Ronnie looked at Jason kneeling in front of her, and her gaze was captured for a moment by the open ring box in his hands. Everything seemed to slow down, and she realized that she was holding her breath. She exhaled, then met his brown eyes with hers.
“Yes”, she said, smiling back at him. Jason was a fine man and would make a good husband and one day, a good father. He slid the ring onto her finger and the reflection from the modest diamond broke into fragments as she wiped the happy tears away with the back of her hand and then held it out to Jason. “Now get up from there and give me a kiss!”
The people at the tables nearest them had noticed the kneeling man and began to clap when they kissed, some ringing their drinking glass by striking it with silverware. Jason looked up, turned a deep shade of red, and gave a brief hand wave before settling back into his chair. He turned to Ronnie, took both of her hands into his, and kissed them. He again looked into her eyes, but this time his face and his tone had taken on a more somber tone.
“I have something I have to tell you before we get married, and it may change your mind. It’s only fair that you know up front”, he said.
She was puzzled at his statement but smiled back at him. “Whatever it is, I’m sure we can work it out”. This time it was her that kissed his hands.
“I have to tell you a story”, he said. He released her hands, leaned back in his chair, and took a sip of water. “It’s not really a bad thing, just something you should know about before we plan a family. It’s a part of me and something that can’t be changed.”
“If you can’t have children…”, she started, but he cut her off.
Jason leaned forward and smiled at her. “No, it’s nothing like that.” He leaned back again. “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but this is all true”. He pointed to the blueberry sized, red wart that was on the end of his nose, directly in the center, one black hair jutting out from it like a spike. “This is what I’m talking about. I know you’ve never mentioned it because you love me and don’t want to hurt my feelings, but I assure you, all of our children will have this thing, something like an unusual birthmark. There’s no way around it.”
Ronnie looked at him, amazed. “Honey, I don’t care about that wart. If it bothers you, why don’t you get it cut off? Why would our children inherit a wart anyway? I don’t think warts are genetic”.
Jason continued, “It doesn’t bother me either; I’ve had it since birth. But I couldn’t remove it even if I wanted to, that’s the point. It would come back immediately. Trust me on this, many of the family have tried to have it removed.”
“Wait, what? Who else has it and tried to remove it?”, she asked, perplexed.
“Some of my family members”. He looked at her sadly. “The whole truth is that every descendant of Jedediah Abendon inherits the curse. Every child is born with this,” he pointed at his face, “thing on their nose. It’s unavoidable.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“My family is the victim of a curse. A real honest to God, working curse, although a minor one. That’s what causes the wart”, he replied. “Every child born into this family has the wart from birth. If it’s removed, it comes back immediately. My family actually has some minor notoriety about the curse. It’s the only known case of a working curse, and a curse it is, albeit kind of an odd one. It’s actually quite well documented in some of the older medical journals”.
“You’re making fun of me. I don’t believe it.”
“Why do you think you haven’t met anyone from my family yet?”
“But why, and why such a ridiculous curse?”, she asked, still dubious.
“It really is difficult to believe”, he admitted. “But still true. It began with a distant relative of mine, Jebediah Abendon”.
Jebediah Abendon was a handsome man and he knew it. He spent much of his time in front of a mirror, admiring his new clothes, looking for the slightest blemish on his face, or waxing his exquisite mustache. In 1884 Boston he was known as a lady’s man and widely considered the most eligible bachelor in town.
What Jebediah was not known for, however, was his kindness to anyone he felt was beneath him. He treated his servants poorly, often beating them and withholding their pay when they made him unhappy. Anyone below his station in life was treated with disdain, that is if he even noticed them enough to put forth that much effort. He could be a cruel and nasty man when he did not get what he wanted, when he wanted it.
One blustery October day, he was making his way down the walk from his home to his private club only a few blocks away. He was dressed warmly, with a long coat to ward off the cold and a silk top hat poised jauntily on his head. He walked with his head down against the wind, his left hand in his coat pocket, the right holding an ebony cane with a sterling silver head in his gloved hand.
As he neared his club, he saw that a small crowd of people had gathered near the door to the club, and the doorman, Arnold, was doing his best to break up the crowd. The silent crowd circled around a man who was shouting something that Jebediah couldn’t make out. Suddenly they all cheered, and many fell to their knees.
“Get away from here!”, Arnold shouted at the crowd. “I’ll call the police if you don’t get away from here!” He tried to push his way into the crowd but could not make any progress. Some were kneeling, and others had closed in tight for a better look.
Arnold, flustered from his unheeded admonitions, looked up and noticed Jebediah coming his way. He backed away from the crowd, looking at Mr. Abendon with embarrassment and a little fear in his face. He picked up his hat from the ground, dusted it off, the put it on his head and attempted to straighten his jacket
“I’m so sorry Mr. Abendon”, he said. “I’ll have them out of here soon or have them all in jail”. This last part he growled at the gathered crowd.
Jebediah used his size and occasionally his cane to force his way into the center of the crowd. “What is going on here?”, he bellowed as he went. “Whatever it is, kindly disperse right now! This is a private club!” When he reached the clearing in the center, there was a small, grizzled old man standing there in what looked to be pajamas that may once been white, but were now a brownish gray. His bare feet were dirty, and it appeared that his hair and beard had not been washed in quite some time.
