My neon pink nails with black tips glowed purple under the UV lights as I waited for them to dry. With no hands, that meant no texting, no checking my work email -- not even reading a smut magazine. I could do nothing but literally watch the paint dry.
That's why I was here.
As a busy mom working 3,000 hours a week on a slow week (insert martyr image here), I was starving for silence and solitude. I'd offered to get the groceries, a chore I knew my husband would relinquish without a battle. Especially since he was home watching football. It wasn't my fault that "get a manicure" was on my shopping list.
A set of mauve nails slid under the light across from me. The nails were much longer and rounder than mine, cut square at the tips of my fingers. Her hands looked softer than mine, which were callused from years of hard exercise and abused from the unpredictable duties of mothering a toddler.
The tops of the stranger's hands were wrinkled and spotted; mine sported a fading black Sharpie picture my daughter had drawn. My green and brown arm tattoo crawled up my wrist, where she sported a delicate pearl bracelet.
"My husband doesn't know I'm here," whispered the unfamiliar face at the other end of those hands.
I smirked politely in acknowledgement but avoided her eyes, trying not to engage her. I was here to get away, and I didn't want to waste that time chitchatting with a stranger I would never see again.
Our fingernails faced off under the UV lights for another minute of silence.
"I wonder if he thinks my nails grow in this color," she chuckled, halfway to herself.
Don't laugh, I reminded myself, or you're suddenly engaged in the dialogue. I am strong; I can conquer this small talk.
"I've been getting them done every week for 60 years and he's never commented on them," she continued. "Men are so funny."
OK, apparently we were having this conversation whether I liked it or not.
I could only stare at my hands for so long, so I glanced up quickly. Wide, gentle blue eyes greeted me, atop a relaxed smile. I smiled back, for real this time, wondering why I had been so resistant at first.
"Every Sunday, my daughter picks me up at home to bring me grocery shopping. But on the way to the grocery store, she drops me off here to get my nails done. It's our little secret," she confessed. "I started doing it as a young mother when all of my energy was going to my kids."
She must have taken the surprised expression on my face for judgment, about the secret she kept from her husband.
"Oh, it's a good thing, really. It's how we've managed to stay married so long," she explained. "The secret to a happy relationship is to keep yourself happy, too. Take care of yourself."
"Oh? That's cool," I stuttered, flaunting my eloquent wisdom back at her.
"You know, he probably knows I do this, but he doesn't say anything so I don't have to defend it -- how much money I've spent on manicures over the years," she thought out loud. "He probably has his thing, too. Although he's probably been doing it for so long that I don't notice it much anymore, either."
I checked my nails. They were dry. But I didn't stand up. Not yet.
"My husband doesn't know I'm here, either," I whispered. "He's at home. Watching football."
She laughed -- no, this was one of those belly laughs that classifies as a guffaw.
"May you have a happy marriage together for 60 more years," she exclaimed. "You know, we're not all that different, you and me."
I felt my heart swell.
"Well, except that polish color you chose. I'd never do something like that," she said.
She was right; we were two peas in a pod.
Because I would totally never wear mauve.
I slid my fingers out from the glowing cave, and my bright pink tips waved goodbye.