My husband is squirming again. He thinks it doesn’t bother me. That I’ve become numb to his efforts since his strange condition began. Poor Morris. Of course I feel him down there, all his obstinate wriggling. Every leg spasm. Each feeble twitch. But he’s so tiny now. Much tinier even than he was as a boy. His size doesn’t stop him from trying though. Pillowing the midlife insulation I still call my hip bone with his doll-sized chicken legs, he soon rolls off, founders, rests. At least he’s singing to himself. Having fun. Is it a child’s song? A pop tune, maybe? He’s so far away: it’s hard to hear the words.
Don’t mind me, he shouts from below, tugging the fabric he’s secured around my waist. Knees clenched, my tiny husband rockets off my leg in the miniature swing I designed for him—arcing out, rappelling hip to hind—spelunking my most sensitive hollows. Sailing away, my tiny Morris spins, returns to my flank’s cushioned harbor with a small, breathless thump.
Of course I mind him. It’s my job to mind him.
Now more than ever.
Once my husband’s shrinking stabilized, Morris’s counselor advised us to expect an “adjustment period” in our marriage. But, for the first time since we discovered Morris’s shape was changing, the “adjustments” had in fact eased. The gnawing fear—that my husband’s shrinking would continue, that, like a nesting doll, I’d discover a smaller body in bed each morning until, soon, my fully diminished husband would be detectable only with the help of enhanced optical gear—suddenly seemed the product of my overwrought imagination.
For the time being, Morris was an unusually tiny accountant. He wasn’t cell sized. Or atomic. Sure, his size was unprecedented. Even for the record books. But, for the first time in a year, my learning curve was set to pause. I finally knew how small to trim a short stack of quilted, two-ply TP for him. What size morsels to pile on our newly purchased toy store plates. As for his kid-sized, baby-sized, then doll-sized clothes? I no longer had to alter hems and seams. I tucked my sewing machine back under its cover with a sigh of relief. I’m a crappy seamstress at best.
I won’t lie. Once Morris stopped shrinking, there was hope, for a time, that the process might reverse itself. That my husband’s size was temporary. That he might return to his old self.
A year later, the array of specialists remains stumped. They review the notes in his file. Try to make the list of symptoms add up. But there’s no genetic marker to explain my husband’s size. No disease or toxin. Even his history of radiation is normal for a middle-aged man from Denver with two long-healed childhood fractures and average tooth decay. Privately, Morris and I have discussed possibilities that his doctors won’t consider. Cosmic rays. Strange spider bites. Spiritual and alien visitations. But my husband recalls nothing odd worth sharing. We don’t know what to think.
For all intents and purposes, my husband is (now) just an unusually tiny man. By which I mean, he’s a Ken-doll-sized man. Minus the buff plasticized muscles or the full head of hair. Also, Ken’s impressively reserved demeanor.
Unlike Ken, Morris now likes to sing. A lot.
Come Sail Away, he’s humming right now under his breath. He’s been begging me to sail off with him for over a week.
Earworms, the doctor has suggested, may be a consequence of your husband’s altered state, speculating earnestly about the ongoing effects of Morris’s rapid shifts in ear canal pressure.
All I know? He won’t stop.
Did he ever sing before? the doctor asks.
Never, I say.
Well . . . , Morris chirps. Only on the inside.
Is it possible, I venture, ignoring him, that Morris’s loss of, I struggle a moment, “presence” is offset by the now exceptionally audible presence of his voice?
Hmmm, the doctor says, the room echoing with the bass tones of his evasion.
Morris fills up the space quickly.
MmmmBop! he sings.
I stare at him. At the tiny vacant smile on his face. I’m nearly certain Morris has no idea that he’s singing. But the smile is new or, more precisely, sits anew on his now-reduced face. His every gesture, once familiar, has become strange to me. What his soft smile means, I can’t say.
As the doctor exits quickly, and the swell of Hanson’s boy-band soprano—oddly at home in Morris’s altered physique—begins to fill the room, a thought, sudden, unwanted, washes through me.
