Manicures aren't quite so simple

Abby and I go to get manicures.

Well, first I complete these necessary steps…

  1. Give a call to her family and make sure her guardian is on board with her using her own spending money on a little frivolous girl time.

  2. Secure approval from her support manager a couple weeks in advance, via email.

  3. The day before, check the salon prices and send another email to her support manager so she can bring Abby an envelope filled with cash labeled “spending money.”

She’s nearly 30, but this is her first trip to a nail salon, and she worries the whole week that something might go wrong, and we won’t be able to go.

I pick her up a little earlier than usual.

Then we go get our nails done. We’re both excited.

Empty chairs make up rows of vacant spots. Most people are still at work, so we’re lucky we get there and are first in line. We take a seat while the two-person team gets our stations ready. A few lights overhead strain to illuminate the space, with a little extra help from the afternoon sun coming in through the windows. A bedazzled, golden dragon statue sits on the floor beside us, keeping guard while I peruse the magazine-filled side table. Ladies with white teeth and white faces and white-washed air brushed smiles stare back at us from their fashion designer flashbulb thrones. Abby and I are not your typical cover girl duo, our place in the world is a little more ordinary, and we like it that way. But we do like getting fussed over every now and again. 

“Hello! Come on back,” the cheerful nail tech calls to us. She notices Abby, how her eyes aren’t set the way others are, how her walk is a little like a glorified shuffle, how her nails are long, too long, and dry, and her hair is no maintenance, no frills, close-cut. Not a cover girl. She gets a sympathetic sideways look. I anticipate a caring nod next, and sure enough I receive one with a smile. We don’t mind if it’s not an accurate first impression, because in a second we all sit down together. And our nails get dunked into soapy water. And our hands touch. And the moment evolves. A simple human exchange between four women.


Our girl talk floats between the soap opera on the TV and the two women, working their hands over ours. Side by side. Smiling.

We chat about the day, the weather, a devastating story on the news. We enjoy in the ordinary.

“Come again?” Abigail replies kindly to their accents as she makes conversation in her own Jewish drawl. “What did you say?”
I giggle.

I pick superwoman blue, and she picks lady in pink. The colors glide on, one nail at a time. We look down and spread our fingers wide in admiration.

“When can we do this again?” she asks. We smile some more.

“Thank you,” we chime as we exit.

Abby is sure to grab her receipt, and runs back in after I remind her to leave a tip. I write the tip on the receipt. I sign the paper in the envelope labeled “spending money” and Abby puts the receipt in with the change. I get a call and a voice mail and an email the next day, from all the people who want to make sure everything went okay. I get asked if I could write an email sooner next time with the amount of money she’ll need. I make sure to make an addendum to my list of necessary steps. 

It’s not quite as simple for Abby to go to the nail salon. We can’t just check our schedules, plan a date, and meet each other there. It takes a few extra necessary steps, ones that aren’t open to interpretation or much change, to get us both there together.

But the next day Abby heads to her day program and sits in a session that morning all about proper teeth brushing, while I head in to work and check my email, and both of us look down,  spread our fingers wide, and smile in admiration.

katie bachmeyer