The Bridge of Her Nose

Christine Benvenuto

Christine Benvenuto

The Bridge of Her Nose was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Christine Benvenuto is the author of two works of nonfiction, Shiksa, and Sex Changes, published by St. Martin’s Press, and her short stories, essays, articles and reviews have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. A short play is forthcoming in an international anthology to be published in London, and others have been produced for the Boston Theater Marathon and online platforms. A full length play will be performed in spring of 2022 in Western Massachusetts.

Leila wants to see my home. My childhood home. We've never gone. Now is the perfect time to go, she says. I say, Now is the perfect time to stay here.

She makes me dream.

It's always the same dream. A woman falling from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. Wearing a white gown like a girl in one of those silly romantic paintings, "Lady of Here-or-There," that made me laugh so hard when I saw one in another boy's room when I first came here for college. The wagon's in an English country lane, hemmed in by trees. Blue sky, sun shining, bee-buzz. So pleasant. Except for this one thing, the girl tipping sideways over the the wagon. She's falling, swooning over the romance of it all. The dream ends right there, mid-fall. She doesn't hit the ground.

Leila says she knows so little about my life before I came here, before we met. I don't talk about it. She says, Shouldn't the children know their father's home?

The actual scene was different from the dream. The scene in the road. There were no trees nearby. The nearest, frail and spindly, trailed each other down a wadi 300 yards from the road and the flatbed truck and the Jeep, the reinforcements we asked to follow us. I saw the woman at the checkpoint, the woman and the two men, the driver of the flatbed and his brother. I think it was his brother. I don't know why I think that. The road was dusty. The woman, as soon as she landed in the road, was dusty. As if she had lain there a long while.

I recognized her. Her eyes and the bridge of her nose. That doesn't seem possible, does it? From the bridge of a nose? I recognized people.

It was a holiday. We drove past a little Bedouin girl dancing with a paper flag just before we reached the flatbed. Surrounded by goats in the brown field, waving a flag that wasn't hers from a country that wasn't hers. We all watched her. No one said a word.

I was good at my job. I had a sense about people. I glimpsed them darting between buildings or in crowds. Faces in surveillance footage. Blurred faces, seen for an instant. A limp, a gesture, some piece of body language. At the check point I recognized the woman from a group photograph. I didn't say anything. They drove on. Then it hit me. I said, Her eyes. The bridge of her nose. Was it possible? The commander wondered. But we followed the truck. You can't ignore a hunch even if that's all it is.

It was the intense, dry heat I've always been afraid of. I think I might make some terrible mistake. Step into traffic. Misfire a pistol. This woman wasn't a mistake.

She must've been amazed to make it through the border patrol. All three of them. It must've felt miraculous. They thought they were going to make it all the way. Laughing, maybe, nervous energy. She was 19. A time bomb in the shape of a 19 year old woman. I was 19 also.


She stood up in the back of the truck before it stopped. She faced us with her arms raised. Was shot. Fell sideways into the road. That I didn't shoot her myself doesn't matter. One way or the other. Her hair tumbled out of her scarf. Dust collected in her eyelashes.

They were headed for the city. Who knows how many would've died. It would have set off panic.

Girls who blew themselves up - Girls who'd shamed their families. Girls with nothing to live for. Offered a chance to redeem themselves. Martyrdom. Maybe their families were threatened. Starving. The daughters or sisters of fanatics, maybe fanatics themselves. Desperate. The girl. The 19 year old woman -

Reports of an explosive device headed for the city in the shape of a 19 old woman would've set off panic. There was no media coverage. No internal records. No witnesses. The men were also unavoidably shot, though I have no memory of it. In their village, their families never discovered what became of them.

Actually, their families recovered the bodies for burial that same night. There were internal records. There had to be, didn't there? But no media coverage. Not a word about what happened, what would've happened if I hadn't recognized a pair of eyes and the bridge of a nose. Those eyes, that bridge of her nose. She died for them. Of course she would have died anyway.

Leila doesn't resemble her. They're nothing alike.

Even among ourselves it wasn't spoken of. Aside from the people there it was impossible to say who knew. Among the people there, it was impossible to say who remembered.

That Friday night, at my parents' table, I looked at my family. Talking, being themselves. I told myself, As if it never happened.

Even her footprints were gone. Of course, there were no footprints. They were on the truck. Tire tracks. Traces. Long gone. That I didn't shoot them myself doesn't matter. One way or the other. I don't regret identifying her. How can I? I'm not sorry. I'm not proud. I feel nothing. It's only the dream. Awake, I remember the actual incident in actual detail. And yet my sleeping mind insists on replaying the episode in this absurd romantic revision. I never tell Leila. Mornings I wake from the dream and Leila's face is beside me. I see the bridge of her nose, I watch her eyes open. Recognition flowers. I tell myself, always, the same thing. As if it never happened.

She wants to see my home. Shouldn't she know my history? Shouldn't the children?

I wonder. Did the little girl playing with the flag nearby hear the gunshots? No. Maybe. She must have. The shots rang out - No. No one heard them.

As if it never happened.

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