Now let me just preface this by saying that Marilyn Monroe had an extra toe. She was a fox. She had that breathy voice and lovely body. So if someone as famous and fabulous as her had an extra tootsie, it means there’s nothing wrong or weird about having an extra digit. Okay?
I’m not platinum blonde and you won’t catch me posing over a grate with a strong breeze blasting up my dress, but I did have an extra finger. I was extracted from the womb with a cranky red face, raging red hair, and my two fists angrily clenched. Such a cranky baby was I that I refused to unclench them until I was two days old, and then the errant appendage was revealed.
It’s not a big deal, apparently, quite common. Mum didn’t faint from horror and the nurse didn’t offer to drown me in a bucket and to never mention the whole thing again. But it was pretty useless, sticking out there next to my right pinkie. So off it came. Chop chop.
You can barely tell there was ever anything there. I didn’t really think about it much as I grew up, unless I bashed my hand against something then the tiny scar hurt like hell. Also when I get nervous or scared, it tingles unbearably. So there still must be a few nerves there.
It was never common knowledge until Year 9 when two things happened simultaneously: we started a Genetics unit in science class and began to read The Chrysalids in English class. Everyone loved Genetics, because we learned all about the freaky things that occur When Chromosomes Attack! And the John Wyndham book tied in nicely, a high school classic that takes place in a post-nuclear holocaust world. There were some crazy Chernobyl-esque mutations happening. In this ultra-religious society, anyone considered different was seen as an abomination and banished to the Fringes. The book had some great themes but of course being stupid students we chose to focus on making jokes about the freaky people.
During one rowdy class discussion, my dear friend Jenny looked at me suddenly, a big grin spreading over her face. “Heyyyyy…”
“Don’t even think about it!” I hissed.
“Hey, everyone. Shauna’s got an extra finger.”
“What!??!” one teacher and a couple dozen students chorused.
“I don’t have it anymore!”
“Shauna’s got an extra finger? Well! Get thee to The Fringes!” boomed my English teacher.
“Accursed is the mutant!” The whole class howled and pounded their tables in glee. I shrank down into my seat and hoped to die.
After that I became somewhat of a sideshow attraction. Later on in our Genetics class, Jenny piped up again. “Shauna’s got an extra finger.”
“Shauna’s got an extra finger?” cackled my Science teacher. “Well Shauna, how about you come out the front and tell everyone all about it?”
“But… but… I don’t have it anymore. I haven’t had it since I was two days old!”
“That doesn’t matter! We shall revel in your freakiness anyway.”
I slumped down in my chair and refused to move. So Jenny decided she would field all the questions on my behalf, as I sat there with my face burning red.
“So Shauna’s Mum freaked out when she saw the finger,” Jenny explained as the curious class gathered round my desk. “She couldn’t stand it. So guess what she did? She bit it off!”
“Jenny!” I hit her with my pencil case, but she would not be stopped.
“And she kept it. She spat it out right into an old Vegemite jar. It’s still at their house. On top of the telly. Floating in that preserving stuff. I’ve seen it.”
Everyone whooped and cheered and demanded to see where the finger was. So I just held out my hand and let them look as I sulked away.
That night, a girl in my class went home and told her family about Shauna’s Extra Finger as they sat around the dinner table. Her little sister was so fascinated/horrified that she couldn’t finish her potatoes. The next morning that little girl went off to kindergarten. It was time for Show And Tell. She volunteered to go first. She had nothing to show but plenty to tell. Thirty horrified baby faces and one shocked teacher listened in awe as she described in graphic detail how my mother bit off my wayward finger and kept it in a jar on top of our television. That shocked kindergarten teacher happened to be my mother.
News travels fast in country towns. Needless to say I had some explaining to do when I got home that day.