By Nikolai Gogol
Transposed from the Russian by Henry Whittlesey
Original title: Нос (The Nose)
A really strange event transpired in New York on March 25th.
Michele, an esthetician, worked on Second Avenue (I can’t read her last name, and even the sign on her salon – which shows a lady with sleek hair and the slogan: “Tarot card reading too” – doesn’t contain anything else). This esthetician Michele woke up fairly early and caught the scent of hot coffee. Propping herself against the backboard, she saw her husband, a fairly respected man who really loved to eat bacon, pouring the just-boiled water through a filter.
“Today, my love, I’m not going to eat bacon,” said Michele. “Instead, I want to drink hot coffee with sugar.”
(That is, Michele would have liked both this and that, but she knew it was completely impossible to demand two things at once. Her husband Steve did not like such impulsiveness.)
“That’s what I thought; better for me,” her husband said to himself. “I can have an extra portion of bacon.” And he plunked her mug on the table.
For the sake of decency, Michele threw a nightgown over her pajamas and, once she was seated at the table, swallowed her pill, poured a bowl of cereal, took the milk in her hand and, with a still-drowsy mien, began to fill the bowl. After covering one half of the cereal, she mixed it with her spoon and, to her surprise, saw something white. Michele poked it cautiously with her spoon and felt it with her finger. “Solid!” she said to herself. “What can it be?”
She stuck in her finger and pulled out – a nose! Michele was baffled; wiped her eyes and touched it again: a nose; it’s really a nose! And what’s more, it seems familiar. A look of horror crossed Michele’s face. But this horror was nothing in comparison to the outrage that it evoked in her husband.
“You sadist! Where did you get a nose?” he shouted in disgust. “Fiend! Sorceress! I’ll haul you to the police myself. What a woman! You know, I’ve heard from three people that during the facial, you rub so hard they can’t bear it.”
But Michele was more dead than alive. She realized that this nose belonged to none other than the real estate agent Bill, whose whole face she treated now and then.
“Wait, darling, I’ll lay it in the corner, sealed in a Ziploc bag; let it lie there a little, and after my shower I’ll remove it.”
“Keep your thoughts to yourself! I can’t believe we spent the night in a room with a cut-off nose! You reptile! She only knows how to massage a face with cream, and soon she won’t be in any condition to do that. Hussy, deadweight! What if I’m interrogated by the police? Blockhead, you’re as dumb as a rock. There it is! There! Take it wherever you want! I don’t want to see it!”
Michele stood up, completely at a loss. She thought, thought – and didn’t know what to think.
“God knows how that happened,” she finally said, pushing stray hair behind her ear. “Did I leave my body and cut off a nose yesterday? I really don’t know. By all indications, it must have been an unprecedented event: Coffee may be ground in reality, but a severed nose is not. I don’t get it!”
Michele lapsed into silence. The thought that the police might find the nose on her and allege a crime caused her mind to go blank. She was already picturing the blue uniform, the nicely sewed patch, the pistol…and her whole body shook. Finally, she grabbed her winter jacket and boots, pulled on all this junk and – with Steve rebuking her harshly – wrapped the nose in a Ziploc bag and left the apartment.
She wanted to dump it somewhere: either toss it in the trash on the sidewalk or accidentally drop it and turn into a side street. But unfortunately, she kept running into some random person who had to be wondering: “Where are you going?” or “You going to work this early?” – so it was totally impossible for Michele to feel unobserved. At one point, she had actually gotten rid of it, but a school crossing guard pointed from afar: “Ma’am!” You dropped something!” – And Michele had to retrieve the nose and hide it in her pocket. Despair gripped her, all the more so because the number of people on the street steadily increased as the stores and delis began to open.
The Brooklyn Bridge? It seemed likely she would be able to toss the bag in the East River there…. But I am somewhat at fault here for not yet saying anything about Michele, a respected woman in many senses.
Michele, like many a good American professional, was a friendly contrarian. And although she treated other people’s faces, her own was eternally untreated. Michele’s jacket (Michele never wore a baroque parka) was typical, that is, it was black, but very short and tightly fitted; the waist was cut higher and, rather than covering her jeans button, showed her figure. Michele had a penchant for being cynical, and when the real estate agent Bill would say to her during a session: “Michele, you know, you’re always massaging so roughly!” – then Michele would reply: “Why shouldn’t I?” – “I don’t know, I guess, you’re just massaging roughly,” the real estate agent would say, and Michele, after stepping back for a breather, massaged his brow and his nose and his cheeks and his chin – in other words, all over the place.
This much-loved woman had now reached the Brooklyn Bridge. She initially glanced around; then bent over the railing, as if to look at cars streaming onto the island below, and stealthily flung the Ziploc bag over the edge. Instantly, she felt like she had lost ten pounds; Michele even sneered to herself. Instead of going to administer the upper class’s facials, she was headed to Uncle Joe’s Coffee Shop for a cup of espresso when suddenly she noticed, at the end of the bridge, an officer with taught features, a clean-shaven face, brimmed hat, and pistol.
She froze; but in the meantime, the cop was curling his index finger at her:
“Come here, ma’am!”
Michele, knowing the best approach, lowered her chin, approached obediently, and said:
“Good day, officer!”
“No, no, ma’am, it’s not a good day; tell me, what were you doing there leaning over the railing?”
“My goodness, sir, I was going to work and just wanted to see if there was a lot of traffic.”
