Esmond Ring at 8
Esmond heard them all, of course. The whispers about his name, the giggles, the secret parlays. And he didn’t mind. Not really. He knew kids could be that way–his dad told him everyone was talked about–heck, hadn’t he done it? But Esmond heard. Heard them plan even from across a noisy classroom during indoor recess, heard them over the record player that Mrs. Clysedale used to play old scratchy versions of Sousa marches and Strauss waltzes, and which now played Rickie Lloyd’s 45 of “Frankenstein.” And that bothered him. Through the player’s single 4″ speaker that rattled that newly-popular guitar riff Esmond heard them. Through the conflicting hums of the wearing fluorescent lights and the remotely (frighteningly) operated classroom wall clock and the seemingly random snapping and popping of the morning announcements speaker. Through the rushing and hissing of the cloudburst against the giant windows. Through the quiet scratching of Mrs. Clysedale’s pencil as she worked at her desk. Heard them because his ears were big–and for no other reason.
He was determined, he decided, to grow his hair long. It would only be a matter of escaping the hornet-buzzing of his father’s Home Barbershop in the basement. But he knew it wouldn’t work. Even if his hair was long it wouldn’t stop him from hearing. It might stop them from laughing some, but he would still hear what they said anyway. He would still hear Marjorie Smarlington’s giggling at Julie Johnson’s joke: “How can you tell if an elephant has been kissing your mom? If your brother is Ezzie Ring-ding!”
“He thought he could even hear the stretching of her dress.”
Esmond tried to think of something else. He tried to concentrate on the rain sounds. He wondered if he could hear anything else outside besides the splashing water. “Frankenstein” was at the part where the guitar (or organ or whatever it was) sounded like a pogostick in warp drive. Rickie Lloyd screamed “Yeah!” and Bobbie Thomas and two other kids Esmond didn’t know laughed with him because they knew Rickie Lloyd who had the “Frankenstein” record. A page of paper turned and Esmond heard it swish and scratch along the gritty tiled floor. He heard Mrs. Clysedale’s chair creak as she must have bent to pick it up. He thought he could even hear the stretching of her dress. But he didn’t turn to confirm his analysis. Three girls screamed something about “Bloody Mary” and Esmond had to drop his aching head to his desk.
With one ear pressed to the cold surface, the classroom sounds were partly filtered, cocooned in a Formica world, and Esmond could now hear something else. It was a low sound, a cluckering and wet thrumming and Esmond realized that he was not only hearing his pulse, but the workings of his own ear. The sound was deafening and Eddie decided that true deafness would be bliss.
With great care, Esmond reached into his notebook for his blue ink pen. . . .