Ann Arbor Rant: Let’s Talk About Math

I’m not sure who decided that Ann Arbor Public elementary schools should teach children Everyday Math, but I hate it.

Recently, I discovered the frozen-over hell that is partial sums. For those who didn’t learn math this way, partial sums ultimately boils down to performing single digit addition from left to right. Which means anytime a number not in the highest number value place exceeds 10, things have to be corrected. For example, if you take the problem 549 + 327, under partial math, your thinking strategy works something like this:

In other words, partial sums boils down to performing the problem backwards, since at the end of the day, you’re doing addition at the single digit level, which also means you have to continually correct your math if you run into a “carry-the-one” situation. It gives the child more opportunities to mess up, since they have to keep going back and correcting the numbers they had already calculated, which were calculated correctly, but actually need to be increased because of high numbers in lesser place values. How is this easier/better than the traditional carry-the-one method?

(… it’s not)

My understanding is that this practice is intended to teach children place values. But that seems like place value could easily be taught via expanded notation, while still solving from right to left so you don’t have to repeatedly “correct” your math:

… see why I hate this shit?

This baby gets it.

So Apparently I Like Shakespeare

I’ve been in the mood for Shakespeare re-tellings lately. Got my hands on the ARCs of Mona Awad’s All’s Well that Ends Well influenced novel All’s Well, and Samantha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things, which is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Both of these books are well written, and I would highly recommend.

Mona Awad, author of Bunny, responder to my tweet, and all-around amazing writer, has proven her mettle once more with an astounding magical realism novel that will make you feel all the feelings on the spectrum of feelings if you have a soul featuring has-been actress, current perpetually unwell acting director at a small university Miranda Fitch.

Miranda Fitch was a beautiful actress giving generally well-received performances in the Shakespeare oeuvre, in the midst of the dramatic bloody hands scene in Macbeth when she accidentally fell off of the stage and damaged her back. Since that moment, her life has been a torment. She is in terrible, constant, debilitating pain, with few to no allies. The doctors she goes to cannot find a source for the pain, the physical therapists make it worse, and some of the people in her life seem to think she is making it up for attention or that she might feel better if she’d just adopt a more chipper attitude or that she has maybe crossed the line between sanity and madness. The fact that Miranda pops pills the way my toddler eats candy, and is so focused on her internal self that she sometimes misses people and events until she is no longer able to avoid them makes the reader unclear about exactly what is happening.

Miranda is pitiable – there is no other way to describe her. She is pitiable, and it is difficult to spend time with her, in her unending and unendurable existence of pain and unhappiness. One night, however, she happens upon three unusual men in a bar, and a web of magic begins to furl itself around Miranda and those around her. As Miranda’s life changes, she realizes that she is a caught in a web bigger than illness, bigger than love, and that lives and souls are at stake. Miranda is forced to confront herself, and to determine what is most important to her and how she wants to live her life… or what’s left of it.

#webofmagic

This book took longer for me to become invested in than Bunny. It is, frankly, just very difficult to spend that much time reading about, and thereby empathizing with, someone else’s pain. Particularly when you’re not exactly certain if the pain is real, or if there is mental illness causing Miranda to feel a phantom of something that no longer exists. Awad’s writing, however, is always spectacular, her skillful craft thrumming through each line. And once Miranda does begin to think about other things, the pace of the novel picks up at a manic pace that will leave you marveling at the author’s skill and desperate to know what happens next.

Slated for release August 3, 2021. I highly recommend that you pre-order from an indie bookstore so you can get your hands on a copy ASAP.

4.5 Stars

Samantha Cohoe, from my cursory search of her website, seems to write YA novels. Her debut novel was A Golden Fury; I have not read it, but it has a Goodreads rating of 3.67, and is about a girl who is a talented alchemist trying to create the philosopher’s stone, which has caused her mother to go insane. Bright Ruined Things, on the other hand, is a story that primarily takes place on an island filled with magical beings whom the paternal figure (whom we will call “Poppa Prosper” in this blog post, although most of the characters in the novel call him grandfather because they are unimaginative and don’t like alliteration) has bound to get them to create a fuel called aether that has replaced gasoline.

