At one point, studying the world for signs, I pretended that I could read the future in the white clouds rising slowly behind the pink panes. But, like all systems of augury I invented myself, there was a flavor of phony about it.

In my tumbling class at the Y I grabbed quick looks at the little girls' tiny nails daubed pink and wondered at how different their lives were from mine. My nails were chewed ragged and rimmed with dirt. Sometimes I colored them black with pencil when I was bored in class. More recherche were the fake fingernails I snipped for myself out of fruit leather at lunchtime and stuck on with spit, to my friends' disgust. I privately thought they looked glamorous.

When I was five, I slit open the fourth finger on my right hand with a razor blade my babysitter, Miss Mudd, had left lying around. I cut through my fingernail right up to my first knuckle, where the scar dwindles to a pale line, and my fingernail has a point at the apex of its arch like certain cathedral windows - the style is called ogee - and has a ridge bisecting it which at the nail end is a weak spot where the nail tends to split. It is an arcane detail, a devil's mark, neither beautiful nor ugly, but it reminds me of myself, like the scar on my upper lip.

My sister sucked her thumb, but I chewed my nails. When I was five or six, everyone in my class were given a daily piece of fruit at school and ate it in unison. Bananas and apples were fine with me, but oranges made my heart sink. I dug what was left of my nails into the peel. A thick, sticky scum collected under my nails. The raw skin under my nails and my ragged cuticles started stinging. We had to rise from our desks and leave the room in single file past a washroom where, if I was lucky and the monitor was kind, I could wash my hands. If not, I sat through prayers with burning fingers, desperate to be done. Since then, I hate to have anything sticky or slimy on my hands: tree sap, Crisco, what slugs exude.