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.”

Did Netflix Original Heartthrob Noah Centineo Make the Same Movie Twice?

Noah Centineo (“NC” from hereon out, because typing out his full name every time I reference him in this post feels like too much effort) who made an adorable and endearing love interest in the Netflix adaptation of Jenny Han’s YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, as well as Netflix original Sierra Burgess is a Loser, continued to play a high-school aged heartthrob in The Perfect Date, along with the ineffably talented Laura Maurano, and went on to make more movies that I’m not going to list in this post. I often like YA romance movies, so I have seen all of the aforementioned movies.

Then, I noticed another movie, which also featured Centineo, and which also featured a dating app, both of which are components of The Perfect Date. I was intrigued. The movie is called Swiped, and before you leave to go look for it on Netflix, let me warn you – It. Is. Terrible. Almost unwatchable. I put it on, and couldn’t finish it, and I willingly watch Hallmark movies for funsies. Sure, I’m mostly making fun of them, like the years where the costume designers didn’t hem anyone’s pants, the predictable plotlines, or the fact that as I grow older, the protagonist of A Christmas Kiss increasingly seems like an inept she-devil hell-bent on terrorizing her unsuspecting, successful boss who was just asking her to do her job, goshdarnit. But I’m still willing to watch these undeniably slightly terrible movies from start-to-finish. But I couldn’t finish Swiped. So, you know – perspective.

One woman’s Xmas kiss… is another woman’s Xmas nightmare

It kind of fascinates me that NC chose to do both of these movies, with fairly similar concepts, so close together. I mean, there are subtle differences. Although both movies feature technologically proficient teens with the capability to fairly quickly develop an app, The Perfect Date features high school students, whereas Swiped takes place in college. Additionally, although both movies feature teenage characters who are socially awkward, The Perfect Date features that teenage character as more of an intelligent teen girl who is an appropriate love interest, whereas Swiped features that teenage character as a nerdy teen boy who develops the app (I think, again, I could only stand like 20 minutes or so of the movie), seems to have mommy issues, and in reality, wouldn’t get laid (although he’s probably got some love interest in the movie, since I think he’s one of the protagonists). Both movies feature NC, and both rely on his good looks and charm to sway the audience as well as make him seem worthy of redeeming, as well as being a love interest, in spite of his character’s flaws. But only one of these movies work.

The largest differentiator between the two films that I discerned based on my cursory introduction to Swiped was budget. Mainly, The Perfect Date seemed to have one whereas Swiped seems to have been made with considerably less money. Swiped has that noticeable vacuum of sound that low budget films often have, where there is no background noise, which makes the lackluster dialogue that much more apparent. It makes the quirks that the characters should have lack humor, because the person talking to him/her/their-self who would seem odd with the right music playing in the background instead seems more like that homeless guy you walked by the other day muttering to himself and pulling his hair out of his scalp (for some reason, the latter feels a little less cute).

So it’s not the same movie, but it is possible that NC chose both movies for the same reason. My theory*: the idea of developing a dating app with a friend that helps him become a better person and find love so enraptured NC that he immediately signed on to do Swiped (a 2018 movie), and then, when the opportunity to make a strikingly similar movie was proffered, he doubled down, and signed on to do The Perfect Date (a 2019 movie). So why is NC so enraptured by this idea? Maybe he has secret Tinder/Bumble accounts, or maybe his love life is solely arranged by his agent, so the idea of finding love in any other way is intriguing and fascinating, or maybe he wants to be the next Steve Jobs, but, cursed with good looks and a lack of turtlenecks, has to console himself in the arms of pretty ladies in movies and on television instead of becoming the technological visionary he knows in his bones he would otherwise be meant to be.

Those are my rambling thoughts about NC and the mystery of the two similar-but-not-quite-the-same movies. What about you? Have you seen one/both of these movies? Did you also compare and contrast these movies – and if so, did your thoughts coincide with mine? Or, better yet, do you have a conspiracy theory about NC and why he did both films? Please spill in the comments below!

*Completely unfounded and likely untrue.

TBR Treasure Hunt: Winter is Here

… or rather, The Winters.

I know! It’s not even topical anymore. Yet I couldn’t resist.

