- Strange – 6 Pages –
She sits cross legged on the floor and stares at the mottled, mildew-ridden cardboard box in front of her as if it might contain a deadly serpent. Her eyes are red and bloodshot from the tears she has shed, and the box wavers in and out of focus through the fresh tears she feels welling up like waves lapping at an embankment, slowly undermining it.
Tonight he will bring the divorce papers for her to sign. Everything has been arranged, all the lawyers have approved; all that remains is for her to add her signature.
She sips from her wineglass and sighs, wondering why she feels as if her viscera are charged with slivers of broken glass. He had never been faith-ful, she knows that. He gambles. He’s a mean drunk. His cool, stoic indifference, for which she had loved him when she was young and naive, has been a wall between them, killing all closeness. Why, then, has the fury she felt when he first walked out not abated?
In the box are the few pathetic remnants of her childhood. School year-books, some cheap junk jewellery, all the detritus left behind on the road to adulthood. And her diaries. She has not looked in the box for many years. Since retrieving it from the old apartment after her mother died, it has lain abandoned in a closet, though never quite forgotten.
With sudden decision, she opens the box, allowing a breath of sepulchral air to escape it. Inside the box, time and neglect have had their way with the contents, swelling books with dampness and coating earrings with a patina of corrosion. One by one she removes the items from the box, giving each a glance before setting it on the carpet and moving on to the next. She stops once, lingering over a pickle jar. Inside, at the bottom, is a crust of some old liquid long since turned to a rime of crystals.
She frowns, shaking the jar a little so the crystals rattle around inside. There’s a vague feeling of recognition, a memory jarring loose. Something she has forgotten about for many years. She has tightness in her stomach, as if something inside is warning her not to pull the scab from memories better left sealed up. A thought flashes across her mind. Milk.
Why would she have kept milk in a pickle jar, she wonders. Surely milk did not form crystals like this when it dried, did it? And the crystals, why do they seem almost to… Phosphoresce in the dim light?
Almost unconsciously her hand is drawn to one of her old diaries, its cover, once hot pink, now a dingy grey. This is what she has been looking for. In this book she will find her soon-to-be ex-husband, and see him through eyes untainted with the cynicism that comes of the transition from child to adult. And something else. Something about milk.
As old memories stir restlessly in their graves, she opens the diary to a page in the middle and begins reading.
I think I’m going to die. I can never go to school again. I am soooo humiliated. Today was the pizza party and I was the only person in the class who didn’t order one. Mr. Bairstow was embarassed for me and gave me a slice of his, but everyone knows. That snotty Caitlin was laughing at me, I just know it.
Mom said there was no money for pizza because Daddy was late on his support payment again. Mom says all his money goes up his nose. I used to visit him but I stopped when he started snorting up right there in front of me. He even offered me some, but I Just Said No.
Andrew actually came up to me in the hall today and asked me what we had to do for History. I think he likes me! He is soooo cute!!!!
The cheque still didn’t come. Mom says she might have to call the lawyer again like last time. I know if Mom didn’t have to buy clothes and books and school supplies for me we could get by just on what she makes, but she won’t let me get a job. She says I should be studying, not cooking burgers. Why can’t I do both?
Mom is in the kitchen right now crying. We had macaroni and cheese again tonight, but we didn’t have any milk for it so Mom sent me to the store to get some. When I got back I put the milk in the fridge and it was so weird. The light in the fridge is burned out so it’s kind of dark inside. I could see that the carton was glowing! Real bright, too!
When I told Mom she totally freaked. She said we didn’t have any more money for milk, and then she started crying. I read in the newspaper about how sometimes that fake crab meat glows in the dark because of bacteria or something, but Mom won’t use the milk. So, we had macaroni and cheese with no milk and it was kind of gross. I told Mom I thought it was good but she didn’t believe me. And now she’s in the kitchen crying. I hope my Daddy snorts some Draino by mistake.
