Little Miss Seven Fingers
My wife and I, becoming self-aware again after a decade and a half of academic competition at Boston University, made a decision. If progeny were in our future, we needed to get cracking. I accepted the challenge and attacked the problem with the same scientific, methodological approach I used in the laboratory. After carefully charting Cynthia's cycles, I developed a diet and vitamin regimen for the both of us that would maximize our chances of success. Eventually, Cynthia got tired of waiting and ordered me into bed.
About nine months later, after choosing the most educational and stimulating baby toys, carefully vetting every maternity ward in the Boston area, and generally worrying myself into a tizzy, we were granted a gift named Mina. With my dark hair and my wife's laughing eyes, she was our own personal angel, dressed in hospital issue pj's.
Let me read an excerpt from the pediatrician's notes: "The patient presents as a normal two day old, female infant, following thirty-eight weeks plus five days of gestation and an unremarkable, natural labor. Apgar scores were in the normal range at one, five, and sixty minutes. Today, Miss M's lungs are clear, her reflexes are present, and she has passed her hearing test."
Fine right? Everything the first time parents want to hear. But wait! Listen to this: "Postscript: It appears that the patient grew two additional digits on her feet and hands since birth."
It would be understatement on my part to say that this is the most understated sentence I'd ever read. At any point does it mention Mommy M howling incoherently after removing those cute little baby mittens the nurses put on? How about Daddy M fainting away like a Victorian heroine when he saw those spatulate, too-wide hands and feet, his admittedly out of shape body hitting the floor like a sack of coal? I think not.
When I called Dr. Mancuso at his office (after spending some time with smelling salts and a paper bag) he acted as if I was concerned about an unfortunately placed birthmark.
"Well," he said, after a good deal of haranguing, "I can probably swing by around three today, but not any earlier, I'm teeing off at noon."
Believe me, the doctor's aplomb was not an affected air of professionalism. Dr. Mancuso strolled in around four-thirty, at which point I was nearly pulling out what's left of my hair with worry. Cynthia lay unmoving in bed, heavily sedated, so I had the strain of caring for little Mina as well. Hospitals, with their fluorescent lights and sound proofed rooms, can make you feel like you are outside the flow of time, even in normal situations. Add the new rituals of childcare and Mina's odd augmentation, and I started to wonder when Mr. Serling would arrive.
"Mr. Miller," Dr. Mancuso began, meeting me in the hall of the maternity ward. He was a short, stocky man, swarthy from the sun and his Italian genes. "How are you and your wife? Is she still sedated?"
I allowed that this was the case and urged him to go directly to the nursery and examine poor Mina. "Hmmm," he said, stroking his dark goatee. "Looks like you're right; fourteen fingers and fourteen toes. You don't see that every day."
"I don't think you see it on any day, doctor! What are we going to do?"
"What are we going to do?" the doctor asked archly. "I'm not sure what there is to do."
"Are you serious?" I asked. "You could write a volume of articles about this for every medical journal and science fiction magazine in the country!"
"Yeah, I guess I could." Dr. Mancuso said skeptically, putting his hands in the small of his back and stretching. "But I'm trying to qualify for one of those regional golf tours and I'd never have the time for it. I really don't think there's any use in getting overly excited about it. Nature is strange; you see this type of thing happen every once in awhile, but it never amounts to much. One time, there was this guy, who grew an extra foot out of his..."
At this point, certain he was having me on, I felt perfectly within my rights in cutting him off. After some sharp words, I convinced Dr Mancuso to at least take some x-rays. I am ashamed that I did not accompany my daughter to Boston University's imaging center-I could not stand the dizzying sight of endless baby-digits. The hospital nurses who went with her were very comforting, I'm sure. They certainly were not nearly as nice to me afterwards.
Shortly thereafter, my wife and I sat in Dr. Mancuso's office, listening to him being unhelpful while he practiced his back swing. The smiling face of Tiger Woods, his signature scrawled across it, observed our misery from the wall behind the doctor's desk.
