published in Volume 8, Issue 1 on July 1st, 2001
Caitlin's acceptance letter from Oberlin might as well have been a death warrant for her nose. She had suffered under its affronting presence for seventeen years, but never before had this sort of opportunity existed. No one would know her when she arrived at school; no one would have ever seen her before. If she acted now, she could remake herself over the summer, get comfortable with the new Caitlin Montclair, fine tune things so that everything would go seamlessly once she arrived on campus. She was going to be spectacular. And as long as she didn't bring any old photographs to school with her, her ratty old identity could stay safely under wraps.
There was some resistance on the part of her parents of course, who were rightly concerned by their daughter's zeal in putting herself under the knife. It took three weeks of wheedling, of making scenes at the dining table, of teary-eyed dashes into her room and dramatic flops on the bed before their opposition began to waver.
The funny thing in all this is that it was not a bad nose, not at all; in fact, it was rather striking- imperious at its arch, delicate and shapely around the base of the nostrils. But there was a bump on it, a minor ridge, as if it had once broken and hadn't set quite properly when it healed. Caitlin was a pretty girl, and as it happened, this little bump pulled all her features together the way a mole or some other sort of small flaw might, creating beauty through its imperfection. But this as a concept was beyond the poor girl, whose room was wallpapered from floor to ceiling with glossy photos from magazines like Seventeen and Cosmopolitan, so that every waking moment she was treated to the spectacle of a hundred slight, aquiline noses orbiting about her like constellations. So it was understandable that she could not truly enjoy life while carrying around such a black mark for all to see.
It might be mentioned in passing that Caitlin's nose seemed to be completely unaware of its inadequacy. If anything, that made her hate it all the more. The very sight of that honker in full profile would paralyze her and any plans to go out to dinner with her family or out to the movies with her friends would be forgotten. Night after night, Caitlin sat cross-legged on her bed night after night and stared at the nose in the mirror mounted on her closet door. The nose, for its part, stared contentedly back. Now this wasn't healthy behavior, and it convinced her parents that perhaps it would be the right thing after all to take what action they could to ameliorate matters. So as a surprise birthday present, the family took Caitlin to the office of Dr. Benjamin Ramin, one of the best plastic surgeons in Manhattan, for a preliminary consultation.
The office was very impressive in a Park Avenue sort of way, all plush furniture and muted lighting, and Dr. Ramin cut a distinguished figure as he greeted them in the reception area. He looked to be in his late fifties, well tanned, and with very strong hands. Once back in his office, the doctor allowed Caitlin to flip through an album of before and after photos, and while she was doing that, he took them through things step-by-step in a reassuring voice.
"Normally, the procedure requires taking the skin of the nose off the bone and cartilage and resculpting the mass in the desired shape. Then a splint and nasal packs are put for a few weeks to stabilize the septum and keep the nose in its new shape. In this case, we may be able to simply chisel down the cartilage, which is pretty simple to do." He went on in this vein for a few minutes, making constant eye contact, first with Caitlin, then with her parents, then back to Caitlin again. He explained that there would be a fair amount of discomfort, but this was to be expected. It was even common, he continued along, that patients feel depressed and regretful after going through the surgery. This was only natural, as the face swells up and puffs and looks worse in the days following the surgery than in the immediate aftermath, and it's easy for the patient to forget that they will be looking better.
"But don't worry Caitlin", he said while walking over to put a hand on her shoulder. "When we take those casts off and you see how straight and beautiful your new nose is, you'll know you made the right decision. A whole new world is about to open up for you." He even asked coyly if he could take pictures, so that he could take pictures and send them into Plastic Surgeon's Weekly for everyone in the industry to admire. It was an impressive display of sales prowess, but he was preaching to the choir. They set up an appointment for August 13th--three weeks before Caitlin was due to start her freshman year.
