Mikayla Morell headshot


It started with ripping off my fingernails. First, the pinky. I figured that would hurt the least. I was wrong. The thumb wasn’t even that bad. Maybe because I had already ripped off eight before that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My pinky nail got me through sixth grade. I still think of Janie when I look at where the nail used to be. I didn’t know then that middle school friends were always temporary. I don’t have enough time to relive middle school. Let’s just say that getting my braces tightened was not as painful as watching Janie suck my boyfriend’s dick. I cried too much. Breakups are more painful in middle school. So I exchanged my pinky nail with Them and stopped crying. I don’t know why I hid it. Janie was exposed as a slut, once the Band-Aid came off. Her friends left her, but she never had the balls to rip off her own nails.

The ring nail went when Grammy died. I asked Them to take away the memory of her voice. It made grieving easier. I traded the pointer when Tucker ran away. I asked Them for a turtle. I felt better, but not much. The pointer went when my little sister went missing. I thought They would bring her home. But They brought me her body.

I don’t remember the ones after that. I plucked them off whenever I needed relief.

I was down to the thumbs when I started college. The fingers were teen shit and I was an adult now. I started dating again. A few people, here and there. I settled on one. He wanted to spend every second with me. I was failing classes. Every night, I was eating cheeseburgers with him. We would count ambulances out of my dorm window. My roommate grew irritated when we started mimicking the wee-oo sound. Around finals, he stopped loving me. I wasted both thumb nails on him. I thought it would hurt more. Probably should have saved them for something better. My fingers were skin nubs. It saved me the $12 I used to spend at the nail salon. I knew I still had my toes but I was over it. Relief wasn’t enough.

I found a love of books. Spent most of the time in the school library. Started reading all the A writers: Allende, Angelou, Austen and quickly moved onto Baldwin, Bradbury, and Brown. I read faster than I could flip the pages. The pages stuck to themselves and I didn’t have a nail to put between them. By the time I turned a page, I would forget the first half of the sentence I was on. It wasn’t until Eliot that I thought of licking my pointer to unstick them.

The librarian let me stay after hours, as long as I locked up. I was starting Fitzgerald when everything went digital and the library shut down. I couldn’t finger through the pages anymore. I never saw the librarian to say goodbye.

I knew They had a library. They offered me a deal. A mere piece of me for each writer. A
small price. We shook on it.

My apartment became its own library. I was on the letter N. My nightstand was a stack of the ones I already read. My roommate yelled every day, tripping over Nabokov that I gave my left elbow for. I told her she should be careful. She moved out. I had more room for books.

I traded Them my chopped ponytail for Joyce Carol Oates, my left earlobe for Sylvia Plath, my Achilles heel for Rick Riordan, and a liver slice for Mark Twain. Midterms were approaching with many late nights poring over textbooks. I made sure to spend time with the new writers so they wouldn’t get jealous. I buzzed off the rest of my hair and kept it in a Ziploc for a rainy day. I wore earmuffs inside. I limped, but no one seemed to notice.

Every night, I tucked letters A through Y into my roommates’ bed. I read Shel Silverstein before turning off the lamp. I couldn’t sleep without laying the book on the pillow next to me.

The week before finals, I woke up with my front tooth missing. But I hadn’t exchanged it. I looked for Z. I couldn’t find it. It was just one tooth; I had others.

I didn’t worry until my left nipple was gone. I asked Them if I was sleepwalking. They said They hadn’t seen me since I traded some bone marrow for William Butler Yeats. I wasn’t convinced. I reminded Them of our agreement; we shook on it.

I slept in a blanket cocoon. I tucked the corner of my blanket underneath the chipped heel. I wrapped each individual finger nub in my pillowcase. I woke up still wrapped. But the next morning, my belly button was carved out. It was throbbing; there was dried blood where it used to be. I begged Them to stop; They denied everything. I couldn’t sleep. I gave Them my eyelids and wore sunglasses.

I couldn’t see my carpet. I walked on books, gently so as not to hurt them. Some of my classmates asked about my sunglasses. I didn’t feel like talking.

I don’t remember sleeping. I don’t know how I could sleep. I only had Z left. My arms went missing. I couldn’t hold my books. All the finger nubs are gone. I told Them it wasn’t funny. That They needed to stop taking things. They laughed at my shirt sleeves that didn’t have arms. I wanted Z.

I was failing again, this time on my own. It took hours to study for finals. I typed with my nose. I begged them for Markus Zusak. I had nothing left to give but I would give it.

They took my eyeballs. My sister’s were blue, too.

I couldn’t turn book pages or hold them. Now, I couldn’t read them. I felt cold air in the empty sockets.

My apartment is filled. I am laying on top of them all, A to Z. I can’t read them or hold them, but I want them. I am surrounded by so many.

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