Author: Bryan Pastor
“It started over a year ago because I couldn’t find a pair of wireless earbuds that worked.” Tom began telling the stranger sitting next to him his story.
He paused, looking around. The diner was crowded for a Wednesday. There was a youth soccer team, four business types in suits of varying shades of grey, and a couple of bikers milling around the door, arguing over whether they wanted the seats near Tom at the counter or the booth in the back by the can.
“You were saying?” the stranger’s voice was soft, with a melodic quality like a puff of verbal serotonin. Tom calmed noticeably; he came here on Wednesdays specifically because it was always dead.
“Sorry,” Tom apologized, “I ended up going through seven pairs of wireless earbuds. The cheapos, after that the brands you heard of, then the expensive ones no one’s ever heard of, each time the left channel was fuzzy. I was getting frustrated because I like being able to walk around the house without having to have the phone on me, all that radiation.”
Tom paused and took a sip of water. He glanced over at the stranger, but couldn’t tell what he looked like. Maybe it was both the bright fluorescent lights washing out his features, and the broad brim of the man’s Stetson casting his face in a deep shadow.
“Just when I think all is lost, my friend John gets this idea and asks if I have a metal plate in my head. He explains that he knows a guy at the VA who picked up a couple of grenade fragments back when he did a tour through Kosovo. The docs told him that the metal in his head was distorting the signal.”
“And then…” the stranger asked, laying a hand on Tom’s arm, just above the wrist. Tom watched the hair on his forearm stand on end in undulating waves that rippled up and down his arm. The stranger’s touch was both clammy and electric and Tom felt a mild uneasiness at the pallid skin sticking to the strangers’ emaciated fingers.
“Then,” Tom continued, “I said what the heck and talked to my doctor. Surprisingly, he humored me. I guess he makes good money ordering MRIs. Yada, yada, yada, they find something just below the skin attached near the base of my skull.”
“What was it?”
“Here, I’ll show you.” Tom scrounged through his fanny pack. After a few minutes, he removed a glass vial four inches long and an inch in diameter. Inside was a metallic object the length of a paperclip and as thick and round as the lead in a number two pencil.
“Once they removed it, my earbuds worked fine, every pair of them.”
Tom admired the object in his hand, set it on the counter then took a bite of pie. He savored the flavor for a long time.
“Wait, Rita, where did it go?” he blurted out.
“Where did what go?” she asked irritably.
“The thing they took out of my head. And where’s the guy I was talking to?
“You’re the only person here,” She replied, giving him her patented you’re crazy look. “Have been all night.” She stomped down to the other end of the counter to fill the salt and pepper shakers.
Tom sat dumbfounded, slowly chewing the last few bites of his cherry pie, lamenting that in a few days he would have to go back to headphones.