Nose

Drawing: White and red clown jumpsuit, boots and red nose with tie strings. Caption reads: “A very old clown costume, complete with red nose.

Nose short story by Iris Carden

Settle in dear reader, while I tell you the strange tale of Carla, who always felt insecure despite being both very smart and kind.

At work, Carla’s manager always took credit for her work with the higher-ups. She never complained, never agitated for promotion, just efficiently did her work, which Ed would take credit for. 

After work each day, she went to her grandmother’s house, cooked her grandmother’s dinner, did whatever housework was needed and stayed to talk, or mostly listen. 

Then she went home to her single-bedroom flat, exhausted, to read a book for a while, and sleep.

At weekends she cleaned her mother’s house as well as her own, but still cooked her grandmother’s dinner.  

Sometimes, she would find the time to go to a movie alone, or to the library.

It was a busy life, with little social interaction outside her family, but she didn’t even stop to wonder if she wanted more.

One afternoon, her grandmother, Agnes, said, “I am sick.  I went to the doctor yesterday, no don’t worry, I didn’t go alone.  I decided it was time someone else helped me out instead of dumping everything on you and I demanded your aunt take me. She doesn’t work and she has the time. The doctor says I’m circling the drain.  Since Valerie knew yesterday, the rest of the family will know by now. The vultures are going to start gathering to pick over my bones. Oh sweetie, don’t cry.  Before they start going through my things, I want to have one particular thing.  Under my bed there’s a box, go and get it, and I’ll tell you about it.”

Obediently, and with tears running down her face, Carla got the box.  She brought it back and opened it, and was confused by the contents.  It was a very old clown costume, complete with a red nose.

Grandma Agnes said, “The two people in my life who have been kindest to me were my father and you. This was my father’s costume when he was performing.  He was billed as a clown, but he was also a magician, and he did the most amazing tricks, making them all look like accidents.  The audience was always amazed and never sure they’d seen what they had. After he died, I used to carry that red nose around in my pocket.  Whenever I felt insecure, or sad or frightened, I would squeeze that nose.  Under the costume, there’s a scrap book, with all of the press clippings about Marvello the Clown.  This is an important part of my life, and some of my favourite memories.  I want you to have it.”

The tears were flowing freely now, and through the sniffs and tears, Carla said, “Grandma, I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. Your actions speak far louder than any words ever could.  For years, none of the family has come to see me unless I have called. You just come every day, unasked.  I’m sure no-one else knows how I get my groceries, or have my meals cooked or my house cleaned, and they don’t care enough to ask.  I know you don’t tell anyone what you do for me.  I’ll bet at your work you don’t get credit for what you do.  So now, I want you to put that red nose in your pocket, and give it a squeeze when you are feeling insecure or anxious, but especially when someone is overlooking you or taking credit for something you have done.  You are too polite, too kind and too good to get the attention you deserve. Give that nose a squeeze and think of my father who no one could ever overlook, and remember that is your heritage. And when you no longer have me to look after, go and have some fun. Don’t let the family fill your time with other work that some of them could be doing.”

So, dear reader, Carla spent her reading time that night reading about the amazing feats of the grandfather she never knew, discovering his act included not only magic that other magicians openly declared was too advanced for them, incredible feats of acrobatics, and slapstick.  She began to wish she had known this amazing man, and could imagine Grandma Agnes as a little girl watching him on the stage, utterly enraptured.

The next morning at work, Ed had her print up multiple copies of quarterly sales reports she had compiled and already sent to him electronically, and bring them to the board room.

She walked into the room with the stack of papers, to find Ed in a meeting with the entire executive, from the CEO on down. 

At Ed’s request she placed a copy of the report in front of each of the men at the table.  For the first time it struck her that they were all middle aged white men.  The company’s official commitment to diversity apparently stopped at the lowest levels of the workplace. 

“Once the girl’s finished handing the reports out, I’ll explain the detail,” Ed said to the gathered room.

Following her grandmother’s request, she had the red nose in her pocket.  She squeezed it, the condescension and the presence of all these old men who had so much power over her had definitely caused her anxiety to skyrocket. 

As soon as she’d squeezed the nose, Ed got up from his place, picked up a piece of cake from the refreshments trolley walked over to the CEO and squashed the cake into his face. 

The CEO got up, yelled for security, and had Ed escorted from the building. 

Carla grabbed serviettes from the refreshments trolley for the CEO to wipe cake and icing from his face.

Then she said, “If you have questions about the report, I can answer them. I compiled it.”

“You did?” the CEO asked.

“I’ve been compiling them for the past five years, along with all of the other work coming out of Ed’s office.  He spends his days playing games on a hand-held console.”

Where had she found the audacity to say that? Was it just the reassurance her grandmother had talked about, from having the nose to squeeze?

