Portraits from a town: The nose

‘Your nose looks big in that picture. In fact its massive. I mean your nose is quite big anyway.’

I look at the picture. It looks like me. With my nose. Which is obviously not good enough anymore. It was of course a perfectly good nose when we got married. Now after child birth it is suddenly elephantine.

Later on, I google all the ways men have come up with to fix women’s noses, and some that women have devised as well. Rhinoplasty-too expensive. My nose will be fine if I revamp my makeup and contour properly, although I need to be careful not to make my eyes beady by making my nose smaller. Oh the pitfalls of makeup. And the cost. All because my nose -has what-changed? The perception of my nose has changed? Its just a bad photograph.

Later in the week he has friends over, he stops in front of the picture and points out my enormous nose. They laugh together. My son can hear them. I don’t cry, not yet. I feel my nose. I like it. It is functional. Made for breathing, not cuteness.

His friend comes into the kitchen. He tries not to, but I know. I saw it. He looked at my nose. Just to see if it’s like it is in the picture. He smiles at me. I look for traces of sympathy but see only humour there. He does not care about anything else. His friend is married to someone with a big nose. They will joke about it later.

I know now my nose will never be good enough again. Nor will I. I have wrote my imperfections large across the wall for everyone to see. I deserve what I get. There is a photograph where my nose looks big. I have dared to leave it hanging there for the world to see. Is there a greater crime for any woman?

Later on he is giving me advice on how to load the dishwasher. He is clueless. It’s a dishwasher, you can load it however you want. There is no right way, there is just my way and his way. I google how to tell a man he is more stupid than he thinks he is. There is no answer there. Google does not know everything.

Two weeks later, he is still talking about the picture. He wants it removed, it is offending him. I like the picture. I like my nose. I have started wishing for an even bigger nose, just to spite him. I google prosthetic noses. I google false nose warts. I am thinking of vandalising the picture so a trail of snot is hanging out of my nose. It’s a picture. I have a face. It is a nose. I use it to breathe. It is of no consequence to anyone else what it looks like. Still he goes on about it. He tells the neighbours and some of my friends. I want to tell him his trousers don’t match his shirt. I think better of it.

It is then that I understand the world will rend us apart. It is only a matter of time.

I will cry a thousand tears. He will have been right all along. My nose was too big for someone like him. It is astonishing we stayed married so long. He will not cry any tears.

One day he will know the tears he did not cry for what they are. They are the contents of the bottle. It is not a new bottle. Men have bottled things up forever. It is a glass bottle. One day it will shatter and break and the tears will fall out into the world. They will fall in one great big puddle onto the floor mixed with fragments of glass. He won’t remember my nose. He will wonder why, search for answers that he did not keep. He will call. I will hang up. Our son will ferry between us.

I will sit and look at my nose in the mirror. I will not think about how it looks. I will suck in the air and know the sweet smell of freedom.

Portraits from a town 11

He winds down the window. Music is pumping out of the car. His head is nodding in time. He thinks its in time. It might not be in time. He looks in the rear view mirror. The trailer is still attached.

He puts his elbow on the door frame. He looks at the grey streaks in his hair. What’s that phrase-‘silver fox’. His paunch pushes against the seat belt.

There’s a notification from social media, a new video. He is following a 23 year old who does yoga on instagram. He messaged her about his ‘downward dog’. She answered. He thinks they have a connection. He is wearing beige trousers.

He has taken off his wedding ring especially for this trip to take the cardboard to the recycling centre. He turns up the music.

He thinks of his wife wandering around the house in flip flops and bold prints hiding her stature under swathes of fabric. He has definitely connected with that yoga girl, even though he isn’t quite sure what a downward dog is.

The music is something he found on his son’s phone, it’s probably the latest. He gets the thundering bass but the lyrics are a mystery. Every word is said so fast. Still soon he thinks, he and yoga girl might converse more and he wants to seem modern. He sees a woman walking along the street, middle aged, no make-up, nameless trainers. She looks at him. She will not know this music. He is sure of that.