The procedure went even more smoothly than the doctor had foretold, and two weeks later Caitlin found herself back in the Park Avenue office to get the cast removed. As Caitlin sat there staring at her reflection in the examination room mirror, she marveled at how well everything had gone. Her friend Ashley's eyes and cheeks had swollen up like overripe tomatoes for nearly a week after her surgery, and she had cried every night for a month on account of the pain. Dr. Ramier had told her to expect frequent nosebleeds as well as some dizziness and nausea, but she had suffered nothing worse than a dull headache- constant, but hardly debilitating. Since she was a child, Caitlin's fear of pain bordered on the pathological, and it was that fear alone that had kept her off the operating table for so long. Now that the ordeal had proved less than dreadful, Caitlin eyed her body with a sort of clinical dispassion, perusing it in search of other areas that might be nipped or tucked or chiseled. As she inspected herself, Caitlin noticed that the bits of nose that peeked out from under the bandages looked a bit strange, but just then the doctor walked in and motioned to her to sit on the examination table.
He queried as to how she'd been feeling as he unwrapped the bandages. Any swelling? No. Nosebleeds? No. Nothing of the sort? No, not really.
Quite suddenly, Dr. Ramier gasped and fell silent.
"What?" Caitlin bleated, "Did it not come out right?"
Without waiting for an answer, she hopped down from her perch and rushed to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room. As soon as she witnessed her reflection, Caitlin's eyes grew wide as saucers and she let out a great shriek. Right where her nose should have been, there was nothing at all- just a flat space. Her nose was completely gone.
Dr. Ramier looked down numbly at the limp white strips of bandages, but there was no nose, just what looked like two flesh colored bits of rubber affixed to the ends. It didn't even begin to make any sense. The operation had been perfect. He started retracing the steps in his mind, but was interrupted by a heavy blow as Caitlin's mother, having recovered from her initial shock, began beating the poor man around the head with her leather purse, screaming that she hadn't gone to him so she could have a daughter with no nose, and he'd better find a new one to put in its place this very minute or she was going to make him offer up his you-know-what as a replacement. Caitlin was still standing catatonic before the mirror, but small bits of dialogue dribbled subconsciously into her ear, so that the image of a penis hanging floppy from her face like some lewd Sesame Street Muppet welled up with shocking clarity and seemingly of its own accord. It was just too horrible. At that moment, Caitlin unbolted her feet at last from the floor and ran out of the room screaming with her hands cupped over the flat space where her nose should have been. She tore past the receptionist, past the elevators and into the stairwell, where she piteously began whistling and calling for her nose as if it was a dog that had only wandered out of sight and would any moment come crashing happily back to her.
The next few days did not go well. Caitlin barricaded herself in her room with the lights off and the blinds down, opening the door three times a day, and then only enough to allow her mother to slide a tray with hot soup, some apple juice, and a few cookies or perhaps a hunk of cheese. The rest of the time, she just sat on the bed with her blanket draped over her head. It was smelly and uncomfortable, but what difference did it make? Her life was over. What prospects could she have with no nose? Who would date her at college? What sorority house would take her, a noseless freak? No husband, no children, no career, nothing. She would just be left to live somewhere, to move to Alaska and gut fish for a living or to be committed by her parents to some posh asylum where no one would ever visit her and they could pretend she never existed. She had half a mind to go straight to the bathroom and end things right then and there, but her father used an electric razor and there was only a small capsule of children's Tylenol and she wasn't at all sure either would do the trick. So instead, Caitlin stayed there under her blanket. She didn't sleep much or change her clothes much and didn't bathe at all. She just hung out under that downy tent, filling up the space with her sourdough odor and a vinegar reek from her dirty socks and trying to recall the story of the Elephant Man to see if there was any practical advice to be gleaned from it.
This went on for eight days. On the ninth day, Caitlin had an epiphany. She could catch her nose. After all, it was hers, wasn't it? It had to be hiding somewhere, down by the wharves or in the belly of Penn Station or somewhere. Maybe it had no idea where it was; maybe it was lost and waiting for her to come to the rescue. After eight days under a funky blanket, coming to the rescue sounded pretty appealing to Caitlin. Besides, she could swing by Fifth Avenue and see what sales she had been missing out on. With this dual inspiration spurring her to action, Caitlin leaped out of bed, threw on some clean jeans and a sweatshirt and made a beeline from the door, stopping only to grab a silk handkerchief to conceal her deformity before going downstairs to hail a cab.