"Mr. and Mrs. Miller," he said. "I'm sorry, there just isn't anything wrong with your little girl."
"What?" I cried. "You've seen her, how can you stand there and say that? She's a..." Monster was the word I almost said. Poor Cynthia, still groggy and stunned, cried quietly beside me. Her curly auburn hair, disheveled from spending two days in bed, hung limply around her face.
Dr. Mancuso almost succeeded in letting it slide, but he couldn't hide the anger from seeping into his face. "The x-rays are clear. Mina's hand and foot structures are well formed." Finally sitting down, the doctor showed us pictures of hands with tiny, useless fingers that looked like afterthoughts tacked onto otherwise healthy appendages. I could feel Cynthia tremble as she closed her eyes tight and turned away.
Pressing on, Dr. Mancuso said, "You see, unlike these subjects, Mina has supporting bone and tendon networks for her extra fingers and toes. In other words, she'll be able to use them like her other digits."
"But what about quality of life? How will she get shoes and gloves that fit? Will boys be afraid to hold hands with her?" I was working myself into quite a lather. "Will she be able to walk around in the light of day, without people staring and laughing at us, I mean, her?"
Cynthia sobbed loudly. I hugged her close to me. Tiger smiled down on us,
oblivious to our pain. "Well... I don't know about all of that," he said,
holding a box of tissues out to us. "But I'll bet she'll be a hell of a violinist."
Those first few weeks were pure torture, let me assure you. The hospital adopted Dr. Mancuso's laissez-faire attitude, and saw no reason for us to have our extra-digited daughter stay in their care longer than the standard forty-eight hours. We found ourselves stuck in a house that had become a prison; slaves to a crying, unsleeping tyrant, with too many fingers!
Why? I thought, every time I had courage enough to look at Mina. Why has God seen fit to give us the joy of having a perfect baby girl, only to dash us against the rocks of despair in such a cruel, unusual way?' I was nearly useless to Cynthia, who was being an excellent mother, under the circumstances. Still, on more than one occasion I wiped tears from her face and Mina's forehead as she nursed.
Clearly, something had to be done. If the medical community wouldn't help us, we'd have to rely on the government. I waded through Massachusetts' social services bureaucracy, finally earning an audience with a Ms. Wilson of the Office of Developmental Disability.
The social worker sniffed at our well-appointed brownstone. A middle aged black woman, with gray hair cabled into thick braids, she sat tiredly in the offered chair. I must stop to say she impressed me with her professionalism. She made quite a believable show of cooing over Mina. She even marveled over the infant's hands, which Cynthia had stubbornly refused to cover, spreading out her fingers and counting her toes.
"So," she said, checking our name on her intake form, "What can I do for you, Mr. Miller?"
"I think it's obvious, don't you?" Since she remained silent, I continued. "We're going to need a full battery of developmental evaluations, psychological work-ups." I paced back and forth, as Ms. Wilson bounced Mina on her knee. "Not to mention a comprehensive support plan..."
"Mr. Miller," she said, handing the baby back to Cynthia. "I don't see the need for any of that right now. Mina seems to be healthy and happy."
"Healthy?" I asked. "You can count, correct?"
"Bill!" scolded Cynthia.
"That's okay, ma'am. Sir, I have a client, a little boy about Mina's age, on a respirator, who won't ever walk or talk or need a 'comprehensive support plan.' He's waiting for me to fight the assholes at Medical Assistance so they won't pull the plug on him this week. I don't have time to worry about some rich guy who's upset that his otherwise healthy baby's grown a few extra toes."
Well, what can you say to that? Luckily, Cynthia took pity on me before I could figure it out. "Ms. Wilson, I think what my husband means is that the world can be a very mean place. We're concerned about Mina's wellbeing when she goes out there to meet it."