“You’re lying, lying! That’s not what you were doing. Answer the question!”
“Mr. Officer, twice or even three times a year, I’m ready to give you a facial for free,” replied Michele.
“No, ma’am, that is worthless! I don’t need any facial; I take pride in my natural appearance. So tell me, what were you doing there?”
Michele turned pale…. But here the outcome is completely engulfed by a sheet of rain from the ocean, and what happened next, remains definitely unknown.
Real estate agent Bill woke up fairly early and went brrrr with his lips – which he always did while waking, although he didn’t have a clue why. Bill stretched and slipped out to go look in the small mirror over the vanity. He wanted to look at a pimple which had popped out on his nose yesterday evening; but to his great astonishment, he saw that instead of a nose, he had a completely flat space! Startled, Bill washed his face with water and wiped his eyes with a towel: There was really no nose! He began to feel about with his hand to make sure he was awake. It seemed he wasn’t sleeping. Real estate agent Bill bolted out of the bathroom to a different mirror: No nose! Instantly, he dressed and raced straight to the police station.
Yet in the meantime, I need to say something about Bill so the reader can see what kind of real estate agent he was. Real estate agents who were conferred this title by an academic degree are totally impossible to compare with real estate agents who established themselves in Las Vegas. They are two completely different types. Academic real estate agents…but America is such a fantastic place that if you speak about one real estate agent, then all real estate agents, from New York to L.A., are immediately lumped into this group. And the same with regard to professionals and entrepreneurs. Bill was a Las Vegas real estate agent. He had pursued this profession for just two years and therefore could not forget it for a minute; and to make it more impressive and weighty, he never called himself a real estate agent, but rather always a broker. “Listen, my friend,” he would say regularly at a party when running into a woman who was handling the catering. “Give me a call at the office; the place is on Pearl Street; just ask whether Broker Bill works there? Anyone will show you.” And if he met a cutie, then he would give her, on top of that, a secret command, adding: “You, Diana or Sally or Kate, should ask for Broker Bill’s suite.” For exactly this reason, we will proceed to call this real estate agent a broker.
Broker Bill had the habit of patronizing the Roadhouse every day after work. The collar on his shirt was always extremely clean and starched. His hair was cut in the way you saw on bankers and hedge fund managers, executives and hospital physicians, as well as senior NYPD officials in various capacities and generally on all those men who had rosy cheeks and played golf: His hair was parted on the left side and ran loosely toward the opposite ear. Broker Bill wore myriad leather gloves – those with brands and those on which were inscribed Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, etc. Broker Bill had come to New York for his career, that is, to achieve the prominence commensurate with his profession: if he succeeded, a leading politician, otherwise, a managing director in some prestigious unit. Broker Bill was also not opposed to marrying, but only in the case that a million dollars or a home came with the bride. And so you can imagine the position of this broker when he saw that instead of a fairly good and ordinary nose, he had an idiotic, flat, and smooth space.
Unfortunately, not one taxi appeared on the street, and he had to walk by foot, wrapped in his pea coat and covering his face with a scarf, making him look like he had a bloody nose. “But maybe I’m just imagining: It can’t be that my nose simply fell off,” – and he entered a bakery for the purpose of looking in the mirror. Fortunately, nobody was in the bakery; the staff was sweeping the floor and arranging the chairs; some, with sleepy eyes, removed hot bagels on trays; the scattered accessories for the morning baking littered the tables and counters. “Thank God nobody’s here,” he said. “Now I can look.” Shyly, he neared the mirror and peered into it. “To hell with you, damn shit!” he cursed and spit. “If only there was anything! But no, there is nothing at all!”
Biting his lips in despair, he left the bakery and decided, contrary to his habit, not to look or smile at anyone. Suddenly, he stood riveted at the door of a building – an unexplainable event was unfolding before his eyes: In front of the entrance, a taxi stopped; the door opened; a man in a suit, bending, stepped out and strode into the lobby. Can you imagine Bill’s horror, together with his disbelief, when he realized that it was his own nose! During this unusual scene, it seemed that everything was swimming; he felt like he could hardly stand; but he decided that no matter what, despite shaking all over, as if in a fever, he would wait for his nose to return to the street. Two minutes later, Mr. Nose really walked out again. He was in a suit with silk lining; an expensive matching tie; shiny shoes, a briefcase at his side. By the manner of his expression, you could tell that he belonged to the ranks of senior management. By everything, it was apparent that he was riding to a meeting. He glanced in both directions, hailed a taxi: “I’m going to!” – sat down and rode off. Poor Bill barely managed not to go crazy. He didn’t know what to make of such a strange event. How was it actually possible that his nose – which just yesterday had been on his face, could not travel or walk – was now in a suit!?!? He grabbed a cab that fortunately didn’t have to travel far. It stopped at Bank of America.
He hurried toward the bank, squeezed through the horde of illegal nannies with spoiled children and two holes for eyes, whom he’d previously mocked, and entered the bank. There weren’t many clients inside. They solely operated the ATMs in the foyer. Bill was in such a distracted state that he didn’t even think to check his account, instead searching for the man, looking in every direction. Finally, he saw him standing in the corner. Mr. Nose had his face completely shielded by a wide teller partition and, with an expression of the greatest concentration, banked.
“How should I approach him?” Bill wondered. “By everything, by his suit, shoes, it is evident that he is a senior manager. God only knows how he did that!”
