Volume 15 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2023

Siena Canales

My fingernails are perfect.

My fingernails, right now, are perfect. Each one is filed into a perfect arc and then painted with two coats of translucent pink, so you can see how clean and well-kept they are. I hold up my hand and watch the nails shine in the light like pink pearls. I imagine myself on a dinner date, dipping my finger into the wax of a flickering candle as I tell the faceless man sitting across from me a story about my life. His eyes watch as the wax hardens into a milky cap on the tip of my finger. I crack it with my thumb and the wax crumbles back into the candle. “You have really nice hands,” he says. I smile down at the wax as if I hadn’t thought the same thing.

A voice in my phone pulls me out of the daydream. “What’s the mantra of today?” Donna asks in her throaty voice. She is a social worker at New York Hospital and my pro bono therapist until I find a job and health insurance. “Was there a mantra we discussed?” I ask. The nail file and bottle of sheer pink nail polish are next to me on the arm of the couch. “To just try!” She says. “Now say it out loud.” We had been discussing ways to create “routine” in my mornings. I had told her that getting out of bed in the morning felt like crawling out of a dirt grave, so she thought some small action might be encouraging.

As a kid, I remember seeing a human leg inside a trash can. I was eight years old at dissection camp. I followed our instructor into one of the rooms where the embalming jars were shelved and in the corner, there was an image that would last like a stain in my mind: a yellowy leg inside a trash can with the foot suspended in the air. The toenails were covered in hot pink nail polish, chipped in a messy, youthful way, the pink bright against the dull skin.

I look down at my nails, seeing how artificially healthy they look with the pink polish. They look like the nails of a successful real estate agent or a woman expecting her boyfriend to propose or a princess waving at a crowd of cheering people. Not of a person who can no longer pay her rent, who has eaten boxed macaroni and cheese for a whole week, or who wakes up staring into her phone like a hypnotic spiral to pull her out of any semblance of a dark feeling. And that, I suppose, is the point.

Siena Canales is a writer and illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. She received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University and is currently working on a collection of graphic nonfiction essays. She has been published in The New York Times' Modern Love Column, Stanford's Poetry Journal (Mantis), Columbia Journal, and Mission Magazine.