The Prospers are a powerful and wealthy family, but our story is told by May, the orphan girl the family adopted when her father begged Poppa Prosper to take care of her from his (father’s) deathbed. May has never left the island, and she doesn’t want to – it is her home, and she is trying to stay quiet about the fact that she’s 18 and figure out a way to learn magic so that she can be useful to the family and Poppa Prosper will keep her around.

As the story opens, the Prosper family who live off the island all return for First Night, an annual celebration of the first time that Poppa Prosper tamed the spirits on the island. If you keep wanting to read Bright Ruined Things as Bright Young Things, you are not alone – I keep mis-typing the title, and I think this may have been done on purpose, given that the time period during which this novel is set and this fabulous party is slated to occur is the 1920s. The environment is wealthy, glamorous, on the cusp of ripe and spoiling. Something is happening to the spirits that no one has ever encountered before, and as May investigates, she is forced to confront the reality of her beloved island and the source of the Prospers’ wealth, and learns about herself and what she is willing to do for the love and power she has desired for her entire life.

Slated for release October 26, 2021, I also recommend this book, particularly if you are a fan of YA fantasy.

The Cat Piss Diet

So… my husband is doing the keto diet. I am so proud of him for working to get healthy. Yet it seems that keto is designed not just to lose weight, which is my husband’s primary goal with this diet, but also for a more active lifestyle.

… Can I do neither? #stayinbed

He began talking yesterday about smelling like ammonia. I didn’t smell anything, to be honest, because I have a terrible sense of smell, but like a good wife, I lurked over his shoulder while he Google’d it. Apparently, some people have trouble digesting the extra protein that occurs from switching to a keto diet. So for someone who is in finals week like my husband, who is pretty much glued to his desk, the protein may build up in the body and excrete from the skin. An ammonia smell is often an indicator that too much protein is being ingested, which can have nasty side effects, like kidney stones, liver damage, and bone damage.

In other words, be wary of the keto diet, because it could, like, kill some of your internal organs and make you smell like piss and no one will want to give you a hug. And if you’re going to do keto, make sure you’re exercising.

Sorry, Y’All

I usually try to post at least once per week, but am currently working through some life changes, and so have been a bit MIA/remiss. I shall strive to do my best to behave again – if you don’t see a post from me next Tuesday, you have my permission to shake your head at me in gentle admonition, and perhaps be slightly cross or reproving.

In other news, I decided to create a Twitter, primarily to amuse myself because other people are fucking great at using their 140 or less characters to make me laugh. But I legit squealed a bit in delight when Mona Awad (yes, that Mona Awad, writing goddess, and if you haven’t read Bunny yet, you need to, like, why are you even reading this – go to the bookstore now) responded to one of my tweets:

Had to share – I look up to this woman so much (and recently got the opportunity to read an ARC of her upcoming release All’s Well, which I will be posting about soon (spoiler alert: also amazing)). Unfortunately, the rest of this week has not been going so well. BUT tomorrow’s Friday, so this week is almost over. & next week is bound to be better.

How are y’all doing? Please share in the comments below! I would love to hear about your highs/lows and in-betweens (or feel free to leave your Twitter handle, so I can laugh at your funny 140 character or less postings).

Sharpen Your Claws

In San Antonio, Texas, the Torres sisters live with their father. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa are four beautiful roses blooming in the muck of death and decay that is their house. Unlike most roses, they have legs, and are desperate for escape – some day, some way – from the existence they are experiencing on a daily basis.

This existence doesn’t necessarily end when they die.

The Torres sisters are spied on by the boy who lives across the street and his three friends. Stalkers who hesitate to interfere with the girls after their actions ruin an escape attempt, and so, they just watch. Filtering the lives and personalities of these girls through their male lenses:

  • Ana, the beautiful enigma
  • Jessica, the angry and slightly inept
  • Iridian, the introvert who brings a novel and a notebook with her wherever she goes
  • Rosa, the old soul

Reflecting on their inaction after the fact, and realizing that they could have offered friendship to these girls, which may have been more helpful than obsessive semi-worship.

