There Is a Little Man, Made Out of Wax, Who Lives In My Ear
There is a little man, made out of wax, who lives in my ear. He loves to dance. Most days he doesn’t say much to me. Some days he talks a little. Once, I heard him sing. There are no decorations on the walls. There are no chairs for him to sit in. At night he lies in the canal of my ear, and he quietly sleeps. He is all alone.
Mum has no limbal ring. Her iris just sort of pools out into the white of her eye.
“That happens when you age,” a doctor told her once. But my mother is not old. I am her only child, and when I was young she would say that I was evergreen.
“You are an evergreen, little boy,” she said.
“Thanks, Mum,” I said. And I smiled. She was evergreen, too.
I live in a very small house, behind a larger house. There is just enough space for my bed, and a lamp, and a small silver refrigerator. A week ago, I bought a white chair to put next to my bed. I can touch all four walls of my bathroom from the center of it. There is no bath. There is just a toilet and a shower, and a drain in the middle of the room.
There are a lot of little bugs that live in my bed with me. I have bites on my back and stomach, but they don’t really itch. They just look kind of funny, like I have chicken pox or something. I wash my sheets in the kitchen sink every two weeks, and hang them on a clothesline in the yard. Sometimes, if it’s windy I worry they are going to blow away. I don’t know how the clothespins are strong enough to hold them. I imagine them landing in someone else’s yard, a few blocks away. Maybe they would use my sheets. Or maybe they would just throw them out.
Mum says the wind dries them faster, and that they won’t fly away unless it’s a hurricane. I think I live in a pretty good place for me, and I think Mum is proud that I live by myself, now.
“Why do they have green trash bins?” The little man in my ear tells me jokes sometimes.
They don’t have punch lines, though. They aren’t the kind of jokes you’d find in a joke book. They are just funny observations. He sees the world very differently than me, sometimes.
“It’s just for grass,” he said, and he was already laughing, so I laughed a little too.
“But grass just blows away in the wind.”
He laughed hard at that.
“That’s true!” I said. We were on a walk around Mum’s new home. She stayed in with a nurse, but I wanted to see the neighborhood. Only one house on the block hadn’t brought in there trash bins yet.
“I bet there was just a blue and a brown trash bin for the longest time,” he said.
I could feel him dancing around in there and it made me real happy. I love when he dances.
“And then some weird man must have come around, complaining about how he had so so so so much grass,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“And everyone probably said to him why don’t you just let it blow away in the wind, for goodness sake?”
I couldn’t stop laughing after that and my stomach even hurt from it. And he danced a little more, before he lay back down to rest.
It took Mum five years to clean out the garage.
She wanted to have a yard sale, but didn’t want to give away anything important. There was an old chest of bouncy balls that I would play with when I was young. I picked one up, and threw it as hard as I could against the ground. It bounced all the way up to the roof and hit shackle, then ricocheted into the neighbor's yard.
“Do you want to keep these books?” she asked.
“Oh I don’t think so, Mum.”
Mum had a big box of arts and crafts supplies. She loved art, and she was good at it. I feel like she could have entered a contest. My favorite was a picture of a sunflower. She broke up tile, and then pieced it back together. There was a long green stem that she made out of an old green plate, and green leaves, and yellow petals, and it was tall, and it stretched toward the cracked yellow sun, in the broken blue sky.
She tried to organize the boxes into things we could and couldn’t sell. One box had my third grade journal, and the chest of bouncy balls. At the bottom of that box, were two bronzed baby shoes, each one the size of a kiwi. I hoped she would keep that box.
“What about these stuffed animals? You loved these,” Mum said.
“I don’t know Mum, cause what would I do with them now, you know?”
I still lived with Mum then, so anything I kept just went into my room, and as each year passed, my room began looking more and more like the garage.
I wished she could just take them with her, but she wouldn’t have much space in her new place. It was always her plan to move out when she turned seventy. Then she would go to an assisted living home. But mum was strong, and she could still walk up the stairs easily at seventy. And I guess she never considered how long it would take her to clean out the garage.
“You could give them to your kids, one day,” she said. She pulled out an old gray elephant, I had loved when I was a child.
“Well I don’t know when I’ll have kids, you know, Mum?” I laughed a little at that, because I felt nervous. I felt sort of bad for Mum about that.
One box was full of little yellow cylinders of film, from all the disposable Kodak cameras Mum had bought over the years.
Mum, made me promise I would go to the doctor once a year to get checked up on, no matter what. I hate going to the doctor.
I always get sick afterwards.
When I was about ten years old, it happened for the first time. I showed up and I was healthy. I was just there for a check up. But I sat next to a sick kid and he sneezed on me. I was sick the very next day.