"I understand," she said, gracing my wife with a patient smile before turning back to me. "If Dr. Mancuso has any concerns about Mina's development, I'm sure he can refer you to a specialist. Here," the social worker dug in her satchel. "This is the only resource I could think of that might be of some use to Mina in the future."
She handed a pamphlet to Cynthia before showing herself out. It was a
list of Suzuki violin instructors.
"Can you believe the nerve of that woman?" I asked my wife as she sat next to me on the couch, playing with Mina.
"Bill, will you stop saying that? You're going to develop a complex." Cynthia scrunched up her face and smiled at Mina, who reclined in her bouncy chair. "Won't he, Mina Bird? Yes he will! Daddy's a silly goose, yes he is!"
"Cynthia," I said. "Stop talking like a baby."
Mina looked at me in that vague, yet intense way that babies do. She gave me a not unpleasant feeling of deja vu, the type you get when you see your ancestors in the features of your child. She and I had similar heart shaped-faces and fair complexions, inherited from my mother.
Mina tried to shove all seven fingers into her mouth, making her look like she was trying to eat a dinner roll in one bite. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably.
"Oh, Mr. Serious!" Cynthia's swat to the back of the head broke the moment. "Why not just try to make the best of it?"
"I can't!" I got up and walked over to the window. "Society hates aberration. Any little difference can make you a pariah, an outcast!"
My darling wife sighed deeply. "Bill, are you reliving high school again?"
"I was in the science club, I wasn't a leper, dammit!" I bellowed. Venting my emotions must have kicked my mind into gear, because I was visited with a revelation.
"I've got it," I said, smiling at Cynthia.
"We're here today with Bill Miller, his beautiful wife Cynthia and their amazing little girl, Mina." Greg Wilson, host of 'Good Mahning Bahston,' flashed his bleachy white teeth at the camera. This public exposing of our private shame was our last resort. I never watch our city's version of 'Bland and Vapid in the Morning,' but I felt backed into a corner. Neither the nation's vaunted health care system, nor its system of social safety nets would help us. I was forced to turn to the fourth estate.
"So, Cynthia," Greg cooed, his empty eyes shining merrily. "Tell our audience what makes little Mina so special?"
"Well Greg," my wife gushed. "She went to sleep in the nursery and when the nurses brought her back, she had extra fingers and toes!"
Greg feigned surprise, as if he hadn't held Mina for an hour prior to airtime, showing her off to the crew. "Get out!" he said. "I guess you tipped those nurses pretty well!"
"Actually, Greg," I said, "We don't see it as much of a blessing. In fact..."
"Hey Bill," Greg asked. "What do you call those extra digits?"
"You know," the host said, winking at his audience. "You've got the index, the pointer, etcetera. What do you call the extra ones? The pinkette? The sixer?"
"To be truthful, Greg, I wanted to bring our daughter's condition to the attention of the general public, to try to generate some outcry about how our doctors and government officials won't address a potentially..."
"That's great Bill!" Greg said. "Let's take some calls, shall we? Lisa, you're on the air!"
"Hi! I was wondering, Cynthia, if I wanted to recreate your miracle, what special foods or supplements would you recommend?"
"Well, I..." my wife began.
"Recreate it?" I interrupted. "Why would anyone want to do that?"
"Sorry Bill," Greg said. "We've seemed to have lost Lisa. Marnie is downtown on her cell phone. How're those Boston street this morning?"
"Frustrating as usual, Greg!" Marnie's accent made me think she'd spent her formative years in southern California. "Bill, Cynthia, I celebrate your courage and strength. My question is: have you considered plastic surgery?"
"Absolutely not!" I said, horrified. "Mina's gone through enough and we have no interest in putting her through any more pain." I did not notice until I watched the replay that I had put my hand on Mina protectively, as she slept in Cynthia's arms. "Ah, the doting father," Greg simpered. "Steve, you're next."
"Hey, Greg, love the show. Bill, let me know when that cute daughter of yours is ready to play basketball. She'll be a great addition to my church's youth league." This drew applause from the housefraus in the audience.
