I'd boarded the Eurostar from London to Paris, and we'd just left the station when the English woman across the aisle began applying nail polish.
"Tell me you're kidding," I said. She was in her late sixties, sitting with her husband, who wore shorts and had a long, pink face. "That's like using spray paint on a train. It would be different if the windows opened, but they don't, and it's giving me a headache."
"I've only just unscrewed the cap," the woman said. "You honestly expect me to believe it's affected you this quickly?"
"Yes," I told her. "I'm begging you to stop."
She said she would, and then she continued. "So, you're going to stop when you're finished, is that it?" I asked.
"For God's sake, man," the husband said, looking up from his phone. "We have to be on this train together for two-and-a-half hours."
"I'm aware of that," I told him, watching as his wife screwed the lid back on. The polish was cantaloupe-colored, and matched her face, and her short, dyed hair.
"If you've got a headache, take an aspirin," the husband said. He wasn't as involved as his wife wanted him to be, wasn't chivalrous, just tired-sounding.
I guess you could say I won, but it was a hollow victory.
I don't know what it is with me and nail polish. The smell goes right to my central nervous system. I've never seen a French passenger do her nails on a train. Rather she's always British. Do they not smell it? I wonder.
Once the woman seated beside me in a London restaurant did it. "Oh, no, you don't!" I said. And she acted like I'd asked her not to chew, as if my request was completely unreasonable.
Is this my punishment for smoking all those years? I wondered, sitting on the Eurostar.
I took out my laptop and had just started working when I heard the woman say to her husband, "The sound of his typing is giving me a headache. What about that? What about me being bothered?"
She's got to be kidding, I thought. How can she even hear me?
"His fingers striking the keys, it's driving me crazy!"
She was, of course, just trying to get me back. If she'd taken her case to me though, wouldn't I have had to accept it, and quit typing, just as she had quit painting her nails? Then I'd have to insist that her breathing was bothering me, and it would just escalate until we were both dead, and it was just her husband seated between us, happy at last.
- ("Sunday Morning," 3/03/19)
For more info:
- "Calypso" by David Sedaris (Little, Brown), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available via Amazon
Story produced by Aria Shavelson.