By - Sep 19, 2018

The light falls thick and yellow between the houses on my walk to work. The trees are big and old. The pavement is in bad repair. They keep it that way to stop people who don’t live here driving through.
Often for the charity I have coffee or dinner with rich people and then it matters how I look. I work in a big brick house donated by a wealthy family. I keep clothes in my drawer, make-up; on the commercial street at the end of our block there are a dozen nail salons—I’ll go and get a manicure. Regular, not shellac. My aunts used to get their nails wrapped in silk. They made a point of saying that the silk nails weren’t artificial because they were built onto their actual nails. When they were between wraps, the nails were withered nubs, like they’d grown underground.

      The nail salon is always busy. It’s only nine but in this neighborhood women are out getting manicures at any time of day. A blonde woman comes in and asks for Bubble Bath. She says it like a foregone conclusion, Bubble Bath, shrugging out of her coat on her way to a chair. I look at her skin and wonder what she does to it. She reminds me of a horse—or maybe that’s from something I read.
      The chemical air in the salon thins on a breeze from the doorway. You hear the streetcars shrieking outside in their tracks. Another woman comes in, another blonde. She also asks for Bubble Bath, only more tentatively than the first, like a password. They lead her to the chair next to mine.
The woman doing my manicure positions drops of a clear liquid onto each of my nails from a small, soft plastic bottle, unlabelled; it looks like the one my mother had for oiling the gears of her sewing machine. My mother never wrapped her nails in silk. She cut them straight, like she cut mine, over the sink, with toenail clippers.
Into a rectangle of cellophane the woman slips the emery board, the sanding block, and the wooden cuticle stick. “You want to keep this?” she asks, and I do, I want to keep it in my desk, but I don’t know the rules here. I can feel the woman in the next chair breathing. From the corner of my eye, I watch the paint go on her long, broad fingernails. It’s a subdued beige pink, of the type I think they call nude.