I hung up the phone in a huff. “Kyra, come here please.”
My daughter stood at the top of the stairs, brushing her hair, and called down, “In a minute.”
“I said come over here, and that means now,” I said in a more forceful tone.
“Fine!” she replied, putting her brush down and descending the stairs angrily. “What the hell is so important anyway?” She crossed her arms and looked up at me with disdain.
“Young lady! There is no swearing in this house, and while you are living under my roof you will obey my rules. Understand?” My daughter’s pouty expression indicated that she may not like it but would yield to my authority. “Good. Now I want to discuss the phone call I just received. Your school called and said you were absent yesterday for the last 3 class periods. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“What do you mean, about what? Where were you?” I said, becoming exasperated.
“I don’t see why it matters,” she replied nonchalantly.
I began to fume. “Don’t give me that crap. You’re in high school, not college. You know full well that you can’t just skip school whenever you feel like it. At least,” I paused for dramatic effect, “not without consequences. Now you’d better tell me exactly what you were doing or I’ll double your punishment.”
“Geez, whatever, it’s not a big deal. I just went to a movie with some friends, OK? It’s not like we got high or robbed a store or anything.”
“For your own sake you had better hope not! In any case, you have to understand that school is the most important part of your life right now and since you are now grounded for the next 7 days, I think you’ll have plenty of time to focus on your schoolwork,” I said in as stern a voice as I could muster.
“Ah, come on, it’s not like I missed anything important. All my classes are a piece of cake.” It’s true, she was pretty damned smart – actually, that was an understatement. She could easily ace all her classes if only she had the motivation.
“In that case, I expect to see a 4.0 on your final report card next month, or we’re going to have another talk.”
“This is bullshit!” she said as she stomped up the stairs to her room.
“That’s another week, missy! I warned you not to swear!” Sheesh, she seemed to be getting more out of control by the month. I guess that’s just how teenagers are, though I wish she didn’t have to hold such a grudge when I punish her. But that’s fine if she thinks I’m some tyrant, as long as she learns her lesson. I just hope she learns it soon … Why does she have to be so difficult?
Being a strict disciplinarian really isn’t my style; I had much preferred raising Kyra as a child – a quiet but authoritative command was the most she had ever needed to behave. And there was none of this stomping around and ranting on about how I was the meanest person in the world and blah blah blah. We were really quite close back then; her mother died when she was young, and I suppose being the only parent meant she became completely attached to me. I remember how her face would light up when I stepped through the door, and she would always tell me about her day and want to play games together. And the movie nights where we would sit together, usually with her in my lap, munching popcorn and watching until she fell asleep. Then I would carry her to her bed, trying not to wake her, and kiss her on the forehead as I tucked her in. As I glanced over at the stairs where she had just now flown away in anger, I wondered when we had grown apart, and why she seems to avoid me at every chance. Sighing, I returned to watching my movie – alone.
The next morning at work went by uneventfully. Actually, I do very much enjoy my job, working as a nuclear physicist at an engineering firm/research lab outside of town. The pay is excellent, and the work sure beats pushing paper and filing TPS reports in some office building, in my opinion. In fact, overall I had a pretty darn good life as far as I was concerned. My name is James Roberts, Dr. James Roberts if you want to be picky. But I usually just go as James. I look pretty much like your typical middle-class American, except that I’m 6’6” and weigh 220 lbs. I’m a single dad raising my only child, my daughter. She’s my pride and joy; although she can get a bit testy at times, she’s a wonderful little girl (well, not so little, she’s 6’1”) and despite the increasingly frequent arguments it is still a highlight of my day to see her after I come home from work.
But, as I would discover, an event happened that afternoon that would change my life forever. And what happened to me? Perhaps I walked in front of the particle accelerator which caused a radical reconstitution of my genetic makeup, causing me to instantly shrink? Did I step into the Intrinsic Field Subtractor at my lab and reappear as a blue, glowing superhero with the power to stop time, move objects with my mind, and even change the size of my body? Nope. Actually, my job consists of sitting at my computer developing reactor analysis codes. No lab equipment involved. No, what really happened was that a fly entered through the open window and bit me (BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT ONE COMING, EH?). I felt a sting and swatted the sucker, and thought nothing of it except that the fly looked a bit, well, unusual. Although I would never find out, it turns out this fly was from a remote region of the Amazon rainforest and through a long and treacherous journey (which I won’t recount here) it ended up in my office and infected me with a virus hitherto undiscovered by man. I felt no ill effects for the rest of the day, except for a slightly woozy feeling as I went to bed.
