I always start my pedicures with a thorough examination of the feet, before I instruct the client to place them in the soapy water to soak. It’s rare that I will run across a contraindication worrisome enough to stop me from proceeding, but it does happen. Athlete’s foot, planter’s warts, varicose veins and toenail fungus are all a possibility, among worse things. Nothing was out of the ordinary today─ just tanned, clean shaven legs and neatly trimmed toenails painted a shade of vibrant pink. These feet didn’t look like they needed a pedicure; the heels were soft and smooth as peaches, and the base of the polish was exactly 1/8th of an inch from the evenly pushed-back cuticles. The polish hadn’t even chipped or lost its shine yet.
I left for the staff room for a few minutes while her feet soaked and supposedly softened further. Amie, the esthetician who usually worked the same shift as I did, and was also my roommate, came with me. She let out a stream of words, seeming to not even take a breath between them. What should we do this weekend, I hear Josh is having a bonfire, I’ll only go if you will, things are still weird with us since he never called me back after the party at Dave’s, maybe I’ll wear the pink dress if he’s gonna be there, what are you going to wear? I sifted through the questions, answering as concisely as possible; we only had a brief moment to grab more towels before we had to get back to our clients if we wanted to stay on schedule for the day. Yes, I’ll come to Josh’s with you. No, don’t wear the pink dress, it’s too fancy and you’ll look like you’re trying too hard. I’m wearing jeans and a hoodie, it’s gonna be cold. We continued to chat as we walked back to the pedicure station, but my heart was only half in it. I’d been up late the night before, and was exhausted and just trying to get through my day.
I settled back into my station and looked up to survey the woman attached to the perfect feet as I began to remove the pink polish. She was a woman in her late twenties, blonde, and wearing ultra expensive workout gear. Her shoes, beside the basin in front of me, were bejewelled flip-flops with heels that looked difficult to walk in. I’d learned her name when I’d introduced myself, but names and faces were as slippery to me as fish in a pond, and instead it was the stories I remembered. She wore full, dramatic make up that was supposed to look “natural”. Her brows were crisply arched on the top and smoothly rounded underneath, penciled just a shade too dark and highlighted underneath with a pale shimmery shade. Her cheekbones were heavily-contoured, as were the sides of her nose, but it was blended so well that only an expert would have noticed. Her eye shadow was all done in neutral shades, designed to show off dramatic eyelashes, which were further enhanced by tightlining done in inky black. Shiny pink gloss completed the look, and I wondered how she kept the loose strands of her platinum hair from sticking to it. Her crisp, white-tipped French gel nails flashed with rhinestones as she texted furiously, ignoring the stream of chatter coming from the woman next to her. Amie always worked at the station to my left, her being a lefty and me being right-handed, so it stopped us from being in each other’s way. She looked bored. I usually stayed out of the conversation, preferring to observe and focus on the task at hand. Amie was different: she loved people. She had made several attempts to engage her client in conversation, but had been unsuccessful so far.
I gently lifted my client’s right foot out of the fragrant water and placed it on the pedestal in front of me. I dried it with a soft, fluffy white towel and began the process of pushing back the cuticles, trimming and filing the nails. This woman had clearly had a pedicure recently, so I was just going through the motions. Bored, I looked up at her companion.
A heavyset woman in her fifties or early sixties, she was wearing the classic unflattering garb of someone trying to look twenty, or even thirty years younger. Juicy sweats, an Ed Hardy t-shirt, and a rhinestone encrusted, zebra print Coach handbag look ridiculous no matter what your age, if you ask me. Her heavily-tanned skin only made her look older, and heavy exposure to the sun had left her with premature wrinkles and sagging skin around her neck and arms. She had highlights and lowlights in her hair so severe they were almost spidery, and there was a small band of grey at the roots. Her only makeup was dark, smudged liner on her lower lid, and mascara that had been applied with a heavy hand. It was clumped in the corners, beginning to flake and drop little specks of black onto her cheekbones. Her fingernails were done in clear acrylic with purple abstract swirls, and the edges of her right forefinger and thumb were stained yellow from smoking.
