by Jay Merill
Toenails can unsettle me.
I live in a hostel and my room is small. But I’m lucky, because some of the residents sleep in a dorm. In alcoves. Like in a hospital. I go to bed early as I enjoy sitting against the pillows. In bright summer I’ll stare out at the garden, focusing in particular on the hedge. Trying to pick out the gap, which can be hard to see because of all the foliage. Then I might trim my toenails. And I’ll stare down at the wisps as they drop onto the bed-sheet. Sometimes I chew a particular one if I like the look of it. If it’s curved in the right way, and smooth. While I’m doing this, I’ll be thinking of how nails are a part of me. But when cut off they’re just waste matter. And so this chewing may be my way of saying goodbye. The bin is where they generally end up as I don’t want to leave them on the bed overnight.
The bathroom is another place where I might do the clipping. When in the bathwater, I snip and snip. I flick the remains over the side of the bath onto the floor. It’s important to get them right out of my mind. Because when I keep dwelling on these toenails, I find I can’t relax. It shocks me that they can be cut off and no longer be a part of me. Becoming just trash and of no use. And I think of death, visualizing this. So I try to rest easy in the bathwater. Do my best to forget.
Then tonight I had this dream.
It was snowing. Ice was everywhere. The toenails should have been on my toes. But instead, my toes were on them. They’d become little silver skates. We were gliding together in the hostel garden. Aiming for the gap in the hedge. Going fast to get out of here. At all costs. Not that it did cost because I wasn’t taking the bus. I had forgotten to bring my purse and wasn’t going in again to fetch it. The toenails and I were back together is what mattered. In an altered state. It gave me comfort to see we weren’t destined to be apart forever.
Suddenly I awoke. My mind abuzz. Suppose the toenails were immortal. An amazing thought. If part of me was still in the nails, if they existed it would mean that I existed too. From now on I’d never bin or scatter the clippings. I would keep them. Safely and soundly. In a precious wooden box.
Jay Merill is an award winning writer who also hosts literary events. Her 2 short story collections published by Salt, are: ‘Astral Bodies’ and ‘God of the Pigeons’ and her latest fiction is in The Bookends Review, The London Magazine and Sublunary Editions Further work has been published in CHEAP POP, The Citron Review, Entropy, Epiphany, FRIGG, Gravel, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Lunch Ticket, Map Literary, matchbook, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, Prairie Schooner, SmokeLong Quarterly, Upstreet Literary Journal and Wigleaf.