Waking up the next day, I still felt a bit … off. I laid in bed probably longer than I should have but finally convinced myself to get up. I stood and stretched, touching my hands to the ceiling (made possible by my 6’6” height), although did I have a bit more trouble reaching it this time? ‘Bah,’ I said, ‘It’s too early.’ Then I groggily took a shower, got dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast. But, to my surprise, I found Kyra sitting at the table, leisurely eating a bagel and watching TV.
“Hey, why are you still here?” I demanded. “Your bus for school left 45 minutes ago! And why are you just sitting around?” I almost never see her in the morning since I leave for work an hour after her bus arrives.
“Oh, well, I woke up too late and was going to miss the bus anyway, so I figured I’d just get a ride from you!” She is quite a morning person, and sometimes I regret not seeing her at one of the few times of the day when she is openly happy. However, the prospect of me having to drive her, combined with the fact that I am anything but a morning person, only served to foul my mood further.
“Christ, Kyra, I don’t have time to take you, it’s completely out of my way and I’ll be late for work! Plus it’s your responsibility to be on time for school. I know you think you’re mature for your age, so you need to start acting like it, young lady!”
“Then why are you late then?” she quipped. Damn, she had a point.
“Because I … uh … well, at least I was still going to make it on time to my work!” I said, reflecting that I sounded rather childish. But still, I was mad.
“Yeah, whatever you say.” Her lackadaisical attitude was starting to drive me crazy, but I was I no mood to continue arguing, so I simply replied, “Fine, I’ll take you to school, but next time you’ll just have to walk yourself.” I hurriedly ate breakfast and went back upstairs to finish getting ready. But when I came back down, she was still nibbling on her bagel and watching TV.
“Kyra! I can’t believe this! If you’re not in the car in one minute you’re in big trouble!” I growled.
As I got in the car I saw her sauntering out of the house with her book bag and half a bagel in her hand. “Oh, no you don’t! No eating in my car,” I said.
“OK, I’ll go back inside and eat it then,” she said, a bit too cheerfully.
“God damn it,” I muttered under my breath. She was really getting under my skin. “Did you just swear Daddy? You shouldn’t do that, remember?” she said, trying to hold back a giggle. Holy shit, I can’t take this. For the whole car ride I laid into her, reprimanding her for being so rudely inconsiderate, then moving on to her being late for school and how she needed to get her act together in class, then I even talked about her mother and how great she was and how Kyra should try to be more like her. After the fact, I felt a little uncomfortable talking about her mother, but I was so livid I didn’t care at the time. Anyway, it was clear that I got Kyra’s attention and that my rant had done some good because she didn’t say a word the whole ride and when we arrived at her school she got out and told me, with sincerity, “I’m really sorry, Dad. I didn’t mean to upset you so much. I’ll try to be better.” She reached in for a hug.
This softened me up quite a bit, prompting me to say, “It’s OK Kyra. I forgive you. And I know you think I’m too harsh sometimes, but it’s only because I love you and I want what’s best for you.”
“I love you too, Dad,” she said as she kissed me on the forehead, got out, and went to school. That put me in a better mood, so much so that I didn’t even mind being late for work.
Kyra does remind me of her mother a great deal. The two of us were married for 10 years and were deeply in love. Kyra has very little memory of her, as she died when Kyra was only 4 years old. Fortunately, Kyra has inherited several of her best qualities: smart, confident, independent – some of the same qualities that have made her hard to deal with as a parent, but good qualities nonetheless. It has been a joy to see in Kyra more and more of her mother over the last few years. She has even developed the same tall, elegant, and beautiful figure that I enjoyed in my wife. She stands now at 6’1”, with long wavy dirty blond hair, a cute face with a slightly upturned nose, and a slim, athletic physique with curves that have become more and more voluptuous by the day. Not that I would ever think of Kyra the same was as my wife, but the similarities are very striking. In fact, she has become a little too gorgeous for my liking, as I am not looking forward to the inevitable slew of teenage boys coming to my door to take her out. Better buy myself a shotgun, I chuckled to myself. Actually, the onslaught has already begun; she is very popular at school and has been asked out several times (that I know of) but each time I have laid down the law and said she cannot date until college. Maybe that is a bit strict, but my parents did the same to me and I figure it can only be for the best.
