Nails

Ten. My mother pulled my fingertips into the light,
the ragged bloody edges and hangnails all on trial.
“A proper lady should have pretty hands,” she said.
Neither proper nor pretty, I guessed myself a heathen,
a muddy girl spitting froth and curses, running
with lost boys in the wild, carrying aloft a spear.

Sixteen. My father drove the car and I stared out the window.
“When you get married, don’t you want your fiancé
to slide the ring over a nice, long fingernail painted red
than over one of those gross little stubs?” he asked.
I closed my eyes, and imagined slipping out the car window,
floating miles away, high above the green Vallejo hills we drove past.

Twenty-three. In college, in the grip of depression and violent
nightmares. Eating nothing. Then everything. Throwing it all up.
Sitting in a tiny square room in Idaho, glass bottles littered my desk,
watching online tutorials, painting my nails different shades of red
starting over and over with burning alcohol, until it’s perfect
but it never is. Missed calls. Frantic emails. Failing grades.
The room fills with bitter fumes as I work for hours
like Sisyphus, sure I’ll get it right this time.

Twenty-five. If they were ever to crucify me, I think
they would not put the nails in my palms or wrists,
but use ten small silver ones, put through each offending finger,
that I should be held up by my own sins splayed out for the world to see,
a fitting end for a thief who stole nail polish, robbed propriety.

Twenty-nine. My brother was a soldier. He still has bad dreams
and doesn’t like loud noises or the cannons in parades.
We’re on the same antidepressant. He bites his nails too,
but they don’t mind him, don’t say it because he served in war.
Whenever we see each other we sheepishly show off our hands,
little white growing crescents, met with big smiles and hugs.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Oberon.

Hayley Stoddard lives in Colorado, and is a student currently pursuing a BA. She began writing at a young age, and has been inspired by such writers as Billy Collins, John Keats, Anne Lamott, Mary Oliver, and Leonard Cohen. Her work has been seen in Parley, Oberon, After the Pause, eris & eros, and Beyond Words Literary Magazine, among others.

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