By Christina Rosso
Twelve hours after he slid the ring onto my finger the nail started turning yellow. Not beige or off white, but bright yellow. The perfectly cut, impeccably clear one-carat diamond gleamed amber on that finger.
At first I wrote it off as a reaction to the band. Maybe Jordan lied. Maybe it wasn’t actually white gold. A dozen times I slid the ring on and off my finger. No mark or discoloration; my skin was its normal pale pink. I even called the jeweler to assuage my Jordan-is-cheap conspiracy theory. While Jacqui at Simon’s Jewelers didn’t appreciate my inquiry, she did look up the account, and assured me the ring was a genuine white gold band with a perfectly cut, impeccably clear one-carat round cut diamond. Three times.
Within a week, my entire fingernail was brownish. A deep ochre. The previously long, rounded nail of my ring finger was shriveling, folding in on itself like a plant that hadn’t been watered in weeks. I didn’t dare touch the receding distal edge. The rest of my fingernails were round, long, and, most importantly, off white.
Each night at dinner I waited for Jordan to say, “Holy hell, what is that,” but he never did. Since he’d put the ring on my finger he hadn’t looked at it once. Didn’t he want his bride to be blushing and glowing as she showed off the symbol of their commitment to friends and family? Didn’t he notice the putrid smell wafting from the withering nail? I finally said, “Does the ring make my fingernail look yellow?” To which he replied, “The ring looks great on you, babe.” He didn’t bother to look up from his iPhone as he shoveled stir fry into his mouth.
That weekend I went to a local nail salon. I was ready to show the ring off. Almost no one had seen it or knew about the engagement. My best friend did—I had sent her a photo as soon as Jordan proposed. But she was family; she was the only one I had besides my grandmother and Mommom didn’t know how to use her cell phone. Every time she received a call or text she screamed at the device as though that would make it magically talk to her. Jordan and I would drive out to see her as soon as things calmed down at his job.
Jordan’s parents also knew, and had seen the ring, as his mother helped him pick it out. I wanted to post photos on Instagram, but there was no way I was going to put up photos showing that finger. The distal edge was dark brown and almost completely gone. The nail plate was jagged and wrinkled, mocking me with a crooked smile. I held off going to a salon on purpose. I knew the women would talk about me in their native tongue as though I didn’t know my grotesque fingernail was the topic of gossip and unease. They’d take turns arguing about who would work on that nail. Whoever lost would wear gloves and a mask over her mouth and nose. Jordan might not notice the smell of the nail, but the manicurist certainly would.
Women notice these things; eyeing up one another to see who needs to be knocked down a peg, or destroyed. As I stepped through the glass door with a large window sticker of a woman with extremely long, glossy, talon-like red nails in the middle, the high pitch chime of the bell sounded. Without looking up, a woman finishing a pedicure asked what I wanted to get done. “A manicure. I just got engaged.”
She nodded, her eyes narrowing as her cheeks rose into a smile. She then motioned to an open station across from her.
I made my way over and sat down. A few seconds later a middle-aged woman, maybe in her forties or fifties, came by to ask if I had a color in mind. “Anything that covers this up.” I wiggled my ring finger up and down.
Her gaze lowered to the finger and then my nails. The skin around her eyes and round cheeks flinched. “Pretty ring,” she said. I thanked her. “French?”
I nodded and said, “Sure. That’d be great.”
45 minutes later all ten of my fingernails were a glossy pearl with snow white tips. “You like?” the manicurist said.
I lifted my left hand in front of me and tilted my ring finger in and out of the harsh fluorescent salon lights. The fingernail looked normal, which was all I cared about. “Yes.” I could feel my face widening into a grin. “Thank you so much. I’ve been so anxious about my nail I haven’t wanted to show off the ring.”
The woman nodded. “Pretty ring,” she said. I agreed. “Pretty ring doesn’t always mean pretty life.”
“Excuse me?” I leaned towards her as my phone rang. “Hi. Yeah, we’re meeting them at seven. Yes, I’ll be ready. Just got my nails done. Okay. See you at home. Love yo—”
The manicurist was gone when I hung up with Jordan, or rather when he hung up on me. I wondered what was up with that woman, but I didn’t have time for weird proverbs or nonsensical advice. My mind went to my to-do list: pick up my dress from the dry cleaners, then blow out my hair before dinner with Jordan’s parents. I paid the woman who had been doing a pedicure when I walked in and asked her to give my manicurist a $10 tip.
