I still remember the first time somebody painted my nails- There I was, 17 and the awkward, self deprecating, over compensating overweight slab of raw teenage girl you ever saw. I was 17 and one of my ‘cool friends’- i.e. one who owned doc martens, hung around the bank and could dance- painted my nails black.
It was a revelation.
It was so perfect- my hands became the hands of a rockstar. With sleek black nails, so perfectly painted. I could do anything. It didn’t matter I was fat and silly and talked too much. There was something about it that felt and looked so utterly good. This is my trademark, I decided there and then. This is my little dash of cool. This is my statement of womanhood and awakening. It was the feeling Eddie Izzard had when he first put on mascara, I reckon. My friend had revealed a truth about me- that my nails were meant to be black. It was something nature had just left for me to discover. For three weeks, I lived in a haze of happiness. I was at school and my nails were a short, sharp shock of defiance- the single rebellious act I took in six years was flaunting painted nails. After a month the paint was chipped and nearly gone- each bath time a little more went. My mother glared reproachfully at it. Any colour but Black, Niamh. Black is so…. awful! She’d say. But I wanted to be like a new romantic. IT WAS MY SOUL, MOTHER.
I don’t quite know what it is about black nails that I think makes such a statement to me. They look stark. If somebody has black nails I notice at once. It’s saying something along the lines of ‘Don’t fuck with me.’ I’ve always like bright block colours for my nails- Bright phone box reds and happy blues, but Black is the eye catcher. I like to think the night I fall in love I’ll have black nails. It is a hard colour with not a bit of femininity in it. It’s a subversion of what pinks and pastels say about a person. Black nails are Niamh Keoghan. I was convinced of this when I was 17. They must become my thing.
So dutifully, I went to the chemists and bought myself a black bottle of varnish. I took it home and with care applied it, sat waiting restlessly for what felt like hours. Waiting to have the hands of a cooler, better Niamh than what came before it. I was ready.
Christ, it was a disaster. Black gunge that pooled around the sides of my finger nails and stuck to my skin like glue. it peeled up and blotched off and make my hands filthy. I was distraught- this was not the cool black silk my friend had applied two months ago! It was sticky, wet, horrible piss of satan. It wasn’t sleek, it wasn’t anything good. I wasn’t a cool rock star poet writer thing with edgy nails- I was a fat teenager sitting on her bed with a ruined duvet and sticky, blackened hands. I wash it all off in the bathroom in a fury- there is still a mark on the wall where I brushed my hand past and the black stuck. I do not have the heart to wipe it off, four years later. Whatever magic my friend had was hers alone. I bottled up the black slime and continued to scrape it from the sides of my fingernails for weeks.
And I dabbled in fingernails since then. I tried a deep, deep blue that might have passed for black, but it wasn’t. I finally said fuck it and bought a happy blue then a saucy red. I wasn’t going to have the utter mess of black again. I did try, on and off to do it. Every time was the same no matter how long I waited or wept or stamped around listening to punk rock- the stuff still pooled and smeared and stuck to everything. every time I bought new colours I would always dutifully buy the black, and try once to apply it, fail and then toss it in a drawer. By rights I should never need to buy the fucking stuff again, I have about twenty bottles of it stuffed away in shame.
But tonight was different. The moon must be in a good phase, the tides just right and witches are dancing around bonfires somewhere in Meath naked and chanting my name. Stonehenge is alive with hippies high off their faces, all the magic of the land was with me as I put it on each nail, waiting patiently while watching Eddie Izzard for moral support. Waiting anxiously dabbing the nail to see if it’s touch dry, then gently rubbing to see if it’ll peel. Waiting. After three years, there they were. Not perfect… I was too scared to put on a second coat, so thin and not so shiny. but undeniably and absolutely black.
Niamh ‘I see a red door and I want to paint it BLACK’ Keoghan