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Short Story: The Nose Picker

For the most part he enjoyed the secrecy, as though he were absurdly undermining the conventions insisting upon his loneliness — his lostness, his girlfriend, his future in the world, his security, the shame upon his habit.

The Nose Picker loved a girl and believed in himself just enough to assume she loved him back. She was kind and usually genuine, and had large, light brown, almost pale eyes and a windy road kind of body that made his pinky finger twitch. They usually got along but were prone to bickering. She told him she loved him and he said it back and they both meant it. She did not know that he was an habitual nose picker. He was discreet. Sometimes the occasional stranger might catch him, standing at the urinal next to his or turning a street corner at night. There were those times when he thought he was alone, walking down the street in a night scene world, enchanted by the rare loneliness of a night within the streets and sidewalks, until a stranger turned a corner and caught him, in up to his knuckle, and all of the sudden there was this spotlight on him. Still, nobody knew that every time he went into a room alone — especially in the fall when everything was drying up — he stuck his finger in his nose and cleaned out. Often he would dispose of the matter by slipping it between his teeth, chewing it until he had tasted enough, tasting it until it was dead, and then swallowing it and licking his lips to make sure the evidence was gone, and all the taste tasted.

It had never been a problem until one night when his girlfriend’s father was driving him home. She was in the passenger’s seat and the Nose Picker was in the back. He felt build up in his left nostril and entered. He was not worried about getting caught. He had picked near his girlfriend before and she never noticed. He was talented with discreet tactics, and in a dark car in the backseat, there was little chance of either of them seeing him. He had already found that even if he was in the passenger’s seat, the car was the easiest place to pick around other people. The driver is distracted by the road, there is often music playing, it is dark, and everyone is too close together to want to pay attention to one another. His favorite car picking tactic was to lift his left hand, the hand facing the driver, as if to scratch his face, and that would act as a shield to the fingers on his right hand, which would be picking his nose.

This time he was in the back and could pick as freely as he pleased. There was always something left at the top of his nose — as far up as he could go and every time he touched it, it seemed to move further up and he pushed his finger up ever further, chasing the snot as far into his head as he could and turning his finger every way until abruptly, the car jolted itself on a pothole and his nail sliced through the sensitive skin. It was a problem he had dealt with before. He knew certain techniques to stop a bloody nose. However, he was never in such a vulnerable spot — people who knew him and one of them who even cared about him, and they were classists, both of them, the girl more subtly, and germaphobes, and not just afraid of germs but almost ritualistic in their habits of hygiene. They lit candles for both baths in the day, all of them, and got excited to wash their hands, trying all their different varieties of soap like a holiday each month when they restocked, never, never ever brushing the towel over the hands to dry—“dab your hands, always dab, be patient,” said the girl’s father to the Nose Picker when he first went over for dinner, the dad watching and instructing from the open door of the bathroom as he washed his hands.

The Nose Picker’s mother had been a germaphobe as well, more physical in her aggression about enforcing it in the house, but the Nose Picker had wanted to get away from this, and he told the girl he wanted to get away from it in the early stages, when he hadn’t been over for dinner yet, and she kept herself and her family’s extremely similar life a secret, not wanting to lose him. He wept into her lap on the night she finally told him, and she told him after he wept that she needed to take a shower, because now her thighs were sticky because he wept on her, and after she showered she slightly apologized, said that she was sorry she had lied and hidden their phobia, but it was only because she loved him, and that she had spoken to his mother already and explained the situation (indeed, before she explained it to the Nose Picker himself!) and that his mother was comfortable with the girl’s family now, at least. It was hopeless by then. He was already in love with her, and being a bit of a fearful wanderer — afraid to wander but having nowhere to go, a hesitant wanderer — he had already planned a future with her. He had hoped to end the perpetual wander, but he at least wanted to be himself, see himself, know himself, even if he had to keep himself a secret with the finger in the nose.

For the most part he enjoyed the secrecy, as though he were absurdly undermining the conventions insisting upon his loneliness — his lostness, his girlfriend, his future in the world, his security, the shame upon his habit, the landed chance of germaphobes — by occupying his own space, not needing loneliness if he can be alone well enough, a reliable fallback for dragging and enduring moments, distracting and tasty.