At 6:35 that evening Jordan and I sat in a Lyft on our way to the restaurant. “You look beautiful,” he said, and squeezed the top of my kneecap where the hem of my cocktail dress ended and my bare skin began.
“Thanks. You don’t look so bad yourself.”
He winked at me. Then his forehead wrinkled like an accordion, and he said, “I forgot to tell you about the meeting with Chuck today.”
“Yeah, Chuck totally messed up the risk management report for…”
I turned my head away from Jordan and his dull work story to look at the people walking and biking outside.
“Jordan, Danielle,” Louise, Jordan’s mother, called from the bar. She flapped her right arm up and down to get our attention. “Let me see it,” she said once we were in front of her.
I held out my left hand, keeping my eyes on her face. Her eyes shined like diamonds as she examined the ring. “My Jordan did a good job.” She raised her eyes to meet mine, expectant. After dating Jordan for two years, I knew Louise well enough that anytime she mentioned Jordan she expected praise. Really, she was asking, Didn’t Jordan do a good job? And didn’t I do a good job? Since she had gone with him to pick it out.
I pressed my cheeks into a smile. “He did.”
She nodded, accepting my answer. “Jasper,” she said to Jordan’s father. He was facing the bar, palming a glass of scotch. When he heard his name he swallowed the last gulp of the brown liquid. “He did a fine job,” he replied. After 35 years of marriage he didn’t need any prompting from his wife; he was trained long ago.
“Our table should be ready,” Louise said. “Would you go check, Jordan?”
She tilted her head towards Jasper. “I’ll close out the tab,” he said.
Without saying anything to her husband, Louise coiled her arm around my shoulder like a python surrounding its prey; I felt my chest constrict but forced myself to smile.
“You should get gel next time.” I tilted my chin towards her in confusion. She pointed to my nails. For the first time since the nail salon I shot a glance at the fingernail. Three vertical cracks crept down the length of the nail. “A beautiful ring deserves to be properly shown off. Gel is the way to go. It won’t chip.”
I felt my heart drop as my throat dried, turning to sandpaper. I knew my cheeks were reddening.
“Hey,” Jordan said as he walked up to us. He grabbed my hand. “The table’s ready.”
“Wonderful,” Louise said.
He kissed my cheek. “You O.K.?”
I swallowed. “Mhm.”
He smiled and led me by the hand to the table. I moved my eyes on the floor and kept them there the rest of the evening.
When the alarm went off the next morning I kept my eyes shut. The weight of Jordan’s side pressed lightly against my face as he reached over my curled up body to shut it off. I felt the softness of his lips and the tickle of his stubble when he kissed my nose. My eyes fluttered open. “Can’t we stay in bed today?”
“I have to redo that risk management report today.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.”
He slid out of bed to start getting ready for work.
I rolled onto my back, stretching my arms above my head. I then lowered them in front of me, outstretched like a mummy. The three cracks from the previous evening had turned into crevices. Small circular spots remained of pearly gloss and white nail polish. The fingernail looked even more mangled and shrunken than before the manicure. I wondered how many days before I woke up to the shriveled nail lying beside my ear on the pillow, blood streaming from my nailless ring finger as the perfectly cut, impeccably clear one-carat diamond laughed maniacally. I sat up. “Hey, Jordan, can you come here?”
He walked out of the bathroom in boxers and an unbuttoned dress shirt, his toothbrush dangling from his mouth. “What’s up?” he said in a frothy toothpaste voice.
“Look at my nail.”
He stepped towards the bed. “Which one?”
“My ring finger.” I almost shouted.
“What about it?” White toothpaste hugged the corners of his lips.
“Look at it. It looks terrible.”
He glanced at it. “Why don’t you go back to the salon and have them fix it?” He went back to brushing his teeth and turned his back to me as he walked towards the bathroom.
“I don’t know if they can.”
He spit toothpaste into the sink. “If they messed up it’s their responsibility to fix—”
“It was messed up before. Ever since…”
He moved to the doorway of the bathroom and turned to face me, his hands on his hips. “Ever since when?”