I think Andrew is going to invite me to the dance. I bent over to get a pencil and I saw him looking down my shirt. He is soooooo cute!!!!!! I’ve started dropping a lot of pencils around him.
Good thing we didn’t use that milk! There was a thing on the radio today about some contaminated milk. They’re asking everyone who bought Black Goat Milk to return it because some of it could be dangerous. The cows got into some toxic waste or something. A couple of people died, I think.
I couldn’t watch the news to see more because the television is gone again. Whenever Daddy is late with the cheque, Mom has to pawn the TV. That’s okay, I know we’ll get it back when the cheque comes. At least we’ll have good food tonight! And nothing made with glowing milk. Yuck.
I heard a rumour that one of the girls in my Algebra class ran away from home last week, and that’s why she hasn’t been to class. Next time I see Ellie I’ll ask her about it. Ditmar is a friend of hers.
The weirdest thing ever has happened. I can hardly breathe. I’m sitting here writing this and I keep looking at him because I keep thinking that he’ll just disappear like he never existed. But there he is. I just waved at him and he waved back. Okay, I’m not saying this right.
Okay. I want to get this all down from the start the way it happened. I think I need to convince myself I’m not crazy. So okay, this is the way it all started.
I came home from school like I always do. I’m always first to get home because Mom has to work such long hours. I got off the elevator and I went to unlock the door, but it was already unlocked. I figured Mom must have forgotten to lock up. She’s like that.
I went into the apartment, put my knapsack down, and went straight to the kitchen for an apple. I knew something was wrong as soon as I entered the kitchen because the fridge door was open, and there was broken glass all over the floor. There was a big pile of clothes too, which I thought was pretty strange, and when I looked closer, I could see it was a business suit.
The first thing that went through my mind was that there was some naked pervert running around in the apartment. I backed away, and thought about using the phone to call the cops, but I saw something ugly and pink, like a hairless mouse, come scuttling out from between the fridge and the wall, right in my direction!
I think I must have made some kind of squealing noise, because the pink thing stopped moving, looking up at me. I took a step forward and looked closer, and the thing kind of cringed back. You could have heard my jaw hit the floor, no fooling, when I saw that the pink thing was a tiny naked man, no bigger than my little finger.
So, okay. I’m standing there with a dopey look on my face, and there’s this tiny doll-man looking up at me. He’s waving his arms over his head and he’s jumping up and down. I kinda looked around to see if anyone was going to jump out of a closet or something, laughing, like maybe it was a practical joke. When I looked back, the doll-man was standing right at my feet.
I don’t know what he expected me to do, but from the way he gave a tiny little squeak of terror when I bent down and grabbed him, he sure hadn’t expected me to do that. I got him with my thumb and forefinger, and lifted him up in front of my face where I could get a better look at him. I tried not to press too hard, but I guess I must have because he has big purple bruises now where I grabbed him around the chest. I feel kind of bad about that.
Anyway, so I’m staring at the doll-man, and he’s just kind of dangling there in my fingers, not saying anything. He told me later he couldn’t breathe. Oops. I lean in real close to get a good look at his face, and I swear, I almost dropped him. It was Daddy!
I’m thinking whoah, this is too weird for me. Funny, the first thing I wondered about wasn’t why he had turned into the Amazing Bug Man, but why he was naked. Like, on the weirdness scale, seeing your father naked is about a nine out of ten. Seeing your father naked and dangling from your fingers has got to be about fifty jillion. Then I remembered the suit on the floor, and things started to add up. At least I knew there wasn’t a maniac running loose in the apartment.
Daddy by this point is looking not too good, so I put him on the kitchen table. He just kind of flopped there when I put him down, and it occured to me for the first time to wonder if I had maybe hurt him. I poked him a bit with my little finger and he crawled away, so I knew he wasn’t dead or anything. I went and got an apple out of the fridge, and then I noticed that Mom had replaced the lightbulb. And there on the top shelf inside was the carton of milk, open.