Jebediah pointed the cane at him. “You, whatever you are doing, stop immediately and leave now!”. He jabbed the man in the chest with the cane to emphasize his point. The little man just looked at him.
He felt a hand grab his shoulder from behind and spin him around. A man dressed in a loud plaid suit and sporting a bowler on his head, now had hands on both of his shoulders. “Mister”, he said, “This guy is a healer. Lukey over there done got his broke hand fixed, just like that. It was broke, then it wasn’t. And Jenny’s toothache too! He made it go away!”
“You people are fools! Jebediah shouted, turning back to the man in the middle and giving him another thump in the chest with his cane. “This man is a confidence man. A trickster. You are all being conned. He obviously planted people in the audience”. He turned and pointed the cane at Arnold. “Please summon the police instantly”.
As Arnold turned to go, Jebediah gave the little man another thump in the chest with the tip of the cane. “I suggest you leave before you are arrested”.
The man looked gently up at him from his position in the center of the crowded mass, and said, ” I can heal anything that’s wrong with you, friend. Tell me your ailment and I will help, if it’s within my meager power”.
The bigger man raised his ebony cane high as if to strike the man. His face was red and there were veins standing out on his neck. “I don’t have any ailments. Can’t you see me? Look at my face. Perfect! I exercise every day. I’m a perfect example of what every man of good taste and grooming should be. Now get out of here. I’m not telling you again. The next time my cane will speak for me”. He waved the cane menacingly.
The man again looked gently at Jebediah, and said softly, “Ah, I see. Of course. Vanity is your ailment. That, I think, is within my power to correct.” He touched Jebediah gently on his left shoulder, then immediately turned and made his way through the crowd and down the street. The crowd followed behind, begging for more miracles.
Jebediah turned and stomped up to the stairs and into the club. Once inside the cool, dark interior he began to calm down. “Vanity”, he snorted to himself and waved for an attendant to bring him a drink. He settled into a deep leather chair near the fire, picked up the newspaper, and browsed until his drink arrived. When he put down the paper to accept the drink, he noticed that the attendant had an odd look upon his face.
As he handed over the drink, he leaned down and whispered, “Sir has a little something on the end of his nose. May I provide a handkerchief for you, sir? He straightened, reached into his pocket, produced spotless linen cloth, and held it out.
Jebediah took the proffered cloth and wiped the end of his nose, then looked at the cloth. It was still spotless. He closed one eye and looked at the end of his nose. There was something red there, and it had something attached to it. He wiped again but it didn’t come off this time either. Scraping with a fingernail actually hurt a little. “What the devil?”, he said, then pulled out a pocket mirror and held it near the end of his nose. There was a large red wart, the size of a blueberry on the end of his nose, with one spiky black hair growing out of it. “What the devil?”, he now shouted and stood, still looking into the mirror.
He soon realized that it had become noticeably quiet, and when he looked up several club members were staring at him. Some were obviously hiding laughter behind their hands. He put the handkerchief in front of his face, made his way directly to the front door where he retrieved his hat, coat, and cane, and then briskly headed home. The cloth was held in front of his face the entire way to prevent anyone from seeing the malady.
Upon arriving home, he immediately made his way to the mirror in his dressing room. The new wart was still there, on the tip of his nose, the hair standing out like a rhino horn. He retrieved his tweezers and pulled the hair. It was thick and black, about half an inch long. He dropped the hair into the sink, then looked into the mirror to examine his handiwork. The hair was still there. He plucked it, and a new one immediately sprouted. “What the devil!”, he shouted again for no good reason.
He sent his servants out to purchase every wart remedy that could be found. Over the next few weeks, he tried them all, but none helped with either the wart or the hair. He sent off to other countries for exotic remedies. He smeared foul unguents on the hated wart and swallowed strange powders sent from every corner of the world. Once in desperation, he cut the wart off with his razor, watched the small piece of bloody meat fall into the sink then looked into the mirror again. The wart was back, healed, mocking him with that damned hair jutting out of the middle.
For years he tried to have the wart removed, but no doctor could find a remedy, and no potion or powder he could purchase helped any at all, although he spent much of his fortune and many years trying. Eventually, he became a recluse and only went out with a face covering, as if he were a leper. Friends no longer visited, social invitations no longer came with the mail, marriage prospects disappeared overnight. His servants left as soon as he could no longer pay their wages, and he was tired of hearing them whisper behind his back, anyway. Most of the furniture was also gone, sold for what little money it brought so that he could continue to pay the doctors. In the end, he sat utterly alone inside the big, empty house, penniless, friendless, and hopeless.
“What happened to him? At some point he had to have found some humility as well as a wife, otherwise you wouldn’t be here to tell me about it, right?”, Ronnie asked when he had finished telling his story.
“He did. That’s actually a pretty good story on its own, according to family tradition”. He took her hands in his again, and this time his hands were trembling a little. He looked into her eyes, and she could see that he was a little afraid. “What I want the most in the world right now”, he said softly, “is to know if you will still marry me, knowing about the family curse”. For the first time since she had known him, Jason seemed self-conscious about his nose.
She waited a moment before giving her answer, carefully choosing her words. She clasped his hands tighter and said “I love you, and this curse, or whatever it is, is part of you. If we have kids, they will just have to understand.” She leaned across the table and kissed him on his nose, then sat back and looked around. “Now, where is that nice waiter with the dessert cart?”