“Do you want anything else?” Long purple nails were tapping the counter in front of me. My eyes travelled across the hand, up a sleeve to a girl with a nose ring and blond hair in a pony tail. I gave a friendly smile.
“I’m sorry, I was miles away. A piece of Caramel Shortbread as well please.” I didn’t want it, but felt a compensatory purchase was warranted. I turned to the man behind. “My mother always said I’d forget my head if wasn’t screwed on.”
The man, wearing a handlebar moustache and holding a skateboard, nodded. “I’ve not woke up neither, pal.”
The purple nailed barista put down a plate. “That’s four pound twenty. Your drink will be at the end of the counter.” I paid, collected the waiting latte and weaved through the chairs, prams and chattering mothers to a brown wobbly table in the corner. The unwanted shortbread occupied the far side. I had a sip of the latte and then slid back into the memory that had enthralled me at the counter. The cafe’s background music faded, the hum of voices dissolved and the clunking and fizzing of the barista’s art melted away. My ears echoed with the turbulent opening bars of Mozart’s Symphony Number 40 in G Minor. The whispers of the flute. The anger of the minuet. The sonata form. Last night’s Moor Granite Orchestra recital was magical.
I’d been through the first two movements, before it was shattered by a screaming baby. Not just a grizzling or tired child, but a girl who could have a career in opera. A few fellow caffeine addicts were shooting the mother dirty looks, when she turned in my direction I gave an empathetic smile.
Two minutes later unspoken peer pressure ushered the mother, her baby and pushchair out of the door. As I watched her leave my eye was held by a man in yellow suit engrossed in his book, oblivious to the events surrounding him. It wasn’t his sartorial eloquence, the yellow fedora on the table or the Jack Sparrow beard that caught my attention. It was his ears. They were perfect. Beautifully symmetrical with detached lobes, a curlicue shaped antihelix and elegant helix turn. I was transfixed. I’d seen good ears before, even great ears like the woman walking her black Labrador in Golden Gate Park or the waiter at the Chinese restaurant in Manchester. But never perfect ears, until today. I wanted them.
I’d hated my attached lobes and asymmetrical antihelixes from the first moment I’d set eyes on them. I knew they weren’t right. They weren’t the ears my face deserved. I’d explored otoplasty, but no surgeon would guarantee flawless lobes. The great ears all spurned my advances, some of the good ears too. I reached agreements with a couple of good ears, but they got cold feet at the last minute.
Looking across at the exquisite auricles I had to go and complement the man. See how the land lay. I got up and crossed to his table.
“Excuse me,” I said. He ignored me. “Sorry to bother you.” He ignored me again. I tapped his arm.
He looked up and stared at me. “Yes?”
“I just wanted say how magnificent your ears are.”
“Thank you,” he said. “They’re my mother’s.”
“I’ve been looking for ears like yours all my life?”
The man smiled. “Would you like to swop?” My heart fluttered and my breath quickened.
“You’d swop your ears for these ugly asymmetrical things?”
“I rather like their imperfection,” he said.
“Deal,” I replied before he could change his mind. The man nodded. We headed into the cafe’s toilet and swopped ears. I looked in the mirror and was mesmerized. The ears were amazing. They were the ears my face had been waiting for. Symmetry, beauty, perfection.
When I turned around I was alone. I hadn’t even heard the man leave. I headed into the coffee shop, and in a moment of serendipity, the cafe was a symphony of silence. The chattering had stopped, the music had finally been turned off and the purple nailed barista was noiselessly making three cappuccinos.
Andy Lavender is from Plymouth, UK. He has an MA in creative writing from Plymouth University. His poems and stories have appeared on, or in, Spelk,Visual Verse, Paragraph Planet, Plymouth Herald, and the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology Eating My Words.