I swallowed. “Since you gave me this ring.” I pointed at it.
He sighed through his nostrils and began to button his shirt. “If you don’t like the ring you can just say it. There’s no need for the drama.”
“Excuse me? You think I’m being dramatic?”
“It took me months to pick out that diamond. That setting. And you’re not happy. I don’t know what else I can do, Dani.” He finished buttoning his shirt and grabbed a pair of trousers from the closet.
“It’s not the ring. Or at least it’s not what it looks like. It’s what this ring is doing to my fingernail.”
He buckled the belt on the trousers. “Now you’re just being crazy. There is nothing wrong with your nail. It looks like the other nine.”
I looked at the fingernail then at Jordan. “You really don’t see anything wrong with this nail? No cracks? No discoloration?”
He exhaled before answering. “You’re right. It doesn’t look like the others.” I sighed in relief. Finally. “It’s better than the others because it’s showing off that perfectly cut one-carat diamond that your amazing fiancé spent three month’s salary on.” There was a twinkle in his eye. I didn’t appreciate the joke. “I gotta go. I’ll see you later.”
He left me sitting there. And, as usual, he didn’t kiss me goodbye before he went.
By the next week, the nail was nearly off, the cuticle dangling for dear life. I went back to the salon, demanding someone fix it. The woman who had been giving a pedicure the last time sat down across from me. Her name tag read “Judy.” “No,” I said and shook my head. “I want the woman I had last week.”
Judy looked confused. A few seconds later I saw the woman who had done my manicure. She was bringing fresh towels from the back. “Her.” I pointed at the woman. “I want her to fix it.”
Judy stood up and went over to the woman. They conversed briefly before Judy turned and nodded at me several times. The manicurist I had requested walked over and sat in front of me. Her name tag said “Lin.” She said hello and smiled. I wasn’t really in the mood for niceties. “I was in last week. You gave me a French manicure to cover up this.” I put my left hand out in front of her. “See the problem?” Two thin vertical lines formed between her painted on eyebrows. “You see it, don’t you? The nail is—”
“I see.” She took hold of the finger by the knuckle and examined the nail. “Pretty ring doesn’t always mean pretty life.”
“Pretty ring doesn’t always mean pretty life.”
“Right. You’ve said that several times now. But what the hell do you mean?”
Completely unfazed by my mounting aggression, she said, “I cannot fix the nail. Only you can.” She released my finger and brought her hands together, her pointer fingers against her lips. Her calm eyes met my bloodshot ones, and she studied me before smiling and saying, “Cannot fix the nail, but a new one can grow.”
I threw my hands up. “What do you mean? You’re a manicurist. Please. I’m begging you. Fix the nail.”
She shook her head. “That will not fix this problem. Come back when it’s done and I’ll give you a manicure. Free of charge.” With that she stood and walked away. I saw her go into the back room.
“Are you kidding me? Hello?” I looked around the shop. “This is no way to run a business.”
Judy came over. “I’m sorry, miss. Lin is right. A manicure won’t fix the problem.” Then she smiled and told me to have a nice day and come again.
I wanted to scream. My phone rang, stopping me.
“Danielle, it’s Louise.”
I said hello and asked how she was. “I’m doing fine, dear. Just fine. But I’m afraid this isn’t a social call. Jordan told me about the trouble you’ve been having.” Of course he did. He told his mother everything. It was surprising she let the doctor cut the umbilical cord, detaching her precious Jordan from her 29 years ago.
I knew this wasn’t a conversation as much as an ambush. “It’s normal for couples to fight after getting engaged. It’s an exciting, but stressful time. I told Jordan you didn’t mean to hurt his feelings about the ring. You’d have to be out of your mind to not think it’s perfect. And, if the wedding planning becomes too much, I’d be happy to take over.”
“Of course you would. Are you also going to walk down the aisle in my place?” It came out before I could stop it.
I heard Louise clear her throat, an action she did to try to calm herself. “As I said, Danielle, this is a stressful time. Clearly it’s bringing up some issues of jealousy and abandonment. I know you didn’t have the best home life growing up, but it’s not fair to take it out on Jordan. Or me, for that matter.”
