Blue Varnish – a short story by Karen Botha

“Come on love, swing your legs round towards me…”

My nail varnish catches my eye. It’s chipped. And blue. Horrid. Not something I would choose. It’s so tatty. I’d never let it get like this.

“Sweetheart, you need to get out of the car.” My husband gently tries to shift my legs. I recognise his voice although it has deepened with age, but mostly I recognise his smell. The same aftershave for as long as I’ve known him. I’ve never liked it. I don’t recognise how he looks, but then I don’t recognise myself anymore.

He succeeds with one leg. As I consider my nail polish some more, he wrestles the other.

I feel sad.

I know I forget things, but the cruel thing is, my illness steals memories from my loved ones too. They remember me taking a pride in my appearance, so they paint my nails. They remember me choosing co-ordinating outfits for inside and out.

But they also forget.

They forget pride takes maintenance.

Above all, I’m sure they forget pride also takes style.

And so I am left venturing out in over sized jumpers and jogging bottoms chosen for ease of getting on and off rather than style.

And nails that are half blue.

At least there’s no chance of anyone thinking I’m cold. I may have blue nails, but this baggy old woolen thing I’m encased in mid-June leaves no doubt that I’m warm.

And so whilst I have memories embedded about who I am, practicalities force me to forget these, as well as those over which I have no control for fear of going totally barmy; itching to change things I know I can not.

I swing my right leg as instructed and look to Nick to direct my next move.

I clonk my head getting out of the car. It’s throbbing as I struggle to walk on the uneven grass. These shoes that Nick has me wear are apparently good for my feet. Thing is though, the soles are so thick I can’t feel where I’m walking. Combined with not being able to see well anymore and we’re on rocky ground before I even start.

“Do you remember this place?” Nick asks.

I can’t see too much so I don’t. I stay quiet rather than hurt his feelings, I can sense he’s pleased with himself.

“It’s the village fete; the one we always went to when Jenny was young?” he prompts.

I smile. “Yes, she had that pillow fight balanced on the log over the water.”

He laughs; it’s nice, a deep baritone. “Yeah, she was useless; fell off.”

I laugh too. “Splosh!” And we giggle some more at our hopelessly unathletic child.

We walk slowly over to the goings on. There’s a mass of movement I can’t make out in front of me. I grab Nick’s arm tighter.

“It’s OK love, we’re nearly at the stalls so there’s more people,” he explains. I try to settle. Instinctively I know he won’t let anything hurt me, but every day is a barrage of trust versus consequences. It’s taxing. I keep quiet, trying not to vent my frustration.



I’m trying to place the sound. It’s like the noise a horse-shoe makes on concrete. Thing is, I know we’re on grass so that can’t be right. And the repetition is too slow… I scrunch my brow, trying to filter the tone through my brain without it short circuiting.

Nick senses my confusion, “It’s the coconut shy,” he explains gently.

Aha, now that makes sense. “You should have a go Nick, I remember you being good at this.”

“Haha, yeah I used to be, but not sure my frozen shoulder will allow me the same success today,” he jokes.

“Ah, you won me a teddy, that pink and white one.”

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I? Think I must have spent our whole weeks rent getting that for you.” The memory triggers the old love, the passionate days. He puts his arm around my squidgy waist as we watch as others recreate their version of our memories. I lean into him and we stand a while.

“Chloe ate it,” I exclaim as the memory floats back.

“She did didn’t she, little bugger, that dog was always eating something. Remember when she snaffled all the BBQ leftovers off the kitchen worktop?”

I laugh. She was ill after that, lying on the floor in the hallway wining as her tummy reminded her, adventures are not for the faint hearted. I lay down beside her on the hard floor of our hallway. You had to nuzzle deep with Chloe to reach beneath her thick fur. Her warmth radiates through me now, her calm love was boundless. I’m in my head now as I re-live another happy moment from those happy years.

Jenny is trying to stand, using Chloe as an aid. She just waits, until the pulling and tugging is over and then nudges Jen gently, celebrating her success. There’s a knock at the door and Mum and Dad walk in, they never wait for an answer. We hug in the hallway and they follow me to the kitchen where our Sunday roast is almost ready.

“Smells delicious,” Mum says, excited to not have to cook today.

“Nick,” I shout, “Mum and Dad are here.”

Dad is already rummaging through the fridge for a drink.

“He’s upstairs doing some work stuff,” I explain as Nick thuds on each step in turn, half sulking at being disturbed. Only half sulking though, his other half looking forward to my specialty.

Dad hands Nick a cold bottle of beer. I smile; the noise of the pressure releasing as the cap is pulled is exactly how I feel on days like today. All my family together; laughing.

Mum takes Jenny outside to throw the ball for Chloe.

I’m struck by jealousy, it’s a beautiful day. I’m missing the fun with this cooking lark.

‘Dinner can wait.’ I shout and turn the oven low.

Three generations of love in the garden on a rare summers’ day. “We should eat outside,” I suggest “we don’t get enough days like this, days where we can enjoy being alive.”

“What a great idea,” agrees my Mum as she pulls out a garden chair from the table and gets herself settled.

“I’ll grab us some wine,” I wink at her. She nods, grinning.

I don’t know how long we sit, it’s one of those times filled with love and squealing laughter. Possibly also filled with a little too much alcohol on an empty stomach. All plans for dinner have ridden off in to the sunset, replaced by precious family time that only sun can serve up. Looking at my watch, I realise even if we’re OK, poor Jenny must be starving.

“Best get on with that dinner,” I announce, more to make me actually move rather than to keep my family informed.

“Quite right, get those Yorkshire puddings served up,” Nick agrees jovially.

“OK, OK,” I laugh, “give me ten minutes and they’re yours.”

“Huh?” Nick’s confused.

“It’ll take ten minutes,” I repeat.

“What will love?”

“The Yorkshire puddings,” I snap. I don’t understand why he’s puzzled.

“Oh OK, but we’re watching the coconut shy, shall we have Yorkshires later?” he asks.

I get the sense he’s trying to please me. What would please me would be if he wanted the Yorkshire puddings I’ve slaved over in ten minutes when they are ready, not later.

I keep quiet, biting back words of frustration that are no longer coherent.

When my parents leave that evening, Nick goes back upstairs to work. I’m annoyed with him, Jenny is his kid too. He wanted her dearly, but now she’s here, crawling into every available nook, he regularly takes himself to his office.

“You do have a lot of work to do these days,” I comment innocuously, hoping he’ll understand that for me, he’s spoiling a wonderful day.

“Love, I’ve retired. I wanted to spend time with you now?” There’s a question hidden in his statement.

“What are you doing upstairs all those hours then when you say you’re doing work?” I accuse.

He stands in front of me and grabs me by both shoulders, gently but firmly moving me until my eyes focus on him. We’re not in our home. We’re in a field. Nick looks different.


Actually, he looks old – drained.

My Nick, the Nick of my memories has gone. Vanished. The shock races through me, forcing my heart to beat a hard drum in my head. My temperature rises but I don’t try to escape. This is Nick. I remember his smell. His voice. It’s him. But he’s not my Nick.

I sigh.

I’m only happy in memories. The present day is lost. And the future, well that will only reside in memories.

This story is dedicated to our dear friend Linda. May she rest in peace whilst our love for her lives in our hearts. 

If you would like to read more short stories from Karen Botha, go ahead and download her free book, here.


Blue Varnish – a short story by Karen Botha