No vignette today, but instead a short story I wrote several years ago while emotionally lost and unemployed. I’m in a similar state now, once again. So this story really came back and spoke to me.
The Shrinking Woman
Every day she felt herself changing, but at first she couldn’t say how. People suddenly had trouble hearing her at work and would ask her, “Why don’t you speak up?” Her fingers started slipping on the keyboard and her typing abilities decreased with every passing day. The phone became awkward against her ear, so that she had to adjust it constantly during conversations and often missed whatever the other person said to her. Along with these discomforts, she became emotionally insecure. No one at work treated her with dignity anymore, so she wondered if they had ever truly respected her at all.
Finally, her boss called her to his office and pronounced, “You’re fired.” As soon as she heard the words, she realized they’d been a long time coming.
Back at her apartment, she began the meticulous process of applying to several jobs a day. But she found that the same irritations first experienced at work followed her to the comfort of her home. The computer keyboard became so awkward to her that she made dozens of typos in each cover letter that took hours for her to clean up. One day she got so fed up with everything she left the apartment on a long, long walk.
After a mile, she realized her shoes felt big and loose over her feet. “That’s funny,” she thought. “I know I’ve been losing weight but that shouldn’t affect my feet.” It was the first time it crossed her mind that her whole body might be shrinking.
She eventually learned to hold comfortable conversations of the phone by setting the device on “speaker” mode. In this way, she spoke to her mother weekly about her emotional predicaments.
“Don’t worry,” said Mom. “Something will work out soon. Besides, remember how unhappy you were at your old job. Everything happened because something even better is on its way, you’ll see.”
“But Mom,” she sighed. And she worked up the nerve to speak the truth. “I think with every passing day, I’m getting smaller.”
The other line was silent for a time. “What do you mean, smaller?”
“I … I don’t know how else to explain it.”
“Nonsense!” Mom laughed warm-heartedly. “Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
She didn’t believe her mother was right this time, but she didn’t have a response, so she thanked Mom for the kind words and said goodbye.
Her contact with the outside world decreased rapidly over the next few months. When she found her frustrations on the computer increasing, and she received no responses to her applications whatsoever, she soon gave up applying to any jobs at all. To her benefit, she found her appetite decreased every day so that she required less and less food to satisfy herself. This saved her money on groceries. She also stopped going out in general, preferring to stay home and watch TV or read a book for hours on end. She ceased exercising, even though it was supposed to reduce her stress, because it often increased her frustrations with her body.
Simple tasks became harder and harder to accomplish. Her clothes became so large, everything but her T-shirts slipped right off. Dishes became harder to wash because she had trouble reaching over the sink. Taking out the trash became impossible because she didn’t have the strength to lift the trash bag.
Despite the unpleasantries, she did find that getting smaller had some benefits. The apartment, which once felt cramped and cheap to her, felt bigger and more luxurious all the time. She found items in small nooks and crannies she had long ago forgotten or dismissed as lost. Certain objects which once appeared ugly became beautiful and grandiose from her new perspective. Even so, these minor amenities were not enough to beautify her situation. She became so small that she could not reach her sink or wear her shoes. She developed painful sensitivity to light and sound and spent hours tossing and turning at night. When she was so small she could not even climb into bed, she crawled into a dresser drawer and slept amongst her own clothes. She ripped off small pieces of cloth to wrap around her nakedness, which concerned her less and less all the time, as there was no one around to see her. She stacked books around the house so she could continue to reach certain fixtures and devices.
One day her landlord came calling because she had neither paid her rent nor stepped from her room for some time. Not sure what to do, she ran and hid in the drawer. Naturally, he did not look for her there, and soon gave up searching. He left some sort of document behind for her but she could not reach it, and did not care to read it anyway. After all, what could she do?
The incident caused her great anxiety, and as she continued to find herself shrinking yet more, she grew increasingly terrified. She saw bugs all around her, which appeared to her as large as dogs once did. She wondered how long her shrinking would continue, until perhaps one day, she stopped existing altogether. One day she did not come out of her drawer at all, she was so scared of the dangers and humiliations awaiting her outside.
The day finally came when she was forced to come out, for the authorities were clearing out her apartment. Voices thundered in her ears from the other room, and she thought she heard her own mother speaking to a policeman. She knew it was only a matter of time before they searched the dresser and found her, but she felt it would be better to die than to face such embarrassment.
With great effort, she climbed out of the drawer. Clinging to the edge, she saw that she had become even smaller overnight. She had trouble climbing down the stack of books to reach the floor. She looked all around herself, amidst dustballs and a floor so full of indentations that it seemed to her a hilly landscape, and did not know where to go other than a small hole in the far wall. She had noticed it a long time ago, but had always been too afraid to go near it, certain it would be full of bugs or rodents. At this moment in time, however, she did not see any better option available. She started the long run across her bedroom floor.
The ground quaked as a man approached from the other room. She knew it would be too disheartening for her to look back at him, so she ignored the giant. The hole loomed larger and larger before her. Wouldn’t be long now.
A flameless explosion erupted beside her, sending a gush of air that knocked her from her feet. She looked back to see that the man had tried to stomp on her but missed by a centimeter.
“What was that?” someone asked.
“A weird-looking bug,” replied the giant.
“Did you get it?”
“I think so.”
She fought back her tears as she pushed herself to her feet and ran the last stretch towards the hole. Once upon a time, she worked a decent job and even possessed a fledgling career. Now, she was as lowly and pathetic as a bug to be squashed.
Her fear clouded by her misery, she crawled weeping into the hole in the wall. She kept walking into the darkness, even when she could not see where she was going, because she no longer cared. Finally, when she could not even see where she had come from, she collapsed into the dust and resolved to die.
Her tears dried on her face and exhaustion overcame her. She fell in and out of a soft, peaceful sleep. In her dreams, she heard a strange and beautiful music playing in the distance. The music consisted mostly of soft, childlike voices, accompanied by a strange rhythm like tinkering glass.
Sharp hunger eventually roused her from sleep, but by then she felt as if she might have lost her mind, for she continued to hear the music. Not sure what else to do, she followed the sounds through the thick blackness.
After a time she saw the glow of lights before her. The illumination was soft and colorful, like Christmas lights. Finally she stepped through the other side of the hole into a new world.
The music stopped. The band, a group of people her size holding instruments of broken debris, turned and looked at her with surprise. They stood in what seemed like a grand hallway, though it was only a crack between walls, lit by sparkling Christmas lights and decorated with an assortment of small household objects. Cheap jewelry garnished the walls, yet glittered like the most valuable of treasures. Plastic earrings glowed in the light like an element from another planet. Food crumbs were stacked on glistening coins of nickel and copper, appearing to her now as an incredible feast.
“Newcomer!” cried the little people. “Welcome!”
“W-what is this place?” she asked, fear and doubt creeping back into her mind.
“Welcome to the world of the shrunken people!” said the band leader. “We are so happy to see you. Please don’t be frightened, we know this takes a long time to adjust to. But I assure you that in time, you’ll come to love this land more than you ever loved your old one. You’ll find that plain things appear wondrous, and the greatest excitements can be found wherever you wish to look. The necessities of life will come more easily to you, and you will learn the truest contentment you have ever known. Please, come in and enjoy yourself.”
Her rational mind told her these little people must be depraved and pathetic beyond redemption. But deep in her heart, she dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, they were right.