He began to cough around him, but not for a second did Mr. Nose leave his pious position or stop pushing buttons.
“Sir, can I…” said Bill, mentally forcing himself to gain confidence.
“Sir, can I…”
“What do you want?” replied Mr. Nose, turning.
“I’m horrified, sir…it seems to me…you should know your place. But where have I found you now? – in a bank. You must agree…”
“Excuse me, I don’t quite follow what you want to say… Explain yourself….”
“How can I explain it?” wondered Bill and, collecting his thoughts, he began:
“Of course, I…by the way, I am a broker. For me to walk around without a nose, you must agree – that’s not normal. Some vendor who sells hot dogs on Canal Street can sit there without a nose; but keep in mind that I invite…and in many places am friends with women: Board Chair Iverson and others…. Judge for yourself…. I don’t know, sir (and Broker Bill shrugged his shoulders). Excuse me…if you look at this according to the rules of propriety and respect…you must understand….”
“I definitely don’t understand anything at all,” replied Mr. Nose. “Explain it a little better.”
“Sir…” said Bill with a sense of personal pride, “I don’t know how to interpret your words. The whole matter here, it seems, is completely clear…. Either you want to or…. After all, you are my own nose!”
Mr. Nose looked at the broker, a button, and his eyebrows contracted.
“You are wrong, sir. I am myself. Furthermore, we can’t have any close relationship. Judging by the tone of your voice, you should seek out professional help.”
With that, Mr. Nose turned and continued to bank.
Bill, totally confused, did not know what to do or even think. However, he heard the pleasant sound of high heels; a middle-aged woman neared, all dolled up with curls, and another, with tight black slacks very nicely highlighting her thin waist below a fitted blazer, light, like a scone. Behind them, a tall businessman, with parted hair and extremely shiny shoes, stopped and opened his briefcase.
Bill moved somewhat closer, revealed the silk tie below his scarf, adjusted the Windsor knot at the collar and, grinning broadly, turned his attention to the graceful woman who, like a spring flower, slightly bent and raised her ivory hand with half-transparent fingers to her mouth. The smile on Bill’s face broadened even further when he studied the gentle, bright curve of her chin and the part of her cheek capering with the tint of first spring rose under her hood. But suddenly he lurched as if lit on fire. He recalled that instead of a nose, he had nothing at all, and tears burst from his eyes. He about-faced to accuse the man in the suit of just pretending to be a senior manager; to tell him that he was a jerk, a jackass, and only his own nose…. But Mr. Nose was already gone; he had managed to slip out, probably to some appointment again.
This drove Bill to the point of despair. He retraced his steps and stopped for a moment below the overhang, assiduously looking in every direction to see whether Mr. Nose would appear. He remembered his manner of expression and the shoes of supple leather; but he hadn’t noticed his coat or the color of his car, its make or even whether he had a chauffeur with a uniform. Furthermore, there were myriad cars racing back and forth with such speed that it was difficult to discern anything; but even if his eye caught one of them, he didn’t have any means of stopping it. The day was beautiful and sunny. On Broadway, people were out in force; a motley crowd of women marched down the sidewalk, stretching all the way from Fulton to City Hall. There, a familiar IT consultant was walking, whom he called Mr. Tech, especially if others were present. There, standing at the Tweed Courthouse, was Caesar the doorman, a big gossiper who constantly played the lottery with a million+ jackpot. And there, a colleague – who’d also become a broker in Vegas – was waving for him to cross…
“To hell with them!” said Bill. “Hey, taxi, take me straight to Police Plaza!”
Bill sat in the backseat and thought for all of four minutes while shouting: “Every second counts!”
“Is the police captain here?” he screamed, upon entering the building.
“No,” replied the secretary, “he left a moment ago.”
“Just what I need!”
“Yes,” the secretary added, “It wasn’t that long ago, but he left. If you had arrived a little earlier, then you might have caught him.”
Bill, not removing the scarf from his face, hailed another taxi and yelled in a despairing voice:
“Where?” said the driver.
“Straight? There’s a fork: to the right or left?”
This question stumped Bill and forced him to rethink. In his position, it made the most sense to go to Manhattan Criminal Court, not because it had a direct relationship with the police, but because its handling would be much more serious than in other places; searching for a resolution among the senior staff – that is, people who resembled Mr. Nose – was unintelligent since from Mr. Nose’s own answers; it was already evident that this guy held nothing sacred and could lie and in this case did lie, swearing that he had never seen him. So Bill was about to order the driver to proceed to the Criminal Court when the thought again occurred to him that the jerk and jackass who acted in such an unscrupulous way at the first encounter, could again conveniently, using time, somehow slip out of the city – and then any searching would be fruitless, and might continue, god forbid, a whole month. Finally, it seemed that heaven itself enlightened him. He decided to go straight to a newspaper and prepare, in advance, a classified with a detailed description of all the features, so that anyone running into Mr. Nose could turn him in or at least report his location. So, deciding on that, he grabbed another cab to bring him to the editorial office and the whole way he never stopped banging on the glass between him and the front seat: “Faster, come on, faster, Mr. Driver!” – “Ahh, sir!” said the driver, maneuvering through traffic and slipping into a gap by angling his sedan that glistened like plastic surgery. The taxi finally stopped, and Bill, gasping, raced into the small reception room where a bald assistant with a corduroy blazer and glasses sat behind a screen and, putting a pen in his mouth, counted the loose pages he had been handed.
