Aleksey Alexandrovich Smoletkin—the former Gorky Professor of Arts and Letters at Leningrad State, the father of a twelve-year-old daughter in ribbons and brown uniform in Moscow, the destroyer of a beautiful old grand piano, the owner of a first edition of Pushkin’s The Stone Guest, the renter of a garage apartment in the Massachusetts house of Todd Elkin, the recipient of a Writer’s Union silver medal, the beneficiary of hickeys the purplish-chestnut colour of Tatiana Elkin’s hair, and the reluctant overseer of a bulbous nose whose presence had made him first the laughingstock of his old petty-noble family and later the butt of anti-Semitic remarks to which it had been useless to protest his Christianity. That nose! One winter morning in 1991 Aleksey Alexandrovich Smoletkin woke to discover that this last and least valuable of all his possessions, like so many of the others, was gone.
He needed no mirror, no hand feeling the flatness, the simian holes through which he now breathed, for confirmation. He knew in the way he’d known his wife would leave him for the idiot Cossack Malkov, with his yearly trips to Lenin’s tomb “to feel the history in my gizzard,” before his wife had even met that blathering Slavophile. He knew in the way he’d known he wouldn’t get tenure at Thomas Paine University, though he hadn’t guessed at the reason—according to the dean, his criticisms of students’ work was hurting their self-esteem. He knew but he didn’t want to know, so he looked for a mirror, prepared to shake off this strange idea as he had shaken off so many others.
No force had been involved in the taking of his nose. The flesh where it had been was childishly smooth, small-pored, and pale. He stroked it with a hairy finger and found it no more or less sensitive than the skin on his cheek. His brain, that tired telephone operator, had unplugged from emotion and intellect both, willing only to connect him to his senses. As when he made love (in English), or occupied himself with sex (in Russian), he breathed heavily through his great stomach.
Abruptly, he hit the mirror with the flat of his hand and the telephone operator came to life. What had he done last night? What had they—he and Tatiana—done? Standing in his loose briefs, scratching at the hair around his bellybutton, Aleksey could remember no injury, no pain, and of course it would not have healed so quickly. Two empty bottles of Polish vodka stood on a wobbly pile of dishes and paper towels, idiot twin brothers, still around the morning after, panting to tell stories about how much he’d had. Chekhov and all those country doctors had used vodka to dull the pain of operations.
There was a method by which he could discover what happened. A list must be written, or perhaps a chart on his computer. Best not to get over-ambitious; best to open one of the fourteen legal pads with which he’d absconded from Paine.
1. Translations. Before Tatiana came over, Aleksey had been doing another translation for the Russian publishing house Uyutniy Dom, or Cozy House, not that either he or Tatiana had any qualms about interrupting his work. Here in the United States, Aleksey himself was translating Gone with the Tesseract, which featured the adventures of a time-travelling Southern heroine with “a husband in one century and a lover in another,” a convenient arrangement. The husband was a civil-rights lawyer; the lover, a Confederate soldier; Aleksey, the unfortunate conduit through which “Oh, my sweet baby” became, in its nearest Russian approximation, “My darling crumb (moya dorogaya kroshka).”
2. Tatiana—over—8 prompto. Todd Elkin had an evening seminar: Edgar Allan Poe and the Absurdity of Fear. Tatiana came to his room wearing a red skirt and wooden beaded necklace that left bruises on his chest when they embraced. She had brought over some new drawings she’d done of herself nude, slightly shapelier than she was in actual life, her legs splayed hither and thither.
“This is the last time you’ll have to do this,” Tatiana had said, throwing the pages of Gone with the Tesseract on the floor. “After tomorrow, you’ll be a powerful biznessman.” By this, she meant he’d be a real estate agent like herself. That way, they could see each other during the day, with less of the sneaky-sneaky. And they’d have money, and would go to conferences together, and swim naked in the hotel pools. Sex in the water, Tatiana had said, was like sex on cocaine. Aleksey had never tried either one—what a linty, boiled-chicken life he’d had until now, never even invited to a single one of the famous geology department orgies back in Leningrad!
3. Tatiana = barber. In preparation for his real estate interview, Tatiana had shaved Aleksey’s beard and cut some of the shagginess out of his head, leaving a bowl-like arrangement of waves that reminded him of a children’s puppet, meant to represent Anna Karenina’s husband, that he’d watched with his daughter and wife in Leningrad.
