Her age doesn’t matter. Neither does her dress size nor where she’s from. What matters is her nails.
They’re red and long and probably fake. I can’t tell for sure from where I’m seated, but there’s something about the way she taps her fingers on the table that makes me think they’re fake. When she taps them, they sounds like plastic. Drumming little plastic caps.
She’s chewed her right middle finger back to the middle joint and dropped the bloody chunk on the table beside her half eaten quiche. The quiche has bits of mushroom and aubergine sticking out of it and a bloody middle finger beside it, red with blood at the base and red with plastic at the nail.
Hers are the type of nails that make bearded men nervous. Or maybe they make men who drink protein shakes calm. I don’t know, it all depends on the man we’re talking about here.
But the red, little, sparkling bits are long and beckoning for the waiter to come over.
“Another glass of wine for madame?” He has bags underneath his eyes and she guesses that this is his fourth shift in a row.
She’s right. And there are upwards of thirty more tables to serve before he gets another day off and takes the train to Coney Island to eat hot dogs and fries and watch the seagulls fly in over the water. Thirty more tables before Billy can sit on an old, wooden, seaside bench, imagining himself living somewhere else, somewhere exciting. But could his life get more exciting? Maybe he just needs to get out there, like his brother says he should over the phone, maybe out there is where life is exciting.
From a corner table, I see her tilt her glass up and down all of the wine in a single mouthful. Woah, the waiter’s mouth lolls open. Woah, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
With her four fingers, she combs her long, black hair back. She tucks her middle finger into her coat pocket. Woah, you really are stunning. She leaves without paying. She doesn’t have to, the phone number she scribbles on the napkin covers the whole thing because the Woman-With-Red-Nails-Who-Carries-A-Finger-In-Her-Pocket reminded Billy that maybe,
is really here.
The lamp in the corner of the beauty parlor is out of action. Rocío has sent one of her girls to the shop to buy light bulbs because, rain or shine, we always gotta have light, says Rocio. In this case, it’s snow or hail, but the same motto applies. White bright light.
Rocio manages the beauty parlor and she’s really great with hairdos, nails, gossip and blasé theories that bring everything back to your grandmother.
But Rocío knows nothing about keeping time.
“Claro que we can squeeze you in,” she yells into the phone. “2:35 pm?” and before I can say yes or no she’s all “Sí? See you then!”
I leave the RESTAURANT in a rush and hail a cab. Rocio’s timelessness is one thing, but showing up late to her salon is another. There’s the story of a person called Linda who arrived 20 minutes late because her pedicure wasn’t going to start on time anyway. Rumour has it that Rocio kicked her out of the salon, fisting a rolled up People magazine. Linda was banned for life or beaten to death, depending on who you believe. Everyone agrees that she was banned from the coffee place down the street, the laundromat, the two neighborhood bars. And after getting in touch with her landlord, Rocío made sure that Linda--if she’s in fact still alive--was banned from her own home, left to live on the street.
But now it’s 3:45 p.m. and the faux leather couch is packed with customers all booked for 2:35.
Sitting in a stool I spot Teresa with her broken knee. We still don’t know if her landlord will be paying for her surgery--a surgery she clearly needs, considering she fell off the building’s broken staircase. There’s also Lucille who’s eating a piece of carrot cake and leaving crumbs all over the floor and red-haired Berty who says she wants to go back to au naturel which makes Teresa chuckle because Berty clearly doesn’t have anything au naturel about her. There’s Sherie who likes to read the Encyclopedia. She’s reading about Antarctica in the A to F Volume she brought with her today. In the corner there’s a blonde girl with a baby face and fiery pink hair. She’s a new girl I hadn’t seen before and she’s carrying an actual crying baby in her arms. She leaves the parlor before her appointment because her baby won’t stop crying.
4:15 p.m. and I wonder if Rocio’s appointment book is just filled with love notes to herself written in the time slots.
