UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 04/2007
When I was young, I offended a girl and got told by her boyfriend, “If I ever see you again, I’m going to knock your nose into your head.” It stuck with me for weeks-my nose with a crater in the middle, filling up red-and I was happy, 10 years later, to turn it around on someone.
“That’s a physical threat,” the rat said on the other line.
I snapped my cell shut and met the girl whose house I’d been walking towards, an internet blind date, on a porch two buildings further on. I hoped that my alpha male status on the phone would bleed into my posture.
“Hey,” I said. I stopped at the bottom of the stoop. She stood three steps above me; her shoulder-length hair curled under her chin.
“How are you?” I asked. She had a hat on. We both had hats on.
“I’m okay. You?”
“I just had this problem on the phone,” I said, turning my head sideways, then back. “If you meet someone on the street and get in a fight with them and hit them, is that assault?”
“Yes.” She hopped down the stoop to my level.
“Why?” We started walking. “I’m a man. He’s a man. Why can’t two men fight?”
“I don’t know. You’re taller in person.”
*My father had a deviated septum from being punched in the face. It happened in the park next to his school, which I visited as a child, and somehow I pictured a big Aryan flattening my father, sending his Balkan gypsy ass into the culvert near the swings.
“This is so stupid,” she said. She looked better every minute, as if I were drinking beer, but I wasn’t drinking beer.
“You’re clearly pissed off. I don’t even think you want to be here.”
“I’m always like this.”
We ordered wine. The threat wasn’t working the right way. Instead of working on him, it was working on me-I couldn’t stop thinking about my nose. It could rend sideways. It could be turned into two separate pieces. There are a million things you can do with a nose. The biggest difference between a skull and a face is that a skull doesn’t have a nose.
*My father stuck himself at a toll booth once. The basket wasn’t accepting his money and the orange striped gate wouldn’t open. This was before E-Z pass and the machines; you had to throw change into a wide funneled basket.
My father reared up in his seat over and over again to dig for more change, thinking that if he just fed the basket more money, we would be allowed through. My mother was yelling in the back. Before the toll-booth officer striding across the highway reached us, a man one car behind saw fit to step out and come to our window. He looked exactly like the man I had imagined hitting my father.
“What are you trying to pay with, fucking shekels?” he asked.
He looked happier to know the word shekel than anything else. My father popped the startled look of an immigrant discovered.
The shekel man pulled a roll of quarters from his pocket and let them rain down into the basket.
*The wine that we ordered was thick and soon after I drank it my nose began to bleed. My nose hadn’t bled since third grade; a few of our fellow patrons reared up out of their seats, in shock. My date came across the table and acted as a perfect nurse; she tipped my head back on her shoulder and held up a napkin to my face.
“My brother used to have nosebleeds,” she said, her lips very close to my ear. The waiter brought us ice water and then asked, “Would you like to step outside and get an ambulance?” I confessed to her, looking at the tame curls, what I’d threatened.
“Do you believe in karma?”
“No, I’m just embarrassed.”
“Maybe you should start believing in karma.”
Every instant that she held me, I settled more and more into the idea that she would be taking me home. Once my nose scabbed up inside, I sat up and ate my meal, which had been brought to me while I had been bleeding. When we were done, outside, I began following.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Coming to chill at your house?”
“No. That’s not happening.”
“You threaten someone enough to give yourself a nosebleed on the first date? You ask about assault? You’re not very stable.”
“I was going for ‘badass.’”
“No, badass is having a leather jacket. You’re scary and weird.” She held out her hand, which I had forgotten to do at the beginning.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure to meet you.”
When you have a headache, the best thing to do is burn yourself. Once she was far enough down the street to be indistinguishable from the free newspaper boxes, I turned around, took out my cell phone, and threatened a different part of the guy’s body.
Ned Vizzini is the author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (”insightful and utterly authentic” - New York Times Book Review), Be More Chill and Teen Angst? Naaah….
His work has been honored by the American Library Association, BookSense, and the New York Public Library and has been translated into five languages (forthcoming in Chinese). He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
© 2007 Underground Voices