Because they are girls, of course, there is plenty of conflict and abuse to content with – their father is neglectful, their mother is dead, so these girls are mostly on their own. Boys suck. Most people suck. Add grieving to the mix, and these poor girls go through a lot.

Samantha Mabry’s Tigers, Not Daughters is well-written and mysterious. The story is sometimes magical, sometimes realistic, and sometimes it is difficult for the reader to discern whether the events are occurring or being interpreted in an elevated way by the characters. If you like well-written fiction, multiple points-of-view, hot climates, stories that center around smart women, and magical-realism, I would highly-highly recommend.

Have you read this novel, or do you plan to pick up a copy soon? Let me know in the comments below!

Lazy Blog Post: ARCs I Read & Only Reviewed on Goodreads

Hey guys –

I’m bone tired. Not 100% sure why, to be honest. Possibly because I’m trying to plan a novel on top of working full time and wrangling two energetic kids and my husband and keep the house clean. So today, I thought I would briefly go through the ARCs that I have read since starting this blog, but not created a blog post for –

  1. One Day by David Nicholls – had this one for approximately a decade before I read it, which is a shame, because it is an amazing book:

2. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

3. So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith

4. The Paris Model by Alexandra Joel

5. The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson

6. Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life by Ashly Perez

I write a mini-review for almost every book I read on Goodreads, and give a star rating approximately 95% of the time (sometimes, I need time away from the book to sift through my feelings, and promptly forget that I have never rated, so it’s just not going to happen). If you found this blog post entertaining, you would probably enjoy following me on Goodreads. If you didn’t fine this blog post entertaining, I promise, they’re not all this half-assed. I really just have no energy at the moment. But wouldn’t you like to follow me, and see if I’m telling the truth? #winkwink

Pet Peeves: Fucking Marathons

I hate it when people say, “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Please shut the fuck up #petpeeves

I understand what they’re trying to get at, and I think it generally comes from a good place. Don’t kill yourself trying to get ahead when there is always more work to do.

Having said that, my brain always defaults to, But the first guy to run a Marathon… from Marathon to Athens to announce defeat of the Persians… died pretty much as soon as the words left his lips (supposedly – who really knows; Greek historians were drama queens). This mortality is completely counter to what the saying means, since the point is not to kill yourself, by referring to something that the first person to successfully finish the task dropped dead from performing the feat, I feel like it’s not a good metaphor.

Black Buck

Now that this book has officially been published, I can finally post about Mateo Askaripour’s Uh-Maze-Ing novel Black Buck (this book is difficult for me to discuss without spoilers). If you haven’t read it yet, run to your nearest indie bookstore, because it’s better for your health and the environment and the local economy, and nab a copy. This post can wait.

Now that you have read it, can we share a mutual squeal of delight over this thought-provoking novel featuring a black salesman who achieves fame & fortune, delivers great advice, and is imprisoned because his white racist adversary teams up with the grandson of a man he treated unfairly, and the latter has decided karma needed some help?

There is so much about this book that I loved. But the best thing about it is that my brain continued mulling it over long after I was technically done reading. How I realized subtleties in Askaripour’s book that could easily be missed amidst the bravado and dramatism that a novel full of salespeople and realistic American sentiment contains. Some people may think this novel is satire – I think this novel is, unfortunately, all too believable.

#sofuckingood

The part that sticks with me is how employees at Sumwun are so upset about the Happy Campers, which essentially provides the same advantages to people of color as the Duchess received from her father’s connections. It was okay for her to breeze through training and new hiring, because she was white and rich and thin. But the Happy Campers, who receive a similar “leg up” are absolutely not okay, because they are generally not white and not rich, so they’re “stealing jobs” whereas it is fine for Duchess to pretty much yawn her way through work, where she probably doesn’t need training at all, since her father’s contacts will buy from her without need of a sales pitch anyway.

This novel is sharp – I could tell it was going to be a good read from the opening sentence:

The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.

