Nail Varnish (2012) by Francesca Astraea

This was originally written in 2012, for The Story Shack, where it was illustrated by Sherri Oliver. I never normally look back at work that’s more than a couple of years old because it makes me cringe hugely, but friends and family recently told me it’s one of their favourite things I’ve ever written so here you go.

It was the nail varnish that reminded him of which day of the week they were on. Monday was fresh and shiny, reaching from the cuticle to the top of the nail, in whatever colour had taken her fancy the previous Sunday evening. Tuesday was slightly ink-stained, chipped from the constant opening of doors or tapping of keyboards. Wednesday was definitely scruffier. The top of the nail had become clear again, and the varnish might have chipped from the bottom and sides too. Thursday looked more like a teen’s bitten-down nails, with perhaps half of the colour left and odd dents in each nail, from the constant use of her hands while she worked. Friday was just a day to get through, with grime between the finger and nail and the shine notably absent.

He wasn’t sure what Saturday looked like, because he never saw her then. Perhaps she re-painted them for a night out or left them alone if she was having a lazy weekend. But he knew that Sunday was the day when the remover bottle came out, when each nail was carefully cleaned by a cotton pad and, if the polish was stubborn, one of those cotton-bud sticks that you weren’t supposed to poke in your ear. He hadn’t been creepy and asked her this; she had told a colleague in the lunch queue one day when the topic of beauty treatments came up. He knew she did the removal in the morning as to leave her hands time to recover from the acetone. After her evening shower she would trim, dry and shape them, apply hand cream, wait half an hour and paint each nail first in a base coat, then in that week’s colour of choice, then in a top coat in a futile attempt to put the chipping off until at least Wednesday.

He also knew that red was the only colour he had never seen her wear, so when Christmas came around and he picked her name in the Secret Santa, he spent hours in Boots scouring the shelves for the perfect shade. In the end he settled on a set. Cranberry glitter for the festive season, matte burgundy for quieter days and a soft yet eye-catching crimson… for whatever time she liked, he thought as he paid, smiling in response to a knowing nod from the shop assistant.

She wore the crimson shade on Saturday, the evening of the company Christmas party. It matched his face when she thanked him for the gift, and matched the dress she wore when he took her out on their first date, on the eve of the new year.

The date lasted a whole week, but he didn’t think to even count the days.

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Copyright © 2012 by Francesca Burke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


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