What would it mean if Morris did know he was singing, but was pretending he didn’t? And, letting my logic play out, if Morris knew he was singing—which is to say, if my once transparent husband was now skilled at pretense—was it also possible that he knew what caused the onset of his condition?
Was it possible that this new man—this serenading, scaled-down husband—could lie?
For the first time in a year, I cautiously considered an incautious idea: was it possible that, though Morris said otherwise, he was happy living as an undersized man? A tiny man?
A man who had to be trussed up, coddled, by a willing wife like me?
For a year, according to the record books, Morris was the “world’s only shrinking man.” By the next edition, he was the “world’s only shrunken man”—shorter by half than the shortest man on record. Occasionally, I’ve wondered what “next year” will bring: the potential reverse milestones often paralyze me. It’s best, I’ve found, to focus “on the present” as our marriage counselor has advised. Morris has been helpful in this regard: for a husband who’s wholly changed, his pleasures have remained oddly static. His favorite food is still soft-boiled eggs. His preferred sport: baseball. Even now, we still enjoy a morning grope on Sundays with regular, if now routine, care.
All to say, he’s the kind of man who enjoys taking out trash, mowing the lawn, and getting sucked off once a week. Sure, at his size, the last pastime now takes more preparation (undressed rehearsals, my tiny husband quips), but Morris remains an optimist—humming “I’ll Melt With You” as he lines my bedside cupboard with an impressive roster of dolls and dildos (not to mention dildos for dolls: who could have predicted?). All of them arranged by size in neat rows.
In recent days, Morris has not only had to relinquish the mower, but also, for safety’s sake, riding his swing at my side as I guide the machine, roaring and spitting out shards of leaves, across the overgrown yard. Instead, he watches from inside the house in the comfort of our window seat as I take my time cutting down the grass—row by row, inch by inch—a pattern that now marks my life.
What happened, you ask? More accurately: what’s happening?
Over time, my husband’s story—the story he tells whomever he meets, from neighbors to newscasters, doctors to drivers—generally wanders down the same well-marked, moss-covered path. Any deviations or discrepancies derive their inevitable variations from nature, which one day may explain my husband’s changes too. Barometric shifts. Dew point fluctuations. The planet’s tilt. The paths of stars.
His story, most often, goes like this:
One day, Morris was awakened in our bed by a tingle in his fingers, a mild electric buzzing in his earlobes and the tips of his toes, which, after soaking in our newly tiled bath, he decided had nothing to do with Date Night the prior evening. He considered his mild hangover. The truffles he’d eaten. The new pomegranate cocktail we’d both tried. The odd-smelling construction site we’d passed while on our way to see a film.
Was his tingling an aftereffect of the “IMAX Experience,” he wondered? Or the “lubricant experience” I’d presented as the evening wore on? “Good for her, good for him,” the package advised. “Everybody wins.”
When the tingling failed to subside after several days, he went to his doctor, where, while taking his vitals, the nurse praised his eight-pound weight loss, noting in passing that he’d also shrunk in height one inch.
Her inclination was to smile, reassure him.
It’s not so unusual. At your age I mean, she said. We all shrink eventually.
She drew a sample of blood, and after a brief consultation with the doctor, Morris was referred to a neurologist. Two weeks later, the tests with the neurologist came back inconclusive, and Morris and I both noticed that his clothes, once tight around his ripening middle-aged edges, had grown visibly baggy. At first, I thought that his pants—the hems curtained his ankles—were simply sagging low at the waist. But a return visit to his GP showed that he’d not only lost a cool twenty pounds, but a full three inches in height. Within a week, the loss was five inches. Soon, it was ten. Then the creeping loss went exponential. And our visits to doctors’ offices took on the desperate pitch and swerve of a highway commuter trying to beat morning traffic. We dodged and banked and took curves too tightly. We cursed. We became blistered and worn from trying to outpace the inevitable. There were pills and infusions. A gut-wrenching caloric uptick for Morris. Drives and flights to specialists out of state. More tests than I can remember or name.