4. Salad and napoleon; vodka commences. Tatiana was trying to lose weight.
5. Making love. Satisfactory for Tatiana; less so for Aleksey, who was worried about his interview.
Had Tatiana cut off his nose?
But to what end? To what end?
He pulled back the window curtain, almost expecting the sky to be red, the street to be dust—a nuclear holocaust took his nose! But everything was as usual. Todd Elkin, who had been first his American colleague and counterpart, then his sponsor at Paine, and was now simply his landlord, was pulling out of the driveway in his vintage Corvette.
Todd was a man not easily satisfied. It wasn’t enough for him to be a professor of nineteenth-century American literature. Todd was also a painter! A skier! A sailor! The lover of an athletic little lady from the registrar’s office!
And six years ago, Todd had been the only member of that American delegatory cabal who had done more than stare, as if through a glass, brightly, at the sorry smoking Russians from Leningrad State University. This was the man who, in a moment when the escorts weren’t watching, had pulled out a dictionary and fiercely pointed to the words, ya pomogu tebe, I’ll help you. Todd had gotten him out, had rented him the garage, had gotten him his first, and Aleksey was beginning to fear his last, professorial job in the US.
Soon, too soon, after their customary fifteen minutes, Tatiana would come a-knocking on his door and he would have to say, “Who’s there? ” but knowing all the time that here she was, the woman who expected a real man, a full man, hairy and bearded and bellied, and who would find instead a noz-entity, a nostrato.
What to do? He rushed on wobbly legs around the apartment, furiously straightening it up, sweeping vodka and glasses and shirt into his kitchen cabinets. When had his nose gone? When? When?
A knock on the door. “It’s not a good time…”
“I’m very sick, I might infect you…”
“What? ” She opened the door and came in. Aleksey spun around so that his back was facing her. “What’s the matter with you? ” she said. He grabbed a page from his desk and covered his face in it.
“I don’t know, maybe you do,” he said. It was the page, he couldn’t help noticing, on which the Confederate soldier explains his reasons for going into battle. “I like to keep what’s mine,” the soldier says. Aleksey said, “Did you perhaps take something from the apartment? ”
“Take something? Are you drunk? ”
“Part of my face. I’m just asking, did you perhaps cut off part of my face and take it with you? Perhaps by accident? ”
Aleksey turned slowly around, the page still over the bottom half of his face.
“What’s happened to you? Are you playing bandit now? ” Tatiana was impatient. She’d been quick to immigrate from Byelorussia, quick to change from engineer to real estate agent, quick to marry Professor Todd, and would be quick to drop the noseless mutant he’d become.
“Just a little accident, baby,” he said in Russian. “Nothing terrible.”
“Show me!” She pulled the paper out of his hands and threw it on the floor. She stared at his face and crossed herself—nipple, nipple, belly button. She hadn’t taken it, he knew that instantly. How could he have been so crazy as to suspect her?
“See, but it’s fine, I’m not bleeding…”
“But how did it happen? ”
“Well,” Aleksey said, nodding, “something will resolve itself.”
“But the interview!”
Aleksey was finding some bravery, bravery he’d last had in St. Petersburg when, drunk, he’d challenged his wife’s Slavophile to a duel, “if you like the old ways so much!” Now, he said, “It’ll be fine, I’m not interviewing for the job of a fashion model,” and pranced for a few steps.
“Now you’re a homosexual, too, as well as a Gogol character? ”
“No.” He sighed.
“If only we’d thought to let you keep that moustache,” she said darkly. “It could have hidden everything. All right, let’s just think about this together for a minute.”
“But that’s not even what’s important!” he cried, trying for some romantic-lead insouciance. “I mean, do you still love me, for example? ”
She put a hand on his cheek. “Of course it doesn’t matter to me. What we have is deeper than that, isn’t it? It’s spiritual, isn’t it? Even though you don’t believe in God, it still is.” She sighed and sat abruptly on a kitchen stool, propping her head in her hands with their hot-pink nails. “All right. Well.”
“Yes? ” he said.
“First of all, your interview isn’t until five. That gives us a lot of time, doesn’t it? And also—”
“Also, maybe—maybe your nose is there, but it just got crushed,” she said. “You do like to sleep on your stomach, you know it’s very unhealthy, I keep telling you, and still you flop down onto it like a walrus. Maybe if we just—” She reached up and tried to take hold of the flat skin in the centre of his face.
“Oy,” he said, trying to twist away.