Now, however, he was vulnerable, and in his vulnerability he sniffled in a rapid panic. Then he remembered —what was he thinking? Sniffling doesn’t help — he remembered his most reliable technique. He pushed his two forefingers into his top gum. This one usually worked but not this time, and as he was working through these maneuvers he had to stay quiet so as not to draw the attention of his girlfriend or her father. His heart beat against his breast as if questioning its cage. He pushed his fingers harder into his gums. He had never pressed that hard trying to make it stop. It could have the opposite effect, he thought, and then it immediately seemed to. He now had his head tilted all the way back in the hopes that if he could not stop the bleeding, he could at least make the blood flow the other way. He was already wiping it away from his neck, chin and mouth with his shirt sleeve, hoping to leave no trace of himself on the seat. He breathed through the bleeding nostril hoping that maybe the air would dry it out, at least temporarily, but his panic increased.

He wondered if he would have to kiss the girl goodbye. He just wanted to hide it until he got home and he could deal with it there, but he may have to kiss her upon leaving. Even if he could keep all the blood off of his face before he had to kiss her, he would still have to bend his neck to do it as she was considerably shorter than he and the blood would come rushing from his nostrils and maybe into his mouth, but maybe she would not kiss him with her father there anyways. Upon that thought, he wondered what reason she had not to kiss him in front of her father. Her father knew that they were together. It had been months already. The Nose Picker grew frustrated. Was she ashamed of him?

But what was he thinking? He couldn’t kiss her now anyway. He knew that. He calmed down and kept his head back. Whenever a drop slipped out he swiped it quickly. After he did that a couple of times, her dad said,

“You’re awfully squirmy back there.”

“Yeah, I just have a little bloody nose,” said the Nose Picker.

“Ah, shit, is it a bad one? You okay?” said the girl’s dad.

“Well, it seems — ” started the Nose Picker.

“Ew, that sucks,” said the girl. “We have some tissues in the glove compartment. Definitely keep your head tilted back. Please,” she said.

“It’s alright,” said her dad with an awkward laugh, “Ice at the next gas station.”

The girl handed the Nose Picker a lot of tissues. Some fell from her hand onto the E-break and her dad picked up those ones too and tossed them back. The Nose Picker was almost insulted that they assumed it was so bad. It was that bloody. The silence turned suddenly from worried to awkward. They both squirmed up front — the very knowledge of the blood in the car awkwardly massaged their spines.

“Were ya pickin’ at it?” said her dad.

“No,” said the Nose Picker with a small laugh.

The car stopped at the end of a line of traffic. There appeared to be something happening on the road ahead but the Nose Picker could not lower his head to look.

“You doing okay back there?” said her dad. “You need some water or anything?”

“No, I’m doing alright,” said the Nose Picker, more worried of the situation than of his own pain.

He looked down and saw his first napkin already red all the way through like a flag. After he took it from his nose, the blood poured out fast again, dripping behind his bottom lip and down his chin. He moved on to the next napkin and every time he put a piece in, it became too drenched too fast. He must have gone through ten napkins in under ten minutes. Traffic moved slowly. The girl and her dad were getting nervous. After he dropped the last napkin into his lap, he put his pinky finger into his nose to see if he could feel the cut. It was a long and deep cut and it stung when he touched it. The girl turned and said,

“Hey, is it stopping?”

“No, not really,” he replied, and she turned on the overhead light and saw his lap full of red napkins and blood pouring from his face.

“Oh my God!” she said.

“No, it’s really not a big deal,” he said.

“That’s so much blood,” she said. “And it’s not slowing down at all?”

“We’re almost to my house. It’s alright,” said the Nose Picker.

“Dad, look at this,” said the girl.

Dad glanced into the mirror. He quickly turned his head all the way, saw it, and said,

“Woah, Jesus Christ. Alright, alright.”

Dad saw the gas station far ahead and, manly, took the shoulder and drove past the traffic—an odd feeling of freedom, they all noticed. The girl went inside to get napkins and ice. Dad stood, studying the Nose Picker. They were alone for a moment — a girlfriend’s father and son moment.

“Is there a cut in your nose?” asked the father.

“I don’t think so,” said the Nose Picker. “I don’t know how I would’ve done that.”

“You weren’t, ya know, picking, were ya?”

“No,” he replied. They stared at each other.

