She prefers the feminine pronoun when thinking about herself, even though she’s well aware that an earplug is an object without gender in English. Because the label on her cardboard package was printed in only one language, she has no way of knowing if French or Spanish, for instance, might have designated her a male, lending a phallic interpretation to her appearance, True, her pale pinkish beige tubular body, flat on one end and rounded on the other, can be categorized as lingam-like, but it is the exact scale and shape of a female nipple – the same width, and her soft, giving foam squishes down to any length. She believes she could easily serve as a faux nipple if an occasion arose for a provocative costume, either as is beneath a tee- shirt, or painted a rosier pink.
Her task in life might seem difficult to some, she thinks. Forced to squeeze into a tiny cramped space and serve as the only barrier between all of the outside and a single delicate eardrum, soaking up the noise of barking dogs, rumbling trucks, yelling children, lawnmowers, and lumber mill quality snoring, all to protect the sleep of the woman who liberated her from the plastic cage hanging in the harsh fluorescence of Rite Aid and moved her into a charming round pewter box on the night stand.
But she loves her work. She lives for night, for naps. For those hours in which she, securely nestled inside the downy shell of ear, with the thrum of blood pulsing around her, feels as if she herself is alive. Inserted into that narrow chamber, so close to the brain, it is as if she is plugged in to the midst of the gray matter itself and the blazing world created by those trillions of flickering neurons. She can see and hear and feel and taste, in her weightless, compressed little shrimp-like body, the magnificence of human dreams.
She enters worlds she never could have imagined, having been born a squirt of gel forced into a mold in a dreary gray factory then tumbled among millions of other bullets of bland beige exactly the same as herself. But at night, while her flat end rests against the cool pillowcase, her round edge is warm and alive to brilliant colors, myriad textures and patterns. Cats with coruscating green eyes and gold spotted fur, purple birds wearing elaborate earrings, pink and green flowered silks blowing in soft breezes, black rain- wet streets shimmering with rippling reflections of yellow and red. She travels at synaptic speed from moonlit interiors to sunlit glades, from dining rooms laden with food to art galleries filled with glowing glass, into whole towns, cities, down roads. She doesn’t understand much about the situations in which she finds herself, or know who the people are or what they mean, even though she sees some of them repeatedly; she recognizes the faces,
can feel the emotional reaction they engender. Some visions are stronger and more visceral than others, clearly more importance although she doesn’t know why. Occasionally there is even music, beautiful, moving, nothing like the exterior thumping bass hard rapping that she’s barely able to smother even when she tries her hardest.
At first, she tried to describe her dream travels to the other objects on the night stand. She explained that it is possible to connect to a vibrant infinite universe beyond the one they shared. She told them that, paradoxically by burrowing down and going deep inside, she traveled beyond her body, into and across a vast, limitless and ever-changing reality, one of thrilling beauty, even though she had experienced grief and anger and fear there at times. But the earplug quickly learned that the lamp and clock, which never budge from their spots, or even the pencil and spiral notebook who find themselves in different positions and sometimes leave the bedroom entirely, have no idea what she’s talking about, stare at her blankly and don’t believe her. They can not conceive of a universe beyond the white walls of the bedroom or the house. They are not even able to differentiate the view they see out the bedroom window from a flat painting on the wall, nature from artifice. They think she is some kind of kook. The lamp, with it’s heavy, dense glass base rooted by gravity said to her with condescension,
“I realize you believe that what you tell us you see is real. But it is metaphysical rubbish. I know there is no other reality outside of the one that I can see and feel on this night stand in this bedroom. For I am an object born of science, of the great Thomas Edison, not some lightweight sponge.”
Only the other earplug, her identical twin, knows the truth, but is too coated with earwax to say a word in her defense.
One evening, a bit early for bedtime, the earplug finds her self being taken from her pewter box, tossed into a pocket, then taken out and mashed into her human’s ear while loud guitars and drums wail from a stage far away. Her whole body vibrates, washed over by a tidal wave of sound that penetrates each miniscule air filled pocket, louder than anything she has yet tried to squelch. She can’t. With great effort she is only able to lower the noise a few decibels before she is taken out, in the cool fresh air of the outdoors, and dropped back inside the pocket in which she traveled. And there she finds herself (her twin has disappeared): in the dark, cradled in ribs of soft corduroy, stuck to a tattered linty shred of Kleenex, next to a yellow paper ticket stub, a paperclip, and a crumpled ball of silver gum wrapper smelling of peppermint. She doesn’t speak to them of what she knows, of what she has seen. She is a little sad, resigned, but also filled with gratitude. She believes that her life has been a blessed one. She hopes that one day she may be discovered and allowed to plug in once again. It is a kind of faith, really, her continued belief in an experience of an alternative reality, her longing for a place more varied, numinous and mysterious than anything she could have imagined. And in the meantime, each tiny cell of her foam remembers, in it’s blind, sensate way, the miraculous universe to which it was once connected.
copyright 2011 Anna Belle Kaufman