manicureI don’t remember how long I have known the woman sitting across the table from me. I see her almost every week but I struggle to recall her name. It doesn’t come so I study the holiday cards taped to the wall next to her hoping for a clue.

Her eyes twinkle behind her glasses as she takes my hand and asks me about my daughter. I don’t know if she has children but I think I remember her mentioning a husband once. The corners of her smile disappear into her cheeks as she praises my girl. So well-behaved. Sits so still. She pinches her fingers together to pantomime painting tiny nails.

There is a mark on the inside of her arm. I see it in a flash, then she turns her hand and it is hidden. It looks, in that brief moment, like a burn. I wonder if she is clumsy or abused. I will never know because I will not ask. I am ashamed that I don’t want to be drawn into her story.

Once she offered me a persimmon. She grew animated as she tried, in her broken English, to tell me it has more Vitamin C than an orange. She bought it at her neighborhood market but it was pricey, not like in her country where persimmons grew plump, sweet and abundant. She pursed her lips at the poor substitutes here in the US. She told me the name in her language and I nodded but then forgot amid the unfamiliar pronunciation. I gave her the English word and she stopped filing my nails long enough to write it down, asking me to spell it. Getting stuck on the double M. She gestured to the slices again. I shook my head.

I tip her well, even on the days when she cuts my cuticles too close and I bleed. She tries to push the money back at me, clucks over my stinging fingers, apologizes again. I insist and she ducks her head and thanks me, once and then again. Folds the dollars and tucks them deep in the pocket of her uniform apron.

Her cheer, vigilant and aggressive, grates but I like her anyway. She is kind and reliably pleasant.  She dithers, expending twice the amount of energy necessary to fill a bowl of water or shake out a hot towel but she is deliberate, vigorous and thorough. She is impervious to the rolled eyes and snickers of the younger girls working across the room.

Today, I ask for a pedicure as well. She raises her eyebrows at my choice of color, neon pink, but says nothing. When my toes are done, she pulls out a fan and flaps vigorously in the direction of my feet. I am unsure of the effectiveness, but I appreciate the effort. I have forgotten flip flops. She paints oil on my toes to preserve her work as I scan the latest issue of People.

I prepare to leave, feeling my left sock creep down my ankle and into my boot as I walk to the door. My discomfort is invisible from the outside. I wave my thanks amid a chorus of sing-songy good-byes. I still can’t remember her name.