“That’s good, create some pressure for it. Now—we’ll just hold it for a minute—okay, let’s see what we’ve got here.” She released him. “Yes, it does look better.” She took a compact from her bag and held the mirror up to him. In the mirror, he saw his face, the red imprints of Tatiana’s nails making a circle like a bull’s eye in the middle.
“I don’t see a change,” he said, turning away. “But maybe, Tatianachka, you’re right, I shouldn’t go to the interview? ”
“No, you can’t let something like this keep you from a meeting with your future. Don’t be such a fatalist.”
She began speaking in English, something she always did when it was time to be business-like. “I must meet a client in North Hills. So you go, pick up resumé—and call me.”
“Okay, that is cheering. I now have wonderful privilege to walk outside, alone, and have the little children crying and the big children throwing the rocks at me,” he said.
“I’ll drive you there. You only have to walk back, okay, my big theatre queen? ”
It was early winter and there were many possibilities—opportunities!—for concealment. They tried an old ski mask of Todd’s, a handkerchief, a tissue, a bandage, a scarf, a jumbo Band-Aid, and, last but not least, embarrassingly, contouring makeup.
“Listen,” Tatiana said at the end, “there probably will not be anyone there anyway.”
When she dropped him off at the copy shop, he tried to kiss her, and she tried to kiss him, but somehow it didn’t work out. He ended up licking her chin, then, giving a brave smile, got out of the car and walked rapidly, head down, into the store.
As if to taunt him, the clerk had a huge Stalinist moustache of sufficient length to hide anything that might need hiding. His large, bald head moved in rhythm to a song about people who liked to rock all night. “I’m picking up, please, under Smoletkin? ” Aleksey said. The clerk gave him his copies, told him the price, and took his money, all without ceasing the motion of his neck or looking at Aleksey. Back in St. Petersburg, the same kind of young man would have yelled out in surprise, apologized, told him about his friend who lost a leg in a construction accident, pulled a bottle from under the counter, and a flotilla of interesting questions and confessions would have wafted in on the waves of vodka. Eventually Aleksey would know about the clerk’s sinus problems—his slobbering slut of an ex-wife, and his desire to someday become a medical type of person or otherwise help those in Aleksey’s situation, perhaps by taking them to houses of prostitution. The thought of this entire wretched scene made Aleksey ask himself, did his nostalgia now extend to nosy drunks? Nostalgia, that sodden field—had he fallen that far?
He walked home, noting the cleanliness of the sidewalk and the disrepair of his shoes. People seemed to be giving him a wide berth, he gathered, based on the glimpses he caught of their feet. Aleksey had an excellent sense of direction, but eventually he had to raise his eyes to make sure he was going the right way. And it was then, as he confirmed that Whiting Lane was exactly where he’d expected it to be, that he collided with a man in a dark coat and yarmulke, with Aleksey’s very nose right in the centre of his surprised face.
“Please forgive me,” Aleksey said, transfixed.
“Excuse me,” the man said, and walked off in the direction of the park. Aleksey pivoted like a music-box doll and followed the man, ever ready to conceal himself behind a telephone pole or a parked car, but in fact the man never turned around. He strode through the park and to—why hadn’t Aleksey guessed it?—the town synagogue. Had his nose now found its rightful home on a rabbi? Aleksey stood on a pile of snow in the empty park square, watching the black coat mount the steps, open the door, and disappear into the warm yellow light of the synagogue’s interior.
Aleksey stood there, his feet burning with cold in the dirty snow, watching his own breath dissipate, trying not to remember that it was coming from two holes the size of pencil erasers embedded in his face.
Back at the Elkin house, Tatiana met him at the door with a look of cracked merriment on her face. “Todd’s here for lunch,” she sang out, “guess what he has? ” She dragged him into the kitchen, where Todd sat smiling up from a ham-and-cheese sandwich.
“Hey, buddy,” Todd said. “Sorry about your accident.”
“But show him,” Tatiana said, still tugging on Aleksey’s arm.
Todd took out what looked like a collection of tissues. “The strangest thing,” he said, “I found it on top of my computer, right next to my trekking compass.” Here, he began to lift something pink out of the tissues. Like Venus rising from foam, Aleksey’s nose emerged, naked and proud, profuse and purple-veined. “Maybe it’s a prosthetic or something? Anyway, when Tatiana told me about you, I said, ‘You never know. I’ve always been a very lucky guy.’ Maybe this is just the thing to help you.”
“Thank you,” Aleksey said, reaching for it and cradling it in the palm of his hand. It was cold and when he stroked it with one finger, felt waxier than he’d remembered.
