Biting Nails

Akeith Walters

 “Would you like an emery board, son?”

I glanced at my nails. Their jagged, quick-cut edges used to be so well-kept.

“No thanks, Mom.”

A stained doily, crocheted by her mother as a wedding gift, decorated the wingback chair where her head rested. When it had been washed last would remain an unsolved mystery. For that matter, when my mother had been washed last was a mystery. The attendants stayed so busy here.

The room’s window draped quilted sunlight across her lap. The carpet bore a small path from her bed to the chair then forked to the toilet’s door. Mom sat there, tapping her bare feet to some tune playing in her head while wispy-white hair struggled to cover her scalp. In the past, she would have died had she been caught without shoes or a nice perm. I remember well that my older brother and I were never allowed to go barefoot outside when growing up in our treeless suburb, and play clothes were always pressed.

“How’s your friend, Josh? Haven’t seen him for a long time.”

Neither had I, I wanted to say.

And I wanted to say how Josh and I met on a sunlit corner in front of a coffee shop, two young strangers jostling each other to get onto the bus. I wanted to tell her for once about the first apartment we had with its two plastic lawn chairs and mismatched spoons and forks. I wanted to stand and pry loose the unseen bloodless fingers that decorum used to squeeze my throat, and scream about how empty our house still felt, even with all the clutter, the trinkets and treasures, left behind from two lives so tightly woven together.

Instead, I just looked out the window.

“Mom, he passed last year. Remember? He was on his way home, waiting at a red light in that blue mustang of his, when he was rear-ended and pushed in front of that delivery truck.”

“Oh, dear. A pity. He was such a polite young man. Now, he had nice nails.”

Yes, I thought, nice nails and a preference for rainbow decals and bumper stickers.

She reached into the pocket of her robe. The flannel was frayed a bit and the top corner of the pocket was starting to tear.

“Are you sure you don’t want an emery board? I have one right here.”


For Akeith Walters, words are the art of his heart. Some of his literary credits include publication in multiple anthologies and numerous literary journals. Most recently, his poetry has appeared in Di-verse-city, the 2012, 2013, and 2014 anthologies of the Austin International Poetry Festival, as well as in Gyroscope Review and The Linnet’s Wings (2015). A poem of his also won first place in the San Antonio Poetry Fair and was published in their anthology: Voices Along The River. He continues to maintain membership in the Sun Poets Society of San Antonio, Tx.

At the end of the day, he likes to sit with a mug of ice melting in bourbon while he contemplates the difference between poetry and prose. The latter is more difficult to pen down, but sometimes when the room is quiet and still, the stories will hang around like cigarette smoke exhaled in frustration.