Peter and the Ear

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Peter Peterson was a wimp. He knew he was a wimp. He had been a wimp his whole life. He had a tall,
beanpolish figure, drooping at the shoulders, that looked like it might blow away at the slightest
hint of wind. He had wimpy hair, wimpy eyes behind glasses that perched atop a wimpy nose that
peered down past his wimpy chin pathetically, as if it might just drip off his face altogether. He
left his house in Seaford, Long Island every morning precisely at six o'clock for his job as a clerk
at the local video store, wearing his usual outfit: the blue polo with 'Tom's video' on the
sleeve and the card pinned to the breast pocket proclaiming the cheery message 'Hi, my name is
Peter!', a pair of cargo shorts, and strap-on sandals with black socks pulled halfway up his
calves. This particular morning, he left his house at half-past six, with tousled hair, rumpled
polo, and one sock falling down, trying to smooth his hair back with sweaty palms, as this was the
day he got the chance to display his employee picks. This was his least favorite day of the week; he
never had much self-confidence, but on his employee picks day, he felt like somebody was always
judging him, laughing at his choices and his temerity in displaying them. He stumbled into work
twenty minutes late, and fumbled through the video stacks in the ten minutes before the store
opened, quickly choosing movies and grabbing them off the shelves. Casablanca, Empire Records, Big
Fish...He hesitated over Back to the Future, worrying that customers would guess that he liked it
because he identified with George Mcfly. There was no time though, so he shoved his armful of movies
onto the shelf taped 'Pete's Picks' and took his place at the checkout counter as his boss
(whose name was Henry, not Tom) flipped the yellow sign on the door from 'Go home, we're closed'
to 'Come in, we're open.' The hours passed. Each time a customer looked over the employee picks
section, Peter felt his throat constrict, imagining sneers and smiles of contempt on their faces,
trying to hide the tag on his shirt that singled him out as the idiot who had picked such pathetic
movies. At around three o'clock, a girl came in. She was close to Peter's age, twenty-four, perhaps,
with long slender legs and smooth black hair escaping from where it was pinned loosely to the back
of her head, baring her shoulders to the warn spring sun. He found himself staring at the back of
her shorts aas she walked by, and quickly looked away. His eyes were drawn back, however, as she
moved closer to the employee picks section and he clenched his hands into fists, praying that she
wouldn't look at his. It was directly to his shelf that she was headed though, and he could feel her
contempt, already hear her laughter as she went home to her muscular surfer boyfriend, saying,
'I've never seen so many bad movies in one place before! That Peter must be a real loser.' But
she wasn't turning away in derision, no, her hand was creeping up, up, past the lower shelves,
reaching his, its neatly manicured nails sliding across the backs of DVDs, pulling one out. And then
she was moving away, the movie still in her hand. As she joined the checkout queue, terror gripped
him, for he could see that she would end up at his register, and his voice cracked as he called out
'Next!' and, sure enough, she came towards him. She placed the movie on the counter. Back to the
Future. He raised his eyes to her face, almost afraid to look, and smiled weakly. She was beautiful,
long lashes framing chocolate-colored eyes, a delicate nose sloping down to form a ski-jump to a
perfectly curved mouth, which opened in a smile as she saw his nametag. 'You picked this one,
didn't you? It's one of my favorites.' He swallowed; his mouth felt like it was filled with
cotton, all the moisture drained from it by her smile. 'Uh, yes, it's...I like to think of
myself'I really identify with Marty,' he stammered. 'Y'know, the young, handsome guy, likes to
have fun...ha ha...' 'Really?' Her eyes widened and then narrowed conspiratorially, sparkling
with laughter as she leaned forward, making him feel as if he had been singled out as the one person
worthy of hearing her next words. His breath came faster. 'My favorite part is when he goes back
in time and meets his parents when they're young. When he's young, George McFly is so dreamy!'
Peter blinked. Dammit. She went for George? The weak, lame, loser of a father? He was so flustered
that besides nearly dropping the film, trying to put it in the bag the wrong way, and nearly
forgetting to give her her change, he even forgot to say 'Have a nice day!' At five o'clock,
when their shift ended, Bruce, one of the other clerks, came up to Peter as he was leaving the
store. 'Hey, Pete, you know Dave Finley, right?' Peter nodded. 'Well, it's his birthday, and I
was thinking of maybe taking him to the bar, buying him a few drinks. Wanna come?' 'Uh, sure.'
