No earlobes. It could not be true. Jane Whelan. Of all the things she could have picked that I don’t have she had to pick earlobes. I wasn’t even sure I knew what earlobes are. I thought they are just the fleshy bit at the bottom of your ear, of no discernable use to anyone but piercers and angry teachers.
“They are the fleshy bit, but they have to be unattached to count as earlobes.” She stood in front of her garden gate, a yellow cap over her brown hair. She had a habit of stopping in the middle of sentences and smiling; satisfied, measured. I looked forward to those smiles.
“What does that mean, unattached?” I reached for my ear.
I had been finding myself strangely interested in what she thought of me lately. She had lived up the road for the last four years. We were in the same class at school. She was funny and clever. She always excelled.
“It just means you have no earlobes Percy,” she rolled her eyes. Green eyes. “See you at the bonfire tomorrow.”
Then she was gone. Red wellies, blue coat, brown hair, green eyes, yellow hat. A rainbow, gone. Path traversed, front door closed, another day over for Jane Whelan. I had more questions than answers. I should have traversed the path, knocked the front door, gotten the truth and punched her.
I squeaked her garden gate closed and started to walk home. The sun was going down. It was cold and I had no jacket.
No earlobes. Who cares?
I approached my mother later that evening at dinner. She seemed stressed, simultaneously striving to feed Dervla and Roisin, my infant twin sisters. Their lack of cooperation implied neither was particularly hungry. Their food had made it to the floor, the table, and all over my mother. Their baby-grows and bibs remained pristine.
“Mam, do I have Earlobes?”
“Eat your dinner!”
Dervla laughed and Roisin gooed. I looked down, murky brown stew with spuds and stringy beef. I wasn’t very hungry either.
My dad managed the local supermarket. He usually ate his dinner on a cushion in front of the television. I was on Halloween holidays from school and there was football on. I always watched it with him.
Football matches are never a good time to quiz my father about anything non-football. His answer to all other questions is always the same.
An unengaged and pacifying, “Very good.”
An unwavering answer that presumed his children were telling him something fantastic but ultimately irrelevant that had occurred over the course of their day. My brother David and I exploited it down the years for our own amusement.
“Dad, I didn’t do my homework.”
“Dad, I like eating my snots.”
“Dad, if you aren’t listening just say ‘very good’.”
“Very good.” Always the same nonplussed sidestep of pride and disinterest. But as soon as he heard a match related sentence he could start analysing and reaming off articulate opinion. A student of the game, a brilliant man.
Unfortunately I needed more than a chest thumping lecture on whether Roy Keane was the best midfielder in the world. I needed paternal guidance.
“Dad, do I have earlobes?”
I had been expecting this. I waited until half-time and tried again.
“Dad, do I have earlobes?”
Was whatever John Giles was complaining about more important than the pressing needs of his oldest son? Frustrated I leaped in front of the television. My dad kept chewing his dinner but looked confused, hurt and angry all at once.
“Dad do I have earlobes?”
“What?” he was craning his neck around my skinny frame and trying to balance his dinner. I was losing him.
“Earlobes Dad, do I have them?”
“Jesus Percy get out of the way or I’ll show you earlobes.”
“Okay, but do I have earlobes?”
I went to bed.
The next morning I had calmed down. I woke late and just lay on my bunk, legs raised under my Liverpool duvet cover.
Jane Whelan. I imagined a clutch of situations to impress her.
I imagined Ireland invaded by a Nazi style army and Cavan overrun. I evaded capture and became a resistance guerrilla leader. I rescued her, her entire family and the rest of the town from our school. It had become a makeshift detention facility during the occupation. Sandbags and barbed wire surrounded it. We killed all the Nazis and told everyone to go into hiding. Jane was swooningly grateful and ran her fingers through my new beard.
“Percy you look changed, older. How will anyone here ever be able to thank you?”
“How about when all this is over you just agree to go to the cinema with me?”
“Oh Percy, I never knew.” And then she kissed me, on the beard.
I envisioned saving her from drowning in the town lake.
I was spinning for Pike on a jetty on the shore. I had already caught two 10lb fish and saw her waving to me from her boat. I waved back and then started to cast my line again. Her boat suddenly overturned and the current caught her. I threw my rod aside, dived straight in and swam to her. I struggled tirelessly against the current and reached Jane just as she was going under. I guided her back to her boat and we both rowed ashore. She thanked me but I was just happy she was alive.
I made a mental note to learn how to swim.
I was deep in a fantasy about the apocalypse. Jane and I were the only people left. The earth was blackened the skies were dark and clouded, but we survived.
My brother David exploded into the room. He was wheezing, hands on knees with watery eyes. I kicked off my duvet and jumped down.
“Percy, the bonfire…..” he sucked deeply on his ventilin inhaler.
He didn’t even need to say it. I already knew.
“Percy, the bonfire…. It’s wrecked…. Someone robbed all the tyres and knocked everything.” He coughed.
I started to get dressed.
“Does Jane know?”