Being that it was sandal weather and time for her feet to reveal themselves to prospective dating partners, Bernice wondered what color to paint her toenails. There were so many choices: reds and pinks were her favorites. Forget those navy blues and blacks those young girls liked; those dark colors were too dense to ride upon the insignificant weight of a nail. She thought a person should reserve black for funerals, that it was totally unsuitable to make appearances on a young girl’s hands, just like Vaneeta’s in her Sophomore English class, and certainly unsuitable for a white woman like herself in her forties.
During the school year, Bernice only wore clear. She didn’t want to distract her students from their discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Emily Dickinson. Transcendentalists like Bernice took their colors seriously. She knew about a great aunt in the family who had healed people through the laying on of color, an art that had been lost in the handing down. Even so, Bernice was a believer, had taken months to figure out the right swatches for her living room. After much deliberation, she had decided to paint her walls light browns and deep purples, but as for her nails; they were apple red.
Bernice congratulated herself on her sense of color coordination. Looking out on the patio, she felt like she was in the mountains, not in a town house facing a major highway with a dozen or so more units being built behind her. She’d even begun dating and was about to meet Jeffrey at the Starbucks close to the university in two hours. This was their first date. They had been corresponding for months. Neither of them had seen photos. She didn’t want her ex to know she was going out, even though he’d never know, let alone care.
She swung her bag over her shoulder and drove to the coffee shop, five minutes early, fiddled in her car listening to music. She wondered what she was going to say, but remembered how easy it’d been exchanging messages with him about almost everything. Jeffrey played the piano and worked at the local radio station. He said he’d be wearing a Diamondbacks cap. Bernice told him to be on the look-out for her nails.
She walked into the store and saw a man sitting to her right near the windows; recognized the cap. He was African-American, the color of warm coffee.
She almost knocked over the napkin dispenser with her purse, hated herself for it. “Hi, I’m Bernice.” She felt people looking at them.
“Jeffrey,” and he pulled out her chair. She sat. “What can I get you?” He smiled, but looked puzzled, caught her eye like a fish he was going to throw back in the water.
“Small coffee,” she said. “Cream and sugar.” Nothing else. A large coffee would be out of the question.
“Be right back.” But before he left, he looked down at her hands and said, “Nice nails.”