by Vickie Fernandez
I don’t go to nail salons, and given my rudimentary skill at home mani-pedis it’s an arduous task. Once a week, like a drone to its mission, I remove chipped polish and proceed to mangle my stubby appendages in an attempt to achieve the Cuban standard of “uñas arregladas.” As hard as I try, I always end up with bubbling polish and toenails cut so short that I’m walking on the heels of my feet for a week. However, I attribute my resistance to this practice to one very distinct childhood trauma.
Every Saturday was manicure day for the matriarchs in my family. My grandmother was no exception. The family manicurist, Margo, worked out of her sweltering home. In Cuba, she’d been my grandmother’s neighbor and was honing her craft for extra cash on the weekends.
Margo had no refreshments but espresso and saltines. I’d gorge myself on stale crackers and tangy New Jersey tap water while my grandmother had the soles of her feet lashed mercilessly with a foot razor resembling a spoon gone wild. Occasionally, I’d misbehave.
By Cuban standards this includes, but is not limited to: talking, excessive toilet use, wanting more crackers, begging to change the TV station from Telemundo to anything else, and fidgeting while adults trash-talk and imbibe a gallon of cafe cubano.
One Saturday I took matters into my own hands and changed Sabado Gigante to my beloved Saved by the Bell. That is when the fear-mongering began.
Margo was a small woman, her hair always in rollers as though she were perpetually gussying up for an outing that would never come. Her face, lacking eyebrows and creased into a permanent scowl, never frightened me until that day. She came kiss-close to my freckled mug, the smell of acetone and agua de violetas oozing from her pores, her miss matched rollers writhing like Medusa’s snakes.
She wove a tale about a creature kept hidden in the darkness of her attic. This creature, she claimed, was unleashed on insolent children. I asked her what its name was; Margo paused for a moment and cried with fists in the air, “La Mosca!”
I had secretly watched “The Fly” the night before. I believed the story and swore never to touch the television again, but I still “misbehaved.” Every Saturday after that I’d get the same tired warning about the fly that was going to eat me. After months passed with no reveal I started to lose faith in this maggot-hatched disciplinarian. I even went as far as to sass Margo and accuse her of making the whole thing up.
Then it happened.
A giant black, hairy fly buzzed right onto my nose. I flung my arms in terror knocking over Margo’s manicure table. Nail polishes smashed onto the floor leaving glass and paint everywhere. I toppled a table in the living room, shattering a lamp and finally made my way outside.
My face was red with tears, my heart thudding in my ears. I looked up to see my grandmother’s face blanched with embarrassment. I suffered one of the biggest frights of my life and was still going to get the chancleta later for being overly dramatic.
From that day forward I sat quietly on the plastic seats in Margo’s kitchen and never made a peep about crackers, Telemundo or anything again. I vowed to myself I’d never waste a perfectly good Saturday morning getting my nails done. And, that when I grew up, I’d always have a fly swatter handy.
Vickie Fernandez is a recovering New Yorker living in Philadelphia. She believes in resurrecting the most humiliating, yet colorful morsels of her life in an effort to excavate a greater truth and, more importantly, to entertain the masses. For more harrowing tales and general high jinx visit her blog, vickiefernandez.blogspot.com.