Two Ears

Creative Nonfiction
Heather Petrich

The man sitting in front of me on the El has two different ears. Though it’s hard to see, with his head turned just so, both of them at once. I shift in my seat to get a better look. Yes, they are really quite different from one another. The right ear comes further away from his head, as if straining to hear something important coming at him from that direction.

I’ve never noticed anyone with two different ears before. And I know something about ears, especially ears-in-pairs, after sitting behind my dad during the years he drove me to school with him, staring at the back of his head, cursing the large, equal ears that earned him the nickname “wing nut” from his junior high school students—which made me “baby wing nut” or “wing nut junior” by association, not by ears.

But this man’s ears are not the large, sturdy type. They are both smallish, cute-as-a-button ears with the gentle, fleshy edges of canned mushrooms. The odd one is flatter in back, where the regular one, the left, has a crevice back there. I reach up to feel own ears; there are crevices on the back of both. The lack of crevice on the man’s right ear is part of what makes it seem like it is reaching forward.

His light brown hair is cropped close and neat, revealing the ears. He is balding at the crown and looking closer I see that his hair is quite thin over the whole top of his head. I guess that he’s in his early thirties because there’s no gray. The clothes he wears—boxy gray woolen jacket with a matching fleece scarf—gives him an air of young conservatism. Everything about him, down to his crisp pleated khakis, is neat-as-a-pin. Except for the stray ear.

The ear is pinkish now, I notice, while the other has the same fleshy color as the rest of his skin, almost waxen in its smoothness. I imagine that the stray ear blushes under my scrutiny; its flatter shape and position closer to the window allows the morning light to pass through, causing it to glow slightly.

With his standard khakis, firm black shoes and black computer bag, he could be any young, hair-thinning consultant on his way to work in the city. Except for the ear. Lucky he has that. Maybe it will get him noticed, like my dad.


Heather Petrich is a writer, artist and art therapy graduate student living in Chicago with her husband who has enviously small ears like two perfect seashells. She enjoys observing people—and writing about them—on the El. E-mail: heather_petrich[at]