Doctor Hamilton has never has given me good news.
“You should really cut down on cheese, son,” he’ll say.
“You need to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, son,” he’ll say.
“You should really consider quitting smoking, son,” he’ll say.
“Okay,” I’ll say. I hate when he calls me son. And I hate that he talks to me like I’m a child. And when he gives me my pills, he always seems so happy, like he is as glad to be him, as he is not to be me.
Mum made me go my whole life. When I was just a child, she had to drag me there. I had three sets of teeth as a kid, and I would get bad migraines, so we had to visit Dr. Hamilton often. For the last two years Mum hasn’t been able to come along. But I promised her I would go, and I promised her to take any medicine the doctor wanted me to take. She says he knows better than anyone how the brain and the body works, but I don’t believe Dr. Hamilton knows much about me at all.
“People should sleep with water bottles on their bedside table,” he said. I had just finished pouring myself a glass of water. I had accidentally overfilled it, right up to the brim, and I had to bend over and sip some of the water from the top of the glass.
“That way they would never spill.”
“That’s true,” I said.
“But not everyone can afford so many water bottles.”
“It’s definitely good we have carpet,” I said.
“Maybe someone will invent a cap to put on a cup.”
“That would probably be a million dollar idea.”
I never did very well in high school, but I got a job right after graduating at a Trader Joe’s. Mum knew I would never go to college. I bagged the groceries, and if it was heavy food, like a watermelon, or a gallon of milk, I double bagged it.
I met Rose at the grocery store. I had been working there two years already, and David asked me to walk her through orientation. I had never done that before. She sort of followed me around that whole day, and she even laughed at a few of my stories.
“Do you like working here?” she asked, after I showed her all the places I liked to sit, when the store was quiet.
“I like it,” I said. “It’s somewhere to be, you know?”
Rose was two hundred pounds, then, and a lot of people would make fun of her for that. But I loved Rose. She was the nicest girl I had ever met. When we were together, I probably put on twenty pounds, because she cooked such rich meals for us. Mum thought that was real funny because I had always been so thin, before I met Rose.
Most days I would go over to her place after work and watch the TV with her. She had more channels than I had ever seen in my whole life. After I had been over to her apartment a few times, I kissed her. It was during a commercial for the Maury show. She said it wasn’t her first kiss, but she was happy that I did it. We were together almost a year.
I loved to take baths when I was a boy. I would hold my breath under water and count as high as I could. And my hair would float upward, toward the top of the bath. And sometimes I would open my eyes for just a second, and I could see my blurry feet, far and small at the end of the tub. I would stay in there for two hours, some days. By the time I got out, my hands would always be wrinkled like a raisin, and I would laugh.
The only memory I have of my father was that he came into the bathroom once, while I was in the bath. I was maybe five, or maybe six.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you sport, but I had to take a piss.”
I pulled the yellow shower curtain all the way to wall so he couldn’t see me.
“How long are you gonna stay in here for, kid?” He had a mustache, and long hair. He didn’t seem like the type of man Mum would marry.
“Your mom wants me to put your pajamas on, sport. So could if I could get a ballpark on when you’ll be about done, that’d be great.”
I felt uncomfortable, being naked in front of him. I pulled the beaded string attached to the stopper, and it popped out of the drain. The water swirled like a little tornado, and I worried my foot might get stuck so I slid to the far end of the tub. My dad put on my pajamas, and then Mum came upstairs and told me to brush my teeth and clean my ears. She said if I didn’t a little man would grow inside them.
“You’ll be okay,” Mum said.
I didn’t want to move out. And I didn’t want Mum to move out. She had helped me to find a little house for myself, and we had cleaned out the whole garage. We had to throw away the bouncy balls. Mum even got rid of some of her art. She was seventy-eight when she sold the house.
“I know, Mum. And you’ll be okay, too.”
“I have to share a room now,” she said.
“Did she seem nice?”
“She seemed old, dear.”
Once a man came on the TV at Rose’s and he was selling Bibles.
“There is a secret that everyone knows,” he said. He was wearing a suit, which I found strange. Jesus never wore a suit, he would have looked ridiculous in one. And this man was balding, and he looked like he sweating in his suit. And he was way too loud. I imagine Jesus was quiet, and people just listened to him.
“Everyone in the world knows the secret to happiness! You can’t even call it a secret!”
I remember thinking he looked scared for such a happy man.
“The secret,” he said, “is love.”
I don’t think he was using the words secret right. Then he offered to ship us a Bible, for twenty-five dollars. I tried to buy it, but when I called the number on the screen it was busy. I found a Bible, about a year later, for free. It was just in the street, and it looked like one or two cars had run over it. I keep it on the ground next to my bed.