By the end of the day, Ed had most definitely been fired, and Carla had been promoted to take his job. A woman in middle management, score one for inclusion.

After work, Carla was keen to tell her grandmother about her promotion. 

At her grandmother’s house, she found both her mother and her aunt Valerie.

She greeted everyone and went to the kitchen to start cooking her grandmother’s dinner.  Valerie followed her to the kitchen.  

“What are you doing here?” Valerie asked.  “You can’t just turn up here to try to get something out of her now you know she’s dying. Her will’s already been made, everything goes to her own children, not her grandchild.”

Carla hated confrontation and squeezed the red nose for reassurance. She answered, “I’m not trying to get anything out of her.  I come here every day to cook and clean.  Why are you here, I’ve never seen you here before, and even now, I don’t see you helping with the work.  Who do you think has been looking after Grandma?  Did you even care if anyone was?  Your kids are grown up and you’re still a stay at home mother.  Maybe you could try to be less selfish?”

How could she say that to her aunt?  Carla expected Valerie to yell at her.

Instead, Valerie crumbled.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t realise.  I didn’t even think.  Thank you for looking after her. How can I help?”

At Carla’s request, Valerie did the washing.

Carla served her grandmother’s dinner.

“How dare you interrupt our conversation?” Carla’s mother said.

Carla didn’t need to squeeze the nose.  Grandma Agnes was fierce.  “How dare she? How dare you, Charmaine?  Carla comes here every day to look after me, and what do you do? I suspect she does your housework as well.  She’s not a slave, although you seem to think she is.  She’s an intelligent young woman, who deserves far better than she has from you or any other member of the family, and she’s the only one to even think about making sure I have everything I need. Don’t you dare criticise her for looking after me.  You’re both a useless daughter and a useless mother.”

Carla was amazed. She’d never seen her sweet grandmother so incredibly angry.

Her mother, in stunned silence, looked from Agnes to Carla and back again.  Eventually she said, “I just always thought you had meals on wheels or something.  Those things for old people.”

“You assumed.  You didn’t ask.  You didn’t offer to help me apply for any of those things.  For years, you let your daughter work constantly, and never questioned it.  Of course, I also let her do all that work, because, selfishly, I wanted her company, because no other family members ever visited me.  We’ve all done Carla a great disservice.”

Carla was crying again.  “No Grandma, I wanted to do it all for you.  I wanted you to be happy.”

Agnes smiled at her, “I have been happy.  And if I’m not mistaken, you have news to make me even happier and even more proud of you if that were possible.”

Carla sniffed, and told her mother and grandmother about her promotion.

That evening, Carla parked her car in her usual spot and walked towards her flat.  A man approached her, and she saw he was holding a knife, and was between her and her front door. Carla squeezed the nose, and astonished both herself and the man by doing a triple somersault from a standing position over the man’s head, and ran to her flat, unlocked the door and was inside before the man was able to turn to follow.

Carla sat the nose on her dining table, and on her laptop searched for magical objects.

So, dear reader, Carla learned of talismans, small magical objects, imbued with magical powers by the belief of the owner.  She realised Grandma Agnes had trusted this nose for so many years her faith in it had given it power, power that was now in Carla’s own hands, which would grow as Carla trusted it more. Because Grandma had associated it with her father, its powers seemed to be similar to aspects of his stage acts; slapstick, like the cake incident, acrobatics like the incident outside her door that night, the confidence to speak like a stage performer.  The only aspect of his stage performance she hadn’t yet seen was magic, although the whole thing was magic, wasn’t it? 

She decided that in future she would only buy clothes with pockets, so she could always keep this talisman close.

After work the next day, she found her mother cooking Agnes’ dinner, while Valerie was cleaning the house.

Grandma Agnes asked her to come and sit and talk.

Carla told Agnes about her research. 

“Talisman,” Grandma Agnes said. “I never knew the word.  I just knew what it did.  I always thought the magic was my father’s.  If you saw him on the stage, you would believe the magic was real.”

Agnes died that night. When her solicitor revealed that Agnes had given each of her daughters a small amount of money, but the house, all of her most prized possessions, and the bulk of a large amount of money were to go to Carla, there were objections from both Charmaine and Valerie.

Both daughters threatened to take it to court, believing they ought to have everything. The solicitor gave everyone a copy of a letter from Agnes that had accompanied the will, which explained all Carla had done for her and how little her daughters had.  The solicitor made it clear this letter would go to the court if either Charmaine or Valerie contested the will.  They gave in.

So, dear reader, Carla no longer has a grandmother, but she has her memories, she is no longer taken for granted at her job, and she has a house of her own, not a tiny rented flat. Are you disappointed dear reader? Did you expect everything to go wrong for Carla? Sometimes magic doesn’t go wrong. 


I invite you, dear reader, to look out for more:

Strange Tales


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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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