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

William's Geography

By Amy MacLennan

They say he was born without fingernails. His mother kept mitts on his infant hands, and his father pointed to the child's feet (feet that always kicked) and said, “See, he's going to be a runner.”

They named him William, after a paternal great-uncle, and he did run. Not for God and country, not for any school. He ran from everyone. He shied from other children, the ones that stared at his gloves. He avoided adults at all costs because they asked questions, not to him, but to his parents behind his back. William didn't like the looks and whispers, and he didn't want to see anyone else's hands tipped with the strange, milky shards.

He went to school, kept his head down, refused to speak when called on. At home, he studied geography. With gloves off, he traced the outlines of continents, then drew in rivers, mountain ranges, landlocked bays. The certainty of oceans pleased him; they had boundaries. Even the most ragged shore was finite, complete. William tried to love mathematics and astronomy, but even they failed him with their inconsistencies, their expansion.

No, it was the earth he loved, the earth that would not fail him. He fantasized about the entire crust, imagined walking into the sea, down beneath the waves. William pretended he could breathe water. At times he felt himself more fish than boy.

His drawings became more detailed. He spent entire Sundays sketching the Great Barrier Reef, ignored chemistry for the Norwegian coast. The nubs of his fingers, smudged first with pencil, became stained with ink. He never used color; he had no use for that. He shaded land with gray, and the waters stayed pure white.

He dreamed once of having fingernails. He drummed them on his desk and heard the satisfying clicks like a dog on hardwood floors. He saw their imperfections, the ridges and splits, half-moons butted up against cragged cuticles almost like hazed lagoons. When he woke, the dull ends of his thumbs itched. He knew he would draw Asia that day.