“Who accepts classifieds here?” Bill yelled. “Oh, and good morning!”
“It’s usually done online or by phone,” said the bald assistant, raising his eyes for a minute and lowering them again to the spread-out pile of papers.
“I would like to publish one in print…”
“That doesn’t matter. But wait a second,” replied the assistant, placing one thumb on the corner of a paper and moving the pen in his right hand over the fine print on the line.
A well-groomed secretary with a tie, flaunting his status in a prestigious company, approached the table with an article in his hand, and considered it proper to show his affability:
“You’d better believe me, David, that book isn’t worth a cent, that is, you couldn’t pay me to read it; but the women love it, by god, they love it, and that’s why the committee who reviews it will confer the award on her! If we call a spade a spade, then, like you and I, people’s tastes don’t coincide at all: if it were a non-commercial writer, then he’d produce an uncompromising or multifaceted work; and he wouldn’t mind sacrificing all the awards or even publishers, but the story would have to be a good one.”
The dignified assistant listened to this with a serious mien and simultaneously scanned the text for the number of words in the given article. At other monitors, senior editors, data processors, and journalists sat with reports. One was about the difficulties of a non-corrupt contractor; another covered the taxi cartel operating in Manhattan since 1971; there was one on a five-year-old genius who spoke Chinese, Arabic, English and three other languages; then – more cars not running on gas; a young high-flying entrepreneur with an idea for online consumption, just out of college; a new diet and exercise program from London; an ad for a bungalow with all the amenities: a double garage for the cars and space where you can develop a spectacular vegetable or flower garden; an online banner for prospective buyers of jewelry, with an invitation to buy gold anytime twenty-four hours a day. The room in which all these people gathered was small, and the air extremely thick; but Broker Bill did not notice the smell because a scarf covered his face and his nose was capering god knows where.
“Sir, let me interrupt you, please…. It’s really important,” he finally said with impatience.
“One second, one second! In a bipartisan committee, comma! Right away! They will investigate the baseball player!” said the silver-haired man, tossing the text in the face of the senior editors and journalists. – What do you want?” he finally asked Bill.
“I’m asking you…” said Bill, “I was conned or defrauded. I still can’t figure it out. I’m only asking you to print that the person who brings me this asshole will receive a sufficient reward.”
“Tell me your last name?”
“No, why do you need my last name? I’m not allowed to say it. I have a lot of friends: District Manager Jessica, Board Chair Caroline Nicole Iverson…. If they suddenly hear about it, I’m really up the creek! You may simply write: Real estate agent, or something better like Broker.”
“And what, crooks swiped a computer and television?”
“What computer and television? That wouldn’t be such a crime! They ran off with my…nose….”
“Hmm! That’s a strange last name! Did Mr. Nose steal a large amount from you?”
“My nose, that is…you don’t think! My nose, my own nose has ended up who knows where. Some devil is after me!”
“How did it disappear? I’m missing something.”
“I can’t tell you how it happened, but the main thing is that he’s riding around the city now and calling himself a senior manager. And for that reason, I ask you to announce that the person who catches him contact me immediately, as soon as possible. Judge for yourself, how am I to live without such a prominent part of my body? It isn’t as if I’m missing a pinky toe on my foot, which nobody would see beneath my boots. I meet District Manager Jessica on Thursdays, and Caroline Nicole Iverson, Board Chair, and her very pretty daughter are also good friends of mine, and judge for yourself: How should I now…. Now I can’t show my face to them.”
The assistant considered it, which meant he pressed his lips together tightly.
“No, I can’t place that kind of classified in the newspaper,” he finally said, after a long pause.
“What? Why not?”
“Because. The paper might lose its reputation. If everyone started to write that his nose ran away, then…. And that’s what they’re saying already – that the paper is printing a lot of absurdities and partisan rumors.”
“Why can’t you understand this? It seems pretty obvious.”
“It seems like that to you. But just last week, there was a similar case. A businessman, just like you now, sent a classified, paid the standard price of seventy five dollars plus tax, and the whole ad consisted of the fact that a poodle with a black coat had run away. What could be the problem? But we were accused of libel: That poodle was a managing director, don’t remember the company.”
“But I’m not giving you a classified for a poodle. It’s for my nose: It’s virtually no different from an ad about myself.”
“No, I cannot place such an ad.”
“Even if I definitely lost my nose!”
“If you lost it, that is a matter for a doctor. They say there are many people who can conjure up any nose they want. But, by the way, I’ve noticed that you must be a cheerful person and love to joke at parties.”
“I thank you, the kindness is appreciated. If it comes down to it, I’ll show you.”
“Why worry!” the assistant continued, sniffing smelling salts. “However, if it doesn’t bother you,” he added with a movement of curiosity, “then it would be interesting to see.”
The real estate agent removed the scarf from his face.
“Indeed, it’s really strange!” said the assistant. “The place is completely flat, like a pancake. Unbelievably flat!”
“So are you going to argue with me now? You see for yourself that you cannot but print it. I will be especially grateful; and very happy that this case gave me the pleasure of meeting you….”
The broker, as was apparent from his words, had decided to condescend this once.
