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The Smile

She looks out the window, wearing a T-shirt with holes chewed into the collar, nervously stroking her nose. What can I say to her? She turned 33 last week.

I did, she said. I did. I was so lonely. But never again. It was worse than nothing.

We are talking about a man she met over the Internet, a tuskophile who wanted her only for the calcified horn that comes from below her nose.

She tells me about the tuskophile. She worked for a long time as an event planner, but she quit when the doctors told her there was no hope. And I want to say: it's just how it is. Some people have tusks. I have not touched it. It apparently swivels in a sort of spongy base. It comes out right below her nose, and curves sharply upwards, which makes it a tusk and not an antler. She's going cross-eyed from looking at it, but I don't say anything.

Her apartment is lit only by the light of the screensaver of her computer. She writes poetry, and then erases it. I don't know why I keep going over there, myself. She did after all dump me, back in her pre-tusk days, for a far more handsome man, a landscape architect. But I still enjoy her. I promised myself: if I begin to pity, I will stop going. But I do pity her, as well.

I left her place once, and a downstairs neighbor stopped me one. He made pleasantry then said, It is an unholy thing, and it has brought evil to New York. A devil's antler.

A tusk, I said. And I don't think you can blame it for New York's problems.

I want to start a petition against it, he said.

I should hit you, I said.

I can take it, he said.

There are, she tells me, more like her around the world. A community on the Internet. Three in Holland, one in Spain, five in California. Pollution? Radiation? Genetics? Stress? Unclear. There is evidence that it can be removed if you take half the upper jaw with it. A doctor is giving a paper in Brussels.

I love you, I say when I leave the apartment. I kiss her on the cheek, of course.

She smiles and holds me, and she knows I mean it, and she can't forgive me for it.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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