The other day I was cleaning out my parents’ attic. It had not been cleaned out since God knew when. I knew my parents were not up to it. They were getting on in years and could no longer climb the stairs. So I took a weekend off.
I emptied box after box, making a list of items. My parents could choose what was to keep and what was to be gotten rid of.
It was late Sunday afternoon when I came across an old wooden chest filled with my stuff. A chest I had forgotten existed, packed with mementoes from my childhood and teen years. I unlatched the beast and opened it. It squeaked.
The chest was stuffed to the brim. There was all sorts of paraphernalia. A baseball cap and a trophy, my scout uniform and my high school yearbook and other treasures. Setting them on the floor next to me, I soon had a pile of yesterdays. I was almost through when I noticed a picture of a toe. How could I have forgotten that toe?
I took the picture and studied it. Sure ‘nough it was Joey’s eleven-year-old toe.
Joey’s family moved into the house next door. From the first, Joey and I took to each other. All that summer we did everything together. Bike riding. Baseball. Glueing together model airplanes. Watching monster flicks while baby-sitting his little sister.
One afternoon we rode our bikes over to the swimming hole on the Rustin’s farm. We went skinny-dipping. Finally we crawled out of the water and laid out on the grass, looking at the sky, proclaiming what each cloud was.
As we went to pull on our socks, I looked over at his bare feet and said, “Wow, you have six toes.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
Joey quickly pulled on his socks to hide his extremities.
I grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“Don’t,” he yelled.
“B-b-b-but that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I gazed in wonder at that foot. Then I realized he didn’t have an just one extra toe on. Both feet had six toes. “How come you have the extra toes and I don’t?”
“Usually kids laugh when they see my feet. You’re not laughing.”
“Laughing? Why would I laugh? I want extra toes like you. How can I get them?”
“Don’t know. I was born with them.”
When I got home that night, I asked my mother, “Joey has six toes on each foot. How come I don’t have six toes?”
My mom thought for a couple of minutes, then, “Joey’s special.”
“How come I’m not special?” I asked.
“But you are. Only in a different way.”
“I want to be special like Joey.”
When Dad got home, I confronted him.
He said, “Joey’s special in his own way. And you are special in your own way.”
I wasn’t satisfied. When I went to the pediatrician, I brought up the subject.
His answer, “You’re special the way you are. Joey needs a little bit extra to be special.”
“I want you to give me extra toes,” I demanded.
“I don’t have any to spare.”
I was not one to take no for an answer. I wanted to be special like Joey.
Joey and I spent the next month of Saturdays, scheming on how I could get those two toes I wanted. We thunk and we thunk as young boys often do. Finally we agreed that there was no other answer than digging up a kid’s grave and sawing off two of his toes.
Then we realized we didn’t have to do no digging. The following Friday night happened to be Halloween. We decided Halloween at midnight would be the perfect time to catch a ghost kid. We’d get one of the ghosts as they returned from their hauntings to the grave.
We arrived at the cemetery early. We were not going to miss our chance. The moon was out and it was showing its smiley face for all the world to see. We pulled out two brown paper bags of peanut butter sandwiches and a canteen of water and consumed the food. Then we watched.
Just about midnight the first ghost arrived and headed for its grave. It was a old woman. And she had big teeth. We decided this one was not the one for the toes. Slowly more and more ghosts passed us by. Now you’d think we should have been scared. But we weren’t. We’d seen enough haunted house movies to know just what to do if we had to take one on. We had more bravery than we had sense.
Finally a eleven year old kid came by us. Before he could slide back into his grave, we jumped him. He slugged me first, then Joey. I jumped back on him and Joey grabbed his skeleton arms.
“I got him,” Joey shouted. “Get the knife and cut off the toes.”
“No,” he screamed. “Please don’t. I have to keep my toes.”
Out of curiosity, I asked,”Why?”
“If I don’t return with my whole body, I can’t get back in. And you don’t know what it’s like when they don’t let you in.”
“But I need just two toes,” I said.
Just as I was about to slice the beasts off, he bit Joey. Joey let go of the kid and he was gone.
I began to cry. Joey joined me with my crying.
“What are you two doing here this late?” came a voice behind a flashlight. “Answer me.”
We told him about the toes I needed.
“Oh, I can fix that.”
The man grabbed Joey’s foot and took out a giant knife.
I jumped him and knocked the knife out of his hand. As he went for the knife, he released Joey’s foot from his hold.
Joey and I up and ran as fast as we could away from that cemetery. When we made it home, I said to Joey, “You keep your special toes. I think I’m special enough.”