I told Rose I loved her that day. And she said she loved me.
I do love Rose. And I love Mum. And I love Aunt Ida. And I love the little man, made out of wax, who lives in my ear. And I love God. And I love Jesus Christ. And once I saw a little kitten, in a cage, at a vet’s office, and I think I loved it more quickly than I had ever loved anything else. I put my finger through one of the square holes in the cage, and she rubbed her soft back against my finger nail, as if just my touch made her a little happier.
“Did you like working at the grocery store?” he asked, one day, about a month after I was fired.
“It was something to do,” I said
“I used to think about eating the peaches,” he said.
“You like peaches, too?”
“I’ve never had one,” he said
“You would love them. I’m sure of it. Especially when they are in season.”
“Do you know how old I am?” he sounded concerned.
“Is everything okay?” I asked
“I feel young, still, and I was just wondering if you knew how long I had been here for.”
“I don’t know. Maybe twenty years?”
“I think Mum would be proud.”
“Of what?” I asked
“That you worked hard, at the store.”
“You think Mum knows that, though?”
“I think so,” he said
When I was about six years old, Mum and I would visit her sister, Aunt Ida. She lived in a cottage next to a lake. Mum and I would go out on the lake in the paddleboat sometimes. There was a small island in the middle of the lake. It was just a lot of trees, and bushes, and we had to be careful for poison oak, but Mum would always try to climb the small trees. She fell off one once, and I was scared. But when I ran over to help her up, she was laughing, and I knew that meant she was okay.
And Aunt Ida had a Collie named Mandy, and I would play with Mandy while Mum and Aunt Ida talked and drank wine. I wasn’t allowed to take the paddleboat out by myself, but I could play in the woods, as long as I stayed within a shouts distance of the cottage.
“Do you like nature?” Mum asked once, when it was just the two of us, near the lake.
“I like it a lot.”
“Do you like your Aunt Ida?”
I paused a long time at that. I loved my Aunt Ida because she was my aunt. But she had no teeth, and she didn’t even try to get fake teeth, and she looked sort of like Mum if Mum were really old. And I couldn’t understand a word she said.
“Yes, mum,” I said
“She likes seeing you, you know?”
Aunt Ida died a long time ago. Mum has outlived all her other siblings. She is evergreen. The last time I saw her she told me, she keeps living because I am her son, and because I am her friend, too.
“I’m glad you are here,” says the little man who lives in my ear.
I don’t do as much as I used to, now. I’m getting old, and I stay in most days. I got a small white chair, and put it next to my bed, and sometimes I fall asleep in it, and then wake up in the middle of the night and have to get into my bed.
“I’d be terribly lonely, if you weren’t around,” he says
Some days I put on music, and we dance together. And I laugh because I love it when he dances in my ear.
The last time I saw Mum her hands were thin.
She got up out of bed, when I arrived, and she made a cup of tea for each of us. It looked too heavy for her, and I felt so sad, seeing her arm tremble like that.
“I’m feeling a lot better, dear,” she said.
“Do you need help, Mum?”
“It’s just me, now,” she said. Her roommate had died.
“Maybe, I could move in here, Mum.” I said
“I’m afraid you are about five years too young for that, dear”
“My place is quiet.”
“Put on the radio, dear.”
She stood, walked to the freezer, and maneuvered with all her force, two large ice cubes, out of an ice tray. They seemed too large for her small cup, and they never fully melted in her tea. When she finished she threw what was left of each cube into the sink, where they finally became puddles of water on the yellowing plastic.
That was almost two weeks ago, and it was the last time I saw Mum. I’m going to go visit again soon, but she says to only come every second week. Sometimes I forget that Mum gets tired quicker now. She says she loves seeing me so much, that it makes her more tired the day after I visit. I guess it’s hard for me to understand, because when you spend your whole life with someone, you never really see them age.
I sat at a bus stop for about two hours after I dropped Mum off at her new home for the first time. Probably twelve busses passed. I wanted to move in with her, so we could talk like we used to. I didn’t want to go to my new place.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie! That's amore! When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine! That's amore! When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool! That's amore! When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet! You're in love!” He sounded like a real life Opera singer! It was as clear, and as beautiful as anything I have ever heard. I hadn’t heard that song since I was a boy. They would sing it at my favorite Italian restaurant. A few waiters, dressed in stripes would stand in the center of the restaurant and start it off, and then everyone sang.
It just came out of nowhere. He hadn’t even said a word that day. It just rang out of him, clear and full as the air around us. I was so excited when he sang it, that I stood up and sat down on the bus bench, because that was all I could think to do. And then he started again, and sang it a second time through. And this time I sang along with him, at the top of my lungs.
