Frill by Rebecca Tiger

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close-up of manicure being done, one hand filing another

“I found a picture of you, holding a cigarillo.” I tell my mother.


“You used to smoke those, right?”

“I guess so. But I don’t like to think about the past. What’s the point?”

In black and white, my mother stares straight at the camera. Maybe she’s in her mid-40s? Sitting on the front brick steps, smoke snakes up from the long thin cigar she holds between her index and middle finger. Her smile exposes her wide bright teeth. Her hair is short, wavy, her fingers long and elegant, nails neat and polished.

Now, I give my mother a manicure every week. I wheel her from room 105 out to the Café Bistro at Menorah Village Memory Care Center. She is frail, 85 pounds, wrinkled flesh melting off bones, but her nails are strong. I cut them, then take the metal file on the nail clipper and pull the brown gunk out from underneath, dried blood from the nosebleeds the liver cancer is causing. And shit. She wears diapers with synthetic lace frill that she and I call “panties.”

I file her nails with an emery board. I remove the polish so they are ready for her preferred color, the same every week, “Mind-full Meditation” by Essie. My mother has forgotten how to take care of herself.

“Blow on them,” I tell her as I wait to put on the second coat, then a top clear protective layer.

Dee scoots up in her walker.

“Did you come to give us manicures?”

“No, just for my mother. I’ve gotten pretty good at it though!”

“I’m leaving in a few minutes anyway,” Dee says.

“Where are you going?”

She struggles for a word, opening her mouth and then closing it. Her lips quiver as she forgets what she’s trying to say.

Finally, she blurts out: “Home.”

“For good?”

“You’re darn tootin’! My, uh, well, my son is coming to get me. I think.”

Dee and I have this conversation every week. Her son doesn’t come to visit. She is not going home.

“Have you packed?” My mother asks.

“Oh! I don’t know! Shoot. Have I?” Dee wobbles down the hall.

“I can’t wait to get of here,” my mother says.

“I thought you liked it?”

“Get real, Rebecca. Everyone here is old.”

My mother points at the evidence. Joe has fallen asleep at the piano, his head resting on the key lid. Charlie is slumped over in his wheelchair. Barry is sitting in front of the communal television, head back, mouth wide open; I can see the dark cavern to his throat.

“Blow on your nails,” I remind her.

I show her a photo that I found when I was clearing out her and my dead dad’s house. She is holding my toddler hand, my knock knees emphasized by rolls of baby fat. I’m wearing a yellow dress with a large pink flower on it and ankle socks with lace frill. My sausage feet are straining against the buckles of white Mary Janes.

“Who is that?” She asks.


“We’re partners in crime!”

“Always, Mom.”

“We could get in a lot of trouble,” she blows on her fingertips, “If they ever let me out of here.”

Meet the Contributor

Rebecca TigerRebecca Tiger teaches sociology at Middlebury College and in jails in Vermont.She’s written a book and articles about drug policy, addiction and celebrity. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bending Genres, BULL, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, Emerge Literary, Mom Egg Review, Peatsmoke and Tiny Molecules among others. She divides her time between Vermont and the Lower East Side of New York City and spends a month every summer in Athens and Crete studying modern Greek and staring at the sea.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/madame.furie

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