“And then I said,” Tatiana put in, “ ‘Remember that plastic surgeon who did—do—my eyes in one hour only and I look so different and good when she is finished? ’”
“So we called and made an appointment. You and Tatiana are off to see her right now. Don’t even take your coat off.”
“Come, come,” Tatiana said, pulling Aleksey out the back door while blowing Todd a kiss.
A capricious yet oddly self-righteous driver at the best of times, Tatiana now steered the car with an Ophelia-like rapture, careening down streets and speeding through red lights, saying, “Isn’t it wonderful how we can get things back? ”
So, Aleksey thought, she has been lying to me about loving me the same whether I had a nose or not. Obviously, this woman is as shallow as I thought she was when we first met. But this thought did not make him feel any less unhappy, because he read in the blurred building awnings, and heard in the horns and shouts aimed at their car, the clear message that his nose was dead and so was Tatiana’s love for him.
Tatiana bumped into a parking spot and they took the elevator upstairs to the plastic surgeon’s office. The plastic surgeon, a dark, tiny young woman, her face shining smoothly like a boxing glove, touched his face with white-nailed fingers.
“I’ve seen better,” she said in her rough voice. “Then again, I’ve seen worse. Much worse, let me tell you.” She and Tatiana shared a conspiratorial smile. “Let me take a look at the nose again.” Holding the dead creature to Aleksey’s face, she said, “It’s proportional to his head, I’ll give you that.”
“So when will be the operation? ” Tatiana asked.
“Here’s the thing: no qualified plastic surgeon would be willing to do an operation like this. Right now, everything is functional and you can breathe normally. If I try to mess around with that nose, we don’t really know what could happen.”
“But, we must try,” Tatiana said.
“No, no. ‘First, do no harm.’ Surgery might rupture his paranasal sinuses, not to mention his tear ducts, his nasopharynx. You don’t want to be responsible for that, do you? I can’t do it, and any other surgeon would tell you the same thing.” She was using the nose to gesture as she made her point; then, finished, she handed it to Tatiana, who dropped it into her purse without any attempt to wrap it.
Driving home, Tatiana was silent. She turned the radio to a dance station that played a song about two hearts. There was a word between “two” and “hearts” that Aleksey could not make out. To take his mind off his nose, bumping against keys and jagged coins in Tatiana’s purse, Aleksey tried to sing along: “Two, uh, hearts, two hearts that beat as one…” Tatiana gave him a look and he stopped. He remembered singing his daughter to sleep in Leningrad. His deep bass was not ideally suited to lullabies, but Natalia loved hearing him, especially when he sang a song he’d learned from a movie about a mixed-race baby, who miraculously escaped from lynch-happy America and was brought to the ussr to be raised by a circus:
“The bears and elephants are sleeping,
The men and women are sleeping,
At night, everyone should sleep,
But not if they are at work!”
His wife would come in while he was singing and caress the five hairs on Natalia’s head (she’d heard that scalp massages make babies’ hair grow in faster). Aleksey’s voice would swell, filling both rooms up to the chandeliers, because look at what he had! A wife, a child, a piano, two rooms, and that was just the start. Soon there’d be more children, more rooms, a piano in each room! A piano in the communal bathroom for the neighbours to share!
Back at the house, Tatiana pulled herself together a bit to help Aleksey with the suit she’d bought him. “It’s a suit like Richard Gere was wearing in Pretty Woman. You even look like him a little bit.”
“Oh, really? ” he said, making a foolhardy attempt to flirt as he put on the pinstriped jacket.
“His face is also a little bit flat, but who notices that? ”
“Are you my pretty woman? ” Aleksey touched her breast with a sleeve-covered hand.
“Sure, okay.” She turned away and went to Todd’s closet for a tie.
“Okay,” Tatiana said, pulling up to the Century First office. “Neither one of us expected it to be this hard. But”—brightening—“maybe this is a handicapped disability situation, and they have to hire you because you are deformed? What do you think? Maybe I should bring it up, even, to Mr. Gess? ”
“Tatianachka, if you love me even a bit, you will not do that,” Aleksey said. The whole drive over, he’d been looking at himself in the passenger-side mirror, trying to find some angle of his head to lessen the effect of that which was gone. Now, he swatted the mirror away and scratched his right leg in its unfamiliar navy-and-pink pinstripe.
