Last night, Gideon approached me with an outstretched fist and then stopped, waiting for me to turn and acknowledge him.
“Oh, hi Gideon.” I looked at his fist, “Um… What are you doing?”
He slowly blinked his tired eyes and gave me a half smile. “I have a secret.” His eyes blinked again, each eye at a slightly different time. “Would you like to see?”
“Okay.” I held out my hand underneath his fist.
A small collection of things were released into my palm. I raised them to the light. I recoiled at what I saw. “Oh, gross, little man. What are you doing?”
“Mom clicked my fingernails,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, okay, I see that. But, why are you showing them to me? Go throw them in the trash.”
His eyebrows raised in alarm. “No!” He scrambled to get them back from my hand. “I not throw them away. I have to hide them under my pillow tonight, in my bed.”
My face screwed up into a disgusted knot and I waited.
“And I can get a surprise tonight from a fairy,” he explained, eyes still locked on his hand.
“Yeeeahh. That’s not how things work. There is no such thing as a fingernail fairy. You are thinking of teeth.”
He stared sadly at the tiny yellow half-moons nestled in the creases of his hand and his tongue slowly made a tour of his mouth.
I waited a moment while his tired mind processed this information.
“So, you can’t get a prize for them?” he whimpered.
“No,” I slowly closed his fingers over the tiny pile. “No, that is what we call insane. But, you CAN go throw them away. And you can enjoy not having long clicky clack fingernails anymore. So, you can say thank you to mom on your way to the trash can.”
He frowned and the weight of the frown pulled his chin down to his chest as he turned and slowly walked back up to the living room with his handful of fingernails. I watched him go, momentarily sad that he has to be born into such a strange world where one part of your body that falls off is revered and hidden for fairies in exchange for candy and prizes, and yet another part of your body falls off and it is worth nothing, tossed aside in disgust. How is someone supposed to learn about that strange economy of discarded parts on their own? It is impossible.
At the top of the stairs he turned around again and asked, “Do I have to throw them away still, or can I just keep them?”
I hesitated, “Why?”
“Just,” he looked at his little balled up fist. “Just to keep like for fun.”
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m sorry, dude. This is just the way the world works.”
“Okay…” and he slowly, but obediently, walked around the corner. I heard the kitchen trash open for a second and then close again, and when my son reappeared a moment later, he was older.