The day went by more or less like normal, although I couldn’t help feeling like something was slightly wrong. I couldn’t place it. I dunno, somehow things didn’t look quite right, and I felt awkward and off-balance at times when moving around the office. Even my clothes seemed too … loose, perhaps? Did my pants rest a bit lower on my waist? I couldn’t tell, but I figured I had come down with a mild flu or something, which would explain the nausea last night as well.
The next morning I woke up (on time at least), got up, and stretched, but … what the hell? I could only just barely reach the ceiling now, almost having to stand on my toes a bit! Normally I can touch my fingers to the ceiling easily, with room to spare. This can’t be right. There must be an explanation. I figured I must have been standing at an angle or not fully extended, but no, I tried again with the same result. I was starting to get freaked out a bit, but I decided now was not the time to think about this, having just gotten out of bed, so I took a shower and went through my morning routine. As I put my clothes on, I noticed a small but distinct difference in how my clothes fit me; my sleeves and pant legs were just a bit too long now. I tried to remain calm, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling I had. I mean, I’ve been the same height for 25 years, and suddenly I’m smaller, even if only a bit? Something about that just didn’t sit right with me. However, I had to get to work, so I ate breakfast and went on my way, resolving to go through the day like normal and hoping that the changes were temporary, or at least that I would shrink no more. As I was leaving, I found a note on the door from Kyra, reminding me to pick her up from basketball practice after school at 4:30 pm. I put the note in my pocket so I wouldn’t forget and headed to work.
After work, I headed over to Kyra’s school and parked in front of the gym. It was 5:28; I knew she was supposed to finish at 4:30 but I have work until 5:00. Oddly, though, no one was outside. I got out and, hearing noises coming from the gym, went inside to watch the end of her practice.
As I stepped inside, I spotted her immediately as her team scrimmaged. It wasn’t hard, since she was the tallest girl on the court. As I sat down and watched, I realized she had a very long way to go in developing her skills. Kyra had never played basketball until a couple weeks ago, and this was her first actual practice. In fact, she never played much of any sport growing up. But as she hit those growth spurts and started to fill out her lanky frame, the high school coaches started to recruit her heavily, particularly for basketball and volleyball. She ignored their appeals earlier on in high school, but now this year she began to take an interest. She was too late to join the team during the season, but now in May as the practices for the summer league started the coaches eagerly invited her to join the team. As I watched her run around the court, I was impressed by her hustle – though her play was generally rough and awkward, she was still able to grab a couple of rebounds over her shorter teammates and made a decent pass every now and then.
The practice finished shortly after I arrived. As Kyra and her teammates walked over, she introduced me to them. As usually happens whenever I meet someone, they asked how tall I was. When I replied 6’6”, one of the taller girls said, “Are you sure? My dad is 6’6” and you don’t seem quite as tall.”
Laughing, I told her, “Well I think I would know my own height by now.” The girls kept pestering me, and eventually begged me to dunk for them. Fortunately, basketball is my forte, and even being 41 years old I could still throw it down without too much trouble. So I grabbed a ball, did a few crossovers, and went up for a two-handed slam. Well, I didn’t get as high as I usually did, but still managed to squeeze it in. The girls were nonetheless impressed, and Kyra even said “not bad for a 41-year-old” giving me a wink. I beamed as we headed towards the car.
As I got out the keys Kyra snatched them from my hand and said “I’ll drive!” I had been reluctant for a while to let her get her driver’s permit, but eventually I relented and ever since then she’s been eager to drive whenever possible, which hasn’t been as often as she would like since I have to be there when she does it and I usually prefer to be the one driving.
“Not today, honey, I don’t want you to drive tired.”
“But I’m not tired!” She did seem surprisingly fresh after her long workout.
“The answer is still no. Now please hand them over,” I said with just a hint of authority.
She hesitated for a second, then said “OK Dad” and handed them over, apparently not letting it ruin her good mood. Maybe the talk yesterday worked after all.
As we left the parking lot, Kyra said, “Sorry for running late today; we usually get out at 4:30 but during this first week Coach is really trying to whip us into shape.”
“No problem; I didn’t get here until 5:30 anyway.”
