The Nostril

“Why don’t you pluck your nose hair every once in a while?” her soon to be ex-boyfriend seethed at her in a moment of retribution. Retribution for what, specifically, she couldn’t say. He was angry at her for no ostensible reason other than she was herself, and that was getting very tiresome to him after three years of being together. She held no more thrill or novelty, just utter predictability and loathsomeness. Of course, Sawyer couldn’t express this concretely to Helena, instead choosing to take it out on her in verbally abusive, passive aggressive ways that were the only source through which he could unleash his rage and resentment toward her. Helena, taking it in stride, consistently found a way to justify away the debasement. This time, she cited the fact that she had taken him along with her sister to shop for a toy for their three-year-old male cousin. He didn’t want to go, obviously, but had somehow been cajoled with the promise of a free meal afterward. Any cuisine of his choosing. In the end, he couldn’t stomach the thought of lunch with them, opting to hurl this insult at Helena before storming out of the toy store to leave her on her own with Denise, who Helena found as difficult to deal with as Sawyer found Helena. 

Another hour and thirty minutes was wasted inside that godforsaken toy store, and in the end, Denise still chose the same fucking thing she had settled upon from the outset: a Hot Wheels race car that the kid would probably choke on. He would probably choke on anything they gave him and Helena really couldn’t understand why people bothered to spend any unnecessary money on human beings of this age when they appreciated it even less than a goddamned entitled teenager. The only thing she had gotten out of this little excursion other than yet another plot point in the escalating denouement that would lead to the end of her relationship was more time to study the nose hair he was referring to in a Barbie mirror as Denise plodded along excitedly choosing a gift for a child that wasn’t hers as a means to substitute the thrill she would never get of having her own.

It was true what Sawyer said. She had a nostril hair that stuck out more than all the rest. It was on her right side and it often caused a small booger to protrude along with it. At which time Sawyer would chide, “You have a goddamn booger in your nose again, can you please maintenance yourself before we leave the house together?” The “house” in question was a ramshackle of an apartment that they overpaid for in order to be in the “center” of the city. Even though it was more left of center than anything else. Still, it gave both of them the illusion that they were “part of it,” as everyone so desperately wanted to believe they were when they weren’t fleeing the city any chance they got to go somewhere quieter, less populated. Which is precisely where Helena wished she was now instead of at a bustling sushi restaurant with Denise, who was prattling on about her excitement over giving the gift to Tobey (because all three-year-old boys are named something like Tobey).

She couldn’t even bother pecking at the dubiously-colored California roll that had been presented to her. She was too preoccupied with wondering about whether or not the booger had been removed. She went to the bathroom before sitting down again to double check that it had not reappeared, nestled atop that nose hair of hers that Sawyer had become increasingly prone to fixating on. Even when she plucked the hair in question, however, it was still no use. It was as though it was bequeathed with some type of “insta-grow” instruction in its DNA. Because there was no doubt in Helena’s mind that this specific hair follicle had its own separate DNA from the rest of the hairs on her body. 

In any case, she kept rubbing her nose to be doubly certain, prompting Denise to demand, “Are you sick or something? ‘Cause I don’t want to miss Tobey’s birthday party on account of it’s your fault I’m quarantined from him.” 

Helena snapped, “Jesus Christ, Denise! Why do you fucking care so much? He’s not your fucking child.” 

Denise cowered as the other patrons in the restaurant looked at them with expressions of shock and concern. Helena rolled her eyes, “Oh god, I’ll just leave, all right? I need to find Sawyer.” 

“That’s it? You’re just going to ditch me without apologizing?”

“Apologizing for what? It’s your fault I’m in a fight with him in the first place. I never should have gone to that store with you. You didn’t need me there anyway.”

Denise narrowed her eyes at Helena. “Silly me. Thought that maybe you’d want to spend some time with your sister.” 

“Don’t pull that shit. You wanted someone to be there to see how motherly you are. Or could be if anyone wanted to fuck you.” 

