Jasper felt a yearning. He wasn't exactly sure for what but guessed a woman might be the answer. He went to Wal-Mart to buy a new shirt and pants, and went to the supermarket, and asked Lucille, the cashier, to coffee. It looked to him like she laughed at him, but she said yes. He stuck his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail. He felt buoyant. He hurried back to his tiny basement apartment and checked in the mirror to see if he needed a haircut. He worked as a sanitation engineer in his mind which others saw as the janitor at the middle school. He pictured Lucille and stuck his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail. He was twenty-five years old with red hair and freckles. He liked being a sanitation engineer because he was alone – sweeping or mopping or waxing, and he could keep his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail for as long as he wanted. He read the newspaper one time about the stages of development in children and the doctor said how the infant first plays with its butt and thinks that’s really cool until he finds his pee pee and pulls on that for fun, and finally it’s his mouth he likes until he integrates all of these to an actualized human being. Jasper felt bad after reading this because he sensed he wasn’t integrated, but he wasn’t a black man either, and he chided himself for being silly because that’s not what the doctor was meaning. All he knew was that anytime he got nervous, he felt better if he could stick his first finger in his mouth to crew the nail. He was being to see it differently as he got older. He was being to see it got in his way with others. He recalled the doctor in the newspaper article writing that an unintegrated personality can lead to depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior, post-traumatic stress, and mayhem. He said it was a spectrum that went from small to big, and Jasper figured sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail wasn’t mayhem, but it was anxiety which was on the doorstep of anti- social behavior.
Nobody knew this but it took some guts on his part to ask Lucille out for coffee. Jasper wanted to experiment with Lucille to see if his sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail got in the way of his developing a relationship with her and having kids. A new year was starting in two weeks, and his idea was to stop sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail so she couldn’t use that as a reason to not have kids with him or coffee either for that matter. He tried ridicule as a way to change his behavior. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror and stuck his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail, and told himself how ridiculous he looked, and that nobody would want to be seen in public with someone who looked like that. He had an idea – substitution. He would incrementally change from sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail to slowly taking a straw, and when he got nervous, sticking that in his mouth. He’d made a coffee date with Lucille two days from now, and he knew he wouldn’t be ready, and the new year was two weeks away yet. He thought about if he could get through coffee in two days by sitting on his right hand and had the idea of wearing gloves so he couldn’t chew his nail if he wanted to. It was December so gloves wouldn’t be that unusual. Better yet, he would wrap his right hand in bandages and make up a story about how he burnt his hand. He wasn’t totally happy with any of his ideas. He forced himself to look at the nail on his first finger of his right hand and he saw maybe four millimeters of nail on a background of red, raw flesh. Band aid! Of course. He felt relieved. He felt confident he could meet Lucille with a band aid and sit on his right hand. His plan was reinforced when he saw this ad in the paper:
Embarrassed by ugly fingers? Tired of biting your nails? Try Dr. Gwynn’s Nail-Biting Cream. Comes in three different mixtures to keep you from biting your nails. Your choice of Rotten Fish Mixture, Rotten Egg Mixture or Curdled Milk Mixture. Satisfaction Guaranteed.
He made a trip to Wal-Mart to buy the cream, and when he got back to his apartment, and squirted the tube, there was a rancorous smell of rotting fish that made him turn his head and squint his eyes. He learned that a little bit would go a long way but was anticipating the cream would keep him from sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail. He went through a checklist of things to get ready before meeting Lucille, and had just bought his pants and shirt, and solved the sticking his first finger of his right hand to chew the nail problem, and so, felt pretty content with his situation.
The morning of his coffee with Lucille, he felt anxious, and wanted in the worst way to stick his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail, and quickly applied a small amount of Dr. Gwynn’s Nail-Biting Cream to his first finger to keep him from sticking his first finger in his mouth to chew the nail, and the smell made him nauseous, and changed his mind about having anything to eat. He opened a window and held his right hand out to lessen the potency, and after several minutes that became tolerable. He tried to think about things they could talk about: he could brag to her about being a sanitation engineer, and he remembered, he’d heard somewhere, it’s not a good idea to talk about religion or politics with a stranger. He figured as a cashier she must talk to strangers all the time so if he could just relax, and take his cues from her, that might work. He paced back and forth in his apartment to more frustration because there was no room, so he put on his coat, and walked to the park. The cold air took some of the sting out of Dr. Gwynn’s Nail-Biting Cream. He sat on a bench and remembered they were to meet at Dottie’s Coffee Shop at one. He went back to his closet, and did some cleaning, hoping that would occupy him, and keep him distracted, until it was time to go. He made a small application of Dr. Gwynn’s Nail-Biting Cream before he left to meet Lucille. He congratulated himself on cleaning his digs, so if she wanted to be alone, they had somewhere to go. He walked into Dottie’s and looked and didn’t see her. The waitress behind the cash register asked him how many, and he said he was waiting for someone. She answered to let her know when he was ready. He stood in the doorway and was a nuisance for customers coming in, so he walked out to the parking lot. He was getting anxious he was being stood up and wanted to stick the first finger of his right hand into his mouth to chew the nail, but when he got his finger close to his mouth, the fish smell put him off. He was left with anxiety. He saw Lucille coming down the sidewalk and his anxiety spiked. She half-heartedly smiled, and they exchanged hi. They went into the coffee shop and the waitress seated them in a booth and took their order for two coffees. When the waitress walked away, there was an awkward pause, and Lucille wrinkled her nose.
“What’s that smell?”
Lester felt moisture on his forehead and shifted his weight and sat on his right hand to keep from sticking it in his mouth to chew the nail, and when the waitress brought two mugs of coffee, and Lucille raised her mug to take a sip, Lester saw the tip of the first finger of her right hand was red and raw. Lester’s anxiety collapsed like sandcastles in a tide. He was in love.