The first one she collected came to her; fell into her lap after the man sitting next to her on the subway clipped it off with no regard for where it would land or how far it would go. She looked down at its simple complexity, at its crescent moon shape, at the specks of dirt and dust on its underside and thought to herself: This is the piece of a person. Not wanting to attract attention, she placed her hand over the fingernail that had taken residence in the dip of her dress and waited until the man rose from his seat and shuffled out the double doors. When it was clear she placed the fingernail in her purse where it would remain until she arrived home, where she would place it in a jar and label it with the day's date. This curiosity became an obsession, and after only five months, her apartment was crammed full of jars full of fingernails.
It was on a Friday in November when she learned about the meetings, her co-worker, two cubicles over, a fellow collector, saw her picking a hangnail off the carpet with a pair of tweezers and decided to invite her. "I want to show you something," he said, gesturing for her to follow him to his workspace. He opened a desk drawer, and inside were dozens of eyelashes, pressed between thin sheets of glass, as if he were preparing to view them under a microscope. "They're only ones people have blown away and made wishes on," he said, beaming with pride. "How can you tell?" she asked. He made a face at her that suggested confusion. "It's a very delicate process," he said. "You know that." She didn't, but she nodded regardless and said, "Oh, yes, of course."
At the collector's meetings that met once a month, people pulled out delicate containers and viewing cases, each with only single things inside of them. Her co-worker passed around an eyelash labeled "despair," and explained to everyone that the person who blew on it had wished that their loved one would wake up from a coma. People murmured in approval of his exposition. One man passed around a jar that was empty, but, when she held it it felt like it was full of angry bees. It was labeled "faggot," and he explained to everyone that he collected hateful slurs, and that this one was caught at a baseball game with his gay son.
Several other jars and containers were passed around, and, when it came for her, she pulled out her largest jar of fingernails which was simply labeled "fingernails" and attempted to hand it to the woman sitting next to her. But she didn't move. No one said anything. When she asked if she should pass it around the other way, again no one spoke until the silence became unbearable and someone piped up and said, "No, I think we get the idea." The woman to her right pulled out an empty jar and unscrewed the lid, held it near her face for several seconds, scooping it through the air like she was trying to catch a firefly, before placing the jar in her lap and sealing the lid shut. She taped a label onto it, scribbled the word "embarassment" down and began passing it around the room.
She, the woman with the fingernails, moved to leave. As she made her way out, someone bobbed the jar up and down in their hand. Before the door closed behind her she heard them say to the person sitting next to them: "This is just awful. I'd hate to be whoever this came from."