The First Time I Painted My Nails or The Moose is Not an Ass

The First Time I Painted My Nails or
The Moose is Not an Ass

by Ariel Fintushel


This is the story of how I became a goddess on the same day I learned to paint my nails.  One becomes a goddess when the truth is revealed.  The truth is the lotus grows out from mud.  The truth is the frog humps around, knocking on doors until one opens.

It was the holiday season, and Papa was not in the room.  Mama and I were painting our nails, and Papa was painting his card table or writing a story about a woman who falls in love with a moose.

There were only a few colors to choose from, or there was just one: a dark, holiday red, a maroon tinged red, a purpley red, and I chose the one that Mama chose, since there was no other choice, or because I wanted ours to be the same.

That night, we were going to Jane’s.  To become a goddess, one must leave home forever, or destroy home, or screw up one’s eyes until home is strange and stuffed with prickly pears and lice and weevil.

Papa wore the wool sweater Mama bought, then sat in front with Mama and drove us to Jane’s, or Papa hunched over a card table eating handfuls of peanuts while Mama drove me to Jane’s, and I looked out the window at the trees which were dripping paint into Papa’s hands which were far away because a goddess always knows what’s missing.

Mama set her nails on her lap to look at them.  The goddess pauses.  Her chest rises and falls.  She isn’t always moving forward; the moose is not an ass.  That I’d never seen her with painted nails, that there was a space around the two of us in which our living room grew tall, that even when our nails were done, red as poinsettias or Brandy, as Santa’s velvet hat, that something, some holiday incandescence was missing, makes me think, the first time I painted my nails, my parents were divorced.  The goddess takes a knee, pops open a bag of chips.

“Voila,” Mama said.  We thrust our hands into the light.  “Voila,” I said.

Because my father lived somewhere else, there was no man in the house, and the house was full of women.  I looked at my mother’s hands, which were my own.  The goddess loves loss.  The goddess feels pain–she draws the ten of swords and is the man on his belly with swords from ass to jaw.

Next, the goddess changes form.  As Mama drove to Jane’s, I watched the trees out the window.  I watched hills rise and houses disappear, counted telephone poles and mailboxes.  The goddess knows nothing can be recovered.  Then, her ankles become Redwoods.  Her hair lengthens into silver noodles.


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