Black Buck

The wit is sharp and smart:

My teeth are status quo and powerful, also known as white and straight…

Black Buck

I truly cannot think of a better book to help you experience the anger, the outrage, the unfairness, as you read the ultimate underdog, what-the-fuck-is-work-life-balance, mentoring-is-not-bullshit-even-though-it-did-land-me-in-jail, story. This book is fiction, but don’t misjudge – the experiences in here are, unfortunately, not that far off what many people-of-color face every day. And it would be nice to think that this book is just making blatant what is underlying the microaggressions that are often experienced. But the truth is, a large portion of the country is just outright aggressive, and people-of-color are often their targets. Read this book, if you are blissfully unaware of what it is like to be considered less than because of attributes you cannot help, with which you were born. Read this book to get legitimate, useful business advice. Read this book because it is well-written. But read this book – and recommend to the other people in your life who could benefit from empathy, or who want to feel understood, or who are looking for an intelligent, eloquent read.

Ann Arbor Rant: Let’s Talk about IHA

In Ann Arbor, there are two major healthcare providers – Michigan Medical and IHA/St. Joe’s. Michigan Medical is good, unless you’re a little squeamish about being the practice body for doctoral students in the University of Michigan medical school. IHA used to also be good, until the provider switched it’s third-party billing service, and is now punishment to all who require billing, regardless of whether they have been good or bad boys and girls.

Dealing with IHA billing is the 8th level of hell that Dante was too frustrated to write about. The third-party billing service IHA has switched to is Trinity Health Professional Billing Services, but don’t let that name fool you – unless the representatives you will be speaking with are training to deal out torture and frustration, there is nothing professional about the service you will receive. I have a family member who is literally abstaining from seeking professional treatment for an ear infection that has bothered him for approximately 1 week because Michigan medical cannot get him in to see a doctor and does not currently have an urgent care, which leaves him with… you guessed it, IHA. Just the thought of dealing with the billing errors that will inevitably result is more torturous than the pain he experiences from a burst eardrum and noticeable hearing loss. But having dealt with Trinity Health multiple times myself, I am unable to tell him that he is wrong, because, to be frank, this organization is the most inept business that I have ever encountered.

That’s right, folks. This medical billing service is worse than GameStop, which has a business model nearly as archaic as Blockbuster and people need to stop investing in it because it’s a shitty business model that preys on the stupid (sorry if you use Gamestop, but, like… you should stop). This medical billing service is worse than the Little Caesars I went to on a regular basis when I lived in the Bay Area, which had Yelp reviews along the lines of “This store gets a 1-star rating in comparison to other Little Caesars,” and which was often managed by a woman obviously strung out on crack who sometimes made people wait for hours at the counter. This medical billing service is worse than my brain was previously capable of even imagining. I think of myself as having a fairly active imagination, but I would never, in my wildest fantasies, have imagined that this degree of ineptitude would be tolerated by a medical organization that, as far as I know, does not want to go out of business (though you have to wonder…).

Now, if you have not been to IHA since this medical practice group switched billing service providers in early 2020, let’s walk through a hypothetical situation:\

You take your toddler to the IHA Arbor Park Pediatrics center on Clark Road in February 2020. While you walk up to the familiar door, you notice an 8 x 11 paper taped to it that states that IHA is in process of switching medical billing services. You open the door, espy the colorful handprints painted in the doorway, and walk through the second door to enter the waiting lobby. You check-in, including stating that there are no changes to insurance from what was provided when you first began bringing your child to IHA shortly after birth. Insurance for the family is through your work, and you are responsible for any charges exceeding what insurance will cover.

The check-up is normal; your child is fucking healthy as a horse.

You receive a bill in the mail, but it looks like the visit was not processed through insurance first. Since this check-up was a normal, required examination for a child in the first two years of life, you expect that insurance will cover most, if not all, of the cost. You look up IHA billing provider information on-line, and see that for visits made on or after January 24, 2020, you need to contact Trinity Health:

You call the number for Trinity Health Professional Billing Services, explain that you have a question about a bill you recently received, you have the date of the visit, the invoice number, etc., immediately in front of you, but the representative on the phone informs you that this bill does not appear to be in their system yet, and that you should call again in a month or so.

You move to a new residence, lose the bill you have questions about in the fracas, and are generally trying very hard to complete a move in the middle of COVID restrictions.

