Best Foot Forward



Barbara Erskine


Freddie sat and stared at the two taps at the far end of the bath in profound amazement. Into the left his toe inserted itself with ease, but the right….  He rubbed his eyes in the steam and tried again. Then he withdrew his left toe and lying back placed both feet on the shell pink enamel rim of the bath. He contemplated them darkly.


Outside the rain drove against the window making the blind rattle.  Inside, the occasional drop of icy condensation fell from the ceiling. 


Freddie lowered as much of himself below water as was physically possible without drowning.  Except for his feet.  At those he gazed with long perturbed concentration.


The right hand big toe; no, he corrected himself with a watery chuckle, the right foot big toe was at least a third as large again as that on the left.  He glared at the fearful lack of symmetry with undisguised disgust and then looked back at the gently dripping tap.  The left tap did not drip.  Into that his left toe fitted with the assured ease of the made to measure. But the right tap – even the end of his right toe nail would not fit into that one.  And that was the tap which dripped.  He listened with renewed irritation to the apologetic little plops.  Experimentally he crossed his left leg over and tried that toe.  “If the tap fits”, he muttered to himself, and gurgled slightly as some bubbly water erupted against his chin and splashed into his mouth.  It did fit but it was an uncomfortable and unaesthetic situation.


Freddie contemplated his toes once more side by side.  Then, goaded into activity by the nerve-wracking sight he heaved himself to his feet and out onto the purple bathmat.  Had he really lived for over fifty years without noticing this appalling phenomenon before?  Surely his toes could not always have differed so drastically?  Freddie was worried.  He contemplated his immaculate leather slippers sadly.  None of his shoes had ever pinched as far as he could remember, but maybe he had just ignored the pain in his right foot out of sheer British grit?  He put his head slightly to one side.  Or perhaps that was the foot they fitted when he brought his shoes.  He tried to remember shoe shop procedure.  In which case he must have corns on his left foot.  He examined it anxiously.


The suspense of not knowing how long this terrible affliction had been his became swiftly too much for Freddie to bear.  Late that night he rose from his bed and went down to the telephone. 


“Mother, is that you?”  Hugging his dressing gown round him, he tried to avoid looking down.  “Mother, has one of my big toes always been much larger than the other?”


His mother’s sigh made his moustache quiver.  “Freddie dear have you been drinking again?  Do you know what time it is?”.


“No mother, honestly.”  Freddie was deeply hurt by her suggestion.  “This is serious, mother.  This terrible thing has happened.  One foot is….”


“Much larger than the other.”  She interrupted him.  “Yes dear, I know.  You’ll find your right ear is much longer than the left too.  It looked so funny when you were a baby.   May I go now dear?”


Freddie hung up ,aghast, and put his hand to his ear.  Could it really be that he had walked around all these years a disfigured man?


As he slowly climbed the stairs once more he was already considering plastic surgery. He was not vain, but there are some things with which one just cannot contemplate living.


He went into the bathroom and turning on the light surveyed himself long and critically in the mirror.  There did not seem to be an appreciable difference in the size of his ears as far as he could see.  He lifted the hair on each side to make sure.  It was a good thing he had been persuaded to grow it a little longer at last; a short back and sides would have shown every extra millimeter of lobe.  But no, he was fairly certain his mother had been making a very bad joke at his expense.  She always had been incurably frivolous.


But as to this feet.  He looked down at last at the ten neatly manicured toes nestling in the woolly bathmat.  They did not look all that odd when he was standing up.  His gaze went back to the bath.  The right tap dripped gently on.  A brown stain was already beginning to appear on the delicate pink enamel.


There was always the National Health Service, he thought moodily.  If he could prove definite psychological upset, perhaps they could pare down the toe a little for him.  To have it done privately would cost the earth; they would probably call it cosmetic surgery and keep his foot in plaster for a month and that would spoil his golf.  Was it all going to be worth it?  After all, the toe did not look that much bigger.


Suddenly bracing his shoulders Freddie looked back at his reflection in the mirror and gave himself the thumbs up sign.  If it was not noticeable, by Jove, he would cope with it.  No one should ever know what terrible handicap he was suffering, and as far as that damn tap went, he gave it a cheerful wrench before turning off the light, well; he could always buy a new washer in the morning!

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