Elisabeth needed an excursion. Being old and infirm just didn’t suit her today. Time for a minor rebellion. With a stroke of brilliance, Elisabeth had her husband Matt help load her walker into the Buick. He kissed her on the cheek tenderly and said, “Have fun, Dear.”
Every week for over fifty years, Elisabeth had driven past Shiny Nails on her way to church. Today, she would stop and treat herself to a manicure. She glanced at her aged hands as they gripped the steering wheel. They reminded her of what she liked to call ‘her predicament’.
Elisabeth and Matt had six grandchildren and were successfully retired and living peacefully. After Matt’s slight stroke last year, the doctors told him not to travel too far from home. They still laughed and loved each other in every way, even using a magnifying glass to do the Sunday crossword. No illness or physical impairment could stifle their love.
After what would have taken her five minutes in her fifties, Elisabeth finally found a parking spot, got assistance from a passerby with her walker, and navigated herself through the door of Shiny Nails.
Neon signs advertised foreign words to her like “Acrylic” and “Gel-Tips”. Framed posters of grotesquely long nails painted into French manicures on perfect hands holding dazzling jewels decorated the stark white walls. The lady at the front desk was chatting in another language on her cell phone. Elisabeth read the sign: “walk-ins welcome.”
“You want manicure?” the lady asked while still holding the cell phone to her ear. Her long black hair, dark eye make-up, and long purple nails were not at all fashionable to Elisabeth, but at her age she lived by the adage, “To each their own.”
Elisabeth nodded and the girl pointed toward a nearby table where a woman with a surgical mask meticulously polished a young blond’s nails. The Asian woman moved the blond’s keys and small metallic purple purse to another station where she carefully placed her nails under a blue light.
The Asian woman cocked her head at Elisabeth. “What color?” Elisabeth aimed her walker toward the rainbow of nail polish bottles attached to a plastic holder on the wall. She grabbed a subdued pink and dropped it into the basket in the front of her walker. She managed her way to the Asian woman’s nail station, plucked the nail polish out of her basket and sat down.
Elisabeth realized almost immediately that this foolhardy outing was a waste of her time. She wouldn’t even be able to get to her car and buckle her seat belt without ruining the polish. If she was sensible, she would leave now. But for some reason, Elisabeth was not in a sensible mood today.
The Asian woman had kind, bright eyes peeking through her mask. Elisabeth assumed the fumes that were expelled here must be toxic. The nail technician removed her mask and tossed it in the garbage. “This color?” she asked Elisabeth turning the pale pink nail polish over in her hard-worked hands. Elisabeth noticed that the woman’s own nails were not painted or even well kempt.
“What color do you think?” Elisabeth asked.
“You have husband?”
“Then you want red,” the woman told her in a matter-of-fact tone.
“No.” Elisabeth reminded herself that women with red nails were prostitutes, or celebrities, or… Or young.
Elisabeth was none of these.
“Why not? Men like red. It’s a color that attracts them, like a butterfly to a bright color. But if you want pink, I can do pink.”
“Show me the color you would choose for me. What’s your name?”
“DEE-eh, it means butterfly.”
Dié went to the shelf of colors and came back with a bright red color that looked to Elisabeth like a fiery sunset.
Would Matt really like this?
Elisabeth was fiery and experimental in her youth but cautiously careful in her old age. Careful to step slowly and look first lest she fall and break a hip, careful to keep her doctor’s appointments lest they miss a glaring diagnosis, careful to speak kindly to others lest it be the last time they talk, careful with her finances lest she be placed in a horrible nursing home.
But careful with nail polish?
“Dié,” Elisabeth carefully enunciated, “I’m not sure my husband would approve. Isn’t that color a little… raunchy?”
Dié’s laugh was like the trickle of a fountain. “I know not as many things as you. But I do know men like red. Let’s try. If you no like, I take it off. Simple.”
Elisabeth nodded and let Dié work. First soaking, then filing and buffing. Dié worked quietly finishing with a gentle hand massage. Elisabeth sighed and let herself relax and her mind be quiet.
“Close your eyes.”
Elisabeth did as she was told knowing that her nails were getting painted. She would appease the nice woman and then make her remove the red polish for something more sensible. It was better to play it safe. But the young voice in Elisabeth’s mind piped up. It was the voice the grows when you are young, is strong and overpowering in your youth, tells you that you’re still young in middle age, and fades quietly into the background as you age. Elisabeth inner voice spoke stoically and convincingly. “It’s just nail polish, Lizzy.”
“Okay, you open your eyes now and tell me what you see.”
Elisabeth took her time and opened her eyes and stared at her hands.
“What do you see?” Dié asked.
“I see my red nails, not my wrinkled old hands,” Elisabeth admitted to her own astonishment.
Dié smiled. “Sometimes even butterflies need to be reminded to look at their own wings.” She helped Elisabeth to her car and even buckled her seat belt so as to not hurt the fresh manicure.
“Same time next week?” Elisabeth asked as she put the car in reverse.
Kathee Jantzi is a busy wife, mom, and pharmacist in the process of shopping her first novel, a paranormal romance, to agents. She loves camping, cats, and country music. (Not. Try road biking, dogs, and heavy metal.)