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“So,” said the doctor, “what seems to be the trouble?”

He leaned back in his chair, looking across his desk at the man sitting opposite. The patient wore a bandage across the top of his head, down over one ear and under his chin, like a head-tyre, if such a thing exists.

There was a reason why the expression “down over one ear” was apt in this case.

“I’ve got ear-ache,” said VanGogh.

“I see,” said the doctor. “Well, given your, er, circumstances, I must say that’s singularly unlucky. I’ll take a look.”

He went around the desk and peered into the patient’s ear. “I can’t see any inflammation,” he said.

“Um,” said Van Gogh, “it’s not that ear.”

“Pardon?” said the doctor.

“Was that supposed to be some sort of joke?” asked VanGogh. “Because I get that all the time. People think it’s hilarious.”

“No, no,” the doctor assured him. “I simply didn’t hear you correctly. I thought you said the ear-ache wasn’t in that ear.”

VanGogh sighed, then slowly, Jacob-Marley-like slowly, unwrapped the bandage.

The doctor’s jaw dropped, almost as far as Marley’s had.

Van Gogh had two ears.

“You’ve got two ears!” exclaimed the doctor.

“No shit,” said VanGogh.

“How come?” asked the doctor. “Did it grow back?”

“Of course it didn’t grow back,” snapped VanGogh. “Who do you think I am – the Terminator?”

“Then how can this be?”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said VanGogh, “isn’t it obvious? I never cut the ear off in the first place.”

“But why would you pretend you had?”

“It was my gimmick,” said VanGogh. “We artists have tough lives. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you need something to stand out from the crowd, especially if all you can do is paint fields of flowers, or a starscape that looks as if you’d sneezed mustard onto the Swedish flag. Ever since I (his fingers made quotation marks) “cut my ear off” sales have rocketed. People reckon someone mad enough to do that must be a genius.”

“That’s great,” said the doctor.

“Well, yes,” said Van Gogh, “apart from the ear-ache.”

The doctor stared into the offending, in so many meanings of that word, ear. His expression became grave.

“I’m afraid it’s dying,” he said.

“What?” said VanGogh.

“Was that a joke?” asked the doctor.

“No,” said VanGogh. “I can’t hear as well as I used to.”

“That’s because your ear is dying, said the doctor. “It’s been pressed against your head for four years, with no blood supply and no oxygen. It’s like a sunflower starved of sun, rather ironically.”

“But that’s terrible,” said VanGogh. “What can we do?”

“There’s only one option,” said the doctor. “We’ll have to cut it off.”