“You should get this one,” she says, holding up a bottle of nail polish.
“My dad would hate that color,” I tell her, reaching out for the drop of red and then adding it to the cart.
She scans the rest of the colors and flicks a quick “Why?” over her shoulder.
“I’m not sure, exactly. His mom used to wear it; I know that for sure.”
And then I hear his voice: You’re a natural beauty, he’d say anytime I played with makeup or nail polish. Why would you want to cover that up?
Daddy, I’d say. It’s just for fun.
He’d shrug his shoulders and go back to his workbench. I’d retreat to my room and add another color, another layer, another coat.
He loved me that way.
But there was always something about red. Red lipstick. Red nail polish. Even the dark pinks would make him cringe. A visceral reaction you could see; his skin crawled, his muscles tensed, his eyes averted.
My mother used to wear red, he’d remind me. That was the extent of the explanation. And so I stopped wearing it.
I loved him that way.
So why did I put the red polish in the cart?
My mother used to.
She was an English war bride in the 1940s, who after only a few years with the in-laws in Chicago, buried her husband and the youngest of their three babies. I imagine she buried a piece of herself each time. Maybe that’s when she started wearing red. To hide and heal the wounds of mourning.
By the time I was born, there was no trace of a British accent. No recollect of a English heritage, no mention of a life once lived. Instead, there was a business that took away the dance studio in my basement, an electric organ that filled the otherwise awkward silence in her front room, and two Scottie dogs, one who I remember was named Trixie. Maybe it was then that she started painting herself red, like the Queen of Hearts, a show of success and of spite.
I do know that at some point, she simply became someone he didn’t recognize anymore. And what was left, I think, was red. Red lips and red nails, to be sure. Seeing and seething red branding the words she couldn’t take back.
So why did I put the red polish in the cart? Not out of spite. Not meant to hide or heal.
Simply to try it on again, like I did when I was little. Just to hear him say, You’re a natural beauty before he’d shrug his shoulders and turn back to his work bench.
Daddy, it’s just for fun.