Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Red Letter Day

Her toenails were too red. She’d chosen the color—Something Bold—from the infinite rows of nail polish, more colors than God intended. That’s what she said to the elfin creature who stood patiently waiting for her to decide on a color. The nail girl was perfect with flawless, hairless skin, a mane of straight black hair that shawled her shoulders, eyes, nose, mouth from a teen-age girl’s drawing of the perfect eyes, nose, mouth.

The nail girl said nothing, didn’t smile at Audrey’s attempt at wit, but she waited in a way that Audrey knew meant there were right choices and wrong choices. Audrey wanted a right choice, so she turned away from the pastels and pinks—her instinct, therefore wrong—and chose a red: Something Bold.

The girl took it from her, led her to the vibrating chair with footbath and proceeded.

She spoke her first word twenty minutes later as she painted the last nail. “Nice?”

Audrey glanced at her toes—long as fingers—a family trait—and said, nice even though she was clearly looking at somebody else’s foot.

She walked out of the salon as if she were walking in somebody else’s feet—a bolder, younger sort of woman—and regretted not staining her finger nails with the same Something Bold.

She flexed her toes in her sandals as she waited for the bus. The sun glinting off each crimson nail was almost blinding. She couldn’t keep her eyes off her feet; she craned her toes up, slid them side to side, curled them—striking at every angle.

The bus came--# 5 going to the Mall of America where she planned to circumnavigate each floor, trying out her new look, like breaking in a new pair of shoes. She took the first seat, facing sideways. Nobody could board the bus without noticing her feet. A bearded guy across from her slumped in his seat, half asleep, his eyes in that half-mast position. If he opened his eyes, he couldn’t miss her toenails.

Somebody got herself a pedicure today. A voice out of nowhere. She looked around—nobody.

Made herself a pretty girl.

The bearded guy opened his eyes. It wasn’t he. The bus stopped. A woman with a small dog in a Baby Bjorn got on and sat down next to Audrey.

Beauty is as beauty does. Audrey was careful not to move her head, but her eyes swiveled left, right, and back again. She couldn’t identify the source.

The bus driver changed gears and pulled into the stream of traffic. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” the driver said.

The bearded guy was leaning towards her, elbows on his knees, staring at her feet. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” he said, looked up, caught her eye, and smiled.

She slid her feet farther into the aisle.

“And red is the color of my true love’s lips.” Bus driver.

“Correction—hair.” The woman with the dog.

Her lips are like some roses fair! Shouted, not spoken.

Audrey pulled the cord—STOP REQUESTED—and stood up.

“She walks on beauty.” Bearded man.

In beauty.” Woman with the dog.

Like the night! shouted the voice.

Audrey descended the stairs slowly and walked—no, floated—down the steps.

© 2012 Kathleen Coskran


  1. After reading "stop requested," I figured the story was going to take an edgy turn. You surprised me again, Kathy. Nice contrast of la la spa environment to the more gritty bus environment.