Between The Nail and The Skin

Hema Nataraju

Editorial note from Janus Literary reader, Myna Chang, who asked Hema to submit her work: I love the way humor can heighten the emotional complexity of a story. A touch of levity, or an unexpected quirk, can capture a reader’s attention and lend more power to those poignant “gut punch” moments. “Between The Nail and The Skin” has an edge of dark humor that immediately connected me with this tired, lonely wife and mother. I’ve long been a fan of Hema’s writing, and I’m excited to share her work.

Okay, fine, you got me. Iwishyouhadn’tgonethroughmyphone, but yes, I chat with strangers on “Words with Friends.” It’s nothing, really. It’s just words, with friends. I know they’re not my friends, but they are friend-ly. What’s wrong with having a simple conversation with someone? It means nothing, like the way I play with my wedding ring when I’m deep in thought. I bring it to the very tip of my finger and when it’s about to fall off–when it’s at the precipice, I push it back on. It’s harmless. In fact it’s actually good. For me, for us! Last Friday, I made “ZING” for 51 points and Dr.Jekyll261 said “You bring so much zing into my life.” The dark clouds cleared and a thousand pink tulips bloomed inside me. After that, I didn’t yell at the kids or complain about having to do the dishes every single fucking day. I even hummed “Hey there Delilah ” while doing the laundry. And date night that evening was–to quote you–the best in ages! Even after you said “Ruby Woo” wasn’t a lipstick shade meant for a middle-aged mom of two (trust me, I feel middle-age every day in my bones.) I laughed at all your jokes. So yeah, I’m doing this for us. Chatting with strangers might just be the boost of Vitamin C our relationship needs right now. These men don’t even know my real name and it’s not like I want to sleep with any of them. We flirt and we tease. That’s about it. Ok that one time I made “TIT” for 10 points–only because I didn’t have better letters–that was the only time things got a little spicy. He and I didn’t even talk about it again. And who knows what Dr.Jekyll261’s deal is? His profile picture is the Kung-Fu Panda! Maybe he’s a teenager looking for some fun, and now I’m the 40-year old creep his mother probably warned him about. But he’s warm, funny and kind–like you used to be. And you’re not wrong, I’ve changed too. I’m not the same person you fell in love with. So maybe Dr.Jekyll261 is simply helping us bring out that earlier, nicer version of our relationship from the very back of the closet. That’s good, right? He’s like nailpolish–only cosmetic–it doesn’t hurt when you remove it. 

The real relationship is between the nail and the skin it grows on–you and me, and at least I’m trying. 

Hema Nataraju is a Singapore-based writer and mom of two. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf, Atlas & Alice, Ellipsis Zine, Moria Online, Sunlight Press, and in print anthologies including Bath Flash Fiction 2020, Best Microfiction 2020, and National Flash Fiction Day. She tweets about her writing and parenting adventures as m_ixedbag.