Sheldon Lee Compton
Other Ears Look Fine
Shiver turned his head sideways and examined his right ear.
Normal. Not normal, no. His therapist would get twitchy the way he does if Shiver said normal. Common, yes. It was past two in the morning and frogs longed for each other in the wet dark outside the window. Feeling them wanting each other in that way made the bathroom seem smaller, bright and instantly harsh.
He closed his eyes, opened them, reset, and turned his head.
This ear, perfect. Not two sizes larger than it should be, not three shades darker than the rest of his skin. And an opening. This ear had an opening, an eardrum in there somewhere. An eardrum that received sound in the expected way, not in hidden messages, messages like the ones pouring in from the frogs.
As with the fullness of experience, he could feel their need. It had been like this as long as Shiver could remember. Early on Shiver wasn't aware of how his ear did more than hear the living world. He only knew it did, accepted it as he accepted without thought the unconditional love of his parents despite his differentness. It wasn't until he started grade school he began turning his head obsessively, away from eyes and stabbing fingers, the darker clump on the side of his head always to the wall, a window. And through that wall, all the feelings frenzy-mixed inside him. Years passed before he learned to manage them properly.
Managing them did not always stop them. Standing at the bathroom sink now, he longed for a simple connection with another person, felt the pain of its absence just as the frogs did, casting out their throats in the darkness. He lusted their lust in their same animal way.
Shiver had lusted before, the human lusting of young boys and young men. He knew the difference between that sensation and what was being pumped into him from these nighttime frogs. The difference was not only huge, but as strange as anyone hearing about it might expect. The pleadings from the frogs into what he had come to call his open wound, his wretched ear-thing, his flesh curse, was both animal and godly, too. Godly in such a way that it became larger, more important than anything else at that moment.
He focused and tried an old trick, the one his therapist suggested after the great rock concert catastrophe of 1992. It was called being mindful. Mindfulness. He focused more intently on the light switch beside the sink. The light switch. Light switch. Switch.
And in came the thoughts. Those thoughts people generally pushed aside when they exploded into the mind. Nasty things that showed up unannounced and were then repressed without people even realizing they were doing it. Other times, just general thoughts. Things trapped in the filter. Shiver let these thoughts occur to him, stay in his mind, and then allowed them to pass through instead of fighting or hiding from them.
Longinus, the Roman centurion who pierced Jesus's side, had a day set aside in his honor.
Frogs burst-croaked around the room, all sound and panic-lust.
Longinus. Longinus. A lot people didn't even know his name. Thing was, Longinus had cataracts and couldn't participate in battle anymore. But since he had long been a loyal soldier, he was placed on duty at Mount Calvary, overseeing crucifixions.
The frogs — hundreds now — ached to find something, anything, a shared croaking, a single shriek beneath the moon.
Not able to see well, Longinus simply moved on with his duties as always. Being different was just being different. It didn't mean the end of all things. Shiver imagined him standing at the cross, squinting to see if the crucified man's eye lids were fluttering, straining for too long at his bruising ribcage watching for the easy rise and fall of life there. But his ailment, his cursed ailment, stole his vision.
Shiver refocused on the light switch and saw it blur away, saw the spear held in Longinus's hands stab straight and true into his field of vision. Shiver didn't think of his strange ear at all then, or the sounds giving birth to feelings residing within. For a blessed moment, standing in the early morning darkness of his bathroom, what he saw was more important, more real, than what he heard and felt. What he saw was necessity giving birth to salvation, and he saw it a full two seconds before, at long last, his eardrum burst.
Sheldon Lee Compton
is the author of The Same Terrible Storm
, 2012) and most recently Where Alligators Sleep
, 2014). His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Thomas and Lillian D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing, and the Gertrude Stein Award. He survives in Kentucky.