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Sport 26: Autumn 2001

Paloma Fresno — The Nailless Girl

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Paloma Fresno

The Nailless Girl


I have no nails. I guess that makes me a nailless person. So what? That's the way I was born; there is nothing I can do about it. I don't even want to do anything about it. It's your uncomfortable look that really bothers me. You could stop behaving as if I had some sort of disease or something. If only you realised that nails are merely little extensions of your clumsy fingers, no reason for them to be there, really. I enjoy looking at my hands and, besides, I do not need my fingers to have a face to talk through them. You probably had your appendix removed anyway. No?

Your tonsils?

A tooth?

OK…A haircut?


I liked the way my grandmother used to put it, a nice little woman she was. She explained to me, telling the story of my life through her little black eyes, that I was just too scared of being born. That I tried to hold on to my mother's womb both with my hands and my feet. That she kept pushing out. And that I was born into this world, complete and perfect, but without nails. No fingernails, no toenails. I would have liked to tell her that I was not really scared of crossing the threshold. That the reason for me to stay in there was to be able to swim in the pool my mother had built up for me in her womb, enjoying its warmth and comfort forever. But it is true that I left my nails behind in the effort, and I didn't really want to spoil her story. You don't hear many good stories nowadays.

My mother does not seem too happy about having my nails incrusted embedded in her insides. Every day before I leave for school she stands at the door with her hand on her stomach and reminds me page 172 of the continuous pain she endures which she then relates to the effort of raising a daughter as a solo parent. I think she is just exaggerating anyway; she has taken after my grandmother in her taste for the dramatic. But I believe her when she says that it would be great to transfer the nail-scratching pain to my nonexistent father.


At school Caroline comes to me and says, making sure she places her perfectly manicured hand on my shoulder, she comes and asks, ‘How come you have no nails?’ This is not really a question she means to ask. It is just a stupid remark. She is trying to show surprise about something she got used to not seeing ages ago in an attempt to impress the Sorrel twins who are new at school and have never seen such a wonder before. As if having someone who looks exactly like you is not worse! So I smile and walk towards my classroom. I can hear her laughing behind me but she suddenly stops because she has just remembered to tell everyone about her secret encounters with Brian McPherson behind the gym and how she scratched his back when they kissed the other day, as she suggested, of course.


Behind me sits Pauline Johnson whose favourite entertainment nowadays seems to be licking her fingers and swallowing nail fragments. This is only because she has learnt to like the green thick stuff her mother gets at Mr O'Connell's Chemist to spread on her nails and make her stop biting them. This is a new habit. At the beginning of the year she seemed to prefer sticking little pieces of rubber up her nose and into her ears until they were so full her mother had to take her to the doctor to have them removed surgically.

So Miss Enamel, our teacher, walks down to the end of our row and tells her off for devouring her nails like that. And then tells Richard Prince off for not finishing his three hundred lines reading ‘I shall not laugh at my classmates’. As if I cared … Yes, a little extra handwriting will surely do him good, and I tell him so as I grin widely, making sure my grin remains there even after I turn my back to him.

Miss Enamel is talking about ancient sculptures today. We open page 173 our books on page twenty-seven, except Richard who is still doing his lines, and a woman named Venus de Milo from somewhere in Greece is standing there, and I wonder if, like Pauline, she also bit her nails before losing her whole arms.


Last month Miss Enamel told us to write a composition entitled ‘What I would like to be in the future’. I was not too sure what she meant with ‘future’ but I started with ‘I want to work in a circus’. She must have thought I was determined to walk along with the bearded lady or something…showing my bare hands to the speechless audience as she caressed her combed beard. Right, so she stopped reading after the first line and didn't bother to look at the whole piece. She just phoned my mother straight away and made an appointment to talk to her. ‘The nail situation is obviously affecting your daughter, Ms Brown.’ My mother sat there with her hand on her stomach, sipping tea and looking at her watch. My actual idea was to have a go at walking on the tightrope or doing belly-dancing, even feeding the lions or selling popcorn…anything which allowed me to travel all over the world, but Miss Enamel obviously didn't reach that part of my composition.


I look into the shops after school. I buy some red nail-polish to paint my dolls' lips. It lasts longer than lipstick, you see, and gives them a nice glossy touch that I love. I also use it to mend the little holes in my red dancing tights. I wear them out quite easily, but the holes disappear as they gulp down the thick, dense liquid. I go into glove shops trying to imagine people I know wearing them. This mutilated condition helps my thinking sometimes…you know. Winter is never too harsh over here so we don't really get to wear gloves a lot. I like the ones with open fingers, though; these are the ones I wear for school, but only when it is really windy.

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On Mondays I take flamenco lessons. Up goes my right hand twisting round, going down my face, my neck, and untwisting again as it reaches my hip. Up goes my left hand as my right foot stamps on the wooden floor with as much passion as I can put in it. The teacher explains the trick to the least advanced students: it's like picking an apple from the tree, biting it, throwing it on the floor and stepping on it in one quick movement. Simple, really!

On Tuesdays I take sign language. I love seeing my fingers contorting into impossible positions.

On Wednesdays I mould clay, wet and soft chunks of clay which I tame with my bare brown fingers, turning them into useless shapes. That makes my week.

On Sundays I allow my nailless hands to rest.


Every Friday afternoon after Maths and Science we rehearse for the school play. We are doing Alice in Wonderland. I am playing the Cat. Pauline is playing the Queen. All the girls in the school wanted to play Alice. They stood in the bathroom for hours combing their hair and looking into the mirror showing surprised, happy, scared, exhausted and sleepy looks, going through the whole repertoire of facial expressions in the adventure. No one wanted the Cat's role, except for Martin Martinson who got his lines all messed up on stage and was rejected straight away, although the reason they gave him was that his grin was not good enough. I performed impeccably after him and so I got the role. Miss Enamel, who is directing the play, says they are going to get me some really long cardboard nails to wear on top of my cat's costume. She says I need to show them when Alice gets all choosy about where to go.


I go back home repeating my part once again. While I watch television in the evening I file my bony fingers slowly and carefully, removing the bits of dry skin. It is really nice to get a close touch of reality. I think of my lost nails as the ingredient you always forget to put on a page 175 cake, or one of those flavourings which you never have in your cupboard, or the icing, which makes the cake look nicer but does not really make any difference when you come to taste it. I hear my mother complaining in the background as I stroke my cat…I observe him carefully so that I can get a more truthful performance.



You can never be subjected to Chinese torture.