This essay was initially published in American English, Italian Chocolate.
Apply pressure and elevate.
I know that’s how you stop bleeding. But this is my nose. I just cut it shaving. A careless flick of the razor and I caught the wing of my right nostril. The gore, the gore. I don’t know how to elevate my nose.
“You ready?” my wife yells from downstairs.
Since when is she ready before me? We’re going for an R and R dinner tonight. That’s Rachel and Ron, our friends we told where to go in Italy. They went, they’re back, we’ve seen some pictures online. They’re going to tell us about it. And now I’ve got this bleeding nostril.
“Almost.” I press a handful of toilet paper to the wound.
“If we leave early we can swing by Newton and look at trees.”
Some weeks ago we planted three cherry trees in the yard. Over night they were denuded of leaves by deer. In crisis mode we set out deer repellent, a particulate poured into leftover pantyhose and hung from the branches. Not attractive, which I guess is the point if you’re a deer. Not attractive if you’re a human, too, which doesn’t matter to my wife. Such is her commitment to trees, while I am Darwinian.
I yell okay. But this thing is not okay. If it would just clot. Stick of piece of toilet paper on it, usually it clots. Not this time.
“Let’s get some of that spray,” she yells up to me. Another repellent, you spray it on the tree. It’s Off for deer. I hear on the steps, she’s coming up.
She pushes through the door into the bathroom, sees the sink full of bloody tissues. “Hey, what?”
“I cut myself.”
“I can see that. Geez it’s bloody. Did you try a band aide? Did you stick a piece of toilet paper on it? Did you apply pressure?”
“All those things.”
“How about ice?”
“That’s for swelling.”
“Swelling, bleeding, not the same thing.”
She opens a door of the vanity. “Gauze.”
I tell her first we have to stop the bleeding.
“Should we go to emergency? Lemme see that.” I lift the toilet paper from my sliced nostril. In the mirror I see a red ribbon of blood trickle down my lip. It’s just like TV.
“Ew,” she says.
“Ow,” I say. It really hurts.
“What about one of those things?”
A butterfly stitch, I think she means. “That might work,” I say.
On the way to the drug store we talk about replacement trees, in case our cherry trees pass away. How about a ginkgo tree? How about a red bud? We could plant another honey locust. Maybe deer prey on fruit trees. All the little trees are dying, she says. That old crab apple won’t last much longer. Two bad winters in a row. I hold tissue to my nose, which continues to seep blood. I’ve got more tissues in my pockets, just in case. She says she hopes we’re not too late for dinner.
The pharmacist, when we ask first aide advice, wants to see the cut. I show him and he says he doesn’t think a butterfly stitch will work, we’re welcome to try, but he recommends an antihemorrhagic.
“Your nose is wet, where the stitch should adhere,” he says. “A butterfly stitch will come loose.”
“His nose is always wet,” my wife says. “He’s like a beagle.”
The pharmacist points at my nose. “Jack Nicholson.”
“Chinatown? The movie? He’s J. J. Gittes. And Faye Dunaway is . . . someone. Wonderful film. Water rights, skullduggery. Very up to date all of a sudden, wouldn’t you say?” He squints a little, peers at my nose, considers it. He has a reddish nose. He’s balding on top, has longish gray hair, long enough to cover his ears. He’s obviously worn the white coat for quite a while. “Roman Polanski,” he says. “wielding a switchblade. I believe the Nicholson nose required stitches.”
“Gittes,” I say.
“He cut himself shaving,” my wife explains, implying, I guess, there is no skullduggery. “Will he need stitches?”
He points us to aisle five. Tells us styptic pencil is our best bet.
I read the package out loud in the car: Anhydrous aluminum sulfate. So that’s what it is.
“A vasoconstrictor, it says. This stuff hurts.”
“Doesn’t it hurt already? You’re bleeding. Do it. Shouldn’t you try it?”
I lean forward, strain to see my nose in the rearview mirror. I’ll do it when we get to Rachel and Ron’s, I tell her. It might be messy.
Rachel and Ron have wine and cheese, fresh figs, and fennel ready, in their recently redone kitchen. It’s all white; cupboards, cabinets, countertops, blinding white and beautiful.
“Let’s nosh. Let’s have some Frascati,” Rachel says. “I can drink this stuff like Fresca. I only want Frascati now.”
“We say antipasto,” Ron says. “We’re so Italian.”
“Rome was beautiful. The artichokes, the fountains.”
“It was hot. They drink wine at 10:00 a.m.”
“What’s wrong with your nose? Good God!”
“He cut himself shaving.”