The broken glass on the floor, the opened carton, the fridge door hanging open, all of it made sense now. I had never heard of milk that could make someone shrink really small, but then I never heard of glowing milk before either. If nothing else, I’m going to get a good story for Creative Writing out of this!
I sat down at the table with my apple, and Daddy was sitting up. I don’t remember what I said to him, probably something lame like “Hi, Daddy.” I mean, what do you say in situations like that? Bet that’s one Miss Manners never covered.
Okay. So Daddy, he stands up and suddenly realizes he’s naked. I giggled because it was kind of funny watching him try to hide everything at the same time with his hands. He looked around and finally went and hid most of himself behind the salt shaker, which made me giggle even more. I heard a kind of faint buzz, and realized Daddy was talking, so I bent my head really close. I had to put my ear right up to him to hear him, which must have been quite an experience for Daddy, because my ear was the same size he was.
For the first time in my life, I had a conversation with the salt shaker. Daddy started telling me what happened, and a lot of it was like I had figured out. He came over to bring the support cheque (Cheque’s here! Yay!) and he wanted to slip it under the door, but found the door unlocked so he just let himself in. Then he helped himself to a glass of milk, and the next thing he knew, he was climbing out of a giant suit.
I didn’t say anything because it’s not really important considered what happened, but it makes me really mad to think he just came waltzing into the apartment like he owns the place, and then drank our milk! Daddy can be such a jerk.
Daddy said he was hiding because he didn’t know who would come home first and he didn’t want Mom to see him. He made me promise I wouldn’t tell her, no matter what happened. I could tell he was really scared and I guess he had a right to be. I hated to think what Mom would do to him. She doesn’t like him too much.
Neither one of us, Daddy or me, could figure out what to do. Daddy said that I ought to call a hospital or something, but I said we both should probably think about it first. I’ll take care of him overnight and maybe tomorrow we will be able to think of something better.
I’ve learned quickly to let Daddy climb onto my hand instead of picking him up because he’s so delicate I can’t keep from hurting him. You would not believe how totally weird it feels to have your father sitting in the palm of your hand. It’s actually kind of neat. But weird.
I cut a little piece of material out of an old blouse and Daddy made it into a kind of toga. Hot pink isn’t his colour. I emptied my tiny velvet-lined jewellery box and wadded a fluffy wool sock inside as a bed, and Daddy says it’s prickly but nice and snug. He’s sitting on the top of the box right now as I write this, swinging his feet and looking glum. He says they’ve probably towed his car away by now, and he’s worried they’ll damage it. If I was three inches tall, I don’t think I’d be worrying about my car.
Mom is in the kitchen making supper. The support cheque was in the breast pocket of Daddy’s suit, so I left it on the table, and Mom’s happy for a change. Tomorrow we’ll get the TV set back! I’ll make sure and save some dinner for Daddy. It sure won’t take very much to feed him.
Supper’s ready. I have to go. I hope Andrew asks me to the dance tomorrow.
Taking care of Daddy is more difficult than I thought. It’s almost like having to take care of a sick person. I have to fetch water and food, and keep him entertained. The cap from my styling mousse is pretty good as a chamber pot, by I have to empty it and clean it. Yuck! And I have to be really careful too. I leaned over the dresser to put an earring on in the mirror. I dropped the earring and I almost brained Daddy. He was mad like you wouldn’t believe.
I left a bunch of books on the dresser while I was at school, but Daddy says he got too tired trying to turn the pages, and that they weren’t very good books anyway. He wanted to know why I didn’t leave the television for him. I guess he could tell I was really angry when he said that because he went all pale and hid behind a bottle of shampoo. I moved the bottle and grabbed him, and held him up to my face while I explained as calm as I could why we didn’t have a TV set. I felt badly after because he was so scared he wet himself. Well anyway, the TV will be back tonight so end of problem. Just between you and me, diary, it was kind of cool. No one’s ever been scared of me before.
