The middle-aged woman was nervous. “I’ve never done this before,” she said.
The beauty-salon owner waved one hand and grinned. “Now don’t you worry, Mrs. Rollins, Miss Daisy will take care of you.” She guided the woman to a reclining chair covered in black vinyl that sat by itself around the corner from the waiting area.
The stylists working at the two cutting stations turned briefly as a third employee — a young woman with a strawberry-blonde ponytail and bright green eyes set close in a pale, freckled face — moved towards the new customer.
“Just take off your shoes and sit yourself down,” Ellen the owner said through pursed lips. “This is Daisy Gale, and she’ll take care of you.
“I heard about you-all … never done this before….” She lowered herself heavily, her rear-end and chubby thighs dropping with a thud. She wore shorts and her knees were puffy, her lower limbs a maze of bruises and varicose veins.
“You’ll be fine,” Daisy said. She laid a fresh white towel on the padded shelf above the foot-bath, and pulled over her rolling supply-cart as she sank gracefully onto her stool facing the woman. “Now, you place your toes in this whirlpool for a few minutes….”
Laura Rollins was breathing heavily, her mouth open with anxiety. She noted there were daisy-florets pinned in the girl’s red-gold hair, daisies embroidered on the yoke of her apron, and daisies appliquéd to her jeans. “They’re pretty flowers,” Laura said, feeling the warm water swirl around her sore and swollen feet.
“Yes,” Daisy answered, “but they are also healing, loving flowers. The flowers of love. I make my own daisy-balm and daisy-salve, and the water you’re soaking in is infused with daisy-essence.”
Laura looked down for the first time, and gasped. A garden of floating yellow-centered blossoms bubbled and danced around her shins.
“Daisies have been used since ancient times to heal wounds and take away pain,” she said, her voice light and melodious but matter-of-fact. “I give treatment to those who need it.” Daisy smiled as she lifted first the left, then Laura’s right foot and placed them on the towel. She patted the feet dry, then carefully inspected them.
It felt good, her touch. Laura started to relax. “I ain’t never done anything like this,” she repeated.
Daisy applied some ointment from an old-fashioned ceramic jar then took Laura’s right heel in the palm of one hand as she worked the substance into the skin, rubbing, stretching the muscles of the inner and outer arch, the toes and toe-mounds.
Laura’s breathing slowed, her fear began to evaporate.
Ellen was on her way to the cash register, and stopped to observe. She stared coldly at the girl working below her. “Miss Daisy’s foot massages are magic. Folks come here from miles around just to get one of her foot-rubs, and they don’t even want no nail-polish.” She frowned, waited for a moment, then abruptly walked away.
Laura looked after her, then down as Daisy began manipulating her left foot. “I don’t understand….”
“She’s afraid of what she can’t understand. I think you might be my last customer here, though. I only stay as long as the people in a place need me….”
Laura lay back, closed her eyes, and felt all the dread of her alcoholic, violent husband and her two brutal boys rise and melt like mist burned off the Kentucky River by a summer morning sun. She could see the river flowing below her, through banks and fields of daisies…. “What did you say?” she muttered, but she didn’t really care.
Daisy laughed. “The eyes of the sun. Such a common flower yet so lovely and comforting to a suffering human heart. You know, Ellen didn’t want to hire me at first, told me to go away. But no one else wanted to bathe the feet of strangers….”
“What?” Laura asked, floating above the serene water, watching the daisies sway and bob in the breeze.
“Well, what do you think?”
Laura listened to the sounds of liquid draining, lids clicking into place. It took her a few moments to remember where she was. “What? I don’t know….” She opened her eyes and recognized Daisy standing beside her, holding her under an elbow as she helped her to a sitting position. Laura reluctantly twisted around and slid her legs to the side, planted her feet on the slate-tile floor as she perched on the edge of the chair. She gazed down; her toenails gleamed a pale, translucent pink, her limbs were clear and smooth, her ankles slender. “Mmm-hmmm,” she hummed to herself. Somehow it all made sense. She remembered Daisy and rotated her head to find her, to say “thank you,” but the girl was nowhere in sight.