“Of course, it’s not a big deal to print it,” said the assistant, “only I don’t foresee any benefit to you. You should give it to someone who has a scientific mind so he can describe the rare event in nature and publish an article in Science Daily (here the assistant again took a whiff of his salts) for the benefit of posterity (here he wiped his nose) or something like that, for the purpose of general curiosity.”
The real estate agent had no hope at all. He lowered his eyes to the newspaper where a theater ad jumped out at him; his face was ready to break into a smile seeing the name of an actress, a beauty. His hand reached for his pocket: Did he have a scheduled engagement that day? Because the board chair, in Bill’s opinion, was likely to attend…. But the thought of his nose ruined it all!
The assistant himself, it seemed, commiserated with Bill’s position. Hoping to offer some relief, he considered it proper to express his sympathy in a few words.
“I have to say that I find it absolutely awful that this has happened to you. Would you like a whiff of these salts? It alleviates head pain and sad situations; it’s good even with respect to hemorrhoids.”
Saying this, the assistant raised a salt container to Bill, quite gracefully flipping the lid with a portrait of some lady in a hat.
This inconsiderate act made Bill lose his patience.
“How can you joke here,” he ejaculated. “Can’t you see that I don’t have what you need for sniffing? To hell with your salts! Do you think I want to see them now?!?! I don’t want your crappy brain drugs any more than if you were offering me cocaine.”
He left the editorial offices in great despair and headed to his FBI special investigator, a real lover of sugar. In his apartment, the entire hallway, like the foyer, proffered bowls of candy that friends sent him in gratitude. At this moment, the special agent’s wife was helping him on with his official jacket; awards and all sorts of photo ops hung proudly on the walls, and his three-year-old son was already pointing to the influential and prestigious people. His father, after a difficult, mediocre education, was ready to enjoy a life of leisure.
Bill entered the investigator’s home at an instant when its owner was annoyed. Grumbling, the investigator said, “By God, it’s eleven o’clock and they still haven’t notified me!” And for this reason, it was possible to foresee that the entrance of the real estate agent had not been timed well at all; but even if he had brought the investigator a few boxes of cigars and liquor, I don’t know whether he would have been welcomed with joy instead. Though the broker was a big connoisseur of movies and technology, he preferred renting out houses to everything else. “This is the best job,” he often said. “There’s nothing better than this: You own your home; you make a profit; there’s always money in your pocket; and if you pay attention, you won’t fall on your face.”
The investigator greeted Bill fairly dryly and said that daytime was not good for personal visits since nature stipulated that the day is for work (from this, the real estate agent was able to see that the special investigator was familiar with the maxims of the founding Puritans); that you can’t lead an orderly man astray; and that there are many friends in the world who go downhill in an entirely conventional manner and then roam about all sorts of indecent places.
Hit a nerve! I should note that Bill was a very sensitive man. He was able to forgive nearly everything said about him, but could not excuse comments related to his profession or class. He even suggested that the movies could allow themselves anything related to managers, but could not attack brokers in any way. The investigator’s reception confused him. He shook his head and said with a feeling of pride, slightly spreading his hands: “I admit, after such offensive comments on your part, I cannot speak with you…” – and left.
He arrived at home, hardly aware of his surroundings. It was already early afternoon. The building seemed dreary or extremely revolting after all these unsuccessful searches. As he entered the lobby he saw, leaning on the mahogany wood podium, the doorman Nestor, who fiddled with his nose and fairly discreetly picked it from time to time. This indifferent man infuriated him; Bill yelled about the previous night’s inadequate heat, adding: “You guys can’t sleep on the job all the time!”
Suddenly, Nestor stood erect and rushed – as fast as he could – to hold the door. The sad and tired broker crossed the lobby, slumped into the elevator and, after sighing a few times, said aloud:
“My God! My God! How unlucky can you be? If I were missing an arm or a leg, it would be better; if I were missing an ear, it would be terrible, though more tolerable. But without a nose – the Lord only knows what sort of thing that is: It’s a dog, but no, not quite; it’s a person, but no, not quite; you may as well chuck such a thing out the window! It would even be better if they had shot it off in a war or a duel or if I were the reason. But it disappeared out of nowhere, just like that, without a penny in return!…. Only, no, it can’t be,” he added, thinking a little. “It’s unlikely my nose disappeared. It’s not likely in any way. I’ve probably dreamed it, or I am simply daydreaming now. By mistake, I somehow swallowed, instead of water, the rubbing alcohol to avoid ingrown hairs. The cleaning lady, the bitch, distracted me, and I probably took it.”
To make absolutely sure he wasn’t drunk, the broker pinched himself so hard that he screamed. The pain completely convinced him that he was really alive and awake. He slowly approached the mirror and began to blink his eyes at the thought that somehow his nose would appear in its place, but then he jumped back:
“What an awful-looking face!”