You call Trinity again a month or so later. They are still unable to locate your bill in their system, but update your address.

You receive a bill a month or so later, forwarded from your old address with the notice that the bill is overdue. The bill is exactly the same; i.e., there is no indication that this visit was sent to insurance. It is summer. You call Trinity, which requests the address on file, since the bill was processed in your spouse’s name and not yours. The address Trinity has on file is your old address. The representative states that the bill needs to be sent to your insurance to be processed, that she has written a note on the account to that effect, and that you should wait for the new bill that will come once insurance has processed the bill.

A month or two later, your spouse receives a notice from a collections agency that this bill has been sent to collections. Enraged, your spouse calls Trinity and berates them for not doing their job and sending the bill to collections when our understanding was that the bill was going to be processed by insurance, and the bill should be in your name, anyway, since insurance is through you. Trinity agrees to rescind the bill from your spouse’s collections. You call your insurance, which calls Trinity and does a 3-way call with you so that Trinity gets all of the information needed to process the claim with insurance.

A month or two later, you receive a notice from a collections agency that this bill has been sent to collections. The next day, you receive a bill, forwarded from your old address with the notice that the bill is overdue. The bill is exactly the same; i.e., there is no indication that this visit was sent to insurance. You call Trinity, upset that the business is not performing the duties promised to you verbally over a call. The representative you speak with claims there is nothing she can do to take it out of collections, that there is nothing documented on the account to show any previous calls over the bill. You get very angry, and the representative hangs up on you.

You call IHA to let them know you are having difficulty and that the customer service representative, whose entire job is to handle people who are probably not in the best mood, hung up on you. IHA says there is nothing they can do.

You call Trinity again, speak with a different representative, ask if you need to get your insurance to call them again to get resolved, and the representative assists.

Fall of 2020, you receive an updated bill that shows the majority of the visit has been paid by insurance, and there is a small amount remaining you need to pay. You promptly pay your bill.

Oh, also – all of this happened to me. In fact, what is stated above is a small portion of what I went through to try to pay for my children’s health and wellness visits.

So what do y’all think? Am I just exaggerating? Or does IHA seem to have made some weird Faustian deal, and been forced to use Trinity for billing as a result? Keep in mind that a casual perusal of Facebook will easily show a slew of other Ann Arborites who have suffered similar fates. It’s like IHA billing is a migraine in a bottle, and the bored “customer service” representatives at Trinity Health “professional” billing services are constantly rubbing your bottle, without your consent and against your predisposition. I can safely say that, if I have any say in the matter whatsoever, I will never use IHA personally again. I could be hit by a car right in front of St. Joe’s hospital, with a terrifying numbness where the feeling in my legs used to be, but if I have an ounce of strength left in my arms, will drag myself as far away from the inhospitable billing situation that will result as I am able.

Little by Little

The shrinking started slowly. She had heard of people’s hearts closing after a bad breakup, but for Mary, the entirety of her being began to grow smaller after Dave crushed her with his “I thought I loved you… But I don’t,” before he moved towards her with feigned niceness that was a feeble attempt to have goodbye sex and Mary grabbed her purse and left, even though they were in her apartment.

She went to the grocery store, but didn’t buy anything – there wasn’t enough ice cream in the world to make her feel better, and for the first time in her life, Mary wasn’t hungry. She returned to an empty apartment, Dave’s key glinting on the dining room table. She went to bed with puffy eyes and an empty stomach.

When she awoke the following morning, she felt shorter… and older, and withered, and fragile, and like an idiot. She felt cold, all the way down to her bones, even after she put on her thickest socks and wrapped herself in a warm fuzzy sweater. She took a mental health day, pulled on her coat, and walked for hours. Fittingly, it began to rain, and she returned home colder and wetter than she had left it. Her stomach growled at her, but nothing in her kitchen seemed appetizing. She settled on a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, then settled on the couch with a thriller, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to finish more than a sentence.

