Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals. She is author of two short story collections, Bound by Blue (Sententia Books, 2013) and
Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011), and three chapbooks. The latest is Her Skin Is a Costume (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry Award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014), written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College and lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.
I sit in a study group at school going over the lymphatic system when my right ear deactivates, dies. Nothing. I am surrounded by a table of nursing students who have studied the inner ear, but do not dissipate the fear. They look concerned as I leave the room, when the percussion of my heartbeat starts to drum through it. Something is screaming. I don’t think it will fall off, but cradling it feels like the right thing to do. Twenty-five thousand tiny hair cells make up the nuance of sound. My right ear is now a Marine’s crew cut.
The inner ear is called the labyrinth because of its chronic orbit. I listen to myself drown in the punctuality of balanced meals and walking on tiptoes. Madness is as close as my mom’s floral upholstery, close as the strain of devouring myself piece by piece.
I am in my car humming “You Are My Sunshine” over and over while a drill drives a screw through the inner sanctum of my cochlea to the heavy metal beat of my heart. The pain is ruthless, savage.
I put my sister on redial. She is afraid of intruders. Every night she locks herself in the back bedroom of her house. She has never been attacked in this house. She calls childhood the scab that never heals. The phone is in the front.
Drops slither into my ear, cold and rutted like bare feet on wet stone.
Multiple sore throats are watched, weathered, and stalked when I am a kid. The doctor shines his headlamp into my throat and next trip is to the hospital. Tonsils and adenoids are agents of death, spectacles of migrating decay. I suck on popsicles, hoarse with whatever voice has been sewed up inside me.
I sit in a chair all night and watch blood drip on to my shirt. I’ve only seen blood sliding out of an ear when someone is dead in a movie. I am prepared for anything. The bungalow I live in squeezes close to its neighbor. Everyone watches out windows for any abnormality that is already rampant in their house, but no one comes to anyone’s rescue.
Immune cells have a memory for trapped pathogens. There is a calculated risk of keeping parts of the anatomy in childhood that only heighten immunity and better health later. No one believes that crock of shit. My thyroid gland is the next to succumb when it can no longer secrete the panic backing up into my septic bloodstream. The doctor cuts on the dotted line.
My sister never picks up the phone. At 6 a.m. I stagger out of the chair and claw for the car keys. Air is a dimension I force myself through.
Sister opens the door. I am raw and red as a burial. She thinks I’ve been shot, rummaging over my body to find the hole that is exploding in my ear.
A deep concave has compressed my molecules, decibels have shamed silence out of me.
The range of human hearing is twenty to twenty thousand waves per second.
Sister wipes away my tears and says, “shhh, shhh, shhh.” It’s a lullaby we’ve grown up with.
The girl at the ER reception asks me to fill out forms. The downpour over my face is as steady and regulated as taking a shower. I’m not crying. They just slither over skin with or without my consent.
“As soon as you fill these out, I can get you in to see a doctor, honey,” she says. Her words are longer than a Stephen King novel. I keep shutting the book, only to find the sound of her and the forms piling up in front of me leafing open again.
Sister barks out storms with her tongue. Some bad movie plays out as a doctor blows in and nurses blow out. One word lights my cigarette. Morphine.
After a brain scan, they tell a story about a woman who died last week in my condition. She left the hospital. She had no insurance, like me, but her pain forgot why it was there and deflated after her ear exploded. She must have cleaned up the blood. Said to hell with it. And died.
I go home with painkillers and sister. While I lay in bed and watch snow drift through a hole in the roof, sister questions me. What’s your cat’s name? What is your favorite vacation spot? What is your preferred sex act? She laughs, but never stops working the keyboard. She figures out my password for eBay and starts buying shit.
The vocal folds can act as a sphincter that prevents air passage. My whole life I’ve been constipated. Mouths swollen and thick as knives have knocked the wind out of mine. I pound walls and kick down doors in my sleep. I rage through the racket of family that claim each scavenged part.
I wake up at some point and sister is gone.
So are my bank account and painkillers.
My heart is the shape of a fist.