“OK, cool. Um, so next week could you get here at 4:30?” she asked, looking over at me.
“Kyra, dear,” I sighed, “I don’t get off work until 5:00 and with the rush hour traffic you’ll just have to wait an hour.”
She didn’t respond for a few seconds. I could tell she was staring at me, probably wanting to give an outburst but thinking twice about it. “OK,” she said quietly. A few minutes later, she added sadly, “You know, you never do anything nice for me.” I was happy to let her leave it at that, since I was in no mood to argue.
When we got home, Kyra went up to her room and I threw a premade casserole in the oven for dinner. After watching some TV, the oven timer went off and I called Kyra down for dinner. As I was pulling the casserole out of the oven, she came down and opened the fridge to get a drink. I set the casserole on the oven and turned toward the fridge, almost bumping into her. I was about to excuse myself, but something made me pause.
My eyes were usually level with the very top of her hair, but now they seemed almost even with the top of her forehead. “Kyra, have you grown again? You look … I dunno … close to 6’3” now!?”
“Oh, weird. You’re right, I am closer to your height now. How about that,” she said with a big smile as she turned and walked to the table. She hasn’t talked to me about it, but I think she enjoys being tall. This new discovery seemed to boost her confidence and her spirits, and the dinner conversation was more lively than normal. I was just thinking about how I was glad to see her in a good mood, and conversing with me no less, but then, suddenly, I remembered: I had shrunk last night. Kyra was probably the same height as before. It was me, ME, who had shrunk. The thought sent another chill through my spine. I tried to maintain the conversation but was in a funk. Fortunately she was doing most of the talking, so dinner went by smoothly enough.
After putting my dishes in the sink, all I wanted was to sink down in my recliner, turn on the TV, and forget this troubling occurrence. However, on the way from the sink I passed by Kyra again, and she told me, “Wait, Daddy” and stood in front of me with our faces just inches apart, drawing herself to her full height, and brought her hand from the top of her head to my forehead to measure the difference. “Only a couple of inches now!” she beamed. Meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the close proximity of her buxom frame as well as the reminder of my slightly diminished stature. Her exuberance over the change didn’t help matters either.
“That’s great honey,” I mumbled as I was about to walk to the living room.
“Hey, wait a sec, I almost forgot to mark my new height on the wall!” she exclaimed. On the edge of one of the kitchen walls we had marked her height since age 3, placing a notch every 6 months or so. “Would you mind helping me, Daddy?” she said as she stood against the wall.
“But it’s only been 2 months since the last mark,” I replied, trying to avoid this whole situation.
“I know, but I’ve clearly hit a late growth spurt, so I think we should do it again.” Grudgingly, I came over with a ruler and noted to my dismay that I had to go up on my toes to make sure it was level with the top of her head. To my surprise she had indeed grown, but only about an inch, putting her near 6’2”. “Aw, is that it? I was hoping for 6’3”,” Kyra said with some disappointment. She eyed me with perhaps a twinge of curiosity. Afraid that she might want to measure my height, I quickly walked over to the living room and plopped down on the recliner. However, I couldn’t help but do the math: figuring that she was only 2 or 3 inches shorter than me now, I guessed my current height was around 6’4” or 6’5”. Wow. But I guess it could be worse …
The next day began with bitter disappointment, as I had to rise all the way up on my toes to reach the ceiling. The problem was evidently not just going to go away. Trying not to panic, I picked up the phone and called the doctor’s office. Fortunately, they were able to fit me in that afternoon. I had a lot to do at work in the meantime but was too distracted to get much done. I just hoped my physician would know what to do.
It was, well, rather awkward explaining to the doctor what was wrong. They had measured my height at 6’3”. Even still, he gave me a bemused look and said it was nothing to worry about. When people get older they lose some inches in height; it’s only natural. I asked him how the heck it could happen in the span of 3 days, then. He gave some vague and confusing answer meant to appease me, and said if the problem persists I should see him again. It was obvious he didn’t believe me. I returned to work pissed off, my fears not assuaged in the slightest. I figured the only thing to do right now was wait it out. At least, if it got worse, that old coot of a doctor might finally believe me and actually do something about it.