It was definitely incomprehensible. If only a button, a silver spoon, a watch or something similar had disappeared; but such a disappearance!? How did this disappear? And furthermore in his own place! Broker Bill, analyzing the circumstances overall, could only guess that the person at fault in all this must actually be Board Chair Caroline, who wanted him to date her daughter. He loved to flirt with her, but avoided any commitment. When the board chair had told him directly that she wanted him to date the girl, he’d slowly tempered his compliments, saying that he was still young, that he needed to work another five years until he was exactly forty-two. And so the board chair, probably out of revenge, had decided to ruin him and hire a witch, since there was no way you could suggest that his nose had been ripped off: Nobody had entered his apartment; the esthetician Michele had actually treated him on Wednesday, but throughout all of Wednesday and even Thursday his nose had been whole, he remembered and understood this very well. Furthermore, he would have felt the pain, and without a doubt, the wound would not have been able to heal so quickly, becoming smooth like a pancake. He pondered options in his head: formally take the board chair to court, or go see her personally and accuse her? But his thoughts were interrupted by the bell that rang at the front door, likely indicating that a neighbor needed to borrow something. Bill opened the door slowly, holding the knob in his left hand and planning to quickly say no. The first move he made then was to grab his scarf and hide the place where his nose had been the day before so the dumb guy would not gape when he saw this peculiarity.
No sooner had the neighbor withdrawn into the hallway than the intercom buzzed to announce an officer:
“Does real estate agent Bill Smith live here?”
“Come in. Broker Bill is here,” said Bill, quickly moving aside and letting him enter.
The officer in uniform with nice features, hair not too short and not too long, and fairly full cheeks, the same officer who’d stood at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge in the beginning of our story, entered the apartment.
“You lost your nose, huh?”
“It was found.”
“What’s that?” exclaimed Broker Bill. His tongue tied for joy, he fixed his gaze on the face of the officer standing in front of him; on his full lips and cheeks, the cold from the raw weather slowly receded. “How?”
“In a strange way: They caught it almost on the street. It was boarding a plane and wanted to travel to Miami. And its driver’s license had already been issued in the name of a manager. And the strange thing is that at first I took it for a person. But, fortunately, I had my glasses on and instantly saw that it was a nose. I may be short-sighted and if you’re standing in front of me, then I only see that you have a face. I won’t see either a nose or lips. My mother-in-law, that is, the mother of my wife, also doesn’t see anything.”
Bill was beside himself.
“Where is it? Where? I’ll run there right now.”
“Don’t worry. Knowing you need your nose, I brought it with me. And the strange thing is that the main actor in this affair is a con artist esthetician on Second Avenue, who will now be heading to court. For a while we have suspected her of manipulation and theft, and three days ago she snagged some designer buttons in a store. Your nose is completely the same as it was.”
The officer dug in his pocket and pulled out the nose wrapped in paper.
“That’s it!” cried Bill. “That’s totally it! Would you enjoy a glass of juice with me?”
“I would be honored for the great pleasure, but I can’t under any circumstances: From here I need to go to the Walt Whitman Houses…. The price of all food has soared…. My mother-in-law, that is, my wife’s mother, also lives with us, and we have children; the oldest holds particular promise: a very intelligent boy, but we don’t have any money at all for their education…”
Bill guessed what the officer was hinting at, pulled a clump of bills from his wallet, and stretched his arm out to the policeman who – lowering his head in gratitude – turned and left. A moment later Bill imagined his voice on the street as he growled a warning to some dumb kid riding his bike on the sidewalk.
The real estate agent, upon the departure of the officer, remained in a sort of trance for several minutes, and only gained the ability to see and sense a few minutes later: His unexpected joy had precipitated this daze. He took the recovered nose attentively in both hands, his palms enveloping it, and again examined it carefully.
“That’s it, that’s definitely it!” said Broker Bill. “Here’s the pimple on the left side that popped out yesterday.”
The broker almost laughed for joy.
But nothing lasts long in this world, and so even the joy following that first moment is not as strong; and three minutes later it becomes even weaker; and finally it inconspicuously merges with the ordinary state of your soul, like a circle in water borne of a falling rock; eventually it merges with the smooth surface. Bill began to contemplate, and gathered that the matter was still not resolved: They had found the nose, but it had to be attached, put back in its place.
“And what if it doesn’t stay?”
Asking himself this question, the broker turned pale.
With a feeling of unexplainable anxiety, he ran to the bathroom and stood before the mirror, concentrating to make sure he didn’t attach it crookedly. His arms shook. Carefully and cautiously he laid his nose in its former place! What the hell! It wasn’t sticking! He held it to his mouth, warmed it a little with his breath, and raised it up to the smooth spot between his two cheeks; but his nose didn’t hold any which way.
“Come on, dumbass, stay in place!” he said to it. But the nose was like plastic and fell to the vanity with such a strange sound that you might have thought it was a cork. The broker’s face contorted fitfully. “Is it not going to grow back on?” he worried in fright. But no matter how often he raised his nose to its place, the effort ended as unsuccessfully as before.
He called a cab and went to a hospital situated on the same riverbank in the wealthiest zip code of the Upper East Side. His doctor was visibly a real man; he had a perfectly shaved face and spiffy, clean smock, ate fresh apples for breakfast, and kept his teeth unusually clean, brushing them every morning for almost three quarters of an hour and rinsing his mouth with five different types of mouthwash. The doctor examined him immediately, asking about when the accident had happened. He lifted Broker Bill’s chin and gave him a pinch with his fingers in the very place where his nose had been before, so the broker had to throw back his head with such force that the crown hit the wall. The physician said it was nothing and recommended moving away from the wall a little, ordering him to swivel his head first to the right and touching the place where his nose used to be. “Hmm!” he said, then ordered Broker Bill to bend his head to the left, saying: “Hmm!” again; he finally gave him such a pinch with his finger that Broker Bill jerked his head like a dog on a chain. After the examination, the physician shook his head and said:
“No, don’t do it. You would be better off leaving it because you could make it worse. Of course, you might attach it; I could even do it for you; but I guarantee that you’ll be worse off for it.”
