I’m in the salon getting my nails done. I don’t find this relaxing. I just like the after-effects and looking down at the flawless colour on my fingers for days after. Everyone else is getting colour 42. I like colour 197. Every time I’m there, the manicurist keeps telling me to relax.
You’re not relaxing she says holding my fingers in her hands. I can’t paint your nails when your hands are so tense. I say I have a stressful job. I don’t know why I’m not relaxing. I know I am holding my hands in the air and having someone file at the ends. I reason this isn’t their natural position. I don’t like having to take instruction – into the hand dryer and then out again.
I sit too far back in my chair, I am told. I shouldn’t have put black varnish over the shellac she says. I didn’t make it back to the salon soon enough, I say. I was outgrowing the old shellac. There were only little half moons of it left on my fingers. Only the black would cover it, I say. I’m told the black sinks down into the cuticles, then it is harder to get off. There is a television on the wall. I still watch her poking at my cuticles. She cleans the last of the ordinary polish off.
I’m told I should be watching the television and not watching her doing my nails. I reluctantly look up to the TV. If they put something interesting on the TV maybe I would be more engaged, like some Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Especially the episode where she has to claw her way out of her coffin and grave. Instead there is something on about women writing beauty blogs, which I have nothing against people doing, but for the time being, hearing about it just doesn’t ease my boredom.
There is a towel laid out on the counter in front of me. I see the black coloured cotton balls collect over the towel, as the black disappears and I see the half moons of the last shellac underneath.
My mind thinks about last year. There is a bubble of six months that I don’t want to step out of. Actually it is seven. There is some scrambled egg left on my plate. That was always the one thing I left if I did – the eggs. Besides toast. And I haven’t had a coffee refill, what is left in my mug is cold. Seven months. Sometimes I sat facing away from the train tracks and the TV that hung from the ceiling. I am outside of the bubble now, because it is only in my memory now and sometimes I visit this bubble on purpose. It’s like something to give you a burst of energy or hope. Like spending your last $10 on a latte and a danish with chocolate in it, just to lift your spirits enough to get you through to the next day.
There were walks through Gastown inside and outside of the bubble. The bubble is a glass protector of time. I remember buying bubble gum from the store across from the elementary school when I was a kid. At lunchtime or afterschool I would go. I would have some change from the wooden organizer on the top of my Dad’s dresser. That’s where he emptied his change pockets when he was home from work at the end of the day. The bubblegum squares were maybe 5 cents each then. With a comic inside that I never really understood, although I did try to read them. The gum had kind of a plasticky sweet taste as you first bit into it making it soft, then about five minutes of flavour before it turned bland and it was more work chewing than it was worth. It was still as pink as ever though, if you took it out and stretched it. I usually found two pieces were too much. And I would blow bubbles that would expand like a balloon, growing thinner and then sometimes would pop on my face. This bubble of the time, with the walks through Gastown was not like that. It didn’t pop. It was like unbreakable glass that you could walk up to on a sunshiny day and stand on the cobbles and tap it with a fist and it would make a ringing sound that would fade.
Through the traffic on Water Street in the morning, crowded and busy as you drove me to work, me trying not to spill my coffee as I held it between my hands. I was never very good at that. I said nothing as we went along. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to you. I didn’t want to disturb you when you were driving. And I was too nervous about the day ahead to say anything cool or interesting. On Water Street in the van, really I was just trying to manage my anxiety of the job at the law firm. Thinking of the relief when it would be lunch and I could at least text you and buy a newspaper to read in Bentall Centre trying to block out the conversations around me. Then I could bring the newspaper home later. Sometimes you would text to me, when you were going to pick me up, you would say ‘tell me when you’re done’. And I said okay, But I am done at five, because that was when I finished everyday. So I wondered why you asked me that.
And when we read the newspaper, especially on the weekends, you would talk about following certain news stories and long form journalism, and how there was international news stories sneaking into the travel section, and why this was.
I am walking home, through Gastown, out of this six months. If I was closer to the water and above the buildings I could see the Second Narrows Bridge connecting us to the North Shore. This was a city. I had lived in towns but never in villages before. Nothing that small, like with a post office, a pub, an off license and a few cottages where you would have to go to the next town for the market on Saturday.
I remember someone in a band I knew once saying they had been on tour across Canada, and had been listening to Patsy Cline, until they had to turn it off because they were getting depressed. I listened to her recently walking home at night, in the summer, after we had split, still feeling hopeful, no matter how awkward things seemed. I hadn’t listened to her for a while. Walking after Midnight and Sweet Dreams of You. As I walk, I time myself how long I can listen to Patsy Cline before I am overwhelmed. 12 minutes. It’s usually Sweet Dreams that finishes me off. I walk one block from the water, see the yachts parked far off towards Stanley Park, the water of Vancouver Harbour a dirty bluish black, 40 minutes walk from yours.
Colour 197 is a bright tangerine colour. At first I think she is done but she has told me to take my hands out of the dryer and has a hold of my fingers and she is going to add one more coat of varnish.
Sometimes I go walking and I see the sedans with black windows. Occasionally I see one parked along Hastings when I am walking. I can’t see who is in the back but I know it isn’t a big deal. You can rent them and cab fare is expensive.
I am done here. They pull the lamp away and have sprayed my nails with whatever misty stuff they do and I reach my arm into my purse, not having to worry about touching anything or wrecking a nail digging my card out of my wallet.
In all the rooms there was never one for us, for me to stay and have a life there. We used to go to the shop on the corner, buy milk, no-name brand chips, cat food for Tarquin. Digging around in my bag for the keys to open the outside door and then I was in. Turning on the lamp by the window. After I moved to my apartment, I went for months with no light in my bedroom, during the summer, when it started getting dark in the autumn. Then I bought a lamp so I could look at the clothes in my closet to get dressed, and read, and my new cats are more black than white so I need to be able to see where they are.
It’s the same. Now I am at a different firm, but my alarm reminds me of you. I walk to work, straight down West Georgia, I’m usually only thinking of music or stories when I walk, or you, or just how things feel, and I listen to Elastica’s Waking Up as I walk past the black shiny walls of the Trump Hotel.