“You forget it’s a razor in your hand. You get so casual. It’s like scratching your eyebrow with the barrel of a gun.”
“Wait, you still use a razor? Aren’t you electric?”
“He’s got no visible beard.”
“I just love figs. Figs and Frascati.”
“I have facial hair. It’s transparent.”
“Transparent and gray. Could I use your bathroom? I need to fix myself up.”
The styptic pencil reminds me of a tube of lipstick; white lipstick, cold fire. I run it under the cold water faucet and daub my nostril. It burns, holy cow it burns so much my right eye tears up. You okay? Ron yells from the kitchen. I hear wine glasses, a cork popped from another bottle. They’re touching on subjects: Florence and the Baptistery doors, Rome and the Romans, Caravaggio, riding in taxis. I touch the cut again, press tissue against it, and wait. No go. Vacoconstrictor, my ass. Three or four times before it takes; pressure on, pressure off, a few more burns, until finally there’s a milky film of anhydrous aluminum sulfate up and down the right side of my nose.
“Everything all right?”
“Looks like you were snorting in there.”
“Good for now.”
“You need to be more careful. How on earth do you cut your nose? If you can cut your nose, you can cut your throat.”
“This woman in our group, everywhere we go in Rome she’s like, This is nice, but it’s hard to beat Piazza della Senorita. Did she not say that, Ron?”
“She did say that. But I think it was just for the fun.”
“And every night, she orders that tomato mozzarella salad and calls it a Caprice, like the Chevy car? Um, I’ll have the Caprice. Waiter, waitress, they roll their eyes and say Cah-pray-zay. Next night it’s Caprice all over again.”
“You say that very well.”
“Thanks. You were right, though. We hung with the tour guide only for a little while. Then, see ya.”
“A lot of old people.”
“So many old people.”
“But the cutest couple. Tell them about the cutest couple, Ray.”
“How about another glass of wine? One for the nose?”
“Nope. Rule of one.”
“They’ve been married forty years. Tony and Diane. Every trip they take, they find one of those photobooths, like in shopping centers, remember those things when you were a kid? You sit on these stools and mug for the camera and get a strip of black and white pictures. They have forty or fifty of those things. Every trip they take.”
“They were like kids.”
“They were like newliweds. All over each other. They made the Italians blush.”
“So, about the rule of one.”
“It’s his new thing.”
“One glass of wine. One dish of pasta. One potato, one piece of meat, one piece of cake. Take what you want. Just take one.”
“Why would you do such a thing?”
“So, like, one glass of Frascati, one glass of Sauvignon Blanc? One Merlot? I’ll just keep opening bottles.”
“Nope. One is one.”
“It’s the loneliest number.”
My wife taps the side of her nose. “You’re bleeding again.”
“You might need a stitch.”
“I think we should move to the dinner table.”
A couple swipes of the styptic pencil is all it takes. I stand in front of the mirror and look at my face. Rachel and Ron put dinner on the table. Rachel’s talking about Florence, a pasta they ate with pear sauce and asparagus tips. She tries to say the pasta name. Garganelli, my wife says. Was that it? She says it 2-3 times, calling attention to the double consonants. Rachel repeats. I turn my head to the left, the better to see my nostril. So this is my old face. So many wrinkles. One day years ago I was driving west. It was early evening. Stopped at a light, I looked in the mirror and saw, for the first time, all this gray over my temples. What the hell? Tonight I take in my drooping eyelids, long deepening furrows in my cheeks, skin in my neck beginning to look slack.
“You’re back. ”
“Chianti. Let’s open that Chianti now.”
“I cauterized myself.”
“It better work this time. You bleed again we’re going to emergency.”
“I was up late a few nights ago. Rambo was on TV.”
“Ron, please, don’t talk about Rambo at the dinner table.”
“It’s the third movie. Rambo goes to Afghanistan, where he fights with the Mujahedin. Those were the days when the people who want to kill us today were sort of our friends. So Rambo and the Mujahedin are fighting the Soviets, and Rambo gets wounded.”
“He just likes to say ‘Mujahedin.’”
“Three Rambos. Where is the rule of one when you need it?”
“He’s got this shrapnel in his side, that he pulls out, and blood comes oozing from the wound, kind of like your nose. What does Rambo do? He takes the gunpowder out of a bullet and pours it in the wound and lights it. He lights it, with a little torch. There’s this explosion, flames and smoke shoot out both sides of the wound. Rambo, he just takes it.”
“That’s what I just did. You must have smelled the smoke.”
“Poor Rambo, he’s so dim.”
“All he knows is rage.”
“Everything else is inchoate.”
“I’m not quite sure.”
“Then why say it?”