The girl came out with a plastic bag full of ice and a handful of napkins. The Nose Picker took his sleeve away from his face and accepted the materials.

“We’ll get back on the road when the bleeding slows down, and maybe the traffic won’t be so bad then anyway,” said the girl’s father.

“That’s a pretty bad cut,” said the girl. “I’ve never seen a bloody nose like this before. You shouldn’t pick your nose. It’s gross. You could’ve asked for a tissue.”

And then lick the tissue? No thanks, thought the nose picker.

“No, I wasn’t picking it, it’s just the time of year, it gets really dry. I get them easily,” he replied.

“Okay, okay,” said the girl, suggesting that she knew he was a picker. The Nose Picker leaned against the wall. He had stuffed his nostril with napkins and the girl handed him the bag of ice to rest on the bridge of his nose. None of them said anything. It was like they had all agreed not to. He wondered, by now, if the napkins had the reverse effect. He wondered if every time the cut dried a little bit, he loosened an underdeveloped scab with the touch of the napkin.

He liked it when his bloody noses were over. He liked to wait about thirty minutes after they had completely stopped and then pick out the dried remains.

It had been over ten minutes since they got to the gas station and the bleeding worsened. After five more minutes he was feeling lightheaded. He slid down the wall and said,

“I feel like I could pass out. Am I losing a lot of blood like this?”

“It’s not stopping at all?” said the girl.

“No, it doesn’t seem like it,” said the Nose Picker.

He turned and spat out a big, red mouthful.

“You think you need to get it, you know, looked at?” said the girl’s dad.

“Maybe, I don’t know. It’s just a bloody nose, but it seems bad, worse, you know.”

Nobody responded. The Nose Picker stayed on the ground. He said,

“Damn, I hate bloody noses. I get them a lot.”

“Yeah, well, you get into bad habits and you have to deal with it,” said the girl’s dad.

“What do you mean?” said the Nose Picker, thinking he was either suggesting he was a nose picker or a coke addict. He would rather be suspected a coke addict because it is more commonly accepted that there are people who do cocaine than it is that there are nose pickers, but he knew he was being accused of pickery, and the girl’s dad only said,

“I don’t know, never mind.”

Fifteen minutes had gone by and the blood had not relented. He was feeling lightheaded and especially tired and imagined that his nose would bleed for the rest of his life. He would never be able to put his head down again, never taste another meal without blood in it, never kiss his girlfriend, and, worse, he could never pick again, could never be purely alone again. Too much time had passed since it started. He was sitting on the sidewalk with his back on the wall, watching them talk. He did not know if they spoke about him. The girl and the dad stared at him uncertainly — not as if he were someone they had to help, but rather, as though he were someone whose problem they could observe, take interest in, and then not worry about. It was odd for the Nose Picker to be sensing this from the girl. Surely, if he had broken his leg or cracked his head open she would not seem so indifferent, but he either stuck his finger up his nose so hard he punctured himself, or, if she went with his story, he was just sitting there and suddenly turned into this big bloody mess, and so she had no sympathy. He was either dubious or pathetic. They were now his ride home. They knew about his mother, the bad situation at home, and how much worse it would have been if he even mentioned blood around his mother.

The girl was, in fact, slightly concerned, but she would have been less concerned if the Nose Picker were not so awkward about it. He made it unattractive and she cared because she loved him, but she didn’t care because it nearly hurt to look at his face. She saw him as a fool and the fact that he had obviously cut his nose, and had therefore obviously picked his nose and would not admit it, made him awkwardly inferior.

“I might pass out,” said the Nose Picker. “I feel pretty bad.”

“Shit,” said her dad, warmly to the Nose Picker, “it’s been awhile. What do you think?”

“You’re losing a lot of blood,” said the girl. “Do you think we should go to the hospital?” she said to her father.

“I don’t know. I’ve never heard of anyone going to the hospital for a bloody nose,” he said.

“Have you ever seen a bloody nose like this?” said the girl.

Her dad didn’t say anything.

“What do you think?” said the Nose Picker.

“What about Larry?” said the girl. “He’s always up, seems like it at least.”

“Yes, I could call Larry. Would you come to our doctor? He’s five minutes away.”

“I’ve never had a bloody nose like this before,” said the Nose Picker.

