There was still water in Owen’s ear when he awoke out of a particularly eerie nightmare just before three o’clock in the morning. He was gripped by a wave of panic: an unreasonable sensation of terror, the sort one only gets when roused from a deep sleep at that time of night. Owen had been dreaming about his ear just before waking up. His mind was full of vivid and horrible ear-related images.
“It’s not good to have water in your ear,” Owen’s secretary had told him yesterday. “You should get that out right away or fungus will grow.” Owen’s secretary fancied herself an expert diagnostician. She always rendered the direst diagnoses to anyone who mentioned feeling a bit off or looked less than stellar. New employees thought she was just an old pessimist and scoffed at her gloomy prognostications, but those who’d been around for a while were forced to acknowledge that she was always sort of right. Owen had always viewed her diagnoses more like curses and so treated them with the fear and respect they deserved.
Owen had spent most of the morning poking and pulling on his ear, hopping on one foot and smacking himself on the side of the head, first gently, then not so gently trying to get the water out of his ear; all without success. In the workstation across from Owen’s, his coworker, Buddy, spent the morning watching Owen’s activities with disproportionate amusement.
“Hey guy, what happened? Got a little carried away in the hot tub, eh?” At thirty-eight, Buddy’s still very single status had turned him into one of those guys who thinks everyone but him has a sex life teeming with adventure and indiscretion. Not being part of that imaginary crowd, Buddy strove to live vicariously through others. “Hope the wife doesn’t find out, eh? Ha ha ha, eh?” he leered.
Owen wasn’t even surprised that Buddy could construct a sexual liaison out of a clogged ear. He almost wanted to tell Buddy that he’d only been taking his usual morning shower (alone) when he’d gotten water in his ear, but he couldn’t bring himself to shatter the poor man’s illusions. Buddy’s illusions seemed to be all that kept him going. He didn’t seem have much else. “Let’s just say this water’s jammed in there pretty good, Buddy. I can’t say more than that,” Owen whispered with a wink and a waggle of his eyebrows.
“Whoa, right. Gotcha guy! Good luck getting it out, eh. If you know what I mean, ha ha ha!” Buddy always said, “ha ha ha” instead of actually laughing. Owen realized he had never heard Buddy really laugh. He thought that was probably significant in some way, but he wasn’t sure of what.
During the course of the day, Owen’s other coworkers provided him with an incredible amount of incredibly detailed information on the workings of the inner ear as well as with a variety of suggestions on how water might be removed from it. “Oh that happens to me all the time,” claimed Louise, who seemed to have experienced, at one time or another, nearly everything imaginable and always to a much greater degree than the person relating their experience. “I usually get water in both ears, and let me tell you that is not pleasant. I mean, first of all, I can’t hear a single, solitary thing with both ears all clogged up like that. Plus, I can’t shake it out because while I would be shaking water out of the ear on one side of my head, I would be shaking water deeper into the ear on the other side of my head. See? So, you can imagine where that leaves me! It’s absolutely terrifying. I suffered for years until one day; quite by accident, I discovered a foolproof way of getting water out of both my ears at once! What you have to do is to lie down on your stomach somewhere hard, like on the floor and take a really deep breath and then yell as loud as you can.”
“Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh,” yelled Louise by way of demonstration. People from all ends of the office came running over. They peered at Owen suspiciously.
Owen tried Louise’s remedy when he got home that night, though he was puzzled as to what sort of accident could possibly have caused Louise to stumble across such an ear-draining procedure. However, since Owen had tried everything else anyone had suggested to him and had been unsuccessful, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to give Louise’s advice a try. He found a spot in the den, lay face-down on the floor and yelled; once timidly (his practice yell) and once so loud and long it hurt his throat. It also scared his wife and both cats and released a little gas which had been adding to Owen’s overall discomfort, but did nothing to get the water out of Owen’s ear.
At lunchtime Owen had tried Karl’s suggestion of using a hair dryer to dry out his ear. Karl had found that bit of information on the Internet. Karl had lately become something of an Internet genius. Though well beyond retirement age, Karl had discovered in himself an amazing aptitude for surfing the web. Because his wife was afraid of computers, Karl had thrown himself wholeheartedly into learning all he could about them. He had built himself a sort of computer sanctuary in his garage, where he could spend hours alone without fear of being interrupted by his wife. As long as Karl was by his computer, Karl’s wife was too afraid to come near him. She was certain that the glow of “that machine”, would do something terrible or even deadly to her mind. She was sure Karl’s days as a rational, functioning human being were numbered due to his constant exposure to the computer.