By not having “the best home life,” she was referring to my parents leaving me at my grandmother’s when I was ten. Louise went on to say how it wasn’t healthy to carry this level of resentment all these years later. When she said she understood me being envious of the close relationship she and Jordan had, I hung up.
I looked down at the nail. I needed to figure out a remedy as soon as possible. It was then that I realized I was still in the nail salon, and that my argument with Louise had been broadcasted in front of the manicurists and patrons. I could feel my face growing hot; I stood and ran out of the shop.
I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I went to the apartment. Jordan was there waiting for me, and from how clenched his jaw was, I could tell he’d gotten a full report from his mother. He was leaning against the kitchen counter, a bottle of beer in hand. “What the fuck, Dani?” he said as I entered the room.
I stopped by the center island, my hand gripping the wooden edge. “I admit shouldn’t have said that, but you—”
“I won’t apologize for having a close relationship with my mom.”
“That’s not what this is about.” I tapped my ring finger against the grain of the island edge.
Jordan took a long swig of beer. After he swallowed, he said, “You’ve got to get over your jealousy. You’re not ten years old anymore.”
My finger tapped faster. “You’re not listening to me. You never do. I don’t give a crap about your relationship with your mom. I’m trying to talk to you about me. About you and me. Something is happening. Something isn’t right. And while I’m not prone to listening to weird proverbs from manicurists, they have a point. Something isn’t matching up.”
“What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense.” Jordan slammed the glass on the counter. I shivered at the sharp, vibrating sound.
I walked up to him and placed my left hand on his chest. “It’s this.” When I looked at the finger, panic shot through me. The fingernail was gone. In its place was blood and wrinkled skin like I’d be in the bath for too long. I was about to scream when I saw it. The fingernail had broken free from the cuticle and landed on Jordan’s shirt.
He didn’t even seem to notice the gnarled, brown detached fingernail resting on his shirt. “If you don’t want to marry me, just say it. I’m tired of this shit.” He didn’t look at me as he spoke.
“You know what?” I worked the perfectly clear, impeccably cut one-carat diamond ring past my knuckle and over the bloody nailless portion of that finger. “I don’t think I do.”
Holding the ring between my thumb and pointer finger, I half expected the nail to grow back as I looked at the ring. Lin had said it would grow back, didn’t she? It was done: the ring was off, I had broken the engagement, and yet the top of my finger looked like something out of a horror movie.
“I don’t understand.” I stepped away from Jordan and over to the sink at the other end of the counter. I put the ring down on the counter and turned on the faucet, letting the cool water run over my hands, in between my fingers, on the nailless finger itself. Nothing happened. No change, no sudden growth. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jordan on his phone. I knew he was texting his mother. Louise would be over here in one swoop of her cape to save her precious Jordan from the monstrous woman who’d broken his heart. She’d rip the ring from me and lecture me on how I never deserved him. What about what I deserved? I wanted someone who listened to me, who actually kissed me goodbye before work, who could put away his phone and spend time with me. I could hear the sound of Jordan’s fingers typing, texting his mom for help. I deserved a man who wasn’t his mother’s little bitch.
That’s when the switch caught my eye. Without hesitation, I picked up the engagement ring and tossed it into the sink drain. This got Jordan’s attention. He shouted at me, asking what I was doing. With a gentle flick, the switch was on and the disposal buzzed to life. In a second’s time, the ring was swallowed whole, clinking and roaring as it went down.
I exhaled deeply before shutting off the switch. Jordan yelled, “You bitch. That was a three month’s paycheck. My mom was right about you.”
I ignored him, interlacing the fingers of both my hands and bringing them to my forehead. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Please grow back,” three times. My hands shaking, I opened my eyes and brought my left hand out in front of me. I sighed. A stub of light pink nail protruded from the cuticle of my left ring finger. I could taste the salty tears streaming down my face. I smiled. Then I looked over at my ex-fiancé, and said, “I think I’ll get a manicure tomorrow.” I walked away from him and out of the apartment, his cursing becoming nothing more than a hum.
Christina Rosso is a red-headed siren and bookstore ownerliving in South Philadelphia with her bearded husband and two rescue pups. Herwork has been featured in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Across the Margin, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, and more. Visit https://christinarosso.wordpress.com/ or find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina.
(tagged: fiction, short story)