August 2013

The Common Denominator of the Afternoon Manicure

Hot air breathed down our necks
as my mother and I entered the nail salon.
What you like today?
the Vietnamese man
asked under a thick blanket of ethnicity.

French tips for her
my mom answered pointing to me,
and American for me
The man nodded deeply,
the boldly golden Jesus
around his sunburnt neck
danced with his movements.
He pointed to a Mexican
manicurist for my mom
– escorted me to his own booth.
I sat as he began his careful work.
I sweat in an ethnically awkward silence.

What you doing?!
he yelled to the Mexican lady
in his broken English. No, no good! Do again

The manicurist rolled her eyes and r’s
in a curse underneath her mother’s tongue,
apologized in a tangy version of English.
My mother nodded, her face painted
with German guilt and little beads of sweat.

The man doing my manicure
continued his work, and asked
me if I was: too hot
but his words were spiced with Vietnamese
and I couldn’t uncover what he was saying –
so I just nodded dumbly.
He got up and, praise our one common denominator,
he turned on the AC.

—Katherine Hoerth

3 thoughts on “August 2013

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