"Are you all insane?" I said over the clapping. "Can't you see Mina won't ever be able to lead a normal life? She'll never marry, or be a professional. I doubt she'll ever live on her own, without skilled care."
"Now Bill," Greg said, putting a perfectly tanned hand on my shoulder. "Don't you think you're blowing this out of proportion? Why, I can think of one thing she could be great at!"
"Don't say it!" I warned.
"I see Mina being a natural for the violin." I will not embarrass myself
by recounting my actions after this. It has made the rounds of local
newscasts and home video blooper shows. Suffice it to say that no charges
After my latest disappointment, I fell into a brown study; one listless day of lecturing followed by another, broken intermittently with long weekends in front of the television. Evil fantasies of babies left on convent doorsteps began creeping into my mind, like vultures closing in on dying prey. Guiltily, I would chase them off, but they'd only scamper just out of reach and begin sneaking back when my guard was down.
The first spark of emotion I'd felt in a long time was caused by a pair of rainbow colored gloves on our kitchen table. Knitted gloves. Gloves with seven fingers. In a rage, I held them out to Cynthia. "Who's responsible for these?" I thundered. "Who would be cruel enough to torment us like this?"
"Uh, your mom, Bill," Cynthia said. "Remember her?"
"Mother?" Flabbergasted, I groped for words. "But, for the love of all that's holy, why?"
"She wanted to make sure Mina had gloves this winter, the shrew." Cynthia shook me by the shoulders. "Honey, you've got to get over this, you're being such a wet blanket."
"But, aren't you as broken up about our situation as I am?"
"Jeez, no! It took a while, but I couldn't help but fall in love with the little wriggler." My beautiful wife hugged me, making me feel as she always did; like a lost son coming home. "Bill, you have a beautiful daughter who needs your strength! Come with me," she said, taking my hand. "When was the last time you've held her for longer than a minute?"
It was just last... no, wait, that was, when was it? I am embarrassed to admit it, but I hadn't held my daughter for any real length of time since we'd brought her home. Cynthia had cared for Mina almost single handedly for three months. And she had complimented me on my strength! Reluctantly, I let Cynthia lead me into the living room, where Mina slept in her bouncy chair, all fourteen fingers hanging out there for the world to see.
"Now sit," Cynthia said. "And I'll bring her to you."
My heart raced as I accepted the tiny weight into my arms. I always feel anxious holding a baby: so fragile, so defenseless, their lives and potential completely dependent on my ability to keep them safe. Little Mina stretched, and woke up. That unique, yet familiar face stared into mine, her dark, intelligent eyes regarding me with an infant's solemnity.
Without warning, without pretense, Mina's face opened into a huge smile. She crinkled her nose and laughed a musical laugh. Her face shone, as if to say: "My father! Your love and attention nourishes me as much as mother's milk."
Three months of depression couldn't stand up to that. I wept, tears
running down my face and over my own smile. "Look at my wonderful
daughter!" Seven tiny, perfect fingers closed around my thumb. "Oh," I
said. "What beautiful hands you have, my darling."
So, that's pretty much our story. Mina's turning five this June and she's as smart as a whip. She inherited the perfect combination of her mother's compassion and my stubbornness. Any fear we have that she wasn't going to make friends is gone; Mina's got a charisma that is breathtaking.
No, if you must know, she's no good at basketball. Can't dribble. She certainly is not taking violin classes.
Sure, we've got kindergarten coming up, and that scares us (well, it scares me at least.) Mina is taking it all in stride. She even named her extra digits- after the pinky finger comes the winky and the dinky.
Now that she's older, Mina and I have decided to consult some more experts. Upon their advice, Mina will soon be under their care. She begins harp lessons next week.
Chris works as a social worker in Baltimore and he writes furiously during his lunch breaks. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two daughters. "Little Miss Seven Fingers" is his first sale.
Published by permission of the author.