It was an ear infection that did it. I blame the swimming pool. Whenever I venture into its stinking blue heat, I find myself diverted from lane swimming and smooth strokes of front crawl into avoiding the peachy plasters, succulent scabs, pubic hair and skin flakes texturing the water with infection.
Whatever the reason, I bought a box of cotton buds, tiny white dumbbells of deafness, from the chemist next to the takeaway down the road. ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal – may cause serious harm or deafness’. My Uncle Jim always said the only thing you should put in your ear was your elbow. Yoga, stretching, even the near dislocation of my shoulders never helped me attain that impossible goal. Salt water, that’s what he’d recommend. Cures anything. Broken heart? Have a cry. Sore throat? Gargle with it. Sunburn? Bathe in it. But water in my ears got me into this mess, no chance I’m adding to the worrying wetness, none.
Now, with the itching threatening to scour my sanity and pale liquid trickling like piss from my ears, reminding me of my one dalliance with alternative sex and Golden Showers, I was doing something I’d promised my mother I’d never do.
I was going to clean my ears out.
Oh, the relief.
The twirling of bud after bud, turned soggy and yellow, piling like little paper bones in a heap on the bathroom floor.
Just one more. Just this one.
But I had to go deeper; I couldn’t not.
Chunks of brown and red, stiff and rank, almost hairy round the edges. Could I make candles? Should I? No…
This must be another old deposit, I held the fuzzy end in frantic fingers and pushed, trying to hook it free, shove it out, clear the infection. I should have stopped. I know that now.
I heard a ‘click’, felt the obstruction shift, and suddenly my head was full of noise. Pulling the cotton bud out, nothing came with it. But the voices, oh, the voices stayed.
Did you know there was a switch in your head?
That if you work hard enough, dig deep, push and pull and itch and squirm, you can flick it, too?
I don’t recommend it. People sometimes wish they had the ability to read the minds of others, in a nice, clean, pick-and-choose way. It’s nothing like that, nothing at all. The films about it? They bear as much resemblance to the reality as celebrity sex tapes do to Friday night fingers in the shower. My flatmate was considering which of her teachers she’d most like to fuck and how; I had no idea her breath stank from eating Mr Overbaum’s shit. Stan at the shop below was wondering if his mum would mind him using her microwave to explode wasps on the lowest setting. It made them last longer before they blew. And that nice old lady, the one from down the road who waved at passersby and gave babies shiny new pennies – she was the worst of the lot. Helping Hitler, looking out for non-blonds. I’d dash the coins from her evil old hands next time I saw her. She wiped them in her knickers first.
It was all too much. I tried it for an hour, and it was just overwhelming. Nothing useful, nothing sexy, nothing I wanted or needed to know. Just a constant torrent of other people’s nasty little ramblings and wonderings, inane shopping lists and to do files, whining and whining and scuzzing through my head.
No point running to the doctors for help, they’d have me on happy pills in the time it takes to swaddle a near adult in a straitjacket. Who believes in telepathy? Not even me. Perhaps if I flicked the switch back… yeah, that should do it. Then stick the rest of the packet in the bin. Done, never to fuck up with again.
It was hard work moving it the first time, but my mum’s due over any minute and there’s no way I’m hearing what she gets up to with my dad. No way. In, dig, move, move…
Oh shit – too far – it’s gone over the other way – normality must be the middle setting. I’m surprised at how much it hurts when my face hits the floor, how cool the summer air feels on the wet base of my neck. My lip’s split on my teeth, but it hardly matters now. A tear seeps onto my cheek.
As the oxygen fades I can hear them at my door; just footsteps, no voices. My body crumples over to the side, hitting the sink with its empty hands, and someone in the hallway asks if I’m alright. But there’s nothing the chemist can do for me now.
Re-label the boxes, you bastards.
They should read ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal, may cause serious harm, deafness, or decapitation’.
But seriously, who knew?
By Gill Hoffs