Hair and Nails

By Mary Elizabeth Reilly-McGreen

December 10, 2018

Hair and Nails

Jen was so venomous that I stopped having my students read their journal entries aloud. She said such cutting things unsolicited. She made a student cry just by staring at him. One day, the students were doing an assignment to demonstrate their understanding of symbolism by bringing in a box of things that held meaning for them beyond the things' utility. We'd just read To Kill a Mockingbird and had watched the movie's opening, the cigar box scene where they'd seen Atticus' pocket watch, the carved figures of Jem and Scout, Scout's mother's pearls, etc. When Jen's turn came, my department head walked into the classroom — a surprise teacher evaluation.

My heart sank as Jen emptied the contents of her box — one bottle of nail polish after another — onto my desk. There must've been 30. Then she withdrew a brush, a comb, and a hairdryer. She would use this opportunity to mock me. She'd said my assignments were stupid. I imagined the glowing evaluation I was going to get. Instead, Jen told us she'd been thrown out of her parents' home and was living in the car her grandmother had left her. After school and on the weekends, she took her box and sat in a ladies room at a truck stop off I95 offering to do the nails and hair of the women who entered. This, she explained, was how she was paying for food.

I looked at her nails, long and sharp, dragon’s teeth. Not vanity, advertising.

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