“Harold,” he snapped, slightly out of breath, “I need your help.”
Showing no sign of hearing him, Harold didn’t move a muscle. His hand was wrapped around his mouth and his brow furrowed, the pose of a man in deep concentration. He was playing chess against himself again.
“Harold,” shrieked Charles, “listen to me goddammit, I’ve lost my nose!”
“Hmm,” mumbled Harold, “yes, quite.”
“You’re not listening, I need your help.”
Harold, noticing him for the first time, pulled his spectacles down to rest on the tip of his nose and looked up from his game, his concentration broken.
“What?” he said, his eyes adjusting.
Charles just pointed at the hole on his face where his nose should be.
“Oh goodness, Charles. You’ve lost your nose,” he said, “again? Really you need to start taking more care.”
“I know, I know. Would you please help me look for it? I can’t bear the thought of having lost it completely.”
Harold looked down at his chessboard then back up at Charles and sighed.
“Of course I’ll help you look. Although it’s really terrible timing. I was just about to win,” he said.
Charles looked at the board, all the pieces still in place, save for a pawn of each colour missing and resting off to the side next to a neglected cup of tea. Quite how you could beat yourself at chess he had no idea, especially as it seemed the game had only just started.
Harold groaned and puffed as he sat up and pushed down on his legs to raise himself to his feet. With the back of his hand he wiped away a thin dribble of spittle from his chin and wobbled on his feet slightly, his face a little red from exerting himself.
“Right,” he said, “where was the last place you had your nose?”
“Well, I just can’t think, I really have no idea,” replied Charles getting himself into a flustered panic.
“Calm down, calm down man. Pull yourself together. Just breathe and think about the last time you had your nose.”
After a pause, Charles started breathing normally (through his mouth of course) and got himself under control.
“Well I definitely had it on this morning. Breakfast was rather delicious today don’t you think? I remember that bread smelling divine.”
Not wanting to break Charles’s train of thought by saying anything Harold just nodded to show that he was listening.
“Then I played my usual morning game of cards with Jen and Neil. After that I went for a stroll in the grounds…” he trailed off and lapsed into a thoughtful silence.
“Did you have your nose on when you went for a walk?” said Harold.
“Oh yes I did, those roses are quite glorious.”
“And what did you do after that?” prompted Harold. A lifetime of teaching had left him with an innate patience; especially for Charles who was one of his closest friends in the world.
“Well, then it was lunch wasn’t it. What did we have?”
“Oh yes, yes. That was good too. It’s been quite the day for food. I wonder what’s for dinner …”
“Yes? Oh sorry, my nose. I most certainly had it then.”
“Well, I went to the toilet and … that’s it! I must have left it in the bathroom. You know what it’s like after Barb’s been in there. I must have taken it off then. Oh I hope it didn’t fall down the sink,” he said, his eyes widening.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” said Harold, “your nose is far too big to fall down the sink. Though I hope you didn’t drop it in the toilet. Come on lets go there together and have a look.”
Harold picked up his walking stick from against the chair and thrust it out and down in front of him. Shuffling a few paces forwards he stopped when he got as far as his stick’s resting place, and flung it out again. The two old friends walked as best they could across the worn wood towards the corridor and the toilets.
As they went they passed a weathered man in a wheelchair, a blanket in his lap covered his legs but from the waist up he had on a pristine military uniform bristling with shiny medals.
“Good afternoon Colonel,” said Harold and Charles at the same time. He raised up his hand in a mechanical salute. If he noticed Charles’s missing nose he showed no sign.
“Did you hear about Mabel?” said Harold, as they carried on their way.
“No, goodness what happened to Mabel?” replied Charles.
“You didn’t hear? It’s quite the unfortunate business. Really awful.”
“Well, yesterday evening she went out for a walk in the grounds while the sun was go-”
“Oh, no, well she she mustn’t go out by herself, she’s much too old,” interrupted Charles.
“Quite, but she did. And you know what happened?”
Charles shook his head.
“She fell of course, slipped on the wet grass.”
“Well that’s not the worst part…”
“No. She knocked her head and her eyes fell out. Popped right out onto the grass and rolled into the drain. By the time help arrived they were long gone. They’ve had to move her somewhere else that accommodates for that kind of thing.”
“Oh my goodness,” croaked Charles, and, despite being a few paces behind Harold, said, “hurry up. I need to find my nose now. My granddaughter is coming tomorrow and she’s bringing home-made brownies. I can’t see her without my nose.”
“Quite,” replied Harold as they came up to the door of the men’s room.
“You go ahead and look,” said Harold, “I need a drink, so I’ll be by the water cooler when you come out.”
“Right, well, wish me luck.”
Charles pushed open the door to the toilet and went in.
Harold shuffled over to the water cooler, bent over slowly and popped out a paper cup. Pressing down on the dispenser the water trickled out making a pattering sound as it hit the paper. As the water slowly rose his eyes wandered to the top of the water bottle, and there, rested Charles’s nose.
“Here you are,” said Harold with a smile. He left it where it was, stood guard, and waited for Charles to come back out of the bathroom.
Suddenly from his right music blasted out of the adjacent room; the Thursday afternoon dance class starting. Harold cringed and put his finger to his ear.
“Oh god I hate that rubbish,” he said, wishing he could return to his game of chess.
Five minutes passed and eventually Charles staggered out of the toilet, on the verge of tears.
“Oh Harold, it’s no use. It’s gone! I must have dropped it down the toilet,” he wailed.
“No you didn’t. Look,” said Harold holding up the missing nose in triumph.
“Harold! Where on earth did you find that? Thank you so much.”
“It was on top of the water cooler. You must have had a drink after you used the bathroom.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” he said, fixing his nose back in place,“lets go back to the lounge and get a cup of tea. I’m sure you’re itching to return to your game.”
“That I am,” smiled Harold.
Together they turned and made their way slowly back down the hall.
Charles, feeling very happy now with his nose back in place said to Harold, “I would never have found it without your help old friend.”
Harold didn’t respond.
“Harold?” said Charles again looking at his friend.
With surprise he noticed the problem. Tapped Harold on the shoulder to stop, walked around to his other side and said, “Harold, your ear is missing.”
“What?” said Harold.
“Your ear, it’s not there.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake. I must have taken it off when they started playing that awful music for dance class. I really don’t know how anyone could enjoy that rubbish. I must have left it on top of the cooler. Will you walk back with me to retrieve it?”
“Of course, let me walk on your good side so we can talk as we go.”
The two old men turned and shuffled back the way they came. Harold’s ear, missing from his head, poked out from the pocket in his cardigan, to be found eventually.