The days, weeks, flew by in a daze, until one morning, Mary woke up and realized she needed a step stool to reach the bathroom faucet handle. Of course, she didn’t have a step stool, so she dragged her desk chair into the bathroom instead. Her chair had wheels and slid around beneath her as she applied and removed soap – her brain flashed through news stories of people who died or became seriously injured from slipping in the bathroom. Her teeth were a shade more yellow than Mary preferred, but she liked having all of them in her head, and she had used all of her sick days at work and couldn’t afford to recover from concussion. She went to her car, but no matter how straight she stretched her leg, or how much she pointed her toe, was unable to reach the pedal, and she was finally forced to give up and take the bus.

A girl with exactly half of her head, including her right eyebrow, shaved was gossiping with her reflection in the bus window. An older woman with a snake tattoo on her left arm was biting into a raw onion like it was an apple, the syn-Propanethial-S-oxide making Mary’s eyes water. A man with a pronounced limp kept getting out of his seat, slowly making his way up and down the aisle, knocking aside the unlucky few who were standing and holding onto a strap. Maybe she wasn’t really shrinking, Mary thought to herself. Maybe she was just losing grip on reality.

She had just logged on to her computer at work when Shannon stopped by, said the boss wanted to see her. Mary entered his office, excuses on the tip of her tongue about why she had been late, but Mr. Harrigan didn’t really care, since he had already been set to fire her.

“I’m fired?!” Mary asked, in shock.

“Honestly, the company can’t afford the liability having a shrinking person creates,” Mr. Harrigan responded. “It would be one thing if you were simply small, and had always been small. Even an inch or two, we could have overlooked. But you have lost several feet at this point, Mary, and we aren’t sure when it’s going to stop. We can’t accommodate your special needs, because they are unpredictable, and without accommodating your needs, the workplace is too dangerous.”

“I’ll be very careful, and if I get hurt, I promise, I won’t sue you!” Mary protested.

But Mr. Harrigan shook his head. The matter, he said, had been decided by individuals far above him in the company. Her exit interview was scheduled with HR at 2 that afternoon, at which point she needed to hand in her work laptop and would receive her final paycheck.

Mary walked back to her desk, then realized there was no point in putting forth effort working. She had been fired; she didn’t owe anything to this Company. She began submitting her resume to temp agencies, and scouring Craigslist for odd jobs that didn’t appear to have been posted by serial killers luring in the next victim.

She didn’t have much luck.

At two-fifteen in the afternoon, Mary was walking out into the sunshine, her last paycheck snugly tucked between her wallet and her cell. She wandered the entire parking lot twice before remembering that she had not driven, and reluctantly boarded the bus once more. Most seats were empty, and she plopped into one near the middle and behind the driver.

She was too numb inside to be bothered to go to the bank, or run the errands she needed to run. Mary tugged her shoes off of her weary feet, and burrowed into the warmth of her comforter. She couldn’t be sure how long she slept – it could have been an instant, it could have been a year – but when she awoke, her bed had become gargantuan. She tried to sit up, but the cotton filling of her bedspread had become ineffably heavy.

She took a deep breath, pulled her core in as tightly as she could, focused on shifting her body up from its’ prone position into a plank, using the muscles in her arms and shoulders to push her up.

She then thrust her hips up and back into the world’s most uncomfortable down dog.

Her arms and legs quickly began quivering, her body covered in a sheen of sweat, but Mary pulled her abs in tighter and began walking her hands back to her feet.

She then started slowly rolling up through her spine, the weight of the comforter continually pushing her back down, so that she was bouncing slightly up, back down, back up, slightly down, for what felt like (and maybe was) hours, until finally, she was standing as tall as her miniature frame would allow.

She began moving forwards, pushing against the cotton comforter with all of her might, until the bed gave way beneath her, and she was falling.

She grabbed at the comforter, able to slow down her descent and make it slightly more controlled so that her teeth only clattered against each other a bit, and then she lay down on her back and fell asleep once more.

She woke, and all she could experience was pain. It hurt to open her eyelids. Tiny muscles she hadn’t realized existed in her arms and abs were making themselves known. She didn’t want to move, but existing hurt too much, so she forced herself up into a sitting position.

She had no idea where she was.

She seemed to be outside. Currently, she was sitting on various large, sharp blades of grass. She moved to the right and sliced her left arm on one of them. Blood trickled from the wound, but she wasn’t capable of feeling more pain, and just watched the red escape down her arm.

