Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.
IT IS ALL LITTLE MARBLES IN OUR EARS
by Stephen Thom
Hugh placed his plastic cup of sparkling wine beside the picnic hamper and pushed the tweezers deep into Lottie’s left ear. She slugged her own cup back violently, wincing as the bubbles surged down her throat and cold metal tongs simultaneously wriggled into her earhole. Selecting a pair of tweezers for herself, she directed them into Hugh’s right ear and tried to focus on her own prodding and poking. And as it was, she succeeded first. A little, smooth, dark round bead was tugged from Hugh’s ear, clenched between the pincers of the metal implement. Swiftly the bead was followed by more and more tiny round balls, connected together by some sinewy, sticky tether. Hugh’s ear bled as the beads were carefully extracted; dribbling, red pearls hanging from the lobe.
‘How does it feel?’ Lottie asked. Hugh’s head was throbbing, but he didn’t want it to show. Instead he tried to change the subject. ‘I can’t seem to get a handle on yours.’ He switched positions, wedging the blanket into the sand beneath it as he shifted onto his knees. Finally he felt his tweezers click around a smooth surface, and with his eyes screwed up in concentration, tugged the first few beads from Lottie’s left ear. They slid out with comparative ease; soon a whole, slick chain of dark little stony spheres was unravelling out of her earhole, and she barely flinched as she focused on yanking and squeezing Hugh’s assorted beads out individually.
‘Ow,’ he muttered, craning his neck against the roving tweezers. ‘Ow.’ His eyes flickered to the trail hanging from his ear. ‘Ah…Jesus.’
‘They look a bit like marbles,’ breathed Lottie, stroking his head to calm him. ‘I thought you’d be able to see…more, or anything. Maybe they’re different on the outside, like, maybe they change?’
‘Maybe,’ choked Hugh, grinding his teeth as water formed in the corners of his eyes.
With a sucking noise, what appeared to be the final bead was wrenched from Hugh’s ear; Lottie laid his collection in a bundle on the blanket beside her own, long since unravelled to the ground. They surveyed the piles of beads in silence for a while, Hugh rubbing his ear. ‘How long do you think we have?’ He murmured.
Lottie looked up at him. His eyes were jet black, but she declined to inform him of this.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said, reaching for his hand. Hugh let her caress his palm for a moment, then picked up one of his beads. He rotated it between thumb and forefinger. In the centre of the little ball, a cloud swirled amongst the gloom. As he watched, it gathered texture, accumulating into a structured mass. This mass snaked out to incorporate fleeting glimpses of minuscule limbs, features, stretches of environment – a world condensed into a smooth, sticky marble.
‘No, you were right,’ Hugh concurred, ‘it must have been a type of…camouflage, or cover. Look, this is when I met you.’
He held it up to her glassy eyes, still in ownership of their pupils. A scene danced across the minute circular landscape.
‘It wasn’t, though,’ she replied, averting her gaze. Then, looking back at Hugh, she saw a thick sliver of black liquid ooze from his dark eyeballs. He wiped his cheek in shock. Hastily, he pulled the beads up one by one, scrutinising the pictures the little marbles conveyed.
‘This is Greece!’ He cried. ‘This was our holiday! When I was twelve…I had such bad sunburn. I had to have cold showers. Look, this is when Mum was ill…we were waiting at the station for Dad to pick us up, but he’d got the time wrong, and you just kept talking about how you have to pay to use the toilets there, I guess you didn’t want to talk about anything else-‘
‘Hugh…’ Lottie covered the bead with her left hand, and pulled the arm of her jumper down over her right hand, wiping away some of the black fluid flowing down his cheeks.
‘I don’t know if it was the right thing to do anymore,’ he croaked. He was having trouble kneeling upright now; he seemed to be hunching into himself without realising. ‘Even if they’re not ours, or mine, or whatever, it’s what we knew. It’s all I knew. I should honour that. It doesn’t feel right, or like I thought it would. I still spent my life with these people.’
Lottie kissed him on his smudged cheek. ‘It is right,’ she said, and she felt her own voice flagging as she did so. ‘You did spend your life with them, and you will meet them again, just in the right way this time. These things, here…’ her hands fumbled with the beads, ‘they’re not our own, they’re someone else’s interpretation. But all these…links, they’ll come back to you. You will see them again,’ she finished, trying to sound decisive.
Hugh’s face was a mess of black fluid, and he sunk to the blanket as his knees failed him. The sand that had drifted onto the blanket mingled with the thick oilish substance as cracks and sores opened across his skin, and more of it flooded forth. Lottie held his head tightly, staring straight ahead as her own eyes dulled to black.
‘Hugh, did you hear me? Hugh, it’ll be your own now.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he sighed as a black mass converged before him and fractured into a million splinters; splinters that remolded themselves as little black marbles, tumbling in every direction.
He saw his embryonic, shapeless shadow chasing after them, ready, renewed-
‘Don’t ever be sorry,’ Lottie sobbed, somewhere far behind.
Stephen Thom is from Carrbridge in the Highlands of Scotland, and enjoys reading and writing fiction with an interpetive element. His pieces have appeared in Firewords Quarterly, Holdfast Magazine, Fur-Lined Ghettos, High Flight, Don’t Do It, Thought Collection Publishing, Thick Jam and Puffin Review amongst others.
Stephen also plays mandolin in a folk-rock band called ‘Dante’. Their debut album, ‘Wake’, was released in October 2013 to fantastic reviews and features in the Herald’s ‘Top 50 Scottish Albums of the Year’.
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Image by Barnaby N: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blast/212455