I still don’t know what I’m going to do about this whole situation. The police were here earlier looking for Daddy, but of course they never thought to look in the jewellery case. Daddy says he wants to go to the hospital, but I don’t think it’ll help so I’m keeping him for now. Like I told Daddy, if he wants to leave, there’s the door.
Andrew still hasn’t asked me to the dance. He only has a week, so he had
better hurry up!
I brought Daddy’s clothes to the Goodwill today. Daddy told me not to, but I don’t want Mom or the police finding them in my room. I was just going to throw them out, but then I thought someone might as well get some use out of them. Like recycling. I took everything out of his pockets and wow was there a lot of money. I’m not going to spend any of it because that would be Wrong.
There was a little plastic baggie in his pocket too, with white powder, and I flushed that down the toilet. I made Daddy watch too, and he was really really mad. He yelled a lot, and called me dirty names, but of course he’s so small you can hardly hear him. I finally had to stick him in his little jewellery box and lock it shut. When I let him out an hour later he apologized and I could tell I scared him. It was fun.
The TV is back, but I can’t keep it in my room on the weekends, so Daddy will just have to amuse himself until Monday. He doesn’t seem to want to talk to me very much, but he watches me all the time.
Sunday today, and I went to the mall to hang out with Beth and Eli and the rest of the crowd. I couldn’t leave Daddy at home because I didn’t want to risk leaving him alone with Mom, so I put him in my shirt pocket. He can see out through the material, so he could stay snuggled down where no one could see him. Daddy didn’t want to go and I couldn’t convince him, so I just ended up shoving him in my pocket. He didn’t like that.
Anyway, I hung out for a while, and Mom even gave me some money to spend on food. When no one was looking I dropped crumbs in my shirt pocket for Daddy. A couple of times I had to move fast when someone tried to hug me, to keep Daddy from getting crushed!
I could feel him in my pocket the whole time. Sort of warm and heavy, like I had a little mouse in there. Every time he moved around it felt kind of ticklish and kind of good.
Monday tomorrow. Back to school. I think Andrew might ask me to the dance tomorrow.
Andrew asked me to the dance today!!!!! He is so scrumptious! He’s big and tall and handsome, and he wears a leather jacket. Everyone will be soooo jealous when they see him on my arm. Just four more days until the dance. I can’t wait!
I had to punish Daddy today for being bad. As soon as I got home, he was stomping his little feet and shaking his little fist at me. He ordered me to call a hospital. Can you believe it? Who’s he to order me around like that? He even had the TV today. He can’t change the channel, but I turned it to the channel he wanted and left it on for him. He didn’t even thank me.
I decided to ignore his tantrum. That’s what they say to do when children throw tantrums. So I started painting my toenails, and Daddy went and kicked over the open bottle of nail polish! It was terrible, it looked like a big pool of blood all over my dresser. I wiped it up with paper towels as best I could, but it’s going to leave a stain. And Daddy didn’t help. He
went walking through the nail polish and left tiny red footprints all over the top of the dresser. He even kicked some onto the mirror, but I managed to scrape all of that off.
It was his own fault. He was acting like a child, so I treated him like one. I picked him up (and not too gently!) and pulled off his little toga. You should have heard him shouting! Anyway, I flicked my fingernail at his butt so it made a little slapping noise. It must have hurt like hell. He started howling and squirming, but I held him real tight and flicked his little butt maybe a dozen times. By the time I finished he was crying and just hanging all limp. I put him in his jewellery box and locked it.
I didn’t give him his toga back either. When he learns to act like a human being, I’ll let him dress like one.
I let Daddy out of his box this morning, and he looked really bad. The bruises on his back and chest were just starting to fade, and now they’re bigger. I never understood what they meant about beating someone black and blue until I saw what I did to his butt. It looks terrible, and it probably feels even worse. Maybe he’s learned his lesson from this, because the very first thing he did when I let him out was get down on his knees and beg me not to hurt him again.
Before I left for school I gave him an ice cube half his size. That should help the swelling. He was very quiet and very obedient.
