Emerging from a nominal winter that was more a conversational convention than a distinguishable season, the brightly blooming flowers seemed to shout, "We are here at last!" when in reality they could have been there all along. Where winter does not punish, spring often goes unnoticed.
A dull blue sky arched overhead and the air was damp, but there was no scent of rain.
Claire Ashby sat alone at a small round table on the terrace of the campus coffee shop, not drinking anything. Instead, she occupied herself with staring into a copy of Sense and Sensibility, wondering how she might summarize her own personality so concisely. Had she ever been anything, any attribute, purely and simply?
Suddenly she was 5 years old again, sitting on the counter next to the sink in her parents' bathroom, while her mother painted her nails for the first time. The chosen color was a shimmery hot pink. She admired the way her mother worked, as if she were a real artist, precisely painting over each tiny fingernail with the clumsy brush, leaving perfectly formed swaths of glossy color. She saw her little brother Ed toddle in. He was 2, and wanted everything she had in the way that younger siblings do. He shouted to have his nails painted too, and her mother tried to explain that pink nails were just for girls. He began to scream and bang his fists on the counter, and little Claire grew irritated with the interruption.
Mom quieted him by promising to paint "some" of his nails when she was finished with his sister's. From then, he hovered over her tiny hands, watching and breathing hot little toddler breaths upon her fingers. When Claire's nails were finished, Mom instructed her not to touch anything until they were dry, and began on Ed's. It was cute how he was fascinated by the little bright points of color at the tips of his fingers, and he insisted on having all of them painted.
When all the painting was finished, they compared hands.
"We match!" shouted Ed.
He was proud to be like her, and she knew it. And she was proud, because she was being imitated and it had been her idea first, and because it made them a team.
When Dad came home, they rushed as one to show him the pretty pink fingernails of that afternoon. He said they were "neat," and stared a little longer at Ed's nails than Claire's.
Later, after their baths, Claire noticed that her brother's nails were no longer painted, with only a few chips of color around the edges.
"Why did you get rid of the paint?"
"Dad made me."
"Nail polish is only for girls, and he doesn't want me to look like a girl."
It was true. She was a girl, and he was not. But she hadn't realized it until then.