November 5, 2021
By H. Bolton
Holly, ripe with the confidence of her looming thirteenth birthday, asked her parents for permission to pierce her ears and, of course, the associated earrings to go along with it.
John dropped his full ceramic plate on the table. His daughter didn’t want earrings. His daughter collected plastic ponies and played with them in the bathtub. She even packed them on vacation, saying she couldn’t be clean without her herd.
But when he rejoined the conversation, his wife was offering to pierce the innocent ears in the bathroom with a frozen potato and a needle. “Sharon, don’t you think we should talk about this first,” but his voice was too low and the woman and girl kept talking without him.
In their bedroom, John put down his foot, “Sharon, we need to talk about this ear piercing thing.”
Sharon turned from putting the pillows in the wicker basket, giving him a blank look. “What about it?”
“Holly is too young for it.”
Sharon scoffed, not considering his idea for a second. “Babies get their ears pierced. Holly will be fine.”
John crossed his arms. “Well, she isn’t allowed to wear hoops.”
The only response was her eyebrow arching.
“They’re too sexual. She’s only thirteen!”
“A round metal ring is too sexual?” She spoke slowly, like she was explaining geometry to a wild creature.
John threw his arms in the air. If the people around him didn’t realize the dangers, if they didn't understand the risk--“I’m going out.”
In his truck, John flipped through station after station and settled on adult contemporary, mainly for the smooth, deep voice of their disc jockey. He was driving aimlessly, every store closing up as he reached their parking lot. Not that he had anything to buy. He would’ve merely moved from wandering the streets to wandering the aisles.
“Hello there, early night owls,” the disc jockey purred. “I feel super special to be spending this time with you.”
She sounded hot. John pictured her like a 1950’s pin-up, smiling at him with a wink in her eye, nodding her head in agreement.
“This is the part of the night where we all start having deep thoughts.”
John furrowed his brow at that and decided to pull onto the highway. He was tired of getting caught by stoplights.
“My loyal fans know I call this the ‘itching hour’. As you’re driving tonight, I want you to call me with your itches. As you sit there trying to scratch them, I want you to think about why. Why is this bugging you so much?” Her voice faded into Kiss From a Rose by Seal.
Reaching the highway, John’s truck easily reached seventy miles per hour and kept its smooth ride. He wasn’t ‘itching’, whatever that was. He was dealing with the fact that his wife was being a moron and not protecting their daughter. She was basically pushing their baby girl into the lion’s den.
Why is this bugging you so much? purred in his brain, an echo. The pin-up in his mind’s eye blinked her doe eyes at him a few times.
Because men will start to look at her! Men, with their grabby hands and locker room talk, will come after his baby.
She tilted her head. But all men aren’t like that.
Yes, they are. With their urges.
Are you like that?
John looked down at the dashboard and realized he was pushing a hundred miles per hour. The truck was shaking violently. He slowed down and then pulled over to a rest stop, gloomy with half of the light poles dark.
He was like that--or he had been, in his youth. Somewhere on the spectrum that wasn’t innocent. There was this girl who wore overalls to school every day and big hoop earrings. She was kind of goofy, kind of quirky--not cool enough to be high on any social ladders, per se. John should’ve asked her out. She probably would’ve said yes. Instead, he stole a kiss from her at the lockers. Literally stole: she slapped him afterwards and reported him to the principal. He had detention for the week.
He spent Saturday attacking the lawn. Not only mowed, but weed’n’feed’ed and planted hydrangeas. Coming home the other night, he’d told Sharon they weren’t done talking about this, so Holly couldn’t get her ears pierced. Sharon had said her birthday was Wednesday and by Wednesday she was giving her a present.
Going for a glass of water, he ran into Holly doing her algebra homework in the kitchen. Her books were strewn across the island like her clothes were strewn across her room. The kid was a tornado of mess, but he was proud that she was starting off her weekend by getting her homework done.
“Munchkin,” he called as he pressed the glass to the refrigerator, “why do you want to get your ears pierced?”
She looked up and shrugged. “I saw some earrings I liked: they're mismatched and one is a green heart and the other is a diamond. So, y’know, to wear them I have to get my ears pierced.”
“What if we waited another year, do it when you’re fourteen?” He took a sip of the chilled water.
She rolled her eyes. “Dad, everyone has pierced ears. It isn’t a big deal.”
“So it wouldn’t be a big deal to put it off a year.”
The book shut with a slam and Holly got up with the squeak of her chair legs on the tile. “I don’t know why you are being so weird about this. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. I’m, like, doing you guys a favor by only asking for this.” With the textbook in tow, she went off to her clothes-blanketed bedroom.
John tried different arguments in the lead up to Wednesday, but they all dissolved into rolled eyes or blank looks or women storming out of the room. Did they not hear him or did they not care? He kept taking potatoes out of the freezer, so Sharon wouldn’t have the proper tools for piercing. She caught him Tuesday night.
“Babe, this is ridiculous.”
The potato was tight in his left hand, chilling the skin painfully. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What are you so concerned about?”
He shrugged. Setting down the potato would be letting Sharon win, so he gripped it harder, losing feeling in the tips of his fingers.
“Holly is going to become a woman whether or not her ears are pierced--and let me tell you, it isn’t that hard to punch a hole in an ear. The next sleepover she comes back from she’ll probably have them pierced anyway.”
“She’s too young.” Too young to face what womanhood will bring. His fingers grew numb.
Sharon wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, babe, I know. I still remember when all she could talk about was riding and all she asked for was a horse. Like we could afford that!”
They both laughed.
“Now, set down that potato and hug me back.”
He placed it on the counter and did as she’d asked.
“Holy moly, that hand is cold! I take it back--stop the hug!” Instead he took his hand and pressed it against her neck, causing her to shriek, then giggle. He chased her around the house with the glacial hand outstretched like a zombie.
Wednesday, Sharon took Holly to the master bathroom and pierced her ears. She sterilized the needle with the flame from a vanilla candle and numbed the lobe with the potato. Holly’s shoulders were so tense that they cracked louder than her ‘Ouch’ from the punctures.
They came back into the dining room where Sharon had laid out Holly’s favorites: cornflake chicken with green beans. A little blood leaked out from behind the gold studs.
From the head of the table, John stood up, “You look so grown up.”
Holly blushed. “Gosh, Dad, they’re just earrings.”
He pulled out a small wrapped box and handed it to her. “For after they’re healed.” Inside were two small horses, connected to poles mid-gallop, their manes blowing forever in a mythical breeze.
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