We played it fierce. We held hands until I had no choice but to hold his hand, suddenly child-sized, in my own. And then, when even that became impossible, when I knew my hand might crush the fragile, bird-like bones of his, he’d simply reach over and rest his tiny paw on top of mine. And we’d sit together. Our hands pancake-stacked. Oddly apart.
What shocked me every morning? Morris didn’t deflate slowly or irregularly, one arm or side of his body taut, the other nippled, flaccid, or rubbery. He never looked like a birthday balloon slowly losing air. He was just a new man each day. A smaller man. A reduced man. A man who had the same face at two hundred pounds that he did at one hundred twenty. An old man in a child’s body. But not the child he’d once been, the child we compared him to in family photos: there, his skin was youthful, translucent—a silken dermal sheath holding muscle and calcite together. The frame beneath: sinewy, knobby-kneed, tough. Perfect.
Doll-sized, Morris remained leathered and worn. Irregularly puffed in the middle.
A toy no one would buy.
Now, every morning, he likes to tuck himself near my belt loop, his bum supported by the fabric sling I’ve fashioned for him, both tiny, ineffectual legs dangling at the knees like a marionette’s from its pins, as he suspends from my hip at a comfortable height.
Above the cat line, he says in his girlish voice.
He’s safe there, he means, from stalking cats and snorting pups. Especially from toddlers on the loose. But I sometimes wonder if he’s safe from me.
What might happen, for instance, if one day I forget he’s there. If, while he’s sleeping, I head off to the loo and drop my drawers without fuss, as one does, many times, over the course of a day—there are so many opportunities—ending our marriage, suddenly, with one careless move. An abrupt, sewery end.
It makes me wonder if my tiny husband is truly safe anywhere.
Like an unwanted dog that wanders out an open gate, might the universe propel Morris to his natural conclusion?
Morris is not a pet, I remind myself.
I’m your hub band, he laughs, pushing off from my hip in the jerry-rigged swing around my waist. Get it? He has the oversized confidence of a miniature man.
I laugh at his joke. Everyone laughs at his jokes: you have to laugh when a tiny man jokes. What kind of person would you be if you didn’t?
What kind of wife?
Morris says all kinds of things while he rides at my hip. When he’s not singing, he’s talking. His monologue never wavers.
He now notes, for instance, that his size is an unexpected gift: he can see things he never saw before. Gestures are amplified—my subtlest movements carry enormous meaning. He now appreciates his tiny place in the universe: how small it is. And yet, proportionately, still how large. Even time seems to pass more slowly. He appreciates how long it takes to turn the page of a book and so reads every word closely; how long to eat a piece of cheese, so he savors every crumb. Sometimes, he wonders, if his inexplicable change is the result of an intervention by nature: if everyone were as tiny as he, after all, the human impact on the planet would be diminished at once. Did his altered size represent a much-needed environmental shift?
We are all connected, he says, without reflecting on who “we” is.
I put my hand on his back to steady him, to soothe him. It’s hard to make him stop when he gets amped up.
Let’s go on a walk, he says, tugging at the hem of my shirt, even though he knows I’m taking care of our daily chores, now mine alone: calling credit cards to dispute charges, the insurance company to appeal claims, the cable company about their shoddy service. I pat his head, whisper for him to wait.
Ssssh, I say, while my so-called “customer alliance” representative, muddles on with prepared remarks about interest rates and FICA scores.
Just a second, I whisper. And then we’ll go.
We both know I’m lying. Twenty minutes later, I stand and stretch after filing a meter reading with the local gas company. The to-do list is only half scratched off.
By the time I look down, Morris is asleep at my side, hammocked and rocking like an infant.
How long did he have? I still often wonder. There is no way to predict the path of his metamorphosis, and it has occurred to me, not for the first time, that he made me make this promise: if he continued shrinking—if one day, I could extinguish him with the fleshy tip of my index finger—that I go and just get on with it. Put that finger to its proper use.
