The Slow-Moving Manicurist

Many skilled trades are overlooked by those who consider themselves of “nobler” stature. The sort of people who would never bother to even think about the lives of those who service their own. Nicoletta was just one such life that essentially no one she “worked for” took into account. Then again, there were few clients in her general rotisserie as a result of a certain, let’s just say it, slow-moving manner. The irony of her choosing a profession that thrived on meeting unspoken quotas for the sake of amassing not only the most baseline amount of money but also the occasional tip (for those Italian women feeling especially generous) was lost on Nicoletta, who genuinely felt that this was the best line of work for her to pursue. For, in reality, aren’t all professions quota-based? Simply because to make money is synonymous with producing things that are of a lack of quality for the sake of giving the illusion of productivity via quantity. And since Nicoletta had no particular talent, she figured she might as well parlay her tolerance for tedium into something that permitted her to sit down all day and chat with the infrequently diverse clientele.

In truth, Nicoletta had only sustained three loyal clients over the past five years during her tenure as, what others in the neighborhood titteringly called her, the slow-moving manicurist. She had set up shop in her own apartment, advertising in the grassroots fashion of putting up fliers all over the small town of Pozzuoli, where her modest lodging on Via Marco Aurelio, with clothes always hanging on the line, only added to the sadness and desperation of her life. Well, that, and she lived with her mother, whose apartment it really was, and who had a particular vinegariness to her spirit as a result of being betrayed by first Nicoletta’s father and then her brother. In the former’s case, the betrayal began twenty-one years into the marriage, after his gaze had been enraptured by a girl who would often come into the butcher shop where he worked to eye and ultimately buy the meat, if you catch one’s meaning. At first, he tried to keep it strictly mistress, but when she started withholding, he couldn’t take it anymore–had to have the taste again. So he left Zaira wordlessly after dinner one night, not even bothering to take his things with him. He still worked in the butcher shop down the way, remarrying as a bigamist soon after–but as far as Zaira was concerned, he was either dead or in another country, for both things are rather similar to most people. When Vito left, it didn’t take much longer for Giorgio to follow suit. He was that rare breed in the nation: a daddy’s boy. He took up residence with Vito and Sabrina just as soon as they gave him the sanction, with Nicoletta’s dreams of ever leaving town fully dashed now that she couldn’t possibly leave Zaira unattended without feeling some massive guilt. She was responsible for her, her mother’s sole source of remaining trust, of an ability to place any semblance of faith in humanity. She couldn’t strip that away from the woman who had given her life. Even if it meant her own life would be stripped away like the very polish she removed from her scant clients’ digits.

So, instead of leaving town, she went to a nail academy, the kind that required four-day a week attendance and was considered “accelerated” via completion within two months’ time. And though she should have seen almost immediately that she was at the bottom of the learning curve, seemingly unable to pick up on things intuitively the way the other nine girls in the class were, she carried on, subjecting her classmates to the torture of practicing on them. And they were girls, really. Whereas Nicoletta was a woman of thirty-four to their mean age range of twenty-three. It would have been a source of embarrassment to some people, but to Nicoletta, the threshold of being humiliated had passed long ago, around the time she was abandoned by her fiancé at the age of twenty-nine, just when a woman starts to lose all of her cachet. Unlike Nicoletta’s father, Luca didn’t even have the reason of another female as a motive for rejection. Instead, it seemed, he was merely bored and wanted to be on his own–without the burden of worrying about another human being, least of all one who seemed so often to have her head in the clouds anyway, never tending well enough to his physical or emotional needs. She was given at least this much of an excuse over their last meal together, which she was not aware was their last meal until the end. He didn’t even kiss her goodbye as he parted from her with a barely concealed smile of relief and the joy that comes with it. And it was that night that something within Nicoletta closed completely. Maybe it was her heart chakra, in addition to her vaginal canal. For she swore, quite simply: never again.

And for a time, she settled for something even more demeaning than being labeled the neighborhood’s “slow-moving manicurist.” She landed a part-time position as a cashier at the nearby Crai supermarket. It only took her the roughly five-year period of being treated invisibly–like little more than an overpaid–at nine euro an hour–robot to at last become motivated to segue into a different “career.” And then her future dawned on her one day as she overheard a pompous “donna dell’alta societa” complaining to her friend about how she overpaid sixty euros for an acrylic manicure that saw most of her nails popping off the very next morning. It was hearing the amount that she was willing to pay that prompted Nicoletta to instantly rethink the path she had gone down, the path she could perhaps still turn back from.

A few weeks later she had enrolled in nail school, and now, two years on, at the not ripe age of thirty-six, she was still clinging to the very false notion that it was “panning out.” Maybe if she actually had to pay rent or cook her own meals–Zaira worried about all that–she would be forced to reconcile with the truth about her “skill,” which was, obviously, that she didn’t have any. Still, her bizarrely three loyal clients, an older woman in her fifties named Raimunda, a late thirty-something named Samanta and a twenty-something named Gelsomina, made her feel as though she was not just wanted, but needed. She would spend the entire day with them every two weeks or so. The six to eight hours it would take Nicoletta to finish seemed, to these very niche clients, to feel like no time at all. As though they were only there for minutes instead of multitudes of hours. And as Nicoletta would sit there filing away in a manner so grating it would make even working for Ray Stokes sound less annoying (no, I’m not having a laugh), she would, in many ways, heal these women and their various traumas, simply by listening to and advising (where she could) them–the very things that they had always wanted from someone in their own personal lives, but could never seem to finagle. In Nicoletta, they had found it. The only tradeoff was a dry anal rape of a manicure that didn’t even include a massage or lotioning of some kind. Any sort of amenity that would have made the persistent and irrepressible scratch scratch scratching of the emery board feel just slightly less jarring. But to Raimunda, Samanta and Gelsomina, the value of Nicoletta was not her ability to give them a “hand transformation”–an endless filing down of their nails to go with a filing down of their fraught emotions. It was her ability to give a shit. About these God’s forgotten children, so many of whom can’t even afford manicures. Plus, Zaira was never failing in her offering of an unforgettable gatò di patate by the end of the affair, which, at sixty euros per “session” certainly ought to include a free dinner.

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