He arrives at the recycling centre. Parks up. Checks his look in the mirror. He gets out of the 4WD, looks around. If he isn’t wrong, he is the most attractive man at the recycling centre at the moment, maybe for the day, even the week. He hitches up his trousers. He wished he was wearing a shirt, he’d undo a button, show some chest.

The recycling bins are quite high. You have to throw stuff to get it in. He is ready. Pumped. It is not a competition. If it was a competition, he would win.

He has borrowed his son’s trainers. He hopes the lad will never find out as he begins slinging cardboard into the cardboard recycling. There is something macho about slinging cardboard he thinks. Its primal. Like throwing a spear or something.

He has taken up a lot of space parking. That’s ok, every man here must feel inferior in his presence. They can probably tell he works in banking. Well actually in a building near a lot of banking headquarters, its almost the same thing. He works in the banking district.

He wished he had a bigger trailer for the car. His trailer is a tiny little box thing. Of course he could have fitted all the recycling in the back of the car but who does that when they own a trailer? He liked the way it felt to shove all that cardboard into a confined space. How it felt to hitch that trailer so hard to the back of the car.

And then there is the added difficulty of driving with a trailer. He is very good at driving with a trailer. It might even be his super power. He imagined yoga girl watching admiringly as he hitched that trailer. Then he noticed, Mrs whats-her-name across the road peeking through the curtains. She is so old, so very old. He wonders if he will ever get old. He’s not sure if that bit of cardboard went in. He should have brought his glasses

He looks around to see who is watching him. No one is watching him. They are focussed on getting rid of their recycling. Probably partly intimidated by his masculine stature.

Where’s the car key? Oh no, has he lobbed the car key into the recycling? He will have to call his wife to come and bring the key. In the fiat 500? Where’s his phone? In the car? He will have to ask someone else to call his wife. He doesn’t know the number. He is not good with numbers.

And then, a flood of relief as the young man in the parking space next door says, ‘Excuse me granddad, but I think you dropped your keys.’

He hates the way young people have no respect for older people. He goes home.

Portraits from a town

Part 1

And so this was London. These weird overplayed notes in the darkness of the concert hall. If there was a dress code, it was black and grey and greyish black, like the sky and buildings, as if the whole place was constantly at a funeral.

She was married to man who’s name she never took the time to remember. And when she could remember it, she didn’t know him anyway. They never spoke. She never needed his name. It was mutual.

It hadn’t always been like that. There had a been a spark, a fire, then life. Life was like a fire extinguisher. The thought made her laugh. They had spent their life walking into the gushing nozzle of a fire extinguisher. It wasn’t a sophisticated thought. Not like these weird queasy notes, not like London. 

She sat in the concert hall wishing she’d brought a book. She could sit outside in her mismatched clothes in the empty bar, sucking in the smell of alcohol, her nose in a novel.

This was her life. So different to the other life. She came from somewhere no one had ever heard of and no one else had ever been. It meant nothing, the rest of London came from somewhere else as well, inexplicable how they all dressed the same.

London was another planet. You could be an alien in London and no one would know. It was not like that in the town where she lived. The music baffled her. Was that singing, is there a difference between noise made through your mouth and singing? She thought so.

Part 2

Another working day done, off the train, head down, up the hill, along the high street. It was dark as she dawdled home. Dithering in her bag on the pavement. He rushed past, ear phones in. He didn’t say sorry. He didn’t look. She simply didn’t exist. She was non-plussed, unimpressed. That level of speed, focus, direction was unnecessary in town. This was not London.

She kept going. Down that street, along that one, to her street. The van was blocking the pavement-again. They were standing there talking-again. She smiled. The van door was open. What would happen if she just climbed into the cab and just went through it, opened the door on the other side and leapt out. She didn’t. Wasn’t brave enough. She just went around and home. To Him, the one who’s name escaped her, again.

