Friday, 24 August 2018

The Wart and Toe-nail

In 1961 a guy called Wilkinson stamped

on the big toe of my right foot and a few

months later the nail fell off. It had

turned several colours before the day it

worked itself loose: red,purple, yellow,

green. Sometimes combinations of all

four, like a sunset over a city, infused

with sulphur. I kept the nail. It was in the

same cardboard box as the name-tags my

mother sewed into my PE kit, the medal I

won for winning the Metropolitan Walking

Club’s Novices Race, my father’s ‘US ARMY’

brass brooches, the drawer from an East

German wooden money box, and a stone

from the bed of the River Monow. I took

the box with me to university and when I

moved into digs run by a Polish woman and her

cab-driving husband, it was there alongside

my Anglo-Saxon poetry books. By then it

was beginning to twist and had turned brown,

and on the surface that had been next to the

quick of my toe, there was a curd-like residue

of something organic. This may seem unrelated

but on my right hand I had several large warts.

They had appeared there as a result of holding

the hand of someone who had several large

warts on her left hand. I shared the digs with

John who liked to probe around in the cardboard

box and though he liked the drawer to the East

German money box and my father’s US ARMY

brooches, he was sickened by the toe-nail. He

was critical of some side-whiskers that had

cropped up on my face and not at all keen on

the warts. He was highly skilled at doing the voices

of a sergeant-major reciting Jabberwocky, a

professor of Latin who translated and

recited the poems of Catullus that focussed

on fellatio, and Geordie women in a sausage

factory who had pulled down his trousers and

smothered his stotts in the jelly that was used

to make sausage skins. He was so good

at these voices that there were times he would

be doing the performance along with many others

long past midnight, at the very moment when I had

to be writing my essay on Anglo-Saxon poetry.

John wouldn’t leave my room and we

would hear the cab-driving landlord coming

home and his Polish wife greeting him like he

was liberating her homeland - a kind woman,

though not keen on the fact that when we washed

up in the bathroom sink (not a frequent event and

there were no other sinks to wash up in), bits of

spaghetti bolognese lingered in the plug hole.

There was nothing I could say, either funny or

hostile that would move John to leave. One night

I put the toe-nail next to the largest wart - one that

looked like the cross-section of a cauliflower on the

fleshy part of my middle finger - and walked

towards him. The doubling up of the nail and

the wart was so unpleasant for him that he left

immediately. Last time I saw John, he was living

on his own in a ground floor flat on the Marylebone