She eventually grew bored enough to force herself to stand, take a few tentative steps.

She smelled something sweet, and realized she was hungry, for the first time since her break-up. In trying to locate the source of this deliciousness, she stumbled into a banner. Her brain made sense of the words on it – “Little by Little” right before she fell into it, and brought down the two wooden totem poles holding it up upon her person. She lost consciousness for the second time that day.

She awoke strapped to a bed, still in pain, and began to scream. She may not have been entirely sure what had happened to her, but being restricted from movement was never a good sign. A man rushed into the room, looked around, and said, “You’re awake! Would you like some hot chocolate?”

“Why should I trust you to give me a beverage? I’m assuming you’re the jerk who strapped me to this bed.”

His mouth quirked down. “Ah… yes. Sorry about that. It’s just – you seem to be having trouble moving, and I couldn’t bear the thought that you would ruin my art.” He gestured to the top of a nearby dresser, where small (even by her current standards) wooden figurines were covering every visible surface.

“You made all of those?” Mary asked.

“I did,” he responded, his chest puffing up like a bird warming itself or trying to find a mate.

“Ew,” Mary said involuntarily.

He didn’t seem to notice. “These,” he continued, “are my Littles.”

After a few seconds of silence, Mary asked him what he meant by that.

“My Littles! I am Little – that’s my name, I mean – these are mine, these are little – that is, tiny – and I am trying to sell the sons-of-bitches, but you pulled my banner down and ruined two of my larger art pieces, so I don’t know how anyone will know I am a purveyor of littles.”

“Sorry about that,” Mary said.

Little shrugged. “It’s fine. You can help me make a new banner when you’re feeling better.”

“How long have you been making littles?”

“Since I was a wee boy. Although, I used to be taller than this, when I was a wee boy. But you know how that is.”

“I mean, I guess. I also used to taller; I only began shrinking quite recently.”

“It’s nice, being small,” Little told her. “It’s easy to find enough food to fill you up, no one bothers you about stupid shit that doesn’t matter, you can kind of just do your own thing.”

“How many of us are there?” Mary asked.

Little shrugged. “Fuck if I know. I run across someone every now and again, but I mostly keep to myself.”

“I see – sorry to have barged in on you like this,” Mary said, wondering why she was apologizing to this man who had restrained her to the bed.

“Thanks. Sorry I had to tie you up,” Little returned, making Mary feel marginally better.

“Do you think you can un-tie me now?”

Little looked skeptical. “We can try. But try not to mess up my shit, please.” Mary chose not to verbally respond to this, smiling sweetly so this crazy man would let her go.

She was still starving, and decided to chance it that Little’s food and beverages were not poisoned. The hot chocolate was sweet and creamy, the warmth soothing as it went down her throat. Little also gave her bread and cheese, and a red grape he had cut into cubes of a more manageable size. Everything tasted amazing, and it had been so long since Mary had eaten and enjoyed it that she ate too much and too fast, her stomach protesting as she sank back into her chair and finished her hot chocolate.

“Feeling better?” Little asked, and Mary nodded, her mouth turned up at the corners, her limbs growing heavy with satiation. “Good, let’s fix that banner,” Little said, holding out a hand to haul Mary to her feet. He pulled so hard, her head snapped a bit, and Mary saw small brown and black squares dancing before her eyes for a few moments. “C’mon!” Little urged, striding away toward the front of his shoppe. Mary followed, and was soon surveying the damage with him.

One of the totem poles holding up the banner did not sustain any noticeable damage; the other had broken into 6 pieces. Little grew a little red in the face, but his voice was calm as he said he would need to make another one. The banner, made of sturdy paper, had been torn, and needed to be re-done. Little thrust some paper and a chunk of purple crayon broken off of a full-size crayon and whittled into a usable writing implement at her, and she set to work. Mary’s writing was not intricate, but it was neat and legible, and she made the letters large, and was done within an hour. She showed her work to Little, who nodded his head briefly, then said: “Thanks. You can go now.”

“Go… where?” Mary asked.