Aunt Ida was a cook at little restaurant off the side of the road where truckers ate a long time ago, before I was born, when she had teeth. She’d always cook us a nice meal when we stayed with her. Once she sent Mum and I out to pick wild strawberries for a pie. We walked along the gravel road, and on the side of it, growing out of the gravel, were strawberries smaller than tacks. We couldn’t possibly pick enough to fill a pie, so Mum and I ate every little berry we could find. I had never had a strawberry like that before. The flavor was so condensed. They weren’t anything like the big strawberries at Trader Joe’s that taste like water.
Mum looked at me and she said, “This is how God intended things to be.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“People could stand to be a little smaller,” she said.
I still don’t really know what she meant by that, but she looked sad when she said it.
“Open your mouth, son,” Doctor Hamilton said to me, a few days ago. He looked into the back of my throat.
“How does it look in there?”
“Looks fine to me, son.”
I still didn’t like that he called me son. He was almost ninety now, and I wondered if he would ever retire. He didn’t seem to even care if I was healthy or not, anymore.
“How is your mother doing these days?” He asked
“Good for her.”
Then he pulled a small black instrument out of his drawer. It had a little a light on the end of it. And before I could stop him he put it in my ear.
“Stop!” I yelled.
“What’s the matter? Did that hurt?”
“No. I just don’t want that done.”
“Well, if you let me get a Q-tip it would help me see¾”
“I don’t want that!”
I stood up.
“Okay, okay, son. Well if that hurt, you may have an ear infection.”
“It didn’t hurt. I want to leave.”
“We haven’t finished your check up.”
“I’ll come back. I just want to leave.”
“Just give me five more minutes.”
So I sat and waited for five minutes while he pricked my finger, and took my blood, and listened to my heart, with a cold, cold, silver stethoscope, and got me new pills to take.
I walked out the door, and down the hall, and I got on the City 6 bus, and when I got
home, I lay down.
“Are you okay? Little buddy?” I asked.
When I was in school, I had a friend named Billy.
He would give me his extra peanut butter sandwich some days. But he went to college in North Carolina, and we lost touch. I heard he moved back home, but I never saw him around. One day I ran into his sister at a laundromat. She said he lived in Ontario, and was working at a web design studio, and she said that she was sure he’d love to hear from me.
“We should get together sometime, Billy,” I said.
“Sure,” he said through the phone, “we could get lunch or something.”
“Yea maybe we could get lunch,” I said. And I laughed a little, because I thought that would really be something. If Billy and I got lunch, after all these years. Maybe he’d even bring me an extra peanut butter sandwich.
He asked when I would next be in Ontario, and I said I didn’t know. I’ve never been there before in my life, and it’s four hours away, by car. So we just agreed to call, if either of us should happen to be in the other’s neighborhood. It made me smile, to think of eating lunch with Billy again. It’s nice to know that he’s doing well.
“Can you sing again?” I ask. I’m sitting in the small white chair next to my bed.
“Hey. Are you awake?”
“I hope you aren’t lonely, little guy.”
“Maybe you feel like dancing?”
“Hi. Did I wake you up?”
“I was just resting.”
“I was worried about you.”
“I’m okay. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Do you feel like dancing?”
“Maybe in a little while.”
“You love to dance.”
“You love to dance.”
I wiggle in the white chair, as he moves around in there.
“I don’t dance very well, though,” I say.
“Did Rose dance?”
“A little. Nobody dances as good as you, though.”
“I love to dance.”
“It feels funny in my ear when you dance.”
“Mum would like this place.”
“Do you think?”
“I think so.”
“I’d have to clean up a little if she visited.”
There are clothes on the floor, and a few dirty dishes in the sink.
“Do you think people always flossed their teeth?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“I couldn’t imagine a caveman flossing his teeth.”
“But they always have teeth in the cartoons.”
“Yes!” I say.
“Mum always said to brush twice a day.”
“I hope she’s happy there.”
It is silent for a while.
“Little guy?” I ask.
“Do you like it in there?” I ask.
“Of course, I do. This is my home.”
“You aren’t lonely?”
“If I get lonely, I dance, or I talk to you, or I think of a joke.”
“Okay, I’m glad.” I say.
I smile. I laugh.
“I love you.”
About the Author: Dylan Macdonald is a recent graduate of the University of San Diego. He has been published or has forthcoming work in the Alcala Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Literally Stories and was runner up in the Cropper Creative Writing Contest for Fiction. His poetry is forthcoming in Columbia Journal Online, Rust + Moth – A Journal of Poetry and the Arts, Red Paint Hill Poetry Journal, and Scarlett Leaf Review.