“Alright, then we’ll take you to our guy, get you all fixed up,” said dad.

The girl and the father went back to the car. The Nose Picker walked slowly. The father made a phone call. The Nose Picker found it odd that they walked away so fast. It seemed like a cold move by a girl who loved him, but he himself walked as slowly as he could. He felt a little woozy and thought he could trip. He hopped into the car. The traffic was still bad and her dad turned onto a back road — a short cut to Larry’s. The Nose Picker had to close his eyes because the streetlights ripping under the windshield one after another made him dizzier. He was running out of napkins and the ice had melted long ago. They pulled up to the doctor’s office, a small yellow house with an unreadable “Family Practice” sign in the front — unreadable because of the dark, the futility of the street light, the dizziness, the odd new fear.

Her dad talked to the doctor, who was still in sweat pants and slippers, yawning but still looking overly serious as he listened, almost upset looking — the Nose Picker even caught him shaking his head for a moment in his direction. The girl was torn between her want of love and her hatred of such raw disgust, next to him. It was her confrontation with both love and ugliness, both in herself and the Nose Picker, brought into being by blood. He could see that she looked quizzical. The girl’s dad kept talking to the doctor, pointing at the Nose Picker, and the doctor kept glancing with angled eyebrows. The lights in the small room were so bright and the walls so beige and the carpets so grey and the dust so immediately deep in his nose that it was worse to close his eyes because all he could see then was a bright yellow darkness, a light that was inescapable, his aloneness denied and his bloody nose his being. The girl got up now and went to stand behind her father, looked stressed and uncomfortable but like she wanted to take part in the process somehow. The Nose Picker would not have been surprised if she threw up.

“The little shit!” said the doctor, not too loudly but solidly. The Nose Picker looked up and the father and the doctor both glanced quickly at him and quickly away, both now looking more agitated than before. He was terrified and he could not exactly remember why. It was a kind of nervousness that made the mind so chaotic that he had forgotten the initial cause of his nervousness. It felt like his anxiety had been put into a blender. Why do I need this, this part of me? He thought. What am I escaping? Why? The girl walked back atremble and hiding it after the “little shit” comment.

Her father came over to the Nose Picker with a clipboard full of papers and said, “Yeah, so uh, he said if you think you’re gonna bleed on this then you should probably just wait till after you go in to fill it out. They try to make sure these don’t have blood on them.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you would stay,” he said, looking at the girl. “If you want to go home though,” said the Nose Picker.

“No, you stay,” said the father, looking at the girl, “You’re staying. I’m going,” he said, losing his previously persistent compassion.

The girl and her father looked at each other. It seemed to the Nose Picker, in the girl’s eyes, that she wanted to stay for him before her father had said that. Now her eyes were wet.

“Why?” said the Nose Picker, to the father.

“It’s all part of the process,” he said. “That’s how he does it — only one person beside the patient.”

The Nose Picker was so confused that he leaned forward, letting a loose string of blood fall from his nose, as if he had forgotten.

“What? Why?” he said, almost in a whisper, squinting at the father’s smile, wondering. In her father’s eyes was a gladness to leave him alone. They did not respond before the doctor came out with a roll of gauze, asked the Nose Picker his name, applied the first strip of gauze, told him he would be back in shortly, and walked away.

“I can stay,” said the girl. “How long do you think it will be?”

“I don’t know,” said the Nose Picker, “I would assume this guy knows how to solve this problem pretty fast, right?”

“Yeah, well, maybe. I don’t know with Larry. Would I just wait in here?” said the girl, her knee twitching madly, her eyes still wet, her throat tense.

“I would assume so,” said the Nose Picker.

“You’re staying,” said her father.

The Nose Picker could not remember how to phrase the questions he had for her father, to even find the questions. What had changed? He thought.

After he walked away, the girl scooted over a seat. She had both of her legs curled up in the chair and she looked at him as she cradled her knees like a shield. She was only excited to stay before her father had left, but now she felt fully alone. It was a longing that she could not, did not want to understand. She was about to hold his hand, but pulled back before she touched him, and instead was about to pat him on the back, but pulled back from that too. She could not touch him. He pretended not to notice.