“Anywhere! The joy of being little is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. And I want to live on my own. So, you know, scram.” He turned back to his totem, where an owl was slowly taking shape.

“Can I have some food for the road?” she asked.

“What road?”

“Figuratively speaking.”

“Then yes, you may have figurative food. Here you go!” He held out his empty hands, cupped around nothing.

Mary carefully removed the non-existent food from Little’s hands, turned around, and walked away. She walked aimlessly until she was done feeling sorry for herself, looked up, and recognized exactly where she was. Approximately two feet away was the red door of Dave’s apartment. To the right of the door were Dave’s black-and-white checkered Vans, caked in a layer of mud, next to a pair of tall pink heels with pointed toes.

Mary trekked to the door, sneaking through the mail slot, and smelling the citrus-scented candles Dave lit when he was making love. Her eyes involuntarily trekked to the right, even though a very large part of her really didn’t want to see who her replacement was. Due to her size, however, all she could see was wall. She breathed a sigh of relief.

Dave walked right in front of her, and her heart began beating very fast and her cheeks reddened, but again, due to her size, Dave didn’t even notice her. He loped into the kitchen, where she heard the fridge open, running water, the clatter of counters and dishes, and he loped back before her and into the bedroom holding a tray with a bowl of strawberries and a canister of whipped cream.

Part of Mary burned with anger that Dave was already sharing a sweet aphrodisiac with someone else; part of Mary was somehow hungry again and craved strawberries herself. So she did what any woman in her position would do, and followed him. The woman luxuriating on Dave’s silk sheets was thin and tan, and when she sat up, her long blonde locks cascaded over her back and splayed on the pillows. Her visage was flushed, round red cheeks and lips plump from kissing. Her eyes glinted out from her face like two dark sapphires. She was perfection, to the extent that Mary’s mind couldn’t even draw a comparison between herself and this other woman – it was almost like Dave was dating a different species.

Mary heard a low giggle, and heard the blonde one ask: “You can’t possibly be ready to go again?”

Dave set the tray down on the bedside table, nuzzled his face into the nape of the blonde’s neck, and said: “Are you kidding? With you in my bed, I may never be flaccid again.”

The giggle again. “What an odd way of saying you find me attractive.”

Kissing sounds ensued, and Mary looked longingly at the ripe, red strawberries just lying, untouched, on the bedside table. It was far too high for Mary to easily reach it. She looked around, to see if there was anything to help her, and as luck would have it, there was a blanket that lay half on, half off of the bed, it’s length spilling down to the floor in an awkward tangle that looked difficult but possible for Mary to climb. She embarked on the climb/hike, slowly making her way up to the bed where her ex-boyfriend was engaged in sexual congress. She was exhilarated to reach the top, tumbling off of the blanket and into the blonde one’s foot.

A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the apartment.

Dave: “Lauren, what’s wrong.”

Something just touched my foot.”

Mary had already retreated out of sight into the blanket.

Dave: “I don’t see anything.”

“Are you saying I’m crazy?! Something definitely touched my foot, I’m not making this up.”

“What did it feel like?”

“I only felt it for like a second, but it was big.”

Dave went to the end of the bed, smushed the blanket with Mary inside of it a little closer to the edge of the bed. “There’s nothing here.”

“Well, you’ve got mice or something. I’m too hot to deal with a guy who has barely any money and probably has mice in his place.”

“Lauren! I’ll – I’ll call the exterminator on Monday. But really – I keep my place clean, and I’ve never seen or heard a mouse in here.”

“Well, call me after your apartment’s been taken care of, if you want. I probably won’t see you again, though.” Mary heard the sharp rustling of clothes being pulled on with hurried, jerky movements.

She heard Lauren walk out of the apartment, then Dave quickly follow. The door slammed behind him, and Mary slowly exited the blanket. She made her way to the bedside table with quick, confident strides, pulled out the smallest strawberry slice she could find, and took the largest bite she was able. Red juice from the strawberry ran down her chin, her heart felt light, and Mary felt the vastness of opportunities proffered by her life as she ate and listened for the sound of Dave’s return.

Response to ~M, Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s Prompt “Little by Little.”