Short Fiction ~ Georgia Boon
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 16
The technician was dabbing the coral paint into the dents in my nail when a man opened the door. He swept his eyes around the place like a cowboy surveying the inside of a saloon. The little pink and white wind chimes chinked above his head and he looked as though he might bat them away. A girl who I assumed was his daughter followed behind him and he seized her wrist as she crossed the threshold. She was around twelve or thirteen, her face still new, with that sense of motionlessness that only comes while we wait to see what our part in the world could be. He brandished her hand with a kind of disbelief, as though it was the head of a beast he had unexpectedly come across and slain.
The technician didn’t look up but I did. Each of the girl's nails had been painted a different soft pastel colour. I remembered slumber parties, shakily wavering over each other’s fingertips with tiny brushes from sticky little plastic pots of polish, adding stripes of colour and the little gems we had hoarded from the front of our magazines. The girl’s nails looked much fancier than that, painted with decent gel effect paint, but still I could tell they hadn’t been done in a salon.
‘I want these taken off,’ the man said, his eyes looking down, fixed to the floor with a mix of anger and shame. The technician shrugged and indicated with a nod of her head that he should take a seat.
I was immobile, my worn, lined hand still cradled by the technician’s, so I couldn’t move my things that were cluttering up the seats along the back wall of the salon, and which meant the pair couldn’t sit next to each other. I eyed the cloth bags behind me remorsefully in the mirror. They were filled with pears, honey, and raw milk cheese for tomorrow’s lunch. On the floor was a hessian bag holding three bottles of pinot, hopefully enough, along with whatever the guests would bring.
The girl had bunched up her legs so she could fit into an end seat furthest from her father. He relaxed into a middle seat allowing his legs to fall open and his knees to point away from him. Plastic trays like opened treasure trunks lay on a low table in front of the pair, stuffed with swatches of nail colours, some eggshell, some glitter, some patterned with jewels. I wondered if the girl might reach forward and fan the swatches out in front of her. But she didn’t even glance at them, her eyes fixed on her nails, sorrowful, as though looking for the last time at a beloved pet.
I could feel something begin to vibrate next to my thigh. I’d forgotten about the duty phone. Jesus. Noon on a Saturday. I’d been on the rota twice as often as anyone else in the office this year. I glanced up at the technician. She didn’t look back at me. One of my hands was under the lamp, the other still in her hand, the third coat only half done. I willed her to look at me. The throbbing continued. The fucking thing didn’t have voicemail enabled. The man behind let out a sharp grunt and now the technician looked at him. I could see him in the mirror jabbing his finger into his watch and gurning at her. She shrugged at him. She caught my eye as she looked back down and I tipped my head to indicate the faint sound coming from the phone. She shrugged once more.
The man seemed to have stiffened, sitting up straighter, and I could picture a rusty rod of metal running through his spine, grating whenever he moved, sending shocks through his teeth, filling him with rage and irritation. I watched the girl shuffle in her seat, re-establishing the distance between herself and her father. He seemed to remember then that she was there and looked down at her nails with a hard grimace. I would have liked to have turned to the girl and say something. I didn't know what, it all felt stupid. But most of all, I wanted to take her hand and tell her she could keep the polish on her nails.
The technician had finished the last coat and my left hand was under the lamp while she wiped down my right hand with the special oil they applied at the end of the process. The oil made the lines vanish for the time it took me to remember to check if they were still gone after each manicure. When the left hand was dry, she did the same and then studied each nail to check it was perfect.
‘Do you know what?’ said the man loudly, to nobody in particular. ‘It fucking stinks in here.’
The technician let my hand fall gently and stood up. She was much shorter than the man, but somehow she extended her frame enough to meet his eye, her head cocked to one side.
‘Go,’ she said.
The man stood up slowly. He threw a note at the technician.
‘I want them taken off,’ he said, and then he walked out, shaking his head.
I clutched up my bags and put double my usual tip on the counter. I pushed the door away from me, taking a last look at the girl as the windchimes chinked above my head.
Georgia Boon Georgia lives in the Cotswolds and writes about gender and belief. She has been shortlisted for the Alpine Prize and has been published in Shooter, The Phare, Popshot, The Amphibian and Stroud Short Stories.