The afternoon light was a dreary gray as Caitlin sped down towards 59th Street. She tried to think like a detective. Was there a suspect? None that she could think of. If there were a subject, where could they have gone to, and for what purpose? How would they store the nose, and what would they use the thing for, anyway? Even as Caitlin pondered the whereabouts of her fugitive organ, she saw a certain something out of the corner of her eye. Leaving Saks Fifth Avenue with a brand new Kenneth Cole handbag and toting several shopping bags was her nose. She gaped as the nose briskly crossed the street right in front of her, no more than three feet from the hood of the cab. The nose had evidently taken the time to enjoy a makeover, but there was absolutely no mistaking it for anyone else.
"What on earth will I say?" Caitlin thought to herself. Despite all her hopefulness, she hadn't really been able to envision this scenario at all. "What sort of approach do I take? Are we relatives or friends or strangers or what?" Caitlin hadn't fully answered these questions to her satisfaction when her nose scampered up the block and into Henri Bendels, to catch up on some more last minute Labor Day Weekend shopping, no doubt. Without another thought, Caitlin leaped out of the taxi and set off in pursuit. She cupped her handkerchief around the naked flatness and pushed through the glass doors and into the foyer.
Bendels was crowded with the holiday rush, and at first Caitlin despaired of finding her nose, but after a minute of searching she spotted it up on the second floor trying on hats. The nose was wearing a beautiful charcoal Armani suit with very elegant flats to match and a thin trench coat for the rainy weather. At first glance it looked for all the world like a high powered businesswoman, but on closer inspection was clearly an olfactory organ, and an exceptional looking one at that. Dr. Ramier had done a first-rate job. Caitlin took a deep breath, strode up the spiral staircase to the second floor and tapped the nose on the shoulder. The nose at first took no notice, but upon a second tap spun around and looked her up and down with a slightly vexed expression. "What?"
The brusque tone caught Caitlin off guard, and she realized belatedly that she'd neglected to work out the details of this conversation in the cab- as if one could really plan for this particular contingency. But the nose was waiting impatiently, so Caitlin began:
"I'm really sorry to bother you, um, but, well--well, I think you should come with me."
"Why should I do that?" the nose responded haughtily. "Do I know you? Are you part of the help? Because if you are, I should really complain, it's impossible to get any service in this madhouse and I have to go to the airport in an hour. I'm just browsing until my car arrives."
This answer befuddled poor Caitlin quite completely, and she thought for a moment that perhaps she had been mistaken. The nose clearly carried herself like a person of some importance. She looked again. No, it was definitely her nose. Caitlin started again, firmer now.
"No, I'm sorry, but I'm positive that you're, well, you're my nose. I don't know how you got off, but I really think you need to come with me to Dr. Ramier's office so he can figure out a way to put you back on."
Caitlin stepped back to see what sort of reaction she would get, but the nose merely shot her a patronizing look and said, "Your nose? I really don't see how that's possible. I'm a partner at Simpson, Thatcher & Bartlett." As the nose spoke it reached into the new handbag and produced a business card, which it handed to Caitlin with an imperious flourish. "Besides", the nose continued with an ill-concealed sneer, "we clearly couldn't be associated in any way. I mean, you hardly look like a lawyer, and if I may say so, you're not dressed like anyone I might run into in my circle. So you see, it's really quite impossible."
Caitlin looked down at the business card. It just didn't make any sense. For her own nose to have graduated from law school and made partner of all things, while she herself was only just starting her freshman year of college. Unless the nose had been sneaking off somehow and taking classes at night.
Caitlin's train of thought was interrupted when she glanced up and realized that the nose had gone. She scanned the store and caught sight of it slipping out the exit and into a waiting limousine.
Dr. Ramier was starting to doze off in his chair when his receptionist's voice shook him awake.
