Tom Gumbert


The first time I saw him, he leaned against the doorframe, watching but not really participating in the party around him. A strange smile, a half-smirk really, on his face as he nursed a beer and refused multiple offers to toke. I'm not sure why he captured my attention so. Dressed in jeans and a plain black t-shirt he was average looking, with an average build and did nothing to distinguish himself from the peacocks around him, strutting and fanning their feathers in the hope of attracting a bed partner.

Perhaps that's why. He did absolutely nothing to distinguish himself, which is exactly what distinguished him. While others around him tried to amuse or impress through jokes, song or witty repertoire, he just stood there, entertained by it all.

Having tired of the scene and the constant defense against attacks on my virtue, I was ready to leave when I noticed something odd. He had reached behind his head with his right hand and was stroking and bending his left ear. He rolled the pinna and pressed it against his head, pressing the fold in and out with his index finger. When at last he noticed my stares, he simply smiled and shrugged unapologetically.

Before I could stop myself I approached him. "What are you doing?"


"With your ear. What are you doing?"

"Ah," he said without stopping. "It's an irresistible habit."

When he didn't offer further explanation I asked, "But why? What makes it irresistible?"

Without another word he took my hand and placed my fingertips against his ear. It was soft, like velveteen and he smiled at my surprise. "I have very soft ears," he explained, "and very pliable. It's a rare combination."

"You're weird," I said as my fingers continued to explore the folds of his ear.

"So I'm told," he said reaching out, his fingers brushing my cheek on their way to my ear. Deftly stroking my lobe his thumb moved over the pinna, gently folding it forward. "I call this an ear caress," he said, his eyes sparkling.

It was nice. Comforting. He accepted my phone number and I was giddy with anticipation but after three days, decided he wasn't calling. I tried to forget him but found myself unconsciously rubbing my ears as I studied, embarrassed when I realized my actions and thankful that I studied alone. When he finally called a full week later, he explained, "I waited until I was sure you'd miss me."

The audacity! I was furious and wanted to punish him for making me wait. My plan was to make some excuse for not being able to go out with him, but alas, he played his trump card. "I'll show you some new ear techniques."

Dinner was maddening. He teased me, reaching for my ear but instead brushing the backs of his fingers against my cheek. The bastard. More than once it appeared he was going for his own ear and I felt my body react as my anticipation heightened, only to have him brush back an errant strand of hair or remove and clean his eyeglasses. He knew exactly what he was doing and he was relishing it.

On the ride home I feigned disinterest, studying the familiar southwestern Ohio landscape as if it were images of a newly discovered planet. Though my heart was racing, I faked a yawn and waited to see if he'd take the bait.

The unexpected sound obliterated my mask of nonchalance and before I could control it my eyes pivoted, head in tow until I was staring at him. Using his thumbnail to flick the upper curvature of his pinna, his ear snapped. Loudly. He smirked as he kept time to "Love Shack" as it blared through the stereo speakers. I was mesmerized.

Unconsciously my hand moved to my ear, my thumb positioning itself in the one o'clock position and flicked. Nothing. I scrutinized it all, his hand position, the depth of his thumbnail on the pinna, the force with which he flicked, and tried to duplicate it exactly—to no avail.

My frustration was obvious and his smirk disappeared. He stopped snapping his ear and reached out to touch mine. "It won't work," he said dejectedly.

"Why?" I cried. Literally, I was crying.

"You're too thick," he explained.

"I'm not," I pouted. "I can figure this out if you'll help me."

He was shaking his head. "Your ear. The pinna is too thick. It isn't pliable enough to bend which allows the snap."

I was crushed, but knew he was right. Soft and pliable ears are indeed a rare combination.

Over time we saw more of each other, and by senior year we were practically inseparable. Through good times and bad we could always count on the soft pliable ears for comfort, for entertainment and yes, occasionally ear play became foreplay. For us it was like the air we breathe, a life sustaining necessity.

Most of my friends, and truth be told, I, thought we would marry. Wrong. A month before graduation he broke up with me, offering as explanation, "We'd be going separate ways after graduation, better we do this now." So without my consent and against my wishes the man with very soft ears walked out of my life.

As I sit in the quiet dark, these thoughts inundate me. I smooth the cowlick over his right ear and think how handsome he looks. Careful not to get the chloroform on my hands I drop my handkerchief into a ziplock bag and I return it to my purse before removing a tissue—and a boxcutter. One quick slice and the left ear is in my hand. I stuff cotton balls against his head and adhere them with band-aids. "Goodbye my love," I whisper before brushing my lips against his. "Since you're no Van Gogh—." I hold the ear to my bosom. Sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Tom Gumbert lives near Cincinnati, OH with his wife Andrea (Andy) in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad. Operations Manager by day, he has been writing for over a decade. His publishing credits include Write This, Black Heart Magazine, Down in the Dirt, See Spot Run, The Vehicle, Inwood, Indiana's Harvest Time, Milk Sugar, The Wayfarer, and Rathello Review. His anthology Nine Lives will be published by All Things That Matter Press and he is currently submitting his novel. You can learn more about Tom through his website: or follow him on Twitter: @TomGumbert

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