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 Spencer Dew

They say he was born without fingernails. Then came the incident on the Magic Tea Party ride, when he was still a toddler, which tore off both his pinky fingers and his twin sister's head. They say he never got over that, and I'm inclined to think they are right.

When his wife left, he moved to Shakespeare Avenue, Apartment #1, in rear. He wore pajamas all day, drank like an old maid: sherry and brandy, sweet kosher wine. His face rounded out, puffed up, turning a jaundice color, an infested toenail tone, resembling, I figure, his ex-wife's face, when they finally fished her body out of the lake.

I met him for the first time since college in the stadium, after the outbreak. We were waiting in the same line for salt tablets, ration books. Since then we meet on Tuesdays, for peanut cookies and Manischewitz, sitting on the plastic drop cloths that cover his furniture.

Because of the Tea Party, he doesn't hold his glass the way you'd figure, pinky out. There is just a purple-tipped nub, nearly flush against the knuckle. Conversation is predictable. We talk about the old times, girls we knew, how they died.

I'm not sure why I go, except that in the wake of it all, there is so much to be said for familiarity, routine. You hear the same pop psychology on the pirate radio stations: take comfort in ritual; develop patterns of socialization with your fellow survivors.

And he tells me, without fail, how glad he is, in the end, about the attacks – his neighborhood now more central, the lakefront expanded, the skyline so much more minimalist.

At a certain point – my cue to drink up and leave – his wormy soft-top fingers pull back the lacey curtains in his kitchen, exposing a slat of still surprising view: the new marsh, where the river lapped up into the craters of Wrightview; the sole remaining tower, buried to the fifteenth floor in lake and mud, now a military prison.

On clear days, standing on a milk crate he keeps by his sink just for this purpose, you can press against the glass and see Gary, the plumes of smoke where it still burns.

Not to mention – this is what he always says as I check my papers, ready my mask – not to mention that it took care of his ex-wife.

She was in one of the rescue boats crushed by the Dearborn drawbridge. Meaning that her corpse was catalogued before they stopped keeping track.

In the early months, the paper ran her picture with a short bio, in which her married name – his name – was preserved in parenthesis. He kept a copy of this picture, clipped out and glued to cardboard backing, sealed in a plastic sleeve.