In the dream, you are a girl named Ruthie Catskill.
You have no idea why the dream has given you a full name, but there are people saying it above you. They’re concerned. You are on a stretcher going down the long halls of a hospital. Everything is fast and white the way you’ve seen it in films.
The nurses say something about The Blast. Leaking gas... An old apartment building... Everything they say is muffled. You think you hear something about your pulse, convulsion, maybe something about your tibia. There’s something comedic about the whole thing, almost like that one dream where you could speak Spanish fluently. Everyone is far more frantic than they should be, realistically. Nobody seems to know what he or she is doing.
Your left ear hurts. It feels like it’s been pumped full of wax and dulled by an amplifier. You are sure you feel it. You go to touch it, but the nurses pull your hands down back to your sides.
Sometimes you can see outside yourself. You can see this girl Ruthie. You’re a girl with freckles now, with brown hair, tied back in braids. Your ears are so small. Your hands are so small.
Everything turns to white, and then you’re her again, this time sitting on the waxed paper doctors roll out for checkups. You pull the fine hair at the end of your braid. When you look up, the doctor is there in front of you with a stethoscope slithering over his white jacket.
He smiles like he’s saying “I don’t bite.” He covers your right ear and talks into your left. You can see his mouth moving. You already know what he’s asking.
“I can’t hear a word,” you say, without hearing yourself.
He nods and trashes his plastic gloves.
You think you remember hearing tibia back in the halls of the hospital and you wonder where you can find it on your small body. You wonder if it’s OK. All you smell is disinfectant. You can taste it in your mouth.
You look up to ask him, but he isn’t there. You take your pointer fingers to the small bit of cartilage by the opening of each ear, and plug them up with the flap. You open and close your ears, repeating until it’s like an ocean of sound. It only fills half of you.
You are afraid people will start saying things to your bad ear on purpose.
Nobody tells you anything.
You think about going home. You think about going home 'til you realize it isn’t Ruthie’s home you’re thinking of — it’s something resembling the house you grew up in or maybe the apartment where you live now. It’s those hardwood floors. The red sleeping bag. You can’t reimagine home, not as Ruthie, not even with the part of your mind that dreams.
In bed, with your eyes awake, you assure yourself that your bones are all intact and open and close your ears the way you did in the dream, the way you would when you were little, humming and letting the sound wash in.