“Says here,”said Karl, “a hair dryer held at arm’s length from the ear, blowing on the lowest setting, will quickly dry any water from the ear canal.” It sounded reasonable. Owen just couldn’t think, at first, where he might be able to locate a hair dryer at the office.
“I’ll blow in your ear,” purred Candice, the stunningly attractive student intern. Candice was always saying things like that to Owen and he was beginning to suspect she was not saying them entirely in jest. He couldn’t imagine why on earth a lovely, twenty-something thing like her would be interested in a middle-aged balding guy like him; especially one with such ridiculous physical issues like an inability to drain water from his ear canal. Nevertheless, Candice’s interest in him was becoming less and less subtle and while it scared the heck out of him it also quite pleased him, if for no other reason than it was driving Buddy wild with frustration.
“Hey, Candy, don’t give that old, married guy any crazy ideas, eh?” Buddy squeaked frantically. “Come blow in my ears instead, eh? They could use a little drying out, too, if you get my drift. Ha ha ha.” As usual Candice, like everyone else did not get Buddy’s drift at all. Candice did spare poor Buddy a bewildered smile on her way over to massage the side of Owen’s head, “to help loosen things up.”
Feeling anything but loose in such close proximity to Candice, Owen suddenly remembered that there was a hand dryer in the men’s room which could surely do the job of drying out his ear. At least, Owen thought, he would be much safer in the men’s room.
It didn’t take long for the hand dryer in the men’s room to turn the whole left side of Owen’s face an unbecoming shade of red, on top of which he soon began to feel quite lightheaded from the heat. When the dryer had stopped for the seventh time, Owen gave up.
“Go to the doctor,” said Owen’s wife, who was a nurse. Owen’s yelling, while lying face down on the carpet in the den, as per Louise’s instructions, had brought Owen’s wife to his side demanding to know what his problem was. “You’ve obviously got a wax blockage in there and you need to have it irrigated. I’ll call Stephan. He’ll be able to see you right away.”
Owen declared, in no uncertain terms, his disinclination to be irrigated by Stephen or anyone else, but especially not “Stephen”. It sounded worse than having water in his ear permanently. Owen wasn’t fond of doctors. He wasn’t afraid of them, he just didn’t like them as a species. He could never quite reconcile the fact that they spent their days immersed in the bodily fluids of diseased people and yet went about with such an air of superiority. They behaved as if being in a position to prod people’s rectums somehow made them better than the people being prodded. In Owen’s opinion, doctors had nothing about which to feel superior.
Owen’s dislike of doctors had, however, allowed him to meet his wife fourteen years ago. While playing hockey with some friends one afternoon, Owen had received an ugly gash in his thigh from an ice skate but had refused to let anyone take him to the doctor. When, after a few days, the gash became infected and his leg had ballooned to twice its size, his then-girlfriend had had to drag him to the emergency room. Owen’s wife, who was at that time still a stranger to Owen, had berated him, at length, for his stupidity and took him in to be fixed up by her then-boyfriend, Dr. Stephen Gold. Owen had been as attracted to the nurse’s condescension as he was repelled by the doctor’s. In the days that followed, Owen had arranged to bump into the haughty nurse outside the emergency room exit as many times as it took for her to agree to go out with him. The continued existence of Dr. Stephen Gold, in their lives, however, became another reason for Owen’s continued dislike of doctors.
After his frustrating day of battling the water in his ear canal, it was little wonder that Owen woke up in the middle of the night with visions of his head swelling up to twice its size and large, unsightly fungi growing out of both ears. He though he could already feel the bacteria eating their way into his brain. He imagined how it would be when he had to spend the rest of his life drooling out of his giant, swollen head while his wife and “Stephen” wiped him down and tsk-tsk’s at his idiocy. Owen eventually managed to fall back to sleep, but tossed and turned restlessly the rest of the night.
When he woke up in the morning, Owen was astonished to find that the water had somehow removed itself from his ear! He whistled a smugly cheerful tune and headed for the shower.