When I got home tonight, Daddy was looking a lot better, and he even managed to make a few jokes. Neither one of us mentioned his punishment, which is fine by me. He’s polite now, but I notice he jumps every time I move suddenly. I worked out on paper how big I must look to him. From his perspective I stand over 100 feet tall! No wonder he’s scared of me. I’m like, bigger than God!
Three more days until the dance. I wish I could shrink the days as easy as Daddy got shrunk.
Mom got word from Daddy’s lawyer today. Apparently, Daddy is pretty loaded and the lawyer says until he shows up again, the lawyer will handle sending us the support cheque every month automatically. If Daddy’s so rich, how come he was always late with the cheque?
I asked Daddy, and he said some bad things about Mom so I decided to punish him again. I told him I was going to punish him, and he started begging, saying he was sorry. It was too late to be sorry, buster! I had to think for a bit because I realized that I couldn’t just keep spanking him, or I’d break every bone in his little body. I had to punish him without really hurting him. And then I got this idea that made me giggle. I don’t know where it came from.
I picked him up really gently and laid him on my palm. Then I lifted him and tipped my hand into my mouth.
Well, you should have heard him scream! I mean, he’s really little, but he was screaming right inside my head. He thought I was going to eat him, of course, and I could feel him sliding around on my tongue, trying to keep away from the back of my mouth. I kind of bounced him around with my tongue, and he hammered on my teeth and the roof of my mouth with his tiny fists and feet.
I had thought it would be funny, but it gave me a strange feeling to know I had a tiny man in my mouth, and that I could swallow him, as easy as anything. No one would even know. One gulp, and he’d be gone. I thought about that for a long time as I played with him with my tongue.
I spat him out into my hand, because I think if I hadn’t I really might have done it.
He was all covered in saliva, and he just laid in the centre of my palm, curled up like a little pink shrimp. I could feel his whole body trembling against my skin, and I could tell from the way his shoulders shook up and down that he was crying. I sort of pet him with one finger like he was a frightened mouse, but he screamed when I touched him and wouldn’t stop screaming until I locked him in his box.
Two days to go until the dance. I think I’ll wear the green dress, the one that goes so well with my eyes.
Daddy nearly escaped today. When I opened his box tonight, he jumped right out like he had it all planned, and maybe he did. Before I could grab him, he had run across the dresser and leaped across the gap onto my bed. I made a dive for him, but he crawled into the sheets. I pulled all the covers off the bed, but I spotted him lowering himself off the end of the bed. I have a thick carpet, so he just dropped and started running for the door.
He almost made it too. I don’t know where he was planning on going. It was just lucky that I had taken off my shoes and left them by the door. They were enough of an obstacle that it delayed him long enough for me to get over there.
I stomped my foot down right in front of him, but he must have been really determined because he jumped right onto my foot and ran across. He was fast but nowhere near fast enough. I scooped him up in my hand, and had to hold him trapped in my fist to keep him from struggling.
It was time to teach Daddy a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
Keeping him tight in my hand, I went to the kitchen and turned on an oven burner. I got out Mom’s biggest cast-iron skillet and left it on the stove to get good and hot. I took a big chunk of butter and placed it in the very centre of the pan. Then I laid Daddy on the butter and bent down as close as I could to watch.
Daddy looked around and sat up, then looked up at me. I grinned at him and waved, and told him he could run all he wanted. I was close enough to see the terror in his eyes as his little butter island began to sizzle. He stood up and turned around and around, looking for safety I guess, and he nearly fell off the slippery butter with his bare feet.
I could feel the heat from the frying pan on my face, so it was probably hellishly hot for him down there. His island had become a platform only barely big enough for him to stand on, and he started crying. He looked so silly, standing there with his arms out for balance, and blubbering like a baby, and begging me to help him.
I smiled at him and told him I was going to have fried Daddy for supper. He didn’t like that. The last of the butter melted and he was standing in a puddle of hot butter. Before it (or he!) could start sizzling, I stuck my finger out and let him grab on. He wrapped himself around my finger like an ugly pink ring, making me giggle, and I waggled my finger a little over the bubbling, sizzling butter. He screamed and hung on even tighter.
