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A Friend's Nails
He found that she kept a nail file in her coat pocket. She told him that her nails chipped every so often, and she carried it with her so she could file her nails whenever it became necessary.
He asked if she would mind filing his nails for him. His also chipped from time to time.
The two had been friends for quite some time, and had already grown accustomed to one another’s oddities.
As it happened, she had only used the file on herself, never having any reason to worry about someone else’s nails. She had this inexpressible feeling that filing someone’s nails was the epitome of tenderness—unless it was done in a salon or something. As a child only her father ever filed her nails. She felt that if a friendship lacked in empathy or conviction, it was unlikely that one person would file the other’s nails.
She scratched her ear tensely. “You sure?” she asked.
They had decided to meet at his house this time, instead of some open, well-populated place where there were too many distractions. A private place. She had insisted on it, and brought her record player. She had told him she didn’t want to go to the park or the movies. There was so much camaraderie in their friendship that whenever they were around others they immediately ignored everyone else. This felt rude to her.
He nodded in return. Nudging her arm, he looked her in the eye, saying boldly and a little confidentially: “I’m sure.” The very same tone of voice he always used when he wanted to stay out past curfew. “I’m not going in yet.”
She felt herself grinning. Nat King Cole sang about the end of a beautiful friendship on the record that was revolving next to them. It was only a few yards away, so that every word was heard sharply.
He was sitting next to her, but she preferred this. She told him to hold his palm out, fingers bent toward her. His large hand more than filled hers. Since they were right beside her, she could work on them like they were her own. She was able to feel right over his cuticle. He had big fingers and rather thick cuticles. It was strange how you could know absolutely everything about someone you’d known all your life, how you could see the most secret sides of them, yet surprisingly you would never really notice their hands. Since the lighting was dim, she couldn’t see all of what she was filing. She asked if she was hurting him. “Nuh uh,” he said.
When she had finished the right hand, they traded places and he held out his left hand. Neither of them spoke while she was filing his nails, so they could hear every word sung on the record player: “There will be many other nights like this, and I'll be standing here with someone new. There will be other songs to sing, another fall...” Nat King Cole was singing about the warmth of affection dying out. She was concentrating so hard on filing his nails that she pressed harder on his nail with the file; she had filed it to the skin. “Hey!” he grumbled affectionately, as though the pain itself were an expression of empathy. “Oh no,” she hastened to apologize. “I’m sorry.” His finger was raw and close to bleeding. She didn’t have the heart to tell him. “I’m done now.”
He pulled his hand back for inspection. His mouth gaped at the sore skin. Then he gave her the strangest look and said: “That was sort of like breaking up, wasn’t it?”
Their friendship ended not long after that.
Their parting was not sweet and left each with a distasteful view of the other. It took her a long, long time to get over her sadness at the loss of him and consequent disgust towards herself. Her only reaction to the news that he had a new best friend was disinterest—not a trace of concern. He had become completely irrelevant to her life.
From now on, she reasoned, his friend can file his nails for him.
Inexplicably, this thought saddened her—she suddenly felt very, very sad.