Part 3

He saw the woman dithering on the pavement, paid no attention, brushed past her, meant to say sorry but didn’t. He would have said it too loudly. These damn earplugs. He was listening to music his wife recommended. There had been a concert the night before. He had refused to attend. This was why. This rotten damn music. This singing, was it singing? It was just noise through your mouth and a plinky plonky keyboard. He didn’t enjoy it. He was trying but he didn’t like it.

This marriage, this life, he hadn’t made it work. How had he gotten here, the same place where had he come from. He was from here but never intended to end up here. He had wanted something different. This music was certainly different.

This noise, this music, it reminded him of a fire extinguisher, one had accidentally gone off at work. This odd music, that was exactly the sound it had made. How could she like it? He made an effort to think of her name when he thought of her. Otherwise he was worried he would forget it.

They had parked blocking the pavement-again. Damn it, he was just going to go through. The door was flung open, why not? Through their cab, open the door on the other side and leap out. They were standing there talking-again. He was going to go through, not around through. He got closer, closer still. Then at the last minute, he swerved, went around. Next time he told himself. Next time.

Two lives, they touched so briefly, almost. More similar than different, despite their beginnings. A moment, but not long enough to make their destinies collide. Maybe next time.

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

Portraits from a town

Some people would draw it but I choose words for my pictures. You know the place, you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else. You didn’t stop and if you did it was just to buy some food  before you drove on. It was nondescript, home to no one you know. You can’t even remember its name. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t small, it was just a town.

He sits outside the house in his car for longer than he should. He loves this car. Its like him, well built, smooth running, up a gear. If he were a car, this is the car he would be.

Outside of the car, inside of the house, is his life. The children don’t fit in the car. She had said it wouldn’t be a problem. Now it’s a problem. Everything is a problem.

He hadn’t thought it would be like this. He had always thought they were together, a unit, as one. It never occurred to him that they just met in the middle occasionally and then went back to their separate lives afterwards. It had been this way forever, when they were dating, when they lived together. They moved in the same circle, different circles, they met in the middle and moved away again as they chose.

And now, now he realised, that wasn’t a relationship at all. Worse. She had become anchored to one spot. Immovable. She was tied to that house and the life inside it. And her life, her circle of movement had shrunk, until she was just standing still looking around her. His circle had remained the same, maybe even gotten bigger. Except now, now she was demanding he shrink it. Demanding she have some of his circle, demanding that she should be able to move. The kids weren’t his fault. The kids were nice to have but shouldn’t restrict who he was. It had changed her, not him.

It was all reflected in their cars, hers full of car seats and wrappers and debris from toddler parties, his sleek and smooth and clean. She was chained to chaos, chained to a single spot and mayhem existed around her and somehow emanated out from her, like it was her super power. She reached out to settle it, but she couldn’t, didn’t want to. The house, their beautiful house, so shiny, so new, with its shades of beige and grey, so well put together, but always untidy, messy, unkempt. There weren’t enough words. He strode through the disorder like a titan, never looking down. He tried not to see it but there were squeaky toys on the couch. He could never find the remote. The place smelled of milk and pooh and powder.  

Then, now, there was Friday. It was a girls night out, one of the few times she would leave the house without them attached. The in-laws were coming, thank goodness, the in-laws were coming. But she wanted to take his car. It was like she hadn’t looked in the mirror lately. It wasn’t right that she should be seen in his car. In his head, there were two lives and they should be kept apart. There was the one that happened in the messy car and then there was this sleek, lithe machine. The former was her but this was him. He hadn’t changed, he had managed to carry on as before. He was aghast at how anchored she had become, how stuck. This car was not built for people who were anchored. This car was built for freedom.

He wasn’t sure what he’d ever seen in her. She had become an alien species, glued to that house. Riveted to that spot. That child, one or the other of them endlessly attached at the hip. He was faking it. He spent every spare minute watching porn or sitting in this car. This sleek clean vehicle. The world around him changed. He sat still in his nice shiny car. There is no way she could use this car.