“No. Inchoate, you’re not quite sure; kind of a muddled.”
“Rambo, man of muddle.”
“That’s how Rambo stops the bleeding.”
“All right, I’ll have one more glass, just because it’s Chianti.”
“Tony and Diane, that couple on our trip, told us a sad story, about their dog that died. It got to be old and infirm, deaf and disoriented. It would wander into a closet and couldn’t find its way out.”
“The car, Ray.”
“Yes, the car. The dog loved to go for rides. Just loved it. One day it sort of fell out an open car window. Tony turned, Diane swerved, I don’t remember. The dog tumbled out the window at 35 miles per hour.”
“Onto a grassy shoulder.”
“It was a grassy shoulder. They stressed that. And the dog was okay, but not. It walked and ran fine, but mentally it started slipping.”
“Dogs get dementia.”
“Finally they had it put down.”
“A terrible expression. Don’t say that, Ray.”
“And they decided to have the dog preserved.”
“‘Our one and only dog,’ Diane said. ‘We couldn’t bear to part with it.’”
“One is the loneliest number.”
“What do you do with a stuffed dog? Keep it on the hearth, with its little dog dish next to it?”
“I wonder if you could do that with humans? Stuff Nana and keep her in the family room.”
“What about Lenin? What about Mao? They’re stuffed. And that guy in Venezuela?”
“They’re lying down. They’re dead. Stand Nana up. Make her life-like.”
“Wouldn’t you want to remember the dog in its youth? its most lively and frisky state? Rather than There’s old Fido, right after he got lost in the closet.”
“Something tells me he may end up in the closet.”
“Probably Nana, if she had any say-so, would not want to be preserved the way she looked on her final day.”
“Where would we put your mother, Ray?”
“There’s more. They get the dog home and it’s doing something that bothers them. Really bothers them. The dog is standing there with one paw raised. You know how dogs strike that funny pose?”
“‘It never did that in real life,’ Tony said. ‘The dog was brimming with confidence. It threw caution to the wind.’”
“Canine carpe diem.”
“‘Brimming with confidence?’ He said that?”
“More or less.”
“Probably for the taxidermist, it was an opportunity. You can imagine him, a craftsman, thinking, I’ll make this dog stand on its own three feet, one raised foot, expressing personality.”
“An interrogative pose.”
“More like, WTF?”
“Wouldn’t they have a pre-preservation conference with the taxidermist to iron out those details?”
“Okay, one more glass. Then that’s it.”
“See how strong he is?”
“See how silly it is to live by principles?”
“It’s very good Chianti. Or what is it now?”
“You’re having one glass of Barbaresco.”
“You say that very well. Barbaresco and Mujahedin.”
“I’m picturing that old dog.”
“Holding its WTF pose, for all of eternity.”
“God, that’s a long time.”
“In the Rapture, you know, the virtuous are sucked up into heaven, for all of eternity. Not just your spirit, but your body, too.”
“There’s a good reason you should stop at one glass.”
“It’s in the Bible. Body and soul.”
“Our tribe has a different mythology, don’t we, Ray? Don’t we just die?”
“The living and the dead, bodied and re-embodied, off to heaven they go.”
“I think we just die.”
“What I want to know is, which body goes to heaven? Take Nana. Is she raptured away in her old decrepit body, liver spots, mustache, loss of bone density, half blind? Or can she say, you know, make me twenty-one? I’d like to be thirty-five?
“You should have seen Rach at eighteen.”
“Thank you, Ray.”
“If I went tonight, would I have this Jack Nicholson nose for all of eternity?”
“And Diane and Tony’s dog, lost in heaven’s closets, looking for its dog dish?”
“Jack Nicholson nose?”
“Don’t ask. He’s exceeded his one-glass limit. We better say good night.”
It’s a long goodbye. Global warming, the rising of the lakes, why can’t they build a decent road where we live. Now the Roman road system was something else, my wife reminds us, and we give three cheers for the Appian Way. Next time, how about some Italian lessons? How do you say “next time” in Italian?
Back home, lying in bed, we talk about trees. Right now the deer could be out there, my wife says, finishing off our cherry trees. Tomorrow we’ll definitely go to Newton. We’ll buy Deer Off. We’ll look at some replacement trees. She suggests rose of Sharon, I suggest baobab. There’s a baobab tree in Africa, I tell her, that’s 6000 years old. How about one of those? That’s a tree with thick skin. She gets up and finds a towel to cover my pillow, says I might bleed in the middle of the night. I would like to guarantee her that I won’t. I can’t.
I ask: Must I?
Yes, she says. One night won’t kill me.