MY COLLECTION by MARIA L. BERG
Do you want to see my collection? I admit it’s a little off the norm, but nothing gross. I keep some of the more unusual items in the basement. You know, like... never mind. Come on. Take a look. I made these nice display shelves for my jars. As you can see, I started collecting when I was very young. I started with my finger and toenails, then hair and scabs, and of course my baby teeth when they started to come out. My dentist was cool about letting me have my molars, too. Look how big they are compared to all those little baby teeth.
I really can’t understand how people just throw pieces of themselves in the garbage. That’s my essence in each of my jars. Each one of those hairs, nails and teeth was a part of me. I would hate to think of some rat or seagull in some landfill chomping on me, or making me into a nest and shitting all over me. And that’s not even the scary part. What if some Voodoo priestess finds pieces of me and curses me, or uses my essence to control me and make me do horrible things? Just thinking about it gives me the shivers.
My interest in collecting first started one evening when I was left at my grandmother’s house overnight. I sat on the floor playing with a wood puzzle. You remember that kind with the pegs sticking out of the shapes and you put them into the board? I loved those when I was little. Well, I was sitting on the floor while Grandma was in her easy chair watching TV. I remember she took off her slipper just a couple feet from my face. I couldn’t help but stare. Grandma had a thick, long, yellowing toenail on her big toe which was more bunion and callus than toe. It was curled and gnarled with hairs sticking out of the knuckle. Grandma had a large silver tool she fit around the nail and squeezed. It made a loud click sound as it cut through. I heard four clicks before that nail separated from her toe. She put it in the empty Mason jar she had been drinking water out of earlier.
The other nails came off quickly. One flew right by me and landed in the carpet, but most of them went in the jar. I wondered how long it took Grandma to grow that incredible toe nail. I looked down at my own, so small and almost clear. When they grew, I tore them off and never knew where they went. They just flew away. Even if I could collect them, they wouldn’t look like anything in a jar, not like Grandma’s excellent collection of intertwining colors and shapes. Grandma left the jar on the table and went back to watching TV. I stared at those toenails, admiring their beauty. In the morning I wanted to see them again, but the jar was gone.
“Grandma, where’s the jar?” I hurried into the kitchen where she hummed as she made waffles.
“What jar, sweetie?”
“The jar from last night. You put your toenails in it.” I began to worry that I dreamed the whole thing.
“Oh, I just put them in there to hold them until I could throw them away. The jar’s in the dishwasher. Why? Is the jar special for some reason?”
At that moment, I knew true loss for the first time. My heart hurts thinking about it. My lip started that quiver, you know that quiver when you’re about to cry, but I shut my eyes really tightly and stopped those tears so Grandma wouldn’t see.
“My heavens, darling, what’s wrong?” Grandma asked, putting down her spoon and hugging me.
“I just really think you should have kept those toenails, Grandma,” I told her. And I’ve collected my nails and all the other things you see here ever since. Isn’t ear wax the best color when you have a whole jar of it?
So you wanna see what I keep in the basement? Grandma’s doctor let me have her amazingly huge gall stone. I bet it’d be worth a lot of money at one of those oddities shops, but I keep it safe for her. I had to have a gnarly sebaceous cyst removed once. Did you know that there’s this cyst that sometimes forms at the base of your spinal column during development that can have eyes and teeth from an undeveloped twin in it? Mine didn’t though. It just looks kinda like a brain made of fat. Wanna see? No? Okay.