Soon the doctor called him in. He took the Nose Picker to a room. The doctor had a seemingly routine but upset look on his face, made harder by his insistent silence. He would not speak. He went to the small counter with the sink in the room and pulled on his gloves — dishwashing gloves, the Nose Picker noted. He weighed him and asked him questions. His nose was bleeding but the gauze kept it contained. Even as the bleeding seemed to slow, or become blocked by the gauze, he became overwhelmed — partly from emotional discomfort and uncertainty, and partly from lightheadedness, and partly, too, from reality — by the feeling that this was something more than a nose bleed. He sensed, even, a self-reckoning of sorts.

Soon, the distance between his consciousness and his environment felt like that of a dream, a distance long and sudden. The doctor left, walking quickly, grinding his teeth and scratching his head.

After no more than three minutes the doctor came back. His movements and tone seemed slower than the pace at which the blood was dripping from the Nose Picker’s face. Though it annoyed the Nose Picker, he could not reveal any sign of discontent within this man. There was a strange certainty in each of his movements.

“Are you here with anyone?” said the doctor.

“My girlfriend is in the waiting room,” said the Nose Picker.

“It’s been bleeding for how long?” asked the doctor.

“Couple of hours, almost, maybe an hour and a half, maybe more. Nothing will stop it.”

“Two hours?”

“More or less.”

The doctor’s eyes widened. He scratched his face and turned to the clipboard. He wrote something down, read what he wrote, crossed something off, and rewrote something.

“At what time did it start?” asked the doctor.

“Eight or so, maybe nine,” said the Nose Picker.

“It’s ten thirty,” said the doctor. “What were you doing when it started?”

“I was in the backseat of a car. My girlfriend’s dad was driving me home.”

“And were you, uh, picking at it?” said the doctor, clearing his throat, looking away subtly.

“No, it just kind of started,” said the Nose Picker.

“I see. You didn’t just pick at it a little bit?”

“No, like I said, it just kind of started.”

He opened a drawer and took out another piece of gauze. He unraveled it slowly. He unraveled it so slowly it looked like he had forgotten what he was doing. He was thinking about something else. He kept sighing and squinting but remained silent. He had thick glasses that had a black frame on the top of each lens and were frameless on the bottom, like nineteen fifties women’s glasses, thought the Nose picker. The top edges of the frames pointed outward like two arrows laughing. When he had finally unwrapped enough gauze, he ripped a small piece off, carefully tilted back the Nose Picker’s head, pressed his finger on the Nose Picker’s right nostril and told him to breathe only through his left one. The Nose Picker followed his orders. He was thinking about the girl. He wondered if their relationship would be changed by this, if it already had been. There had not yet been any blood in their relationship. The doctor took out the gauze for a moment and used a magnifying tool to look into the Nose Picker’s nostril. It began to bleed again.

“You must be feeling pretty lightheaded,” said the doctor. “Like you could pass out?”

“Yes, I think I could,” said the Nose Picker.

The doctor left and came back with water, the bottom of his sweat pant leg caught under the heel of his right slipper and audibly dragging.

“There’s a fairly large cut in your nose,” said the doctor.

The Nose Picker drank the water.

“Really?” he said.

“Did you happen to stick anything up your nose or anything like that?” asked the doctor.

“No, of course not,” said the Nose Picker, trying to laugh but unable.

“Not even your finger?”

“I told you I didn’t pick my nose.”

“Look kid,” said the doctor, “there are a couple of ways people can get nose bleeds. If the air gets dry and you don’t blow your nose enough, the inside of your nose, the snot, can crust up and when it breaks off, it can also break off the skin in the nose. Or, often when the weather gets humid, people get stuffy noses and they sniffle so much that it creates a kind of friction in the nose. Blunt force to the outside of the nose can cause a break, and that will also make the nose bleed. What we have here is a cut. A straight, smooth, ordinary, yet large cut. Something was in your nose. I know that.”

“Look, I don’t know what you’re seeing. It probably looks pretty messy in there right now. You could be seeing a lot of things, but I swear to you, I was not picking my nose.”

“A cut just formed in your nose?” said the doctor.

“I guess so,” said the Nose Picker. “I don’t pick my nose. It’s an ugly habit.” By now the words were tumbling out of his mouth like boulders being pushed down hill, in turn landing on himself, somehow.

