons together, ran barefoot countless times through the grass in her back yard. Her reaction only proves she’s as clueless as I am.
On the subway ride home, I wonder who else knows. When I get a pedicure, the woman working on my feet must notice. Have all my pedicurists seen this anomaly and said nothing? Sure they have. I mean, what would one say? “Six toes! Cool!” Not likely.
I’m lucky I missed the Middle Ages. People were burned at the stake for lesser offenses. But maybe I can have it removed. Who would do it, though? A plastic surgeon? A podiatrist? How much does toe removal cost, anyway? I doubt it’s on their regular menu of services.
A handsome older man with a thin-lipped smile starts looking me over from his seat halfway down the car. He’s digging me because he can’t see my extra toe. The superfluous pinky is like a sore inside my cheek or that birthmark on my inner thigh, something he might notice only if we’re intimate. So, I turn away, assuring we never will be.
But wait, I think — the guys I’ve dated never noticed. Or did they? Maybe that explains why I’m currently alone. At the very least it explains why I had better balance than other grade-school ballerinas.
At home I place my naked foot on the ottoman across from my sofa and stare at it with genuine betrayal. I suppose everyone has a little secret something about them. My something has been right there in my sock all along. I guess being nearsighted didn’t help.
Now that I’ve discovered this, I feel unpredictable — like I may wake up tomorrow morning and find wings tucked into folds on my back that no one bothered to point out, wings that I missed because I don’t work too hard at soaping up that part of me either. If that happens, I swear I’ll go out to my fire escape and take off, flying right up Seventh Avenue against the flow of traffic. Don’t even think that I won’t.
Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen writes out of Bayport, NY.