"Dr. Ramier, security at Newark airport is on the phone."
"Yes, it sounded important."
He cleared his throat and picked up the receiver. Five minutes later he was on his way to Newark.
Dr. Ramier was met at the entrance of the American Airlines terminal by a fat, sweaty man with an awkward gait who identified himself as the head of security. They walked through the terminal, breezing past the baggage counters and Starbucks coffee vendors, through the metal detectors, and then finally through an inconspicuous door into the security office. The sweaty security man pointed at a brown folding chair and waited for the doctor to sit down, then he fell heavily into his swivel chair, which fairly buckled under the pressure. There was a pause as the security chief reached into a crumpled package of Hostess powdered donuts and took one out. He bit down on it, loosing a cloud of sugar that hovered around his mouth.
"How long have you been a plastic surgeon?" he managed out through a mouth full of donut.
Dr. Ramier didn't see what that had to do with anything, but not wishing to seem uncooperative, he replied, "I've been practicing for over eighteen years."
"Eighteen years", the chief said, nodding slightly and narrowing his eyes menacingly. "And are you a subscriber to Plastic Surgeon's Weekly?"
"Of course I am. Everyone in my industry is. What of it?"
"And are there pictures of your victims, I mean subjects? That kind of thing?"
The doctor shifted in his chair, trying hard not to look condescending to this moron, who clearly had some sort of beef. "I don't know what you're talking about with that whole victims business. The journal does publish exceptional work, and I've had my rhinoplasty cases covered several times. Look, you're going to have to start making some sense, or I'm going to put an end to this interrogation-"
The chief leaned forward in his chair and pointed the remnant of the donut at him, leaving a trail of powder like sacrificial blood on the desktop. "What I'm getting at is this, Mister Ramier. I think you're peddling in appendage pornography. When we caught that nose, she was carrying a portfolio with some pretty sick pictures. All naked, before and after type stuff, you know?" He finished off the last of the donut and reached for another one, letting his words sink in. He knew he was born to be a detective, and never understood why the NYPD hadn't seen that too. "Anyway, we got a full confession. When we picked her up she was dressed as a lawyer, but that was only a front. She was on her way to LA to go get some more photos done by some sleazy guy who specializes in that sort of thing. He was telling her she could work her way up into the movies and get someone to take her seriously as an actress, that whole song and dance. Says she got his name from your address book." Sensing victory, the security chief crammed the last donut into his mouth and leaned back in his chair once more, folding his arms and giving his best policeman's stare.
Dr. Ramier didn't say anything at all. He just stared at the fat bozo in the chair with an incredulous look on his face. Two other security officers walked into the office and stood behind him, looking menacing, or at least as menacing as it was possible for skinny airport security men in cheap blue blazers and gray slacks to look. He was tempted to laugh, but the door opened again and two policemen walked in, big burly guys, definitely not airport security, and one of them was reaching for the handcuffs on his belt. Under the circumstances, there was nothing for him to do but ask to call his lawyer.
Things moved along quickly from that point. The Montclairs were summoned to the airport to render a positive identification and to work out an arrangement with Dr. Ramier that would keep the strange affair out of the papers. This done, they whisked in an unmarked police van back to the Park Avenue office, where after the administering of a general anesthetic to both the wayward nose and Caitlin, the two were reunited at 2:14 in the afternoon on September 7th, just two days before the start of fall classes. It was a marvelous job, and no one would ever have suspected that the two had ever been apart. The next morning the Montclair family loaded up their Mercedes and made the ten-hour trip to Oberlin, where after a quick tour of the campus and lunch at the nearby McDonald's, they left the girl to begin her life away from home. As she smiled and waved and watched her parents drive off, a sudden panic surged within her that she might have been duped, that the whole episode had been some bizarre delusion and that her body was as misshapen as ever. But when she reached up with her hand, lo and behold, there was her nose- soft and warm and straight as any cover girls'. She rubbed the fleshy bulb fondly in greeting and then turned and walked inside to remodel her room.