I heard Mom put the key in the lock, so I turned off the stove, tossed the pan in the sink, and went to my room. I had to peel Daddy off my finger to get him into his box. The bottoms of his teensy tiny feet are all red, so he might have some burns. Serve him right. I guess he won’t be running anywhere for a while. Tee hee.
The dance is tomorrow!!!!! Yay!!!!! I’m so excited! Andrew is just the cutest boy in the whole wide world. If he asks me I’m going to let him kiss me.
I know I skipped a day. I try not to do that, but some things happened yesterday and I had to think about it.
Last night was the dance, and Andrew was so handsome. He wore a blue chambray shirt and tight blue jeans. He’s got such an amazing butt. I just know everyone was looking at us. I wore my green dress, and Andrew said it made my eyes sparkle.
Everything was just perfect. He even gave me a rose. He danced every dance with me so it means we’re going steady! At the end of the night when they played Stairway to Heaven, we danced so close I could smell his aftershave. I don’t even mind that he stepped on my feet twice because we’re so much in love. I’m going to marry him. It’ll be just like Romeo and Juliet except we won’t die.
After the dance he drove me home in his car. He has a car! He says he even made it himself out of parts. He’s going to be a mechanic. Well, when we got home he said “Well here we are,” and I said “Yep, here we are.” And then he kissed me!!!!!
Oh it was so incredible. He tasted like Chiclets, and his lips were so soft I could have kissed them forever.
Anyway, I didn’t let him get to second base because I’m not that kind of girl. We kissed again and I said good-bye and he promised to call me some time today and he’d make a date.
So I came home and Mom was already in bed, so I tip-toed to the bathroom and then to bed. I laid there in the dark for a long time and all I could think about was the softness of his lips.
When I woke up this morning I went to check on Daddy and he was all curled up in his box. He won’t say anything or move, even when I poke him or pick him up. He just kind of lies there. His eyes are open, and when I force him to uncurl, he just lays there, all slack. He looks at me, but he won’t say anything.
I sure hope Andrew calls today.
I don’t think I’ve ever missed this many days before! It’s just that my whole life is so exciting, I can hardly take the time to write in here any more. Andrew and I have been going steady, and everyone at school knows it! All the girls are so jealous!!!
We talk and kiss and walk and kiss and hold hands and kiss. He’s such a fantastic kisser. We even frenched once, but that was kind of gross. He tells me he loves me all the time, and he always says I’m the cutest girl in the whole school.
Daddy still doesn’t move or talk. I don’t think he’s eating anything, so I’ve been feeding him (non-glowing!) milk from an eye dropper. He’s starting to look kind of… worn, I guess. He cries a lot when I pet him and stroke him.
Mom found my diary. And read it.
I came home today and Mom was already at home. She had taken the afternoon off from work. As soon as I came in I saw my diary open on the kitchen table, and the jewellery box beside it, the lid broken open and Daddy curled up inside it. Mom was sitting at the table, just waiting for me to come home. She was really calm. I just stood there with my heart pounding until she spoke. “We have to talk,” is all she said, in a quiet voice.
I sat down at the table and we talked for a long, long time. I guess Daddy must have heard everything, but he didn’t move or say anything. He would cry once in a while.
Anyway, you know how they say revenge is a dish best served cold? They’re wrong.
It’s best served piping hot.
We had soup for dinner. It was the best I ever tasted.
She closes the diary slowly and just sits for a while. Her eyes move in the direction of the crystals. They twinkle back at her with their own inner light. Maybe, she thinks, I will offer him a glass of wine. A toast to a new life. Yes.
A smile spreads slowly across her face for the first time in days, revealing a vast expanse of white teeth. Soon she will go to the kitchen and pull out a recipe from her mother’s old card file.
Originally posted on 10/15/2002