The Ear Museum
"Is this it?" Gary asked his wife. It felt like they had been driving for hours since they turned off the interstate. The rough dirt roads weren’t helping.
"I.. I think so? Oh yes! Look!" Mary said pointing through the windshield. "Charlie, sweetie, we're here." The boy in the backseat yawned awake from an impromptu afternoon nap.
Behind a wide dusty court was a small weather-beaten house and behind the house was a large barn. On the front of the barn, painted in massive, hand painted letters, were the words "EAR MUSEUM".
Gary parked the car behind an old tractor and the family got out. There was no one around.
"Hello?" Mary asked.
From around the side of the barn, a young girl appeared and began to run toward them with a broad smile.
A voice boomed from behind them causing Mary to jump. "Clara! You get back to your chores now!"
It was a woman dressed in long polka dress, stained and dirty. Her hair was covered and tied back with a red headscarf. The young girl, Clara, stopped in her tracks, hung her head and turned to make her way back behind the barn.
"I'm so sorry. I was out back in the garden. Can I help you?"
"Um... We're here to see the Ear Museum?" Mary said pointing to the side of the barn.
"Of course! Of course! So sorry. So sorry. Please, right this way."
She lay the small trowel in her hand on the wheel of the tractor she waved at them to follow her.
The barn was large and empty. Hay lined the otherwise dirt floor.
"That will be 25 cents each. A dime for the boy."
Gary fished out 60 cents from his pocket.
The woman took the money with a big smile and turned to lead them into the barn. "This may not be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but hearing is one of the five senses, right?"
The barn was massive and empty. It wasn't until they were following the woman that Mary noticed dozens of small frames hanging along the barn wall about every ten feet. The woman lead them to the first frame in the near corner of the barn.
"Did you know that many cultures can actually tell your future from the shape of your ear?"
The shriveled looking ear appeared to be glued to a thin piece of wood with a cheap, but ornate picture frame nailed around it. A rough human head in profile was drawn around the ear in thick black lines.
"Damn it, Clara!" The woman cursed and then turning to the family "Excuse me, please."
She walked toward the back of the barn and disappeared behind a wall there.
"Gary? maybe we should just go?" Mark asked her husband.
"I didn't even want to come," Gary said indignantly. "I wanted to stop at that diner off of exit 23… but here we are... already 60 cents poorer."
The woman re-appeared behind them from seemingly nowhere causing Mary to jump.
"I'm so sorry." She walked past them to the frame and started to very gently rub the ear with a small, oily rag. "You HAVE to keep these things oiled."
Mary squeezed her husband's arm. "It's... It's a real ear?"
The woman looked back at Mary in astonishment. "Why of course! What sort of museum is filled with fakes? Do you think we are trying to rip you off?"
"Oh, no, no! Of course not!" Mary responded and looked at her husband. His eyes were narrow and angry. He said nothing.
The woman turned back to the ear. "Look at the lobe of this one. See how low it droops? In Chinese cultures, this represents good fortune and wisdom." She reached up and tugged hard at her left earlobe. "I wish mine were as long as these. Now over here..."
Charlie tugged at Mary's skirt. "Mom, I'm bored. Can I go outside?"
Before Mary could even answer the woman put a hand on Charlie's shoulder.
"Oh, darlin'. It's hot and dusty outside, but ears are an adult business. Why don't you go take a look at the gift shop." She said and pointed to the wall she had previously disappeared behind.
"oh boy!" Charlie said, "Can I mom?"
The barn seemed hotter and dustier than outside, but Mary looked at her husband who merely grunted. She smiled back down at Charlie. "Ok, but don't touch anything."
Charlie was off and the woman called after him "Oh pshaw. You go on ahead and touch anything you want."
Minutes later the family was leaving the barn at a quick pace. Gary was dragging his wife by the arm to the car.
"But there's still so much to see!" the woman shouted chasing after them. Charlie trailed behind them focused on the new paddle ball game with a rough ear painted in black on the front.
"Charlie! Get in the car!" Gary yelled at his son. Charlie passed the woman as she stopped in the yard and then climbed into the back seat.
"Well, please tell all your friends and family we're here!" The woman yelled after them. "We're always expanding the collection."
Gary began a tight circle out of the driveway and back toward the road. Charlie saw Clara peep out from behind the tree.
"Clara! Come here now!" he heard the woman yell.
Clara turned her head toward her mother and for a brief second, Charlie saw the angry red scar where her left ear used to be.