Keep being the woman you see in the mirror, she’s worth all your time
I’ve been loving you for 53 years in private and 44 in public and will do so every single day until I die
You don’t have to be perfect, but you’re pretty close to it
<3 always x 100,000,000 y más
One of Hector Lavoe’s albums is playing from her speakers--a fancier version of the ones she had last week, which makes me think that a) Rocío knows a lot of people at Stereo Exchange or b) this salon is actually a gold mine which means c) Rocío is some sort of wizard who has managed to flip time on it’s side. She operates in a world where time does not equal money. Rocio is the ultimate anti-capitalist. A revolutionary. Rocío is a marxist with big hips.
5:00 pm and we’re still waiting. Rocío cranks up the music and we wait. She talks about love and we wait. She tells us all her family’s secrets. We wait.
This week her uncle left her aunt for another woman from some island in the Caribbean. Last week he left her for another woman living on 12th Street. And the week before he left her for his next door neighbor, the one with the frizzy hair. The point is that her uncle gets around and Rocío says “ya no más, I’ve had it with that cheese ball of a tio.”
III. A salsa tune
Billy didn’t make it on time for staff food and this shift is running later than usual because of a birthday party, so Billy still hasn’t eaten anything. He’s also just quit smoking. It’s fair to say Billy is in a foul mood today. And his boss with the greasy mustache just called him lazy. “Get your lazy ass back to the dining hall,” to be exact.
Cherry on top.
Icing on the cake.
El agua que derramó la copa.
Billy has been seeing this girl since last winter and now it’s spring and their relationship is blossoming. She came into the RESTAURANT when he was in a foul mood but woah, she was really the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen so he finally paid his phone bill so he could call her and she said yes, I would love to go to Coney Island with you and watch the seagulls.
She’s always humming that song that Billy can’t dance to, it’s one of those songs he didn’t really like before he met her, but the hum is now very familiar and when he imagines the hum not being there, he gets a bit of a stomach ache.
It’s been almost two months since he went to Coney Island and ever since he’s been spending every weekend hopping from salsa bar to greasy diner to bed to greasy diner to salsa record shop to bed.
Billy, of course, has fallen in love with the girl with the really long nails.
She’s come to see him today and thank god because Billy was about to lose his mind, “he wants to see lazy? I’ll show him lazy” and she laughs because that makes no sense but she finds his nonsensical passion very attractive.
He seats her at the bar so they can chat while he mixes drinks and, from where I’m sitting, I think it’s odd that she hangs her coat on the back of the bar stool-- it’s got to be too hot for that coat? Maybe it’s hotter over here in the corner where I’m sitting with the plants and the purple velvet curtains and in any case, woah, she really is stunning and even more now that her shiny, black hair is cut in a sexy-short bob.
IV. The Quiche
The word on the street is that a customer complained that he’d found a finger in his soup. “No way!” said the manager but the customer is always right, so yes way. There was a middle finger with a red nail between the sweet potatoes and the carrots. The customer complained but also took a moment to take a picture of what he thought was an astounding colour combination for a meal.
We’ll get the check. Next dinner is on us. Two glasses of prosecco? A chocolate fondant? A bottle of champagne? You can come for breakfast tomorrow, on us?
Anything so the review wouldn’t end up on RateYourDiningExperience.com but it’s already too late.
Found a middle finger inside my soup. How rude.
It’s only been two days since the nasty review, but the establishment is already out of business and the owner has lost his life savings.
Ten blocks north, Rocío is shuffling around the room, soaking in the Hector blasting from her new speakers. She’s dancing while everyone waits and talking while everyone waits and complaining about the heat while everyone waits. Gloria is getting a pedicure, Rose is getting a manicure and the Woman-With-Red-Nails-Who-Carries-A-Finger-In-Her-Pocket is getting a free shoulder rub because it’s the least Rocio can do after her middle finger ended up in a soup in some cheeseball of a tio’s RESTAURANT some nights ago.
Laura Steiner is a writer, performer and improviser from Colombia currently based in London.