Beautiful Toes

by Scott Hunter

As Dad lay brain dead in the ICU that short week, three nurses remarked on his beautiful toes.  So smooth, so clean, the nails so perfectly clipped and squared off. Nothing in-grown, no dark corners, no fungus.  Doctors say the state of an old man’s toes will tell you the state of his mental and physical health. An old man can’t clean what he can’t see—or reach, maybe—and will stop tending to things like toes if he’s forgetful, or if there’s no one left to impress.  These were not the toes of a man ready to die. Living alone, free to do as he pleased. “Every day’s a Saturday,” he said to me, after retiring. Time! Time to run to fish to golf to bike. Tend to his tulips, tend to his toes. On league nights, a beer or two at Mingles.  There are still bowling leagues where he lived, where he competed. At home he sipped a single malt over pictures of fish caught and released. They all looked like the same damn fish to me, date-stamped photos or not, but Dad could point out the distinctions. Like a nurse can talk about an old man’s toes.  Bigger dorsal fin, redder near the gill covers. “Oh look,” he said, “a hook scar on the lip—maybe you’re right, maybe it is the same damn fish.” We laughed about that, and sipped some more. (More …)