There weren’t many things that Mary was very particular about. She had preferences, of course, but not many things that she was very particular about. However, she could not, under any circumstances, go a day without perfectly manicured hands.
She was verging on obsessive and could often be found touching up barely chipped nail polish or moisturizing her hands. She spent an inordinate amount of time looking at her hands, inspecting them for “imperfections and impurities”, as she often put it. She had more tools for doing her nails than tools for doing her hair and she had four times more nail polish than make up or even clothes!
Eyeliner, mascara, blush, foundation – these things were the obsessions of vain girls. Nail polish though – well, that set the women apart from the girls. It was dignified, it was elegant, it was classy and to Mary, it was utterly beautiful.
Choosing how to paint her nails was always the hardest part of Mary’s day, and yes, she did it daily. It was highly unladylike to wear the same polish two days in a row and Mary never missed a day of changing the colors. Sometimes, she would paint her nails in one solid color and sometimes, when the mood struck her, she would decorate her nails elaborately with glitter or gems. You never knew what to expect on Mary’s nails, but you could be sure that it would be different.
Her routine was long and drawn out and watching her perform the ritual of caring for and embellishing her nails was mesmerizing in every way. It was more than just watching someone do their nails, because for Mary, it was more than just doing her nails. It was completing the whole package, the whole woman.
She would soak her nails, just a little longer than the tips of her fingers, in a dish filled with warm water. Every night she put different oils into the water to achieve different effects. Sometimes, it smelt like sterile lemon and others like gentle lavender and sometimes it smelt sweet like berries and other times woody like musk. She would gaze adoringly at her fingernails as they soaked up the oils, the water soothing her skin.
Softly, she’d dab her fingertips on a plush towel before coating them in a moisturizing cream that was almost devoid of any scent but felt like pure butter upon spreading. She worked the cream into the beds of her nails, along the lengths of her fingers, into her knuckles and around her wrists. She would watch her fingers and hands work around each other the entire time.
A flurry of tools were used at this point, although I’m afraid I have no comprehension as to what for. She would carefully select her tool. Skillfully, she would tend to the shape of her nails, dilligently adjusting each one to match the next. She would hold her hands close to her face and far away from her face, scrutinizing every swift movement the tool she was using made. Her nose would wrinkle ever so slightly if something was off, even just by a bit and a gentle blow on the nail would signal a job well done.
Next came the polish, which she chose with such consideration that it was almost painful to watch. It was never as simple as “Today, I’m going to wear blue nail polish”, it was an ehxhaustive internal debate about the proper shade of blue and the correct brand to use and whether or not to do one coat or two. She fussed over this part of the process and changed her mind often, spending much longer than one needed to on the choosing of the polish.
Finally, when she had picked the exact right shade made by the exact right company, she would turn on the radio, open the nail polish and set it out in front of her. Laying her hands flat out before her, she would take a moment to breathe very deeply, closing her eyes and visualizing her finished product – her soon to be masterpiece.
Confidently, she’d raise the brush from out of the lacquer and with her right hand begin to paint of the nails of the left. Starting with the thumb and working her way to the pinky, her strokes were delicate and steady, coating the nail in evenly distrubuted lines of color until the whole nail was the desired shade of her first coat.
Sometimes, she only needed one coat of nail polish. Sometimes, she needed two or three. It all depended on the shade and brand and she had spent so much time on her nail polish that she knew exactly how many coats she would need before she even began. She would still raise her nails for consideration after each and every nail was painted, the same critical eye scanning for any imperfection.
After she completed the nails of her left hand, she would raise her hand gracefully to her mouth and she would blow every so slightly on the wet lacquer. She’d hold her hand facing her and curl the fingers down to blow on the nails and then would stretch her hand out in front of her to inspect the color, the coating, the artistry. Then, she would move to her right hand.
Since she was right-handed, her right hand was always the hardest for her to paint. When she was a young girl she had struggled with this lack of dexterity and would cry to her mother that she would never be a real woman. Her mother would console her and finish her right hand and when Mary’s mother died, she had no choice but to learn to do it. She always thought of her mother with fond memories as she jutted her tongue between her lips to paint these nails.
And though her right hand shook as she made her strokes, the color came out just as flawlessly on this hand as her other and she often smiled to herself on the accomplishment.
When both hands were completed, she would shift them this way and that, ensuring every nail was done to perfection. She would look at her nails from every angle – upside down, right side up, from the side and in the reflection of the mirror. She would clean up any mistakes and when all was just right, she would lay both her hands flat on the table in front of her.
Exhaling heavily, Mary would feel a calm surround her. She would admire her hands until the polish had dried, feeling very proud of the work she’d done, creating the whole woman.