Varnished Oak & Old Fishtanks

Perhaps, like mine, your cat leaps upon it at the bedside, charging it to the carpet and swiping back & forth playfully. One, who is human at least, cannot understand the appeal of such an object stripped – or ignorant! – of its purpose, or notice a detail in its composition that might qualify it as a worthwhile toy. Perhaps, who knows, the cat is trying to prevent me from fulfilling with this object both a crime and my sincerest desire, a desire driven by the promise of boundless pleasure.
    I write, of course, about cottonbuds.
    The cat does not want me to commit a crime, to do with this object the one thing I was warned not to do; so she darts and pounces at its white length, nips and gnaws, she swings for me when I try to retrieve it from her clutches. ‘Leave it,’ I tell her. ‘Read the packaging,’ she snaps back! Not once have I, a man, neither young nor middle-aged, ever used the cottonbud for its understated intention, as advertised, a waste! Any general practitioner worth their salt, wearing a stiff white coat, a briefcase of instruments and the salted smell of varnished oak and old fishtanks about their lapel, would tell me, in the harshest terms, never insert a cottonbud into your ear canal. I nod to indicate comprehension and compliance, but truthfully I do not listen! I disobey! My life – other indulgences aside – is too brief to heed such advice.
    My parents would bathe us every Sunday. My brothers and I shared the water in order of age so that I enjoyed both the hottest and cleanest, otherwise we, at our smallest, all fit in at once. Afterwards, our skin a hot kind of pink and most open to the air about us, we would have our teeth brushed thoroughly; my mother not as rough as my father who sought to remove the gums from our mouths. We were then towelled off in their bedroom and had our ears cleaned. Again, my father was far harder with the cottonbud than my mother – one does not learn delicacy on a building site – but both were an absolute delight for different reasons. We would turn and angle our ourselves into the penetration. Lean into it. The old decorations and furniture, the post-roast warmth of a family home, the crisp intimacy of clean pyjamas. Here was a part of my body I never knew existed – certainly never thought about – and that it should be intruded upon, should feel so good, was sufficient to imprint on my youthful consciousness the bliss of indescribable delight. My mother was softer, gentle, like an artist with a brush, licking cotton against the spirals, pulling out perhaps rather than pushing in. My father was trying to make contact with the brain, each child squealing and wiggling their head away.
    Time went on so that cleaning my ears with a cottonbud became a personal responsibility, much like trimming my toenails, shining my shoes or doing homework, no longer the duty of a parent but my own. It was not such a great leap to confess that I could not feel truly clean unless I had cleaned my ears; whether or not there was any real hygienic merit in the practice was irrelevant. Cottonbuds were as much a part of Sunday as roast spuds or mass. At university, cottonbuds were something essential, much like shampoo and body wash. It was imperative that I maintain the standards of cleanliness I had been raised with, for it was such a lonely experience aged eighteen to twentyone, and these details of childhood bring one tremendous comfort during times of need.
    Whispers! whispers arouse me! Tell me a secret and I will throb, I will drool. My body is too feeble to stomach the stimulation of two senses simultaneously: the tiniest movements of a mouth – tongue, cheeks, teeth – clicks at the palate, buds all wet, enamel, muscles and tissue; the fumes of hot lungs, emerging moist and condensing on another, and the words themselves, what do they mean? even the most innocent utterances metamorphose into erotica when whispered into my ear.
    Years later, the intricacies of the ear, my ear, a human ear, would be subject to the heated tongue of skilled lovers; and wonderfully did I smile, purring in their embrace, tickled and tense. I would relish that their saliva remained with me after we had parted, residual, carried in a cranial pocket, forget-me-nots buried between the tongue and crown. That I could poke my pinky into there hours later was like a postcard from them to me, a postcard that arrived home after I did. How sensitive biology’s diagram! My best friend sat on my hips, her bum pat-a-caking my thighs, contorting her spine over me, every vertebra shifting to permit her mouth to the side of my skull and a forceful tongue into an ear that had heard it shape ‘I love you’ and ‘Shall we have pizza for dinner?’
    The true purpose of cottonbuds were lost millenia ago, along with Tutankhamun’s pulse or universal anarcho-communism. I have heard it suggested that they be used to remove makeup or dry between the fingers and toes of a baby. This is a wasted opportunity; an infant would never be able to fully appreciate the wonders of cottonbuds. Resources are finite. Matter, like energy, can neither be created nor destroyed. Cottonbuds must be cherished, must be used to their maximum potential, even if it contravenes every rule on their packaging.
    It is nowadays though, sans lover but with this terrible shit of a cat, that I chase my cottonbuds here & there, wherever she pounces with the cotton & paper that I anticipate, groping outstretched and eager that I might poke them into my ear during a moment’s peace. She must not be able to gnaw or wet it, to impact its perfection with her kitten impertinence and skittish stalking. I brush her away, then, before work and when I get home, after a shower, her presence is the root of the cottonbud, eyeing it and nodding in my face—‘Okay then, come and get it.’