“I can help you. I know how to solve this problem. But don’t lie to me. I need your confirmation for the chart that you were picking your nose. I want a cause of injury. I know you were picking your nose. Just say it. I’m not going to go out to the waiting room and tell your girlfriend, yet, but come on. You’re in the backseat of a dark car, no one can see you, your nose is stuffy, the car swerves, you cut your nose. Who cares?”

“I wasn’t — doing that,” said the Nose Picker.

“Just say it,” said the doctor.

Now the doctor was leaning forward in his chair and their eyes were locked. The doctor had created a game — a torturous game that only he could win. The Nose Picker saw a drop of sweat come down the doctor’s neck, and could feel the doctor’s breath on his face. Am I actually guilty? Thought the Nose Picker, the thought powerful enough to penetrate the veil of his lightheadedness. His eyes seared pain.

“How did your nose begin to bleed?” he asked.

“It just started. I swear I wasn’t picking it.”

After staring a long time, the doctor said, “Alright, you can tell me now, or I can call your girlfriend in here and we can have this conversation in front of her.”

“My girlfriend? This conversation? Why does it matter? Why can’t you just fix it?”

“Why can’t you just tell me what you did to it?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

The doctor left the room, sweating and angry. The Nose Picker was confused, almost wishing they had called his mother. Moments later the doctor came back with the Nose Picker’s girlfriend.

“How did you get your bloody nose?” said the doctor, to the Nose Picker but looking into the girl’s eyes, an odd method of psychological triangulation, in some way, thought the Nose Picker, almost perverted.

“I told you,” he said. “It just started happening.”

“You’re killing me,” said the girl, her eyes wet. “I know what this is.”

She was crying lightly. A sadistic smile crawled across the doctor’s lips as the girl turned away from the nose picker.

“Who do you think I am?” cried the doctor at the Nose Picker — the smile quickly jumped from his face, his voice bursting suddenly into an irked high note like a thirteen-year-old boy, his face red and puffy in split second he yelled. He turned to the girl. “Go!” he yelled at her. His anger seemed stripped from him again in one white moment as he turned back to the Nose Picker, slammed the door behind the girl, reassumed a cordial self, and said, “But it is my job — my legal — my contractual obligation — to solve your problem. To make you healthy and safe for yourself and the people around you, and I will do that.”

The Nose Picker did not say anything. He clutched the sides of the bed. He could feel his nose not finished bleeding.

“Tilt your head back, and take this,” he said, handing the Nose Picker a pill.

*     *     *

When the Nose Picker awoke there was a pretty nurse standing over him and he could not tell if her eyes were brown or green. Sometime while he was asleep, he had been undressed and redressed into a hospital gown. He felt a bit woozy but he stood and walked around the room. He went back to his bed. The television was playing in the corner of the room but it was muted and there were no subtitles. He stood once more and looked through the glass by the door into the hallway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the doctor, or maybe even the girl, but no one was there and it seemed that there were very few lights on. He crept back to his bed, rested his head on the pillow, and put his finger in his nose. It had been cleaned out while he was asleep and the only thing to pick at was the Vaseline that the doctor had spread over the cut.

He closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but minutes later awoke to the door opening. The doctor walked in and now wore a suit. The Nose Picker’s chart, previously loose, was now in a briefcase, tucked into a yellow legal pad, both of which the doctor took out and put on the counter.

“How are you feeling?” said the doctor.

“I’m feeling fine. I’ve been fine the whole time. Nothing is wrong with me. I just had a bloody nose and this is all just — just crazy. I feel weird, ” said the Nose Picker.

“That was bound to happen,” said the doctor, almost with a laugh as he thumbed through the Nose Picker’s chart on the clipboard. The Nose Picker wanted to inquire about the suit, ask why he’s changed, and why, since he did change, did he change into a suit and not a doctor’s outfit. Was he playing some new role now? He stared deeply into the suited man’s face, but despite the Nose Picker’s silent wishes, his stare was not returned. When the doctor reached the last page of the chart he laughed quietly, as if the Nose Picker could not hear him.

The doctor said, “Okay, we need to talk for a few minutes. I’m going to ask you questions. You’re going to tell you truth.

“Did I break any laws?” said the Nose Picker.

“You have the right to remain silent,” said the doctor.

“Do I have the right to talk?” said the Nose Picker.

