Good Lord, you look just like Yoda!
Probably not the best thing to say when someone pulls off her wig to show you the effects of her chemotherapy.
But after years of listening to my cousin Amy complain about the size of her ears (which were always hidden under long hair in continually changing shades of red and blond) I was shocked to discover that her lobes are really enormous. Just like the Star Wars icon. And they droop way down. Like they’re melting off the balding skull that’s clinging to its few remaining wisps of pale brown hair.
Amy made a face and stuck out her tongue. Not a very mature reaction for someone in her 40s, but Amy and I have never dealt with each other very maturely.
"Those are the longest earlobes I've ever seen," I said. "Why didn't you get your ears done when everyone was getting their noses fixed?"
"Because my parents wouldn't pay for two procedures," she said. "I could hide my ears, but a nose is always right out there for everyone to see."
"That makes sense, although I never thought your nose really needed work.”
I stepped closer to get a better view of her ears. "They're not pierced,” I said. “I didn’t think anyone I knew got through college with virginal lobes.”
"Well I didn't want to attract attention to them."
"Why not get them pierced now?" I said. "Long earlobes are fashionable today. The guy who delivers my pizza has rings in his earlobes that add about half an inch to their length. Go get dressed. I'll treat you to a pair of genuine hippie earrings."
I was hoping that once she got out of the floor length flannel nightgown in which she'd answered the door I'd be able to stop thinking about the tiny Jedi warrior. Amy seemed to have gotten shorter. Did chemo shrink you?
We went to a jewelry shop only a block from Amy’s house, and started to look at the long, dangling earrings. But even though she’d put her wig back on, the man behind the counter knew Amy was sick. He looked at her pale complexion, the absence of eyebrows and eyelashes, knew right away this was someone whose body had been bombarded by poisonous chemicals and refused to work on her ears.
He reached over the counter and patted Amy’s hand. “My work is always very sanitary,” he said softly, “but there’s always a slight chance of infection. Maybe you should come back when you’re healthy. Get better and I’ll give you the tiny starter earrings for half price. A month or two later and you can get longer ones.”
For a moment I thought Amy would start to cry. Or I would. But we’d done our crying when this whole horrible process had begun.
“Thanks, but I’m not making long-range plans right now,” she said, smiling at the jeweler.
“Anyway, no would notice a pair of plain studs,” I said. “That would defeat our purpose. We can get clip-ons, shoulder-length dangling ones, right now. No reason to wait.”
I walked over to a display of shiny hoop earrings. We chose a pair with bright aqua stones. They weren’t real gold and I worried they’d turn her earlobes green.
"If that happens I'm going to blame it on the radiation and sue the hospital for disfiguring my beautiful ears,” Amy said.
Next, we went to a large department store, used make-up samples, sprayed each other with perfume, and tried on expensive fur coats the salespeople knew we wouldn't buy.
We stopped at a gourmet candy store and bought rock candy. Neither of us mentioned the fact that our grandmother used to make this candy, she believed that it kept you healthy to have a moist throat. She always had the smoky white crystals on a long string and a small sewing scissor in her apron pocket. She cut off a few inches of candy and dispensed it to all of the neighborhood children whenever they asked despite our mothers’ beliefs that we got too much candy.
“Just suck it carefully,” she said. “You don’t want to eat the string, it could get tangled in your insides and make you sick.”
The candy we bought came in designer colors in a plastic bag. There weren’t any strings.
Soon, I was hungry and Amy was tired so we went to a nearby luncheonette. She immediately went to the bathroom.
“I’ll have my usual,” she said, leaving me to explain to the waiter that she wanted an extra tall glass of ginger ale with at least four maraschino cherries. That had been her drink at the diner our parents took us to on Sunday afternoons when we were little. I don’t know how they make maraschino cherries these days but I figured that at this point a little bit of red dye #2 wouldn’t hurt.
She didn’t return to the table for a while. Just as I wondered if I should go look for her and see if she was okay, I saw Amy make her way slowly across the restaurant. She took off her earrings as soon as she sat down.
“I think they’re too tight,” Amy said. “They’re giving me a headache.” She was paler than usual and we left before I finished my sandwich. I never saw the earrings again but I don’t regret purchasing them for her. That was one of the last times she and I spent as afternoon just being silly.
A month later Amy was in a hospice where they gave her a soft flannel turban so her now totally bald head wouldn’t get cold. It covered her ears.
A week later she was gone.
Jean Ende is a former newspaper reporter, political publicist, financial marketing executive and college professor. A native New Yorker raised in a Jewish immigrant family, many of Jean's stories are based on her background however they are all fiction. Her work has appeared in: Stories That Need to be Told, published by Tulip Tree press; Stories Through the Ages, published by Springs Publishers, The Jewish Literary Review; Bosque Magazine; Poets and Dreamers; University of California Press; Jewish Fiction.net.; Jewels of San Fedele; River Poets Journal and American Literary Review. Jean's stories have also been recognized by the Glimmer Train short fiction competition, the Tennessee Williams short story competition, the Mark Twain Humor Contest, the Howard/Reid Fiction Contest and the Virginia Woolf Literary Competition. A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, Jean attended the Breadloaf Writers Conference three times and has taken MFA courses at Stonybrook University (SUNY).
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.