The Charm


Several years ago, I found a wooden toe on the beach. A big toe. A big wooden toe. Right on the beach.

Up until the moment that I saw it sticking out of the sand, I never knew there was such a thing as a wooden toe. I had known people with prosthetic legs. I had even once spoken to a guy who claimed to have dated a girl with a wooden foot.

But a wooden toe. Never crossed my mind. On that late August afternoon, though, I found myself kneeling down and staring at a toe in the sand. It was gorgeous. Elegant curves, perfect lines. There were even tiny cuts that looked just like toe hair.

The toe jutted out of the beach, its stump lodged neatly in the sand. A long, thin string of deep green seaweed was wrapped around it several times, and at one end was lodged under the wood cut that gave the appearance of a nail. The nail was just slightly overgrown and it was obvious that-if it had been a real toe-the last trim was a rushed and uneven job. Oh mercy, there was even a cuticle. Whoever crafted this thing was a pro.

For a long time I was scared to touch it and could only stare at it. But the fading sun and cool night breeze finally made me do it. I snatched the toe and jammed it in my pocket. I looked around, almost guiltily, and hurried back to the motel.

Though I had come to the beach for a volleyball tournament, I spent the next four days locked in the motel room. The toe fascinated me. I studied it. I touched it and felt its fine texture, and judged its weight. I slept with the toe resting on my pillow.

I saw that it was made of cedar, which meant that it could float. Upon this discovery, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the bathtub with the toe. How it would float. When I let the water out of the bath, I giggled giddily as the toe spun in the miniature whirlpool over the drain.

I could not believe my luck. I felt as if I were moving in a dream.

The days past, and the tournament ended. I went back home and planned my new life. I was certain that the toe would bring me incredible luck. Sure, I wondered who had lost the toe and how much they must miss it. I often thought of him limping sadly. But whenever I lose something, like a tennis racket maybe, somebody always says that someone who really needs it will find it. So I figured that now I happened to be the person who was meant to find a toe.

I even sometimes thought that perhaps super intelligent people from another planet had left it for me. But when I looked at the sweat stains around the base of the toe, I felt pretty sure that some guy without a natural big toe had lost it surfing. So for months I drafted an ad for the "Lost and Found" section of the classifieds. Yet I could never quite find the right words to describe the toe. Besides, I lived three states away from the ocean.

So I decided that we were a team. And I wanted to protect that camaraderie, and make sure that we were never separated.

I thought of making a key chain out of the toe, but I found it impossible to do without risking damage to the wood grain. Occasionally, I even thought of cutting off my own big toe so that I could wear my new one. 'That's crazy talk,' I scolded myself. 'Your big toe is much longer than this one. And this is a gift to treasure, not something to stick on your foot.'

In the end, I found a necklace with a small satchel tied to the end. I walked through every day with my toe safely and proudly resting near my heart, and cherished my toe for many months.

But as things go, I slowly but surely became distracted by the details of life. Sooner rather than later, I began to take the toe for granted. And this is where we always go wrong.

On a subsequent visit to beach, about six months after we had been joined, I took the toe with me on a trip to a water park. Down the water slide I shot, curving and zooming with the water. Just as I arched back for a cannonball explosion into the pool, the toe popped into my mind. The toe!

And sure enough, it was not around my neck when I came up for air. Frantically, I splashed through the water, but the pool was filled with people and I could not find it. I grabbed those around me and demanded they give me my toe. Some laughed nervously, some edged towards the 3 Feet. One lady finally alerted the lifeguard, and I was thrown out of the park.

Ever since, things have been a mess. Sometimes I have trouble walking, as if my real toe is gone. I feel as if I have lost a loyal dog or an intimate lover. Only, it's worse. A collie could never fit in your pocket.

So now I'm out on the road, trying to pick up signs of where my toe might be. I know it's going to be a long journey, fraught with wild goose chases and near misses. But I'm ready. Something deep inside me tells me that one sunny day fate will favor me again. I don't just believe, I absolutely know. One day I'll find my toe.