Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Short Erotic Tale From A Nail Salon

The Butterfly House
Pacific Grove, CA

I'm so behind.

I'd had the shiny red gel polish on my nails for over two weeks, found myself curling my fingers under so I couldn't see it. Garish. I'm not a manicured hand kind of person, prefer to use clippers, the blunt. I have large hands, but they're not ungainly. My fingers are long and not too wrinkled. They are dexterous and strong. I feel too self-conscious with polish on them. Gel polish lasts for weeks, but you have to go back to have it removed or risk something dire like your nails peeling off. I can't believe I'm writing about this. It's a process to get the gel polish off, and I was getting impatient as the manicurist dropped acetone on my fingers and wrapped each nail in foil, then scraped the color off and repeated, over and over. There were three of us lined up at the table across from three manicurists. The lady to my immediate left was an Orthodox Jew. She wore a pleated navy skirt, a blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a crew-neck sweater, pale panty hose and flat shoes. She was in her early twenties, yet had a wedding band on her slender finger. She had beautiful eyes with dark long lashes and white skin. The manicurist was buffing her nails, but before each new task, the Orthodox woman asked, What's that for? She exclaimed sweetly over my own red nails, wondered what the process was like and whether she should try it. I told her that I'd done it for a party and enjoyed it for about a week. It doesn't chip, I told her, but I'm sort of creeped out by it now. I told her that sitting for an hour getting it removed was not something I'd probably do again. The lady to the Orthodox woman's left was slumped in her chair, her long black hair scraggly and draped over her shoulder. She had blown up lips, bare of make-up, and they looked painful. Her white face looked like it hurt, and I couldn't tell if she was twenty or fifty years old. She tapped at her phone with whatever hand was free, her nails bitten down to the quick. She groaned every now and then, said she was tired and hung over.  It was late afternoon, the light from the west flooding the room. The sun was going down and, for some, it was apparently time to get ready. For what? I wondered. The manicurist attached what looked to be two-inch plastic nails to the tips of the hung-over lady's fingers, filed them to a point, painted them gray. The two of them then huddled over the woman's phone to look at what I assumed were photos of hands and nails, and then the manicurist brought out a little box of glitter and jewels, proceeded to pick them up with a tiny pair of tweezers and apply them to the lady's daggers. Meanwhile, my own manicurist unwrapped the foil from my finger, lifted the acetone-soaked cotton pad from my fingernail and began scraping the last bits of red still adhering. The Orthodox woman moaned when her manicurist poured lotion on her forearms, stood up and began massaging them. Your skin soft, the manicurist said to the woman. O, you have good hands, the woman said, and she sighed. She had clearly never had her arms massaged in quite that way, I imagined. I smiled at her. The woman at the end waved her glittery gray talons at her manicurist, remarked that on her date the previous night, one had broken in half and fallen off. I wondered briefly if she were a porn star. I felt distracted. I glanced at the woman on my left who was getting another application of lotion on her other forearm, and when the manicurist began her slow kneading of the young woman's white skin, I saw her eyes flutter and roll up and backward. I almost groaned for her but looked down instead at my own hands resting in those of the manicurist, a fine red powder falling from them, each fingernail now naked.

Here's some French love poetry by Andree Chedid:

Preuves de l'amour

Gisement de désirs
Eperon du souffle


Recouvre la fêlure
Soulève nos sols

Tisonne nos cendres
Estompe nos voûtes obscures.

Here's the translation:

Proofs of Love

Stratum of desires
Spur of the breath


Recovers the crack
Raises our earths

Stirs our ashes
Blurs our dark vaults.


  1. I've been a nail biter for about 46 of my 40 years. With v brief interludes. My nails grow thin and bendy when my habit allows mee to allow them to grow. I'm about a week into a growth period right now, which brings me endless joy and pleasure. Pearlescent, glowy goldy greens and blues delight me - mermaid colours, I suppose, but red, no. I have chubby little hands, fat fingers and red is just ... not for me.

  2. Ah, love. Your words, your observations, the gorgeous.
    Thank you.

  3. This place you live in, with its amazing cast of characters - what a beautiful job you do letting us all into that world from time to time. Thank you for this. What fun to read.


  4. What a great scene. That IS a short story. It reminds me of Eudora Welty's "Petrified Man," with all the women sitting around chatting in the beauty shop. Except this is an LA version.

    I never knew gel polish was so hard to remove. (I wouldn't have even heard of gel polish except my stepmother gets it at her nail salon.)

  5. I've never had a manicure. It wasn't a thing when we were young. I've tried nail polish but it makes my nails feel like they can't breathe.

  6. Wonderful post. What we women do to ourselves. Me included. Nail biter extraordinaire. I often secretly gaze at the women in the nail salon, and spin stories About their lives. Now, that cold he a book.

  7. A wonderful short story as Steve said. Beautiful vivid writing. You blow me away.

  8. Thanks for this great read. I loved the attention to minute nail details and your extrapolation from them to these women's very essence.

  9. How nice to be lifted from my couch and placed in a nail salon in LA. I enjoyed the journey, Elizabeth.



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