They walked in together. Mr. Gess was waiting for them behind the glass door, half hidden by some advertisements for condominiums, wearing a pin-striped suit much like Aleksey’s. The similarity did not end there. Mr. Gess was, in fact, Aleksey’s very own nose, writ very large. Aleksey steadied himself against the door frame as Tatiana sauntered in and kissed the nose, just to the left of a slight discoloration from an old sunburn on its bridge.
“And this is my famous friend Aleksey, very good with the conversation, especially with people from the university,” she said. “He will be big asset.” Aleksey turned to her, horrified by her normalcy, but she was already going, jauntily waving at the two of them.
“So,” his nose said, “Let’s go to my office and we’ll see what we can do.”
“I have myself some ideas. For what we can do,” Aleksey said with morose significance, then instantly regretted it. Already he was making a bad impression! He promised himself to smile every time he said anything—besides eradicating the bad impression, it would give his voice extra richness, according to Tatiana.
The nose sat behind a desk and gestured Aleksey into a slightly lower chair than its own, so that Aleksey was face to face with the shiny bump on its end, from which several hairs were growing. At least, he thought, the nose would not notice his deformity, for it—he?—did not seem to have any eyes. “So,” Aleksey said, “we know each other, perhaps? ”
“I don’t think so,” the nose said. “Were you at Who’s Who LM: Aruba? ”
“No, but I have once travelled to Cuba,” Aleksey said.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. Hardly any of the new guys go, can’t afford it, most of the time. You know what LM stands for? ”
Large Medals? Large Metals? Forget the large—that’s Sovetskiy thinking. Here they know there’s more to life than large. Likes Meetings? Meeting people is important in this field. “No, I am not familiar.”
“Luxury Markets. The only kind I sell to.”
“Yes, very good,” Aleksey said, trying to sound like he wore silk underwear and took saunas at his dacha.
“Some great scuba diving there. You scuba dive? ”
“No, unfortunately.” In his nervousness, Aleksey was forgetting the noseness of the nose. In its fine suit—of a better fabric than his own, and with a more delicate pinstripe, and beautiful shoes, now crossed at an angle from his desk, the nose looked like a better kind of human being, a human being with fewer distracting features, a human being more solid and more ready to fight, no soft spots on him. There is no Achilles heel on a nose, Aleksey thought dizzily.
“Yeah, I was wondering,” the nose said. “I noticed, in your resumé, you don’t have any hobbies. Where’s your hobbies section? ”
“My what? ”
“See here…” The nose pushed a paper at him, “On this resumé, the hobbies are golf and, and—what’s the rest? ”
Aleksey read, “body building, and of course Monopoly.”
“You see how adding a section like that, something a little fun, you can show the world you’re not just a professor from a very messed up place—you know, I read the news. You put in a hobbies section, I say, ‘Hey, this guy isn’t so boring, I can work with this guy, maybe teach him some street smarts.” Here the nose made some karate chopping movements with the attenuated, doll-like arms that protruded from either side of its bridge. It must, Aleksey realized, have gotten its suit specially tailored. “So hit me with some hobbies.”
“I like reading and also I like many winter sports, for example, skiing and also I like the Monopoly… ” At least, he had seen a Monopoly game in Tatiana and Todd’s garage.
“Look, Al, I’ll give you the real deal here. Half of all agents are gone in two years. Why? ”
“ ’Cause they don’t know thing one about commitment. This business owns you for the first two years. Owns. You. And if you can’t handle that, if you want to be all”—here the nose affected a high, sexually indeterminate voice—“ ‘Oh, what about my books’ or ‘What about my family?,’ well then, Al, you might as well just walk out that door.”
“All right,” Aleksey said. “I understand.”
The nose leaned back in its chair. “You got any questions for me? ”
Aleksey, of course, did have questions: how much money could he expect to make? How many hours would he have to work? Would the nose ever come back and sit on his face, or was it finding the real estate business too lucrative? But Tatiana had told him not to ask the first two questions—they made it sound like he cared too much about those things, whereas you were supposed to care about this real estate agency because it was the best. Pay and hours be damned—you’d work there for free, gladly! That was how you got a job in America. As for the last question, well, you didn’t need a Tatiana yelling at you to know it was wrong. It implied that he thought he was in charge of the nose and reflected badly on his ability to respect his superiors. Subservience, subservience, subservience—that lesson Aleksey had learned for himself in Russia.
He took his leave of the nose. But not without peeking back through the window at its tottering, almost hen-like progress between the empty desks.
