THE EAR — Patrick Crerand

The two professors sat in the cafeteria near a large bank of windows that afforded a view of the college’s swimming pool one story below. It was a hot day and a few women sat on the edge of the pool with their backs to the men above who watched unashamedly, eating gyros and fries. They were talking about a documentary the young professor had seen the night before about secret collections in museums, halls of hermaphroditic statues and assorted Gnostica, until the young man lost his train of thought and stared quietly for some time. Realizing his young friend was not present, the older colleague spoke.

“What is it?” the old man asked.

“Nothing,” the young man said. “It’s just. My God. That woman has a beautiful figure.”

The old man looked down. There below them a new woman had emerged from the water. She lifted herself up with a twist of her torso so she too now sat with her back to them and spoke with her friends who were all resting between laps. She wore a bikini like the others, but hers was red and white striped. When she sat, she reclined in a classical pose with a strand of dark hair curled around her shoulder. It seemed to the young professor, the very outline of her shape was a keyhole through which one viewed the beauties of renaissance paintings.

“I am not saying this out of any sexual feelings for her,” the young man said, “but as an advocate of beauty, I’d like to go down there and tell her how beautiful she is. But that would be wrong. She wouldn’t hear it right, I suppose.”

“No,” the old professor said. “She wouldn’t.”

“And still it’s odd. I cannot look away.” He stood up. “I may go down there.”

Just as he was about to leave, the old professor spoke. “There is something freakish about beauty like that,” the old man said, putting a hand up as if to stop him. He smiled, returned to his sandwich.

“What?” asked the young man, hesitating. “Do you know her?”

“I had her in a class once.”

“And?”

“I happened to notice that she has an ear in the small of her back.”

“An ear?” the young man said, fixing his eyes back on the old professor’s pallid face.

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? Her skin looks flawless from here.”

“It’s very small,” the old man said. “She leaned over once and I saw it. It had a lobe and everything. She wore a small diamond stud in it even.”

“An ear?”

“And an earring,” the old man said.

The young professor looked down again at the woman on the edge of the pool and watched as she dove back into the water and ducked under a knotted lane rope to resume her laps.

“Why would she have an extra ear?” the young professor asked not so much to the old man but, perhaps, to the universe itself.

The old man put down his sandwich and, as a favor, told the young man what he knew about beautiful women.

“All beautiful women have them,” he said. “It’s just they go unnoticed. Hers isn’t an ear for normal hearing, you see. She has two fine ears already for that purpose. This ear is to hear what isn’t being said. It is an ear that demands a truth that cannot be articulated easily. It cherishes the language of stillness. It longs for the art of the pause.”

The old man took one long draught of his water, nodded, and excused himself to the restroom, leaving the young man alone, staring but not seeing the scene below him in a space voided of time. What awoke him finally from this reverie was the sight of the old man down below walking by the pool and holding the beautiful woman’s red towel out from his body like the wingspan of a phoenix, just as she finished her final stroke in the pool.

If he had been a lip reader, the young man might have learned what the old man said to her to get her to lift herself toward him and turn so he could throw the towel over her soft curves. But the young professor was not looking at the old man’s lips. Instead, his gaze remained fixed on the woman’s back, searching frantically for the hidden ear before the old man draped the towel over her shoulders and she turned to walk with him side by side.

***

Patrick Crerand writes fiction mostly.  His work has appeared recently in Knee Jerk, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s and other places. He teaches in Florida at Saint Leo University in Florida where he lives with his wife and three kids. He also edits a new literary magazine, Lightning Key Review.