“Sort of, I mean, you’re capable, still.”

The doctor suddenly laughed, got up, and left the room. Then he came back, again scratching his head. He turned to the counter and pulled off the yellow legal pad and a fountain pen. After asking the Nose Picker for his name, age, date of birth, and residence, the doctor took a long pause and looked distantly into the Nose Picker’s eyes, almost admiring his looks now that the blood was gone.

“So, tell me what you were doing before the nose bleed occurred,” said the doctor.

“You mean, just tell you about the day?” replied the Nose Picker.

“Yes, that’ll do,” said the doctor.

“Well, I didn’t do much. I was just at my girlfriend’s house.”

“Did you sleep with her?” said the doctor, the edges of his lips twitching into a smile.

“I don’t need to tell you that,” said the Nose Picker.

“It’s all for your own good,” said the doctor.

“Well, yeah, I slept with her.”

“How many times? No, how long would you say, accumulatively, did you spend having sex during the day?”

“I don’t know. This is weird.”

“I know, maybe if you’d been honest, we wouldn’t have to do this. You make me sick. It’s because of people like you that — that — alright, look, just answer my questions. Don’t fuck with me, kid.”

“Can I just ask what the relevance is?” said the Nose Picker.

“When you sweat, during sex, do you sweat from your forehead?” said the doctor.

“Yes,” replied the Nose Picker.

“And that sweat — the sweat that comes down from your forehead — does it drip down to the nose area?”

The Nose Picker threw up his hands in bewilderment and said, “Sure, I guess so.”

“Does her father know you were having sex?” said the doctor.

“I don’t know. Jesus. Probably not.”

“That’s for something else,” said the doctor, “never mind that. Was the heat on in her house?”

“Yes, of course, it’s freezing out.”

“Was the heat humid? Did you notice the house being particularly humid?”

“No,” said the Nose Picker.

“So that means it was particularly dry?”

“I don’t know, it was just warm.”

“I see,” said the doctor, writing something down.

“What time did this young lady’s father drive you home?”

“I don’t know — eight.”

“And you were in the back seat, where they couldn’t see you?”

“I mean, they could see me in the rearview.”

“So, what you’ve told me is that you’re having sex all sweaty in a house where the heat is either very humid or very dry, and you have sweat dripping down your forehead and getting all in your nose, and then you’re in the back seat of a car where they can barely see you, and you didn’t even go near the nose area, yet somehow you get a disgusting bloody nose.”

“Like I said, her dad could probably see me in the rearview,” said the Nose Picker, tentatively. He was overwrought with shame.

“Oh, that doesn’t make it any better. I know your types, all your tactics and discretion. You’re worse than doctors.”

A tear came to the Nose Picker’s eye and he said, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” said the doctor, leaning in.

“I’m just sorry,” replied the Nose Picker, barely fumbling out the words. “The bloody nose.”

The doctor’s face — as quickly as it had previously reddened and puffed and screamed—seemed now to warm into a sort of compassion.

“Why don’t you close your eyes for a moment, and try to fall back to sleep,” said the doctor.

The Nose Picker complied only because he felt he had found a good moment with the doctor, and now could close his eyes and hide from the moment’s ruination with a warm shift of compassion in his mind. The doctor picked up his briefcase and took something out and maybe put something back in. The Nose Picker was no longer interested in what was happening, eyes kept closed, and he heard the doctor leave. When the blur of the Nose Picker’s tears cleared away, he saw that the doctor had left the legal pad on the edge of the bed. He grabbed it and looked at the page. The doctor had not written anything real. He dropped it next to his bed, and when it landed on the beige floor the impact sounded like an explosion. The Nose Picker got up and looked around the room. He looked at the clock but forgot to read its time. He wondered if the girl was still out there, and regardless, whether or not he could just break through the doors and run into the street, picking and running all the way home to her. He put his finger in his nose and noticed the doctor’s briefcase empty on the floor, still open, and the legal pad and the chart also on the floor next to it. On the wall above the briefcase was an outlet, he noticed, as he moved his finger around gently in his nose, and in the outlet was a plug leading to the counter, where a three-inch in diameter surveillance camera stared directly at him. His finger stopped frozen in his nostril, and he felt as though he were watching himself from behind the doctor’s little camera.

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