Dazed, Aleksey wandered back in the direction of the house, no longer caring whether anyone saw him. And in fact, it seemed that people did not see anything amiss. In Leningrad, not even one second would have elapsed before some babushka demanded to know what had happened to his face—was it hooligans?—and suggested a cucumber poultice. But here, people expected to see a nose on every face and that was what they saw.
But this thought, though probably true, didn’t really make its way through the pillow that seemed to be lining Aleksey’s mind. It was a goose-down pillow, the same one he’d had from birth to emigration, with a few feather stems poking through the thin cloth. He was sitting on a suitcase, waiting for them to call his train.
He was watching his daughter read a gigantic book, only her legs visible, until she peeked around the side of the cover and said, “How do you do? ” in a voice she considered at once extremely grown-up and hilarious.
He was in the corridor waiting to take his last Moscow State entrance exam, an interview, sweating even down to his ankles, horrified upon realizing he’d forgotten all but one of the lines in Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman, the one about walking hand in hand into the grave.
What kind of place was this, really? You woke up one morning, just like any other day, except “yo”—as they said here—an essential organ was missing, and that very afternoon, that very organ was interviewing you for a job.
He was unable to think more on this and went to bed as soon as he got to the Elkins’.
In the middle of the night, he awoke from a dream in which his nose had formed a motorcycle gang and was chasing him down the highway. Wiping sweat from his forehead, Aleksey stood up, let the sheet fall from him, and shivered. He went to the window. The street lights made the snow blue, and it reminded him of snow in Leningrad, in the almost uninhabitable winters, when residents asked each other just how crazy Peter the Great had been, “to even have had the thought of building here!”
The front door light came on and Todd stepped outside, carrying a duffle bag that was larger than he was. Tatiana’s voice came from inside the house, “He is nothing, Toddzik! If you’d just come home more often…”
Todd slammed his trunk closed. Aleksey realized that he wasn’t dressed, just wearing a ski jacket over some plaid pajamas and sneakers. “Remember, I didn’t have to tell you,” Tatiana called out.
“Get inside,” Todd said, in a voice Aleksey had never heard him use before but had heard in some films he’d seen shortly after immigrating—the voice of Chuck Norris, enraged to have found himself tiny, betrayed, and pajama-clad on this freezing night.
The door slammed.
Todd looked up at the second floor, and, seeing Aleksey there, shouted, “Fucker! Loser! Jerkwad!” He paused briefly to gather some snow into snowballs, and then began throwing them at Aleksey’s window. With each toss, he called him by a different name. “Broomhead! Fuckwit! Deserter! Greenhorn!” After a few minutes, he began pausing to simply glare. Aleksey thought perhaps he was running out of names, but then another barrage came: “Carpetbagger! Homo! Pissant! Letch!” At “Letch,” a snowball broke through the glass and Aleksey jumped back, snow scattering everywhere. Encouraged, Todd and the names and the snowballs went on and on; it was as if Todd was marshalling all the memories of his American life—of playgrounds, of sports fields, of bars, of, indeed, his academic specialty, nineteenth-century American literature. He threw the snowballs with a good strong pitcher’s arm. “Whelp! Squatter! Square! Retard!” Finally, he got in his car, accidentally turning on the interior light as well as the headlights, opened his window, shouted, “Chump!” and rolled away, silhouetted by the glow.
Aleksey stumbled back a few more paces, breathing hard, and flipped the light switch. His reflection in what remained of the window looked surprisingly normal—if only everyone else could see that reflection instead of his real self ! After a few seconds, hope formed, and to extinguish it, Aleksey walked to the bathroom and stared hard into the mirror.
And saw his prodigal nose, right where it was supposed to be, just as if nothing had happened. His vein was there, his hairs were there, and when it had all come back, he did not know. He did not know, nor did he want to know. He wanted to sit on his floor. He wanted to have a drink and think about the future that he suddenly saw before him, just past the tip of his newly restored nose.
Tatiana would come up the stairs. He would sell houses and—why not?—make a million dollars. He and Tatiana would marry. They would have a baby, and the baby would know neither Barkov nor babka, would wonder neither What Must Be Done? (Chto Delat?) nor Whose Fault? (Kto Vinovat?). More power to the baby! All power to the baby!
He heard Tatiana’s shoes on the stairs and their clip-clop sound told him that he would forget that the past day had ever happened. Aren’t immigrants like horses? Don’t we need our blinders to move? What’s a professorship, what’s a piano, what’s a daughter, compared to our desire to just get out? In fact, let’s not discuss these barely remembered losses any more. It doesn’t do any of us good.