What kind of life, he squeaked, was a tiny, microscopic life? Adding: I’m a man.
I nodded and, when he sat in my palm, I picked him up gently, tucked him onto his swing.
Yes, I said, rubbing his back. You are.
Optimistically, for a time, I thought that there might be unexpected benefits of having a twelve-inch husband. In past years, when Morris rolled over for our Sunday morning recreationals, his morning lofty bobbing against my leg, it was all too easy to thoughtlessly spoon to my side, let him get on with business. He never took long, and, we’d rock away, both of us still half asleep.
Do I need to say more?
Since his change, though, all bets are off. Early on, Morris shared my excitement. With a grin, he set out exploring, an adventurer hunting for my rumored G-spot—a curious sensation to have a tiny man inside you, pushing buttons, flicking levers, testing the fuses of my varied breakers—until one afternoon I unintentionally convulsed, sealing him to my cervix, and found myself scooping him out with my index finger like a used prophylactic sponge. But he could attend to my coxswain with his tiny paws. While, in exchange, I offered my little man’s little man exceptional “torque,” as he called it, with my giant-sized lips: a trade that served us well for a while—until, in another maneuver (ungainly and daydreaming), I nearly crushed him between my thighs. We tried our best, in short, but our outmatched sizes were unwieldy.
If you bake soufflés, and they fail to rise half the time, you’re bound to bake soufflés less often. Our bedroom logic followed suit.
For the first time, in a very long time, routine held a certain appeal.
In a fit of pique one morning, I picked up Morris and shoved him, head first, inside me. Had a go with him. But a twelve-inch man is all knobs and knees.
A twelve-inch man, even if he’s willing, is not a device that can be used to give pleasure.
My husband, I discovered, was not a useful tool.
Not long after, Morris was gone.
I woke up, rolled over to the infant cosleeper box beside me—Sleep Safe and Secure!™ emblazoned on one side—and discovered Morris was already out of bed. A quick walk to the bathroom, the kitchen, a moment later, the deck, failed to turn him up.
Morris? I called. It was unlike him to just wander off.
I searched. I looked in small places where he might have fallen or become unwittingly locked or stuck (the fridge, a desk drawer, inside the mailbox). I called out again. I waited. And, when an hour later he still didn’t turn up, I considered new options: perhaps he’d been kidnapped or run away. Perhaps a creature—a hawk, a cat, a raccoon—had turned up unexpectedly and scampered off with my poor husband between its talons or teeth. Morris’s possible ends were unthinkable.
Months ago, I’d tagged Morris with a medical bracelet in case, like a wandering dementia patient, he turned up without me in a tricky situation. Comforted my foresight would see us through, I sought out my metal detector, walked the attic, the basement, the shed out back, sweeping for signs, hoping to trace his path. Hours later, when Morris failed to turn up, I began to make calls: to our counselor, to our friends, to hospitals nearby, even to Morris’s sister in Alameda. In no time at all, there were alerts and announcements. Neighbors linked arms and shuffled with care across my yard. A search and rescue team sent in trained hounds. And when all that failed, infrared equipment tried to identify heat signatures in the house and yard.
Aside from finding multiple voles and a fairly extensive rabbit warren, there was no evidence of Morris’s life or death.
He was lost.
Perhaps he suddenly shrank even further? Morris’s sister suggested, worried, but far away on the phone. We were all struggling to make sense of the senseless.
I nodded. It was one of many plausible theories.
Perhaps my tiny husband hadn’t disappeared. Perhaps he had just grown so small that I couldn’t see him any longer. He’d become the inkblot, the ant, the atom he’d feared. And there was nothing any of us could do about it.
Perhaps he’s still with me even now as I sip tea at the kitchen table. He’s the fairy dust in the sunlight around me, now wispy enough to be buoyed by air.
Perhaps he is watching me as I go on, harmlessly, about my days. No longer minding him.
No longer minding he is gone.