Nail Salon Trash Gold
Break into a nail salon or approach the girl at the front desk and ask for a bag of her trash. Saunter into a nail salon with a broom and a smile. Snoop around with tweezers and a brown paper sandwich bag like the kind you drink beer from in public. Whatever the method, obtain nail salon access.
Collect the clippings. There should be hundreds of slivers, new moons of bright chipped acrylics, shiny clears and shades of red mostly. Keratin leftovers. Gather however you can. Abscond with a trash can, sweep and gather, surreptitiously pluck everything up. Hit salon after salon after salon. Gather your sacks full of discarded nails. Think about all the nail salons in all the strip malls in California. Think about all the years of filing and trimming. Try to gather up the filed off dust and store it in vials. Make an hourglass filled with nail dust. Sprinkle it on a street preacher and call it a blessing. Think about all the nail dust and clipped slivers that have been discarded over the years. Picture a mountain of nail, how the light might pass through it barely, how the polish and paint would mottle the mountain.
Such terraforming is beyond you, but at least you’ve got bagfuls of nail bits in a burlap gunnysack. Keep them there in the trunk of your car. Find a quiet and windless place and sort out the clippings by color. Don’t ever paint a nail, only sift and seek through the massed shards. Sort them by color and shape. From left to right along the X axis, lay out the nails by shade, darkest to lightest. From top to bottom along the Y axis, lay out the nails by size, largest to smallest. Whole black thumbnails in one corner, white pinkie nail slivers in the corner opposite. This is worth photographing but not otherwise preserving. Print the photograph huge, feet by feet, on a thick glossy stock of paper, acid free and archival, in an edition of some small and hand-numbered amount.
Take your sorted nails and begin to construct a mosaic. Probably it will be best to make the image of the Virgin Mary getting a beauty treatment. This is not a prescription. Your particular array of nails may suggest more suitable images: seascapes, martyrs, Napoleons, self-portraits… Shellac the mosaic heavily so it attains the slick-shined aspect of reflective tiles.
You now have only to price and sell your work.
Go to a nail salon, order a manicure, ask the technician if you can keep the clippings. Bag them. Empty the bag onto a sensitive scale to figure the weight of a manicure. Rebag. Return to your mosaic and sign your name with your own clipped nails. Shellac again to preserve your signature. Weigh your mosaic. Divide the weight of your art by the weight of your manicure. Multiply by the average cost of a salon visit in your city. This is the approximate cost paid by your neighbors just to rid themselves of all this excess.
It’s a nice large number.
It’s a good place to start.
We aren’t going to do so well, I am thinking, even though I used to be in the top quartile easy. Here they give us the worst teachers because they know we aren’t going to take so many State Assessments. Dad says it makes sense because how else is this country ever going to compete with the Chinese if all our best teachers are teaching dead kids? And since the union won’t let them get fired, who else should the bad teachers teach?
Mom says not to call us dead kids and Dad says I know what he means.
Mr. Baker is the worst teacher they can’t fire. He’s in charge of Social Studies and History, which are actually the same thing. We are learning about the Civil War or Rights Movement. When things in history are called Civil they are usually about helping black people. I am vomiting into a bag and shuddering, sloshing the nutrient water in my IV. Martin Luther King was neither Martin Luther nor a King. Virginia was against Loving but for Lovers, at least on their shirts. My aide is taking notes because it’s hard for me to write while I am vomiting so much, so prone to torn skin, to spontaneous bleeding.
Halloween this year Dad shaved his head and called himself Yul Brynner after Mom said he couldn’t tell people he was going as me.
My aide is Robert Butler and is taller than me and played high school beach volleyball. I told him I was old enough that I wanted to touch a penis once and please and now he doesn’t sit so close that I can smell him. I wanted to try it out in my mouth but he’s afraid I’ll vomit on it, which is a reasonable thing to be afraid of.
Today especially, I would vomit all over it, even if it was the best mouth-fit ever. Right in the middle of English I am shaking so hard and vomiting spray. English is Mrs. Fritz. Whenever she says Charles Dickens all us dead kids giggle and Robert Butler writes down Charles Dickens in my notes. Today Robert Butler is wheeling me out to the hall and the nurses because you can’t projectile vomit and stay in class.
The nurses take me to my own room. They lay me out and measure me many ways and I don’t stop convulsing. Dad is there, awkward-looking in his new hair, and in a slightly better moment he asks how I’m doing. Mom is not looking. I say we have testing next week and Dad is thinking good thing they gave me Mr. Baker but all he says is maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about that.
Ben Segal is the author of 78 Stories (No Record Press) and co-editor of the anthology The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Lit Pub Books). His chapbooks Science Fiction Pornography and Weather Days were published by Publishing Genius and Mud Luscious Press, respectively, and his short fiction has been published by or is forthcoming from Tin House, Tarpaulin Sky, Gigantic, and Puerto del Sol, among others.