As soon as she stepped through the door of the Black Cat Beauty Salon, Madge knew something was wrong with her 3 o’clock appointment. It wasn’t just the young woman’s dour looks or moping demeanor, though those were good enough hints. No, Madge had been in this business long enough to know a heartbroken lover when she saw one.
“Hello there,” she said cheerily. The girl started, as if surprised that she’d been noticed. “In search of a bit of pampering?”
She nodded, her loose bangs flopping off and quickly over her downcast eyes. “Yes please,” she said.
“Do you have an appointment?” Madge asked, in her chipper-saleswoman voice.
“N-no,” the girl stammered.
“Well, you’re in luck, I’ve got openings,” Madge said, coming around the counter to take the girl by the arm. In another era she would have commented on how nice and meaty the girl’s arm was, but those days were behind her now. Leading the customer toward the worn but plush seat, Madge said, “what can I do for you today, dearie? Haircut? Eyebrow threading, maybe?”
The girl winced. Not the right tactic. “Oh, I know. Manicure. Just the ticket,” she said firmly. “Go browse the colors while I get set up.”
Her client looked briefly bewildered, but then got up and scanned the wall of polishes. Madge watched her from the back room as she picked up first one, then another pale pink or shimmering gold. She let the girl linger, and busied herself with pretending her supplies weren’t already ready.
“Find one ya like?” Madge finally asked, beckoning the girl over.
“Oh, I dunno,” she said, shy. “I like both of these, and it’s just so hard to choose.” She showed Madge the two shining bottles, one a deep lusty red and the other a pale grey. Interesting, Madge thought. The colors they pick are always so telling.
“Ah, that it is dearie, that it is sometimes. ‘ow ‘bout we use that one?” she asked, pointing out the red bottle. “I find it has a bit of a magical effect on a girl.”
“Does it?” the girl asked, brightening only momentarily, before saying gloomily, “I could use some magic.” She sighed in that melodramatic way only the young seem to manage.
“Sure does. It’s called Bewitched, ain’t it?” Madge said, winking conspiratorially.
“Oh, ha,” the girl said, the “ha” closer to a cry than a laugh. “That’s too bad.”
Madge took the girl’s hands and led her back to the chair. “What’s your name, dearie?”
“Sam. Samantha,” she said, leaning back into the firm little chair.
“Well, good, Miss Sam, just you let me take care of you now and you’ll see things are better for it in no time,” Madge said as she took out her clippers and began snip snipping at Samantha’s long tattered nails.
Sam stared off into space until Madge said, “So, dearie, are you going to tell me what’s troublin’ you or not?” She put down the clippers and held Samantha’s thumb firmly, sanding off the rough edges with a lavender nail file.
“Oh, it’s not a big deal or anything,” Sam said. And sighed again.
Madge stopped filing and looked Sam in the eye. “I’ve been around long enough, missy, that I know that kind of moping ain’t fer nothing. No sir. It’s about a boy, isn’t it?”
She went back to filing, barely glancing down at Sam’s fingers as she worked, and Sam gaped at her. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.
“’Course it is, dear. Might as well out with it. It’s part of my job, listening is, you know.” Madge rounded off another corner on Samantha’s pinkie, and turned her attention to buffing the nails.
The girl mournfully told her story while Madge worked on beautifying and painting her nails. It was a story she’d heard frequently enough over the years: there was a charming lad at the girls’ workplace, totally out of her league, and she was pining away while he didn’t even notice her. Madge just listened, and pursed her lips as she focused, applying two even coats of Bewitched red.
When Samantha had run out of lamentations, Madge looked up and said, “Well, dearie, I’m sure it won’t be that way for long. Why, I bet you’ll have a run-in with him real soon now, and you’ll find he’s been just as heartsick all this time. Now put your hands here to let this little light work its magic.”
Samantha obediently slipped her hands under the ultraviolet light, and said “Really? You think so?” Maybe it was just the little bit of pampering, but she felt happier than she had when she’d come in.
“Darlin’, I know so,” Madge said.
Six minutes later, the timer went off, and Samantha paid for her manicure (leaving a more substantial tip than she might have at another salon) and went off with a smiling gracing her face and a lightness to her manner.
Madrigal sighed as she watched the girl go. Witchcraft sure wasn’t what it used to be.
I really like this concept for a character, preferably a main character rather than a background character, but I’m a bit stumped. What problems could a witchy beautician resolve, do you think? What trouble could she get into?