The Ear by TJ Fox

The ear lay motionless on the nightstand when he awoke. Ennis blinked. The ear remained. Ennis yanked the covers over his head, counted to ten, and peeked.


Aside from its disembodiment, it was an unremarkable ear. A smidge large, perhaps, and with an unusually fetching helix, but otherwise average. Had it been there all night? Ennis reached for his earlobes.


“How did you get here?” he wondered aloud.

The ear twitched languorously, like a freshly-spanked pudding.

“Hello,” said Ennis. The ear reacted--not with a startle, but as if it actually welcomed sound, as a flower might welcome a bee.

It heard him.

Ennis reprised his high school performance of the Gettysburg Address, leaving random words unvoiced. "Four score…ago...brought forth…continent…”

It listened. There was no doubt.

Ennis began the workweek with the ear in his jacket. He experimented, walking from the hiss of the espresso machine to the hush of the supply closet and back. The ear pulsed in sympathy with the changing volume and timbres.

Ennis returned home.

He went to the bathroom mirror. Holding the ear beside his head, he realized it most definitely was a left ear. He compared it to his own. The ear snapped on suddenly. Frightened, Ennis tugged it off. It detached easily. The ear appeared to behave like a magnet, clinging then releasing again without too much effort.

Ennis narrowed the blinds and wore the ear all that night. The indistinct hum of neighborhood life refracted into a spectrum of discrete, subtle sounds, from footfalls and ailing mufflers to the jangle of change and the turbulence of buses tunneling through humid air. Sleep was impossible.

Ennis put on Sketches of Spain, the Miles Davis album that Gloria in 5H had called her favorite that one day in the laundry room. He’d bought it immediately, and listened to it countless times since. But now it sounded different. Richer. He heard things he’d never noticed before. Tiny hesitations, fluffy clouds of background static in former silences, minute variations in duration and volume, a nuanced ladder of microtones between notes.

It was like hearing for the first time.

Ennis returned to work Tuesday feeling exhausted and nearly deaf. Removing the ear was more difficult than before, and more painful: it washed all of the color out of sound, all of the flavor. He furtively thumbed the spiral groove of the ear in his pocket throughout the day. When he got home, he snapped it on even before the deadbolt rasped through the strike plate in a frottage of rust.

That night Ennis again sat in the dark and listened. He heard the torturously leaky faucet in 6H, and the muffled, unsyncopated darting of 7C's rubber cane tip as he raced to relieve his bladder. He heard the amours in 9B, however diligently Dave and Tina labored not to wake the kids. He strained to pinpoint Gloria in 5H, finally triangulating her by way of a groaning couch spring, the ruffle of turning pages, and cooling puffs echoing across a slowly-emptying mug.

He heard it all.

Or so he thought, until he began to hear more. The porcelain chatter of a local cafe. Church bells pealing in the near suburbs. Dave's pronounced arrhythmia.

He estimated that the range and acuity of his hearing doubled every couple days. The unhearable became faint, the faint loud, and the loud deafening. Nothing escaped him. He heard each raindrop against the thunder, the marginalia beside the script of daily life.

“...half-caf soy macchiato with…”

“...and he was like, ‘duh’...”

“...slide G shows our forecast based on…”

“...will be answered in the order it was received…”

Ennis called in sick Wednesday morning, tickled to discover that he could actually hear his own voice returning back to him from his supervisor’s earpiece half a city away. In truth, he had never felt healthier, more alive. Why leave the apartment? Everything came to him.

But not Gloria. Not yet.

After realizing that he could hear everything in 5H, Ennis had at first shied away from eavesdropping. It seemed too forward, nonconsensual. But it was just so easy. Unavoidable, really. He could do it with his eyes closed.

And he did.

Gloria’s every sound hit him like a bewitching flock of homing signals: the chafing of her inseams, as distinct as her walk; unpredictable poppings of her left knee, always on the upstep; the soft net of asthma hemming in each breath. And her heart: her healthy, generous, 61 beats-per-minute-at-rest heart.

He rummaged the soundscape for an inkling about how to approach her. Miles Davis was a good start. But then what? He listened to her conversations, and to conversations about her, seeking actionable intelligence.

Consumed by this mission--and having grown accustomed to navigating his apartment, batlike, in the dark--Ennis overlooked how the ear grew nearly as exponentially as his hearing. Had he turned on the bathroom light, he would have seen himself swooped leftward, like an arc lamp with a fleshy clamshell of a shade.

Emboldened by the intimacy of their connection—lover and loved, hearer and heard—Ennis finally grasped the perfect overture: the ear. Of course! His most prized possession. Next time Gloria passed his apartment, he would give her the ear, so that she could hear his heart quicken for her. It would be romantic, like van Gogh, but without the crazy.

He readied himself as Gloria neared his door, but she knocked first: an elephant tapdancing. “Are you OK, Mr. A?” she blared with concern. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

At the last moment, Ennis thought to include Sketches of Spain, so she might hear it anew with her gift. He spun to grab it and heard--felt--a deafening crack. Ennis realized it was his neck even before the wet fish slap of the ear hitting the floor. As he crumpled heavily beside it in the moonlight, Ennis saw the ear spasm, shrink, and still.

Then everything faded to white noise.


© TJ Fox, 2015

TJ Fox (@farmeresq) is the author of two improbably long-titled nonfiction books on sustainability themes. He also writes fiction. Mostly short. What he tends not to write are biographical statements, which make him profoundly uncomfortable. Even when they’re written, however implausibly, in the third person. His works have placed in several competitions, and have been published or are forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He lives in New Jersey.

The Ear was read by Mark Woollett on 2nd December 2015 for Magic & Moonlight