Eva filed her nails into three distinct points so each fingernail looked like a mauve holly leaf. She was 90 and had a dead husband. Her wardrobe consisted of colorful moo-moos vastly improved by tobacco stains. She lived two doors down from us in the dumpy apartment complex we lived in when I was seven.
One afternoon I was given the task of collecting and disposing of the mercury from her broken thermometer. On my hands and knees, determined to do a good job, I started sweeping the carpet with my hands. Every bead I touched shattered and multiplied exponentially until it became an ungatherable cloud of glittering dust. Eva stood over me watching me silently. I was mortified.
When she was satisfied I had recognized my impending failure, she looked at my face warmly. Then she stood me up, cupped my little hands in her tri-tipped claws and said, “mercury is poison.”