“Great! So I’m supposed to live without a nose?” said Bill. “I can’t imagine anything worse than this now. The Lord only knows what this is! Where can I go with such an embarrassment? I see people in high places; today I’m supposed to have a lunch and dinner appointment. I’m friends with many New Yorkers: District Manager Jessica, Caroline the board chair… although after today’s events, I won’t have anything to do with her, except through lawyers. “Please tell me,” said Bill in an imploring voice, “Can’t you recommend anything? Any way to attach it, even if not well, just so it would hold; I could support it a little with my hand in a dangerous situation. Furthermore, I don’t play sports, so I can’t harm it with some incautious movement. Anything that involves help with connections, be absolutely certain that I will do everything in my power…”
“Believe me,” said the doctor in a voice neither loud nor soft, but surprisingly nice and agreeable. “We don’t deal with cosmetic issues. That’s against our rules and our philosophy. It’s true that we are connected with plastic surgeons, but only to please our patients. Of course, I could attach your nose; but I assure you on my honor – if you don’t take my word for it – you’ll be much worse off. You’re better off accepting the acts of nature herself. Wash yourself with cold water, and I promise that, even without a nose, you’ll be as healthy as if you had one. But I recommend you place the nose in a jar with alcohol or, even better, pour in two tablespoons of strong vodka and heated vinegar – and then you’ll get some real money for it. I’ll even take it off you myself if you don’t object.”
“No, no! I’m not selling it for anything in the world,” cried a despairing Broker Bill. “It would be better if it had just disappeared!”
“I’m sorry!” said the doctor, lowering his head, “I wanted to be helpful… What can you do! At least you saw the trouble I went to.” – And with a respectful handshake, he left the room.
Bill didn’t even notice the doctor’s face and, in a complete stupor, only saw the white and clean-like-snow shirt cuffs peeking out of the arms of his also white smock.
The next day he decided, before filing a complaint, to write the board chair to see whether she would agree to return what she should without going to court. The content of the letter consisted of this:
“Dear Board Chair Caroline Nicole Iverson,
I cannot understand this strange act on your part. You can be certain that in pursuing such a course, you won’t gain a thing and won’t succeed in inducing me to date your daughter. You can be sure that I know every detail related to the story of my nose, along with your role as the main actor. In its sudden severance from its place, its flight and disguise, first looking like a businessman and then looking like itself, we have nothing other than the manifestation of witchcraft practiced by you and those who engage in similar activities due to you. For my part, I consider it my duty to forewarn you: If the afore-mentioned nose is not back in its place today, then I will be required to seek recourse to and protection under the law.
Otherwise, with the utmost respect, I am honored to be,
“Dear Mr. William Smith,
Your letter surprised me greatly. I, confessing to you openly, in no way expected it, especially with regard to the unjustified reproaches on your part. I forewarn you that I never, either in disguise or looking like himself, met with a man like the one you are describing. It is true that I had a talk with District Manager Jessica. And although she certainly has wanted to date my daughter, since she conducts herself well, modestly and is of that nature, I have never had any influence. You also mention your nose. If you think that I would want to lead you away by the nose, that is, keep you entirely separated, then it surprises me to hear you speak about this when, as you know, I was of a completely different opinion, and if you gain the consent of my daughter at her own volition, then I am ready this minute to agree, since that has always been the object of my dearest wishes, in the hope of which I continue to remain at your disposal,
“No,” said Bill, upon reading the letter. “She is definitely not guilty. She can’t be! The letter has been written in a way that no person guilty of a crime could write.” The real estate agent was conversant in this because he had seen a number of investigations in serialized thrillers. “How did it happen, how did I fall so out of God’s favor? It must be the work of the devil!” he finally said in resignation.
In the meantime, rumors about this unusual event spread through the whole city and, as happens, resulted in some peculiar embellishment. At that time, everyone’s mind was attuned to the fantastic: Just recently, the public had been preoccupied with liar loans. Furthermore, the story about aliens landing in Roswell had resurfaced, and therefore it isn’t surprising that people soon began to talk as if Broker Bill’s nose were walking down Broadway at exactly three. Every day, myriad curious onlookers collected. Then someone said that the nose was on display in the swan boutique – and such a crowd or horde gathered by the swan that the police actually had to come. One opportunist with a venerable appearance, cleanly shaven, who scalped various theater tickets on the street, deliberately imitated the beautiful wooden park benches and invited curious spectators to sit for ten dollars an hour. One retired executive, for this purpose, left his home early and with great effort forged through the crowd; but to his utmost dismay, he saw in the window of the store, instead of a nose, the usual glittering accessories and a pair of torsos: a woman’s with a low-cut blouse and no arms beside a man’s in a tux with a vest, standing erect, also missing arms – a scene that appeared in dozens of these windows. Moving away, he said in despair: “How can you bamboozle the people with such dumb farfetched rumors?”
Then the rumor mill churned out that not on Broadway, but rather in Gramercy Park, Broker Bill’s nose was roaming and had been roaming for a long time already, since Jennifer Aniston had moved in, which offered a real surprise in this strange game of nature. Some students at the medical college headed there. One distinguished high-society woman asked the caretaker of the garden, in a special letter, to show her children this rare phenomenon and, if possible, with an instructive and enlightening explanation for the kids.