After work I drove again to my daughter’s gym. I was about to go inside and watch, but then I realized what would happen when she walked up to me. God, I was almost scared now of my own daughter seeing me standing up; the change in my height would be immediately obvious. I couldn’t believe she was just an inch shorter than me now. She came out again around 5:30 and I unlocked the door for her.
She walked around the car to my door instead and opened it. “Can I drive, Dad?” she asked.
“Like I said, I don’t want you driving after practice.” Besides, I didn’t exactly want to stand up to change seats.
“Fine.” She slammed the door too hard for my liking.
“That was uncalled for, Kyra,” I told her as she sat in the passenger’s seat.
“Sorry, Dad, I just had a rough practice, is all.”
“You want to tell me about it?” I offered. She went on most of the car ride telling how the coach had singled her out for something or other. To be honest, I was paying more attention to the road, but I was at least glad she felt like talking to me about it. Once we got home, I said I wanted to clean up the car a bit before getting out. Really, I just didn’t want to walk in with her. She offered to help, but I politely refused.
Once I got inside, I called out, “Kyra?” not too loudly; not having heard a reply, I decided she was up in her room already. She usually didn’t emerge until suppertime. I prepared spaghetti and meatballs, keeping one eye on the staircase. Fortunately she stayed in her room.
“Dinner’s ready!” I shouted. Oh no, I had meant to be seated with my food when I called her! I rushed over and served myself as quickly as possible, banging some plates in the process. As she was coming down, I tried to act casual and seated myself before she reached the bottom.
“What’s for dinner?” she inquired.
“Spaghetti and meatballs.”
“Again? I wish you would take time to make some real food now and then.” She was apparently still in a foul mood from practice.
“Kyra! You know I’m a busy man and I don’t have time for that.” She gave an exasperated shrug. I realized in my rush I had forgotten a drink. “Honey, would you mind getting me a glass of water?”
“Get it yourself.” She was still serving herself in the kitchen.
She’s got some nerve! Not wanting to get up, I said, “I’m going to count to three and then …”
“And then what?” she retorted.
“Oh you’ll find out, missy. If I were you I’d behave. Remember, you’re already grounded for 2 weeks.”
She seemed to have forgotten about it. “I hate you, I hate you!”
I started counting. “One … two …”
In spite of her rage, she got the message and went to the sink. Filling up a glass, she slammed it down on the table in front of me, spilling half the water. “I’m eating upstairs.”
“Oh no you’re not. You’re sitting right here,” I said, pointing to her chair. She gave a frustrated whine but sat down. It’s good to see I still have some control over her.
I tried to start up a conversation but she ignored me. I was a bit sad that she seemed to resent my authority so much, but it couldn’t be helped. We ate in silence.
I stood up and put my dishes in the sink. I began to wash them as Kyra walked up behind me and leaned over to put her dishes on the counter. Then I noticed she hadn’t walked away, she just stood there. “Daddy,” she said quietly, “Are you sure I only gained an inch when you measured me?”
I froze. After dinner I had totally forgotten to avoid standing around her. Slowly, I stammered, “Umm, yeah of course. Why?”
“Daddy, turn around.”
“I’m doing the dishes honey.”
“It’ll only take a second.”
I realized I couldn’t hide it any longer, so with apprehension I turned around and looked ever-so-slightly down into my daughter’s eyes. “You’re shorter,” she stated. Like yesterday, she moved within inches of me and drew a line from the top of her head, only today her hand was level with my hair. “Oh my god,” she whispered.
I told her everything I knew, which admittedly wasn’t much. How it had started 3 days ago, how I had no idea why it was happening, and how the doctor had brushed me off. Her look of wonderment soon turned pensive. “Daddy, have you been avoiding me today?”
“Um, what do you mean?”
“Like, how you waited in the car today, and how you wouldn’t get up to get a drink.” Damn, she was a smart cookie.
I admitted it, embarrassedly. “You shouldn’t feel ashamed, Daddy; you can’t help shrinking,” she comforted, putting a hand on my still-taller shoulder. “Besides,” she added, with a glint in her eye, “I kinda like you shorter. Now I don’t have to look up to you anymore.” She sounded innocent enough, but something in her voice made it sound slightly … ominous. She started to walk around me, inspecting me, obviously fascinated by this turn of events. I was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable. “Kyra, I need to sit down. Now go do your homework and finish your chores, and maybe afterward we can watch a movie together.”
“OK, sure Dad.” She smiled at me as I went to the living room.