Flash Fiction "And So it Begins" Contest: Up to 500 words, beginning with the following first sentence: "They say he was born without fingernails."


By Tom Barbash

They say he was born without fingernails, that his little hands were doughy and soft. And he was born without hair, and with one nostril sealed. The doctors made him a project, first implanting hair follicles (which grew real hair), then opening his closed nostril, and finally attempting to fashion tiny fingernails, though when they met little success they gave this up. As a small child he could not scratch, could not scrape or make a tapping sound, could not effectively pick his nose (would only push the buggers around a bit), could not scrape his teeth, could not tear the tape open on birthday presents, or pick the scabs on his knees.

He would often hide his hands in his jacket pocket, and in the winter would wear gloves constantly inside or out. There were rumors in school that his nails had been pulled off by a nasty uncle, or that he'd lost them in a fire, or that he was from another planet (he had a hand in starting that one).

As far as missing parts were concerned, nails were far from the worst on the list (try eyes, or a tongue). He had a girlfriend in middle school who loved his deficiency, who dreamed at night of his hands, and who liked to roll her own hands over his fingertips as though they were flowers. He worried sometimes that she loved him only for his difference – that if he had nails she would lose interest and date someone else.

Eventually he was the one who moved on. In college his fingers were less important. He began to walk with his hands out, on display, and no one seemed to notice that he was different. His girlfriend barely talked about it, and in fact rarely held his hand, preferring to take his arm when they walked, or to put her arm around his waist. One time when he ran his hand along her stomach she asked him to rub with the back of his fingertips.

“I want to know what they feel like,” she said.

“Like nothing.”

“I want to feel nothing.” And so he complied.

“Cool,” she said.

“I'm part alien,” he said.

“I know,” she said.

“I had no hair as a baby. One of my nostrils was sealed.”

“I know,” she said. “You snore like an old man.”

“If I ask you to do something for me, would you do it?”

“I'd do anything.”

“I want you to scratch my back for me. Then my stomach and my neck and the back of my head. Then up and down my arms for me. Would you do that?”

“Of course.”

She scratched everywhere, scratched gorgeously for more than two hours, and at the end his skin felt incredibly alive.