Red Painted Nails
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Red"
Originally featured on 06-06-2007
As part of our series "Checkered"

“He’s got red painted nails!” they all yell.

“Faggot!” one boy yells. They all laugh.

Jason stares at the pack of wolves in children’s clothing.

From the top of the jungle gym, I can see the growling crop circle dotted in the middle by my ten year old brother. And I pray.

* * *

“Hey Jason, check it out!” I walked into his room with holding the bottle so tightly in my hand that it already felt warm.

“Whaaat?” He turned from the TV after pausing his game.

I showed him and whispered. “I took it from Mom’s room.”

He sighed and unpaused his game. I twisted the slender cap loose. He paused and turned.

“Mom’s gonna be mad that you took it. You don’t think that she’ll notice?”

“No. I’m not going to put it on.”

“You’re so weird lately.” He turned and unpaused.

“You gonna tell?”

“I didn’t tell on you yesterday — even after Mom saw.” He turned. “Why didn’t you just put it on your face? It washed right off.”

I shrugged.

* * *

I start to climb down the jungle gym but it is taking so long. Why is it so hard to climb when you are in a rush? I turn. The circle has moved and Jason is now cornered at the fence. The lunch aids are all inside. I feel hot metal against my palms with each step down. I hear a yell. I turn. Jason has Brian Mills’ head in his armpit. He looks like he’s winning. Oh! A tall Irish looking fourth grader just punched his face. Everyone is piling on top. I need to climb down faster. I take the next steps quickly but my shirt gets caught on a rough part of the metal. The hot metal below it burns my stomach. My hands are hot. They keep getting hotter on all this metal. It’s so hard to hold on when I just want off.


* * *


I waited for the house to be so quiet I could hear the refrigerator downstairs. Then I got up, pulled the bottle from under my mattress and began to tiptoe. I squeezed the doorknob tightly so that it would rattle and then turned. The wood floor of the hallway was cold so I held my breath. Then I squeezed Jason’s doorknob tightly and turned. He was breathing heavy, almost snoring like Dad. I tiptoed on his rug. Its easy to be quiet in Jason’s room because his rug is so soft. I twisted the cap to the warm bottle. I knelt down next to his bed. I couldn’t wait. It was hard to stop from giggling at how funny he would look. But I held my mouth shut really hard so that I didn’t make any noise. His arm was already hanging down off the bed. I dipped the little brush in and out a couple of times. Then I started with his thumb.


* * *


I’m so dizzy but I have to get up. I hear all this yelling. Oh god, the side of my head is aching. I close my eyes and they tear up. I wipe the tears with my hands before thinking and get sand in my eyes. Aaagh it burns. Eyes still closed I stand up but I can’t balance and fall forward on my knees. I reach out my hand to touch the metal of the jungle gym, to lean on it, but it’s not there. I’m so turned around.

I try to open my eyes. Okay, I can kind of see. It’s like bright and yellowish and — there okay. My head still hurts. I’m five steps towards the field and I stop. I can’t help him.


* * *


When he woke me up, he was so mad and I started giggling right away.

“Goddamnit!” I giggled louder.

Mom had already gone to work.

“Show me how to get it off the bus is coming soon!” I cackled. It was too funny.


* * *


I’m yelling at Miss Finney, the fattest lunch-aid. She’s sitting in her paisley shirt on the bench of the long blue table.

“Go look outside!” I yell.

“Just have them come in, lunch is over now.” She is so dumb. Lunch aids are always so dumb.

“Go look outside! Go look at what they’re doing! It’s not right!” She’s still sitting. I pull her arm.

“Hey!” Her voice is so deep. It’s like a cow voice. “Just go out and tell your brother and his friends to cut it out and come inside.”


I turn and run back out through the doorway, up the steps and head across the asphalt towards the field. This is my fault and I”ll have to fix it.


* * *


“It’s not coming off!” he was almost crying. “Get it off.” He kicked the garbage can next to Mom’s bed. Tissues and something else scattered on the floor. It was

like a diaper or something. I tried all the clear bottles. I knew she took it off with a clear one.

I had tried them all and we heard the honking outside. And then Jason starting crying.

“Just keep your hand in your pocket. It’s just one hand. Who’s gonna notice? Nobody looks at you anyway. Baby.”

He nodded and we headed out to the bus, me giggling.

Read More By Doug Dean

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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