Reaching Out, by Elaine Croce Happnie, using traditional methods to evoke modern themes

Glitter and Dust

You know the story before it is told—the friend, the husband, the means and motive. You are getting your nails done for the first time in 20 years, and the young women next to you have their fingers dipped in glitter and white polish.


Bridesmaids, you think. A bride and a maid. Wedding preparations are so vast and expensive. The manicurist dips their nails in dust and you are befuddled by change.

Thirty years ago you splurged on a manicure the day before your wedding. Your mother arranged the flowers. His mother made the cake. The bridesmaids had their shoes dyed teal.

That gown has been in a box all these years, pressed and clean and useless. It outlasted the marriage. Your daughters will not wear it. To this day it is the most beautiful thing you ever wore.

After the divorce your mother, more bitter than you, claimed that you should have thrown a party for yourself.

You are getting your nails done on a whim. They are jagged, short, and split because you have some kind of arthritis—”Arthuritis,” your grandmother called it. When you hand the bottle labeled Lilac Dream to the manicurist and say you want a plain old manicure, he looks at you quizzically.

“French?” he says.

“Lilac Dream,” you respond. “And don’t cut the cuticles.”

You point at your fingernails, ashamed of them as you glance around the salon at the others’ perfect talons. You remember the click-click sound when your grandmother tapped hers on the tabletop. Back then you were a guitarist and kept yours trim.

But visiting your husband at the hospital—being out and about after two years of pandemic—you noticed how dull you are in comparison to all the women you encountered. Suddenly your nails seem vitally important—as if their ragged state reveals how much you have ignored yourself. Hair gone gray. Pounds around the hips. The hem you stapled on your favorite pants because you couldn’t be bothered with a tailor. You masked your face and you masked yourself. Now that your husband is hospitalized and you are a visitor you feel compelled to sharpen up and pay attention.

He has been there for a week, recovering from quintuple bypass surgery that surely saved his life and so yours too. Just last Tuesday he had come home from work by way of the grocery store, as he so often did; but he dropped the bags midway down the entrance hall.

“I have to tell you something,” he said. It was early spring and nearly dark. The house lights were low and he was in the shadows. It was odd. Your mind, primed for the worst of things, went to those things. His job. Another love. Some kind of loss.

He stepped into the lights, groceries on the floor behind him. The dog scampered to the bags, ever in search of a treat. In the light you could see that Steven’s face was pale, an unhealthy gray white. Whatever was lost was not work or another woman. Something on the news, you thought.

“I can’t breathe,” he said. “I haven’t been able to breathe easily for the last week, and now my chest hurts.”

He did not clutch it, he only walked to the dining room and sat at the head of the table. “I didn’t want you to know, but now I have to tell you. I think I’m having a heart attack.”

Your mind knew everything and nothing, the way it could rush to all thoughts and no thoughts. You picked up your phone to dial 911 but he stopped you.

“No ambulance,” he said.

Three months earlier an ambulance had saved his younger brother’s life when he was having what would have been a widow-maker.

“Yes,” you said. “This is an emergency.”

“Just take me to urgent care,” he said.

And so you did, and then to the emergency room, where they suggested a stent might be in order. But tests revealed that to be inadequate for his damaged heart. When the news came you pressed your ear to his chest and listened to that vital organ beat. You did not want to cry in front of your stoic husband. The hospital offered to airlift him to a cardiac specialty hospital, but he opted to stay in place.

You’d regretted that decision all week as complication piled upon complication. He grew paler and weaker by the day. The surgeon who studied the chart and insisted that he was doing well did not look Steven in the eye.

You saw the pain etched in Steven’s face. He was suffering from something called Ogilvie’s syndrome. It would kill him if it wasn’t treated, which is what is going on now, while you are having your nails done.

Steven had insisted that you leave the hospital. You did not want to go home or to your mother’s. You felt as ragged as your own two hands. You’d passed the salon each morning on your way to the hospital—each day you sat at Steven’s side and whispered to the sky for him to live. And each day a new complication.

Still, when the physical therapists came, he rose to the walker and shuffled steady laps around the corridor. You walked behind him, holding the hospital gown shut and urging him to keep moving, for that was the way home.

The nail salon, in a strip mall near the hospital, seemed a good place to pass the morning. The hostess offers ice water infused with lemon and cucumber. Every chair is taken. Women chat with each other while soft meditation music wafts through the air. A distraction, you thought. A way to pass an hour, your nails covered in Lilac Dream.

Then the women next to you start talking about a love affair, a marriage gone sour–the groom in love with the maid of honor, the best friend and the betrayal, the rehearsal dinner, glasses shattered against the wall. The drama and the despair. Their eyes grow wide with the telling. They’re wondering how the jilted bride will cope, what she will do with the china and the house, and whether the groom feels any shame at all.

You’ve lived through something like it yourself, and you tell them your short version–-how you came home with a new baby and learned of your husband’s affair with your best friend. How shattered you felt by it all, and how you had no choice but to keep living. How your friend died in a car crash a few years later, and how you married her ex-husband and raised her children and your own. Years of gossip and tears. Now you are an old woman with torn cuticles and gray hair and the children are all grown.

Their nails dipped into pots of glitter and dust, they study you in silence. You’ve said too much.

You do not tell them how for years you prayed for an ordinary life, something simple, without drama. How you learned during that trauma not to trust friends or neighbors. How they all whispered when you came into a room. You do not tell them that you are getting your nails done while your husband recovers from heart surgery.

Your phone rings and you can see that it is the nurses’ station at the hospital. They had promised to call with an update on Steven. You cannot answer because the manicurist has dipped your hands in warm water. But you must answer. He will be alive or dead. Your ragged hands have gone soft in the water. The phone slips from them; you grasp it again and rush to slide the green arrow over.

“Yes?” you say. “Yes?”

Art by Janice Lynch Schuster
  Janice Lynch Schuster is a writer, poet, and visual artist whose work is inspired and informed by her home near the wetlands of the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Working with inks, she creates abstract images that reflect the marshes and creeks of her regions and explore the intersection and interplay of line and color. Sometimes she writes with pens on the images, which gives her the sensation of creating a story. A member of the Muddy Creek Artists Guild, her artwork has appeared in Persimmon Tree and Months to Years. The pieces are 8”x 8”. If you are interested in learning more, please contact her via Instagram, Janice Lynch Schuster (@jls827) where you can also see more of her images.
Art is available framed and unframed.


Janice Lynch Schuster is 61 years old and lives in the Annapolis MD area, where she works full-time as a writer for a large consulting firm. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications such as The Sun Magazine, The Washington Post, Poet Lore, and The New York Times.
Elaine Croce Happnie’s work has been exhibited in Boston, NYC, Florida, Madrid, and the NYC Tourist Office of Spain, and is in the permanent collections of the Boston Athenaeum, Boston Public Library, the Copley Society of Art (Boston) and Real Academia Espanola (Madrid).


  1. This short story resonates in so many ways of many women’s hearts of pain and continuing in life’s path
    Thank you, Janice

  2. This is wonderful ❤️ so many of us just need to get our nails done. Sharing your heartbreak is how we heal ❤️

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