These events were celebrated by all the essential members of upper-class clubs, who loved to confound the women whose reserves were running low at this time. A small number of respected and well-intentioned people were very dissatisfied. One woman said with displeasure that she did not understand how such dumb ideas could spread in today’s enlightened age, and she was surprised that the regulators were not paying attention to it. This woman, as we see, belonged to the group of those citizens who wanted to involve officials in everything, even in the daily arguments between couples. After this…but here again the entire outcome is hidden behind a sheet of rain from the ocean, and what came after, remains definitely unknown.
Complete absurdities occur on earth. Sometimes there is no plausible explanation whatsoever: Suddenly, this very nose that traveled as a senior manager and caused such an uproar in the city surfaced, as if there were nothing to it, right back in its place, that is, namely, between Broker Bill’s two cheeks. This happened on April 7th. On waking and accidentally looking in the mirror, Bill saw: His nose! – oh sweet bejesus – it was definitely his nose! “Whoopee,” said Bill and in joy almost did a little jig across the entire room barefoot, but a call interrupted him. Right after, he had to go wash and, having done so, peered in the mirror again: his nose! Drying himself with a towel, he again peered in the mirror: his nose!
“Look, Bill, you have a pimple on your nose,” he said to himself and thought: “But the unfortunate thing would actually be: No, sir, not a pimple, your whole nose is gone!”
Yet this much was clear: “It’s not a big deal: Your nose is there…. Good, to hell with it!” continued the broker, leaving the apartment.
On the way to work, he looked in the door of the esthetician Michele, who reacted as skittishly as a cat that was just slithering away with stolen bacon.
“Tell me now: Are your hands clean?” Bill called to her across the room.
“I don’t believe it!”
“See for yourself.”
Bill sat down. Michele covered him with an apron and a couple minutes later, following a filtrate, turned his forehead and most of his face into the cream that is the second of four layers.
“You see!” said Michele to herself as she stared at his nose, and then turned his head to the other side and looked at it in profile. “There it is, as you would think,” she continued, but kept looking. Finally, lightly, with caution, as much as you can imagine, she used just two fingers to rub this part too. That was Michele’s system.
“Well, well, you’re enjoying it, aren’t you,” cried Bill.
Michele gave up, confused, wondering as she had never wondered before.
Carefully, she began to massage the cream into his face; and although it was quite unusual and improper to stroke without nearing the olfactory part of his body, she gave the impression by lightly smoothing it with her finger and dabbing in points. Ultimately, she mastered the impediments and completed the task.
When it was all done, Bill washed himself quickly, hailed a cab, and rode straight to the bakery. On entering, he cried from afar: “Ma’am, a cup of espresso!” and that moment went to the mirror: His nose was there! He turned back happily and with a satirical expression looked, his eyes slightly narrowed, at two officers, one of whom had a nose no larger than a vest button. After that, he went to the office of the department where he was angling to be nominated for a seat on the board, or, if unsuccessful, to expand his network. Passing through the foyer, he peered into the mirror: His nose was there! Then he rode to see another real estate agent or broker, a real comedian to whom he frequently said in response to various harsh comments: “Well, I know you, you wiseass!” On the way he thought: “If the broker doesn’t convulse with laughter on seeing me, then it’s probably a reliable sign that whatever needs to be wherever is definitely sitting in the right place.” The real estate agent indeed said nothing. “Good, good, to hell with him,” Bill thought. In a restaurant he met with Board Chair Caroline and her daughter, shook hands with them and was greeted by joyous exclamations: it turned out that they harbored no resentment. He talked with them for a very long time, intentionally dabbing his nose and tilting both nostrils toward them while saying to himself: “You women are great! But I’m not marrying this girl anyway. It’s that simple, par amour, say what you will!” And from then on, Broker Bill marched about as if nothing had happened – on Broadway, at the opera, and everywhere. And his nose, also as if nothing had happened, sat on his face without even giving the impression that it had ever gone astray. So after this, you always saw Broker Bill in a good mood, smiling, confidently chasing all the pretty women and even stopping once in front of a store on Fifth Avenue and buying a diamond necklace, for some unknown reason, since he didn’t have any use for jewelry.
So this kind of story occurred in the Big Apple of our enormous country! Only now, judging by the description of it all, we see that there are a lot of farfetched occurrences. Not to mention the definite strangeness in the supernatural separation of a nose and its appearance at various places in the guise of a senior manager – but how did Bill not realize that you can’t run a classified ad about a nose? And in saying that, I don’t mean that it seemed expensive to pay for the classified: nonsense, I’m not at all from the ranks of stingy people. But it isn’t appropriate, isn’t professional, isn’t good! And another question: How did the nose land in the bowl of cereal and specifically Michele’s? No, I don’t understand that at all, definitely don’t understand it! But what’s still stranger, what’s less understandable than anything else, is how authors can take up such stories. I admit, this is quite mysterious, that’s for sure… No, no, I don’t understand. First of all, there is definitely no benefit for the country; secondly…but secondly, too, there is no benefit. I simply don’t know what this is…
But, nonetheless, in everything, though, of course, you can read this, that and more; it’s even possible…well, yes, and, what’s more, where aren’t there absurdities? Yet everything, nonetheless, as you may realize, in everything, it is true there is something. And whatever anyone says, such things happen on earth – rarely, but they happen.