The idea of going to the bar made him nervous. But after all, why shouldn't he go? He was a man,
wasn't he? He had a perfect right to go drinking with his friends. He and Bruce picked up David at
his house, and the three sat down in a row at the bar. 'To David!' Bruce cried, raising his
first glass of beer. Peter joined in hesitantly, and after several more glasses began to regret
coming. His head felt like it was filled with fluff and his vision seemed to be moving around
without him. It was as if the entire world was balancing on him, for if he even so much as turned
his head, the bar would start rocking back and forth. He was vaguely aware of laughter around him,
and Bruce's voice calling to the bartender and asking for something, but it wasn't until a
shot-glass with a slice of lemon holding onto the rim was slid in front of him did he realize that
what Bruce was ordering was tequila. 'Well, here goes!' David said. Peter watched his two
friends knock their shots back in unison, then bite their lemon slices. He stared at his own glass
as they looked at him expectantly. He picked it up and sipped at it. A fiery taste met his gums and
slashed its way down his throat. He was expected to drink this? 'Oh, come on Pete,' his friends
laughed. Oh God. He swung his head back, pouring the alcohol down his throat. Or tying to. Tequila
splashed on his face, making his eyes burn, and as he leaned back, his stool began to tip over.
Desperately, he grabbed the edge of the bar, righting himself. He slammed the glass down,
spluttering and shaking his head, the lemon slice forgotten in the bottom. Though most of the
tequila had ended up in his eyes rather than his mouth, the effect was immediate. After another
shot, he became quite as enthusiastic as his friends, flinging his arms about and cheering for
David. It was while he was doing this that a burly man in a leather vest sat down next to him and
set a pair of tattooed arms on the bar. It was as this man called for a drink that Peter's fingers
had the misfortune to slip and his glass flew from his hand, emptying its contents into the burly
man's face before slamming into his nose with a crunch. The man leaped to his feet and grabbed
Peter's collar, knocking his stool over backwards into a staggering group of men on their way out,
who, in turn, seized his collar after stumbling into another man's table, who, in his turn, seized
two of their collars. The burly man let go of Peter to whirl around, flinging the whole crew into
the dining area, causing tables to fall over, utensils plates and food to fly everywhere, and many
angry, tipsy men to grab their chairs and join in the fight. The burly man again turned his
attention to Peter, seizing him and pushing Bruce and David out into the fray, which then surged
forward, engulfing Peter and the burly man. Peter soon found himself borne up on top of the mass of
thrashing men, his limbs seized and attacked, and his collar still held fast by the burly man. As he
was pulled toward his attacker, Peter found the only means of defense available to him were his
teeth, and this being so, he opened his mouth and bit the man's large earlobe. As he did so, he
heard the wail of sirens and the call of 'Police! Police!' was taken up through the crowd. The
men who had been holding him up began hastily to make their way to the door and Peter felt himself
falling. As his feet hit the ground with a jolt, he felt his teeth meet through the burly man's
flesh, and heard a snarl of pain. He quickly joined the rush for the door, half-aware of the thing
remaining in his mouth and the taste of blood. As he rounded the corner, he realized what it was
that was on his tongue and a wave of nausea came over him and he spat furiously, catching the
earlobe in his right hand. He made his way home, through his front door, and onto his faded yellow
couch. What to do with the ear? He couldn't throw it out; it wasn't his, what if the man wanted it
back? Should he just leave it out, or wrap it in something? Tinfoil perhaps. Maybe he should put it
in the freezer. But would that make a difference as to whether they could sow it back on? He sat
staring at it for a long time, then stood up and went into his tiny kitchen, rinsed it and his hands
off, took a box of tinfoil out of the cupboard to wrap the ear in so it wouldn't leak blood
everywhere, and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth, leaving the ear on the counter.

He was sitting on the couch with a glass of milk when he heard a set of pounding footsteps coming
towards his door. He jumped up. He knew it was the burly man, come to claim his earlobe. But as he
ran to the kitchen counter, he saw it was bare except for a moldy half-loaf of Pepperidge Farm whole
wheat bread. He looked frantically for the tinfoil packet while the footsteps came closer and
closer. Finally, the burly man reached the door and began trying to bash it down. 'My ear!' a
voice boomed. 'My ear, you jerk! What have you done with my ear?' Peter ransacked his
kitchen, throwing things everywhere, searching desperately, while at the same time knowing the ear
wasn't there and he would have to face the man without it...there was a crash, splinters of wood
flew everywhere, and an enormous shadowed figure began to make its way toward the kitchen and--
Peter woke with a start, trembling. He flung his blankets away, leaped out of bed, and ran to the
kitchen. The ear was still there, on the counter, as was the moldy loaf of bread. Peter threw this
into the garbage, and, as this left him with nothing to eat for breakfast, he got dressed and headed
for work, putting the tinfoil-wrapped ear into a plastic snack-bag and dropping it into a pocket of
his cargo shorts. He had a terrible day, freezing every time the door opened, afraid it would be the
burly man, head bandaged, come to claim the package in Peter's pocket, and perhaps to punish Peter
for taking it. Though the man never came, Peter was in bad shape by the end of the day, jittery,
shaking, and barely able to stand. He made his way as fast as he could in this state to the bar,
where he thougt he might find the burly man again and return his ear to him. The bar was almost
empty and most of the furniture was gone. Peter made his way to the owner, who stood serving drinks
to the few customers who were there. 'How can I help you, sir?' 'Well...' Peter faltered.
