“COME HERE!!! I NEED YOU!!”
I am upstairs, and not inclined to come see the problem unless blood is involved. And so I yell back, “Are you bleeding?”
“NO, but I am not kidding!!! I NEED YOU!”
I quickly grab the basket of laundry and the bathroom’s bag of garbage and head downstairs to where Kallan continues to scream about how very very much she needs me. Through the kitchen and into the laundry-room, where Kallan sits sadly on the floor.
Contemplating her toes, which are covered with deep red and brilliant purple slashes of color. She has tried to paint her toenails, but it is as if the effort rendered her both blind and palsied. She swivels and wiggles her garishly painted feet at me.
“This,” she gestures at her feet with a sweep of her hand, “did not go as well as I hoped.”
“Geez, Kallan . . . why didn’t you ask me for help sooner? What a mess.”
“Well,” she considers, “When it started to go badly, I thought I could ask you for the nail polish remover to get off the extra. So I kept going. I just kept paying attention to only one toe at a time.”
She separates one middle toe from the rest of her foot and covers the others, “See? If you just look at one toe, it’s not SOOO bad.”
She slumps and places both feet together so we can appreciate the full impact of her handiwork. “But when you see all the toes together, you know what it looks like?”
“A huge mess?”
“No, Mom . . . it looks like I let that Polack guy paint my toenails.”
She hits the PO hard with a long O sound . . . . PO-Lock.
Hmmmmm . . . I haven’t heard the term “Polack” since childhood, a term my father used for stupid people generally, or more satisfyingly, to refer to anyone he happened to discover was actually Polish.
I don’t think that’s what Kallan is going for here, but I am stumped.
She’s all impatient and annoyed, as she always is when we misunderstand one another and she is certain I am the stupid one. “You know, I learned about him at school last year. The guy with the drippy paint.”
She means Jackson Pollack. I am the stupid one.
“Oh, yeah! That guy! I remember him. You’re right, it does look like his work.” I sit down on the floor beside her, and I help her clean her toenails. The small room fills with the chemical scent of the remover.
We start over. I sit on the floor with her, and one toe at a time, I paint her toenails a deep sparkly purple.
I hold her feet and am struck by how very much her feet and her toes look like mine. Big fat big toe, two nicely behaved toes lined up along-side the big toe, and then a crazily misshapen chubby 4th toe with a teeny baby toe tucked in at the end.
The nail on that last toe is so small I can barely paint it, just like mine would be if I were ever inclined to paint my toenails.
Which I am not.
We finish and Kallan is delighted with the results.
We fan her toes, and as we wait for them to dry, I tell her about the girl I used to know who had a big toe for a thumb.
“Why do you make stuff up like that?” Kallan demands. “There is no way you knew a girl who had a toe for a thumb. That is so made up.”
She fans her feet harder, “You just want me to be the girl who goes to school and tells everyone about my Mom’s old friend who had a toe for a thumb, and then I look all crazy and you look all crazy too.”
She looks at me, “Why do you want us to be the crazy people, Mom?”
I am indignant, “I do not WANT us to be the crazy people, Kallan. Sometimes it just works out that way. And as it happens, I did too know a girl who lost a thumb, and they transplanted her big toe onto her hand. It’s true, it happened, and I am not crazy.”
I stare at her, “So there.”
Kallan tests her polish with a finger, and stands up. Puts on the flip-flops her sister has let her borrow (!?!) and stares down at me in challenge.
“OK, then. If she really had a big toe for a thumb, answer this question. How did she wear flip-flops?”
I do not have an answer to this as I cannot recall ever seeing the girl with the missing big toe wear flip-flops. How DID she wear flip-flops? I reach back in my memory for a vision of the girl’s feet and find I have none. I saw her hands often enough, as she sat next to me in Science class, and I was fascinated with her toe-thumb. But I never saw her feet.
I start to explain this to Kallan, but my silent hesitation is all she needs to know the truth.
That her mother is crazy.
She waves aside my explanations with her hand as she runs, purple-toed and flip-flopped, out the front door and to her friend’s house, “You can tell me about your pretend nine-toed friend later, Mom.”
The toe-thumbed girl was real. I swear.