The Winters claims to have been “inspired” by Daphne du Maurier’s haunting, lovely Rebecca, but at first, my impression was that it’s pretty much a modern re-telling. And initially, my instinct from reading this novel was that it was a pretty good read that pales in comparison to du Maurier’s gothic novel. And then, I re-read Rebecca. And realized maybe the book is not as lovely as I had thought. And maybe I hadn’t been reading the novel critically enough to understand what was going on.

To provide some context, I read Rebecca for the first time in high school. I was a very dramatic teenager, with a love for reading, and Rebecca was an instant favorite. As an adult, however, although I still have a penchant for drama, I also realize in a way I did not when younger, how unreliable and ridiculous the unnamed narrator is.

In the start, she seems fine. She jumps into being “in love” with Maxim de Winter and agreeing to spend the rest of her life with him awfully fast. But, she’s also living a drab life, with her job consisting of working for a woman she doesn’t much like, and Maxim de Winter, as an older man who seems to enjoy her for her legitimate company, offers a safe respite from this life by offering security due to his money. She says that she’s in love with him, and she probably really thinks that she is. I was immediately skeptical, however, (on this re-read, not when I was a high-school aged idiot), given that she’s very young, and he’s much older.

Yet as the book progresses, it is clear to the reader that she doesn’t really care to be around him. She likes her alone time. She doesn’t really want to socialize – claims she’s worried she’s going to mess something up, but really, she’s a young woman who doesn’t want to hang out with Maxim’s older friends making boring conversation. Totally fair. Oh, and she doesn’t really mind if her husband’s around, either. Although she’s young and they just got married. …yep, sounds like a young person who’s truly smitten to me.

It is difficult to tell, as the book progresses, if you can believe anything she says. She sounds reasonable and logical, until she doesn’t. She’s so timid around Mrs. Danvers, for instance, that you can understand why the older woman can’t help but long for her previous female employer. Not because Rebecca was beautiful and charming, because she was decisive. Rebecca could make a fucking decision. Mrs. Danvers asks this narrator what her preference is, and she’s so worried about making the wrong decision that she does, every time, by saying – “Oh, whatever you prefer.” Or “Whatever Rebecca would have done.” And attempting to ameliorate her waffle-ness by adding “I’m not picky.” It’s literally your job to keep the house, now. And you have money now. Either start reading books to learn the etiquette, or decide you don’t give a fuck, and you do you, bitch. Be like: “I’m tired of pickles” and don’t order them for 3 weeks. Drink red wine with fish. The way to make a wrong decision is to care too much about what others think of your choices.

So our potentially agoraphobic narrator with hermitic tendencies is married to a rich, older guy she tries to convince herself she loves, and abstaining from housekeeping, supposedly because she’s terrified of the housekeeper, but really because she’s paralyzed by the idea of making the wrong choice. And she has convinced herself that she is correct in being terrified of the housekeeper, although the latter seems to be acting in a totally reasonable matter. I don’t buy that Danvers is a bitch, actually. I kind of like her. More than the narrator, if we’re being honest.

This is starkly in contrast to my read of the book when younger. When younger, I took everything the narrator said at face value. Now, I’m 100% convinced this younger reading was incorrect.

So, initially, The Winters was a 4-star read for me, because “Mm, it’s okay. But Rebecca is better. Just re-read Rebecca.” [Editor’s Note 1: This is not a direct quote.]

[Editor’s Note 2: Yes, I edit my blog myself.]

[Editor’s Note 3: So I am, in fact, the editor. Leaving editor’s notes on my own writing.]

And then I re-read Rebecca. And I realized that Lisa Gabriele’s The Winters bears many similarities to Rebecca. Was obviously written with the same-ish characters in mind. But it deviates in important ways to tell a story that shows, at the least, a critical reading of Rebecca that is worth considering.

I still think it’s a 4-star read for me, because although I really enjoy its’ analysis of its’ famous inspiration, I do not want to own it. The writing is fine, if a bit simple. Worth a read, but maybe get if from the library, if interested.

… like I did!

Have you read The Winters? What did you think? Do you want me to leave editor’s notes on your blog? I’m good at them, and can make up content as needed. I’m fairly good at it – not, like, John Hodgman good, but we can’t all be John Hodgman, so… you know… what was I saying? [Editor’s Note: It is not recommended to lose your train of thought mid-sentence. Consider re-wording.]

Have to Share: Laura Rider’s Masterpiece

Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:

Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.

When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.

This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.

I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.

So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.