'I was wondering...The man yesterday. With the tattoos. Who started the fight. Have you seen him
today?' 'Never saw him before that and haven't seen him since.' 'Oh.' Peter mad his way
home, stopping at the supermarket to pick up a fresh loaf of bread and a prepared frozen dinner for
himself. When he got home, he placed the ear in the freezer, figuring that at least that way it
wouldn't rot. He microwaved his dinner, poured himself a glass of milk, and sat down in front of his
TV to watch the news. He half-expected there to be a report on the bar fight, but there was no
mention of it, just a recap of the day's events (some old lady had been mugged in Farmingdale), and
the weather forecast for the next day. He turned the TV off and went to sleep. Peter woke to find
the ear floating over him. Only it was now several times larger and had grown arms and legs. It
oozed blood from what almost looked like a decapitated neck. It said nothing, just stared at him
accusingly, though it had no eyes. After that, the nightmares only got worse. The man would return
with guns, knives, machetes, and on one particular night, a samurai sword. The ear came back as
well, still not speaking, but multiplying and dancing around his head in almost psychedelic dreams.
Peter went back to the bar every day, but the burly man never came and Peter began to fear that the
ear would always remain in his freezer, reminding him of what he had done. Eventually, he left his
phone number with the owner of the bar, asking him to call if the burly man ever returned and asked
for his ear back. Then one night, as the burly man pointed a .45 at Peter's head and demanded a
return of the ear, Peter found the ear easily, sitting in his freezer. As he was about to take it
out though, he stopped. Why should he give it back. After all, he had bitten it off fairly. He
had a right to it. He closed the freezer and turned to the man. 'No.' About a week after the
fight, Peter was at work. It was his employees picks day, but instead of feeling nervous every time
someone approached his shelf, he dared them to disagree with his choice. If they didn't like his
taste, they could watch other movies. Bad movies. And then they would regret not listening to him.
As he was thinking about this, the girl came in. She walked over to him and placed Back to the
Future on the counter. 'I'd like to return this. I think it's overdue.' She smiled
ruefully. He took the DVD and scanned it in, flickered his fingers across the keyboard, and pressed
the 'Enter' button with a flourish. A message blinked on the computer screen and he looked at
her conspiratorially. 'Not anymore. We have a policy here'no fees for special guests.' She
laughed. 'Thanks.' As she began to move away, he cleared his throat. She turned back to look at
him and suddenly his mouth went dry. 'Have you seen the second one?' he asked. 'The sequel.
To Back to the Future.' 'No, I haven't' 'It's good.' She looked puzzled. 'I'd
like to see it though.' He knew this was his chance. But he wouldn't be able to take it. As he
opened his mouth, the image of the ear waiting in the freezer came to him. What would happen if,
while they were watching the movie, she happened to become thirsty, and wanted something cold to
drink? If she then opened the freezer to get some ice to add to her glass, saw the strange tinfoil
packet and decided to open it. Before she could shriek in disgust and run out of the house he would
explain how it got there. But would that necessarily make things any better? 'I bit it off in a
bar-fight.' Hardly the sort of thing a girl would want her boyfriend to be doing. But what if
she found it sexy? He was strong, manly. He went to bars and bit people's ears off in them.
Which would she think? There was no way of knowing. It was worth a try though. 'You know, I own
it. The second one, I mean. Maybe one night, you could come over and we could watch it together.
If you want to. Here. I could give you my number, and you can call me if you wanna come over.'
He let the words out in a rush, afraid that if he stopped to think about what he was saying, he
wouldn't be able to go on. He scribbled down his phone number and handed it to her before she
could refuse. She looked at the piece of paper in her hand, then at him. ''Thanks for the
invitation. I'll'I'll think about it.' And with that, she left. As he was returning home,
Peter passed the bar, and thought he caught a glimpse of the tattooed arm. Following it into the
bar, though, he found the place too crowded to see anyone in particular and he left, not anxious to
find the man, as he now realized he didn't want to give the ear back. If the man did want the
thing, he could always get the bartender to call Peter. So Peter made his way home, eager for one
phone-call, dreading another. He went into his kitchen, opened the freezer, and looked at the ear.
It seemed to belong there now, fitting in nicely between the ice cream and frozen dinners, one of
which he took out before he closed the freezer. He microwaved it and sat down to eat, thinking as
he did so that, especially if she did come over, he really ought to get a new couch. Then, loudly,
reverberating though the house and jarring him out of his seat far enough to knock the remains of
his dinner onto the floor, the phone rang.





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