Helena slapped some cash down on the table to cover the entire bill and fled. She didn’t care about how offensive what she had just said was. She didn’t care about anything except confronting Sawyer without a booger in her right nostril from henceforward. She would be unbesmirchable to him. He would have no cause to complain about her. When she practically broke down the door to her apartment to tell him this, she found that not only was he not there, but neither were any of his possessions. He had packed up, escaped from the scene for good. Ah, but at least there was a note. A classic Dear Jane letter in that it really explained nothing at all about why he was leaving her so much as the fact that he was leaving her.

She crumpled into a heap on the floor, tears staining the letter in her hand as she leaned her back against the stove, thinking ever so briefly about sticking her head in the oven. Maybe that protruding nostril hair was all the kindle needed to ignite a blaze in there. But she stopped herself. She only let herself cry for five minutes straight before picking herself up and refusing to ever think about Sawyer again. She would get her physical appearance in order. And tout de suite. She had no more years to waste on someone who wasn’t going to love her. She needed to be physically faultless in order to secure that. For the greatest lie the media ever told was that you’re beautiful the way you are–granted, this was a more recent line of campaign thinking, but still, it made women lazy, falsely let their guard down. 

She had let it down far enough, evidently, to get close to a 35-year-old divorcé with a six-year old daughter. Your garden variety sticky-handed bitch whose ass he was convinced the sun shone out of because, well, he was her dad. And that’s what dads think of their daughters. Even when they grow up to become little whores flashing their snatch on whatever the fuck social media app. One supposes it’s lucky that most dads don’t really trifle with social media. At least not that pervasively… yet. In any event, Helena had been billed a sanitized presentation of René, who made no mention of having a spawn in the initial months of their honeymoon dating period. It wasn’t until she inquired as to why he had never invited her over to his clearly much more distinguished Upper East Side apartment that he had to come clean. 

“It isn’t that I don’t want you to come over,” he stuttered as red wine dribbled down his white shirt, yet he didn’t care. He never cared about anything pertaining to social graces. “It’s that, well…you should know–”

“What? Just say it.” 

“I have a daughter. She’s six. Her name is Ella.” 

Helena wanted to vomit the foie gras she had just foolishly consumed. She was getting way too taken in with the bourgeois lies René had been peddling her as a means to divert from this unsettling “characteristic” about himself. She could not even count how many times she had alluded to despising children over the course of their time together, not just because she knew most men wanted to hear that to be assuaged about female desperation, but because it was how she really felt. And why she never showed up to Tobey’s birthday party. This revelation was, to her, the ultimate manifestation of traitordom, yet, at the same time, she couldn’t entirely blame him for not wanting to confess to her when she didn’t exactly provide the environs of a “safe space” for him to tell her. 

René pointed this much out to her as she contemplated running from the table and never answering his calls again. She admitted, “Maybe that’s true, but you still should have told me. Perhaps especially knowing how much I fucking hate kids.” 

“But why?”

She sneered at him. “What? Am I supposed to be charmed by them because I’m a woman?”

“No, dear. Because you’re a human.” 

She shuddered. She hated when he called her dear. Or wiped his beard with his shirt and exposed his gut without shame. Or snored. Or blew his nose on his shirtsleeve. Or farted without caring how gross it was. Maybe this was all just a sign from God or whoever. A final clincher to assure her that this was not the person to replace Sawyer with just because, for once, she was playing the role of Perpetually Disgusted Critiquer in the relationship, the one constantly picking at all of René’s various grotesqueries–and that one of said grotesqueries was that he accepted her requisite booger so much that he once told her he wanted to eat it right out of her nostril.

She didn’t feel that bad when she broke it off with him then and there. For she knew René’s daughter would always be not just an emotional cushion, security blanket, etc., but the preferred “gal” in his life anyway. Not merely because she was his blood. But because, as his blood, she was forced to accept him for all his foul flaws no matter what (which reminded Helena that she probably ought to try phoning her sister again to apologize). Whereas Helena simply could not. Just as Sawyer couldn’t accept hers. And so the vicious cycle of doomed couples–one always being more dissatisfied with the other–persisted.

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