Amie’s client was determined to engage her younger companion with a stream of babble that was all about people. When would Uncle Bill arrive? Had they remembered to make up the guest bedroom for Ted and Mandy? She finally caught the younger woman’s attention with the mention of Brad. She was so happy Brad was home for his brother’s wedding, and she wanted to make him something special for dinner; he had always loved her cheeseburger Mac and Cheese, maybe she’d make that. She barely paused to take a breath between ideas, anxiously bouncing from subject to subject like a hummingbird searching for nectar. Brad’s Paleo now, he doesn’t eat pasta or cheese, interjected the blonde, finally looking up from her texting. I noticed she was wearing false lashes. Who wears false lashes to get a pedicure? They were contradicting her “athletic” wear. As she went back to texting, I noticed some of the bling on her fingers wasn’t only coming from her nails. An enormous, princess-cut diamond was perched on her left ring finger, and she was moving like she wasn’t yet accustomed to its weight. Amie’s client looked puzzled. But he loves pasta! Oh well. How about we order takeout? Chinese food is healthy, right? My client and I both winced. It’s so nice out, maybe we could barbeque, suggested the girl. Steaks, or salmon. Andy hunts, right? Do you have any Venison?
I pondered their relationship, as I placed her foot back in the water and began the cuticle work, trimming and filing of the nails on the other foot. I had thought they were mother and daughter when they arrived, but they now seemed like Brad’s mother and Brad’s fiancée. They both acted like they knew him better, but they both seemed to be wrong in the eyes of the other.
A barbeque is a good idea, said the potential mother-in-law to be. I think we have enough white-tail chops for the four of us. Uncle Bill doesn’t eat meat, and you kids are trying to be healthy, so I’ll make lots of salads. Potato salad, coleslaw, maybe a macaroni salad too. Has Brad told you about my famous Hawaiian salad? He loves it. Amie and I caught each other’s eye, trying not to laugh. She’d heard my rant about my grandmother’s Hawaiian salad a time or two, made with marshmallows and Miracle Whip. My grandmother always claimed it was healthy because there was crushed canned pineapple and mandarin oranges in it. The look on my client’s face was priceless. If her eyes rolled any harder she would probably fall back in time to become a teenager again. She chewed her gum and went back to texting without commenting, evidently feeling that this particular battle was lost.
Amie and I began the salt scrub portion of the pedicure in complete unison. We had done this together a thousand times before, and we would do it at least three more that day. The women both leaned back into their massage chairs and relaxed as the roughness of the salt polished away all the dead skin and stress held in their feet. The scrub smelled of citrus fruit and pine, and the scent clung to me at the end of a long shift. I hated it, but clients always seemed to enjoy it.
“It smells like the forest, doesn’t it?” said the girl. She looked younger now, with her phone settled in her lap and the worry lines between her eyebrows softened a little.
“We used to take the boys camping every summer,” said the mother in law, a little dreamily. They fell silent as we rinsed the scrub away and dried their feet one last time. We placed fresh white towels under their feet. I applied the massage lotion swiftly, and as I ran my thumb slowly up the muscles in the girl’s calf, she softened and melted. The muscles were strung as tightly as a piano wire. It was as if it were the first time in weeks she’d truly relaxed, something I found common in brides-to-be. At least I was earning my pay in this portion of her pedicure; it was obvious she needed a good massage. I released as much of the tension as I could from her heels to her toes. As we finished, synchronized again, Amie and I looked up. The women were at peace now, no longer arguing subtly about who loved Brad more.
“Maybe when you two have kids,” murmured the mother-in-law to be. “We can all take them camping together,” finished the fiancée.
We painted their toenails, soft pink for my client and disco-ball-glitter for Amie’s. Their smiles were genuine now, softening the hard edges of the younger woman’s appearance and making the older woman look younger and more confident. They seemed a little more at ease with one another, and I felt like maybe we had helped. We left them to clean our tools while the polish dried, and Amie was still fretting about going to Josh’s this weekend.
“You could do so much better than Josh anyways,” I told her. “Invite Jake, he’s a sweetheart and seems to genuinely like you. He’s not playing these stupid games.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she told me. “Jake has a great butt.” She winked and did a little booty-shake as we went back to our customers. I laughed, still caught up in the magic we’d just witnessed. These two women were about to embark on a lifetime together, and I was glad to see them beginning to bond.
As we walked them out to the reception desk, the older woman told the fiancée a story about Brad’s childhood, how he’d caught a fish with his father and had been so scared of it he’d tried to jump out of the boat, only to realize there were far more fish in the lake than in the boat, and Brad had stayed curled in the corner until his father coaxed him closer and showed him how to clean and gut it. The fiancée laughed freely, and congratulated the woman on Brad’s confidence and fishing abilities now. I watched as they walked out the door, laughing and joking. I felt less tired now, rejuvenated from the turnaround I’d just witnessed, wondering if the rest of the day would be so sweet.