Nose Mints

By , May 3, 2010 12:46 pm

I walk into the cubicle.  There I find a mother, her face drawn and worried.  Next to her stands a man, his head shaven and glistening, his arms folded tightly, his biceps threatening to tear through the sleeves of his T-shirt.  In front of both of them, stands their three-year-old son, Carl, his finger buried up to the joint, deep in his right nostril.

“Hi there,” I say.

“Hi,” say the parents in unison.  She’s all breathy like an air sign, he’s very definitely of the earth.  And yet they speak as one, like they share everything.  It’s kind of weird and creepy.

Meantime, Carl’s finger stays firmly up his nose.

“You’ve found something up there, have you?” I ask, bending down to his level.

“Yeah,” he says, swinging his free arm back and forth, delighted at the attention.

“A breath mint,” his parents say, again in unison.

“Really?” I ask. Carl squeals with delight.

Carl’s mother motions to speak, and her husband nods.  If they are to speak as individuals, it seems there needs to be consensus.

“Carl was sitting in the back of the car with the mints,” she breathes.  “At one moment he had them in his hands, and then he had one in his mouth, and then,” she stops to compose herself, “it was up his nose.”  Tears come to the edge of her eyes.  Her husband holds her arm, helping her through the painful memory.

“And then what happened?”

“Well, I went back, and he was crying and, and…”  she stops, and holds her mouth, like she’s going to vomit.  “And I saw the mint, and his finger was up there, and then it was too far gone.  It was lost.”  Tears begin to stream.

“Lost where?”

“Up his nose.”

“So then what happened?” I ask inquisitively, quite enjoying the story.

“Well, that’s when I rang Tony,” she gushes.

I look across at Tony, who has remained amazingly quiet throughout this time.  He sees this as his cue, but checks with his wife for permission.  She gives a little nod.  Carl keeps his finger up his nose.

“Well, I came straight home,” he says in an oddly squeaky voice.  “And so I held him down, and I could see it.  Or I thought I could, anyway.  So I grabbed some tweezers, and tried to grab it out…”

He stops, and looks at his wife again.  She looks at me.  It’s like it’s my turn to give permission.

“So there was a lots of grabbing going on,” I say, motioning for him to continue, “so…”

“…So I grabbed at the white stuff, which came out.  But not enough.  So I went back for more.  But then his nose started bleeding, so I stopped at that point.”

An image flashes through my head of Tony at home, his biceps as wide as my thighs, holding own a screaming child, stuffing tweezers up his nostril until it bleeds.  My eyes start watering at the thought.

“Fair enough to have stopped,” I say, “I think that was wise.”

I look down at Carl, to see how he’s faring.  He’s humming brightly, his finger going from nose to mouth, to nose, to mouth, in time with his tune.  He does this about every second, like he’s dipping it in chocolate.  Or mint, at least.

The kid’s got rhythm.

“So what happened then?” I ask, my foot beginning to tap to the beat.

“Well, we grabbed him…”

“…Sounds about right…”

“…and we took him to the GP.”  He looks at me again for permission.  His wife has been dismissed – I’m the sole permission giver now.

“And what did he do?”

“He sent us straight here.  Said he didn’t have the equipment for mints.”

* * * * *

I look up Carl’s nose.  For consistency, Tony grabs his arms while I do this.  Carl is upset, but it’s hard to tell whether this is because we’re holding him, because I’m looking up his nose, or because we’ve stopped him from eating his mint-flavoured snot.  All I can see is a white chalky residue at the edge of the first turbinate.  It’s been shovelled up far beyond that.

“What did you see?” his mother asks anxiously.

“Not a lot.  Whatever is in there, it’s beyond where I can see.”  I look down at Carl, his finger back in place.  “And beyond where he can touch.”

I pause for a moment, thinking.

“What type of mint was it again?”

“Umm,” says his mum, “I can’t remember.”

“Do you still have them?”  She nods fervently.  “Can I have a look?”

With that she runs from the cubicle, without warning.  I look at Carl and then at Tony.  After a moment, we begin to exchange small talk, as if that was what we’d expected.  Two minutes later she returns.

“They were in the car.”

She hands me the metal box.

“I want to do a science experiment,” I say, flipping the lid, taking one of the mints out.  I walk out of the cubicle, grab a Styrofoam cup, and fill it with water.  And then I return, dropping the mint in the water.

“This happened three hours ago?” I ask.  They nod in time.  “You say he’d been eating it for a bit before he put it up his nose, so it would already be a little smaller than this,” I say, holding up a fresh dry mint.  “I want to see what happens if we leave this in water for fifteen minutes.

“Cool,” says Tony.

His wife slaps him on the arm.

* * * * *

I walk back in, the clock having just ticked over the quarter hour.  I take the cup, empty the water, and return to the cubicle, taking out the mint.  It’s edges dissolve in my hands, some chalky residue coming away.

“This is what I saw when I looked,” I say, showing his parents.  They nod together.

“That’s what I saw with the tweezers too,” says Tony excitedly.

“Mixed with all the blood,” his wife breathes.

I take the wet mint, and place next to it a dry one.  It’s about half its size.  “So, if this has happened in fifteen minutes, I’m guessing that in the last three hours, the one up his nose has become pretty small.”

“And if it’s still there?”

“His body will have produced a lot of snot, particularly with an irritant like this.  It’s probably dissolved, or he may have even swallowed it by now – it may have gone through the back of his nose and into his throat.

“Gross,” says his mum, seemingly fine with his nose picking, but thrown by this concept.  “Like you said,” I continue, “he was rubbing his nose, and it was streaming to start with.  He was crying and really, really upset, and look at him now.”

We all look down at Carl.  There he stands, with the metal box in his hand, a mint between forefingers, trying to push a brand new mint up the other nostril.

His father grabs at the box, his mother at the mint, both gone from him in a moment.  He doesn’t seem the slightest bit fazed.

“He can’t have been too scarred by all of this,” I say.

They both look away, then at each other, shaking their heads, slightly embarrassed.

“I think it’s probably not a bad idea to get rid of the mints,” I add.

“Absolutely,” Mum says.  She pauses for a moment.  “Is there likely to be any lasting effects from all of this?”

“Well if he keeps this up,” pipes in Tony, “he’ll probably end up with very fresh smelling nose breath.”

His wife looks at me for a serious response to this, but realises soon enough that there isn’t one.

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