Oh but I know you’ll cause me grief.
Close friends of mine are in disbelief,
Coz they can see what’s underneath
Fluttering lashes, red lips and
Pearly – white – teeth.
Milla pushed open the door with her rump, carrying the plastic grocery bag in one hand and Simon in the other. Standing on her palm, her two-inch-tall brother balanced easily, used to the swaying motion of her gait and only placing a hand against the pad of her thumb every once in a while to steady himself. Milla swung around, finding the light switch with her elbow; the apartment, darkened by the heavy evening cloud cover, was suddenly washed in bright light. It was small, but well-furnished—and naturally, compared to tiny Simon, it was the size of an enormous cavern beneath the earth.
“Ta-dah!” his sister sang out, holding her brother out at arm’s length as if presenting him to the world. “What do you think? Not so bad for my first year out of college.”
“It’s great, Milla.” Simon craned his neck, trying to look everywhere at once. “You even hung up one of my illustrations!” He pointed to above the couch; there hung a canvas print of a digital illustration, an animesque take on “Saturn Devouring His Son,” where the mad titan was replaced with a rather scantily clad young woman. “Though—I wish you’d picked a different one to blow up to full size. That one’s…”
“But it’s my favorite!” his sister protested, winking at him. “Besides—I had a little grant money left. I wanted to put something here for you, to make you feel at home when you visit.”
“Uh-huh. Well, thanks… it’s the thought that counts!”
Milla moved into the kitchenette and set Simon down on the countertop. He slipped off her palm and twirled a little on the slick, shiny surface, pirouetting like a ballet dancer. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom really quick,” she said, smiling down at him and crossing her legs plaintively. “I’ve been holding it since Kroger. Can you fend for yourself a minute or two?”
“That depends,” Simon joked. “Any pets? A cat? A Simon-eating iguana that got loose?”
“Nope—you’re safe up there,” came the reply. “Um… Take in some scenery while I’m gone.”
“What a magnificent vista!” he proclaimed as she retreated down the still-darkened hallway. But as the sound of her booming footsteps receded, another sound seemed to seep in to fill the silence. Tinny piano, from a speaker somewhere down the hall. And a British-accented voice singing:
“Fear and delight, all the way through the night; with a little derring-do, I’ll fall in love with you…”
Simon cocked his head. Then he called out: “Milla! Did you leave your Spotify going all week while you were visiting the colony? Boy that’s gonna mess up your Recommended For You.”
But of course, Milla was too far away to hear his small voice; his sister had sharp ears—a live-saver, considering Simon’s stature—but a hundred comparative feet of open air and a solid wooden bathroom door was too far for his voice to travel without his micro-projector. That would have to be the first thing they unpacked from the Jeep… after Milla came back and got the perishables in the fridge, of course.
Boy, she was sure taking a long time in there. Again the strange song tinkled down from the hall:
“Why is it that I’m keen to be devoured by you, when there’s the option of a love affair that’s pure and true; I always choose the dungeon over the sea view, it’s wrong but I want you tonight…”
Then—Milla’s returning footsteps. But as she swept out of the darkness still shrouding the apartment’s back hall, Simon felt a little thrill of alarm sing up his spine. It wasn’t his sister. It was some other girl, somebody he’d never seen before in his life.
“Milla…?” she called out in a clear, booming voice. “Did I hear you come in just now?”
She was a little taller than Simon’s sister—a difference that to a two-inch boy was quite significant. Her hair was a palish brown and flowed down her back in one straight waterfall, and her eyes were also pale, halfway between a blue and a gray. The only thing not pale about her face was her lips: made up a bright cherry red, they glistened under the apartment lights.
Quickly, Simon approached the edge of the counter and waved his arms over his head, making himself as large and as physically “noisy” as possible. True—she was a stranger to him. But she was in Milla’s apartment and seemed to know her; perhaps she wasn’t quite a stranger after all. And besides, when you were as small a boy as Simon, it was better for people to know where you were. That kept you from being crushed, swatted, trodden, or trapped beneath something.
At a certain point, you started to get the instinct for that sort of thing—if you wanted to keep breathing.
“Ahoy! Down here…” he called out.
The strange girl’s eyes darted left and right before swiveling down, alighting on him. For a moment, she didn’t seem to believe what she was seeing. He watched her mind do the typical dance inside her skull, trying to reckon with the feedback her eyes were piping in. He’s a bug, she was thinking. A toy. A hallucination. But as he continued to wave and smile, eventually the truth would hit her:
He was a “tiny”—the colloquial diminutive for a sufferer of Regressor’s Syndrome. As he had been all his life. He was one of millions across the world, but outside of specially built colonies that accommodated fellow sufferers of his relative size, the condition never fully stopped feeling… lonely.
“You’re… him,” she managed to stammer out at last, dropping into a half-crouch to put herself at eye-level with the tiny boy. “You’re Simon. Milla’s brother.”
“Uh-huh,” he shouted up—assuming this giantess didn’t have Milla’s unusually sharp ears. “All right then, who’re you? I assume you’re not a housebreaker, considering that the TV’s still here.”
“Oh. I’m Beck,” said Beck. “Milla’s roommate.”
“Well howdy, Beck, Milla’s roommate,” said Simon. He watched her eyes tracking him, as well as her right hand, which seemed to be moving with a mind of its own, twitching ever-closer toward him. This was actually a fairly typical reaction: if you still weren’t quite certain what you were looking at was really there, what would you do? Touch it of course, or try to. Simon was used to being poked and prodded and scooped up by new faces, even if there was a certain indignity to it.
“You’ve never seen a tiny before, have you?” he asked, grinning slyly up at her.
“Oh—am I that obvious?” Beck stammered, flicking her eyes away and reddening. “I’m sorry, I just… Milla didn’t tell me. And I’d never… I mean, I hadn’t…”
Again her right hand twitched; she placed it on the countertop, quite close to where Simon stood. He noted that her fingertips, like her lips, were painted cherry red, and were just as shiny.
“Could I…” she stammered out. “I mean, would it be…”
Just then, more footsteps approached. Milla appeared from the bathroom, shaking out her wet hands with her fingers fanned out. “Oh—good, you’ve met Beck,” she said. “I take it I don’t need to do the whole introductions dance, do I?”
“You might have warned her,” Simon snarked. “When she came down the hall, her mouth hung open so wide I could have walked straight down her throat.”
That bent Milla over laughing; Beck joined in, but the effect seemed forced. Simon found himself wondering how the two had met… and why Milla had never told Beck about him. Despite the strangeness of his disorder, he wasn’t ashamed of it… and neither was Milla, or so he’d thought.
“You big kidder,” his sister said once she’d recovered. “On that rather dark note—are you ready for dinner? I can get started once I get the other stuff put away.”
“I’m starving,” Simon agreed. “I skipped lunch for your big feast-a-rama… You’d better not disappoint! I’ve been looking forward to this all week.”
“Keep it up, just keep it up,” Milla giggled—but when she crossed the room to where she’d left the grocery bags, Simon heard her breath catch in her lungs. “Si…?” she called out again.
“I forgot the parm.”
“You what now?”
“The parmesan cheese. I think I left it in the shopping cart!”
Simon frowned, crossing to the other side of the counter island to peer after her. Momentarily, he’d forgotten all about Beck, but he could still feel her eyes on him, her gaze pricking into his skin.
“Is that… bad?” he asked.
Milla slapped herself in the forehead. “It’s boneheaded, is what it is. I’ll have to run back out. I can’t even start the lasagna without it. I feel like such an idiot…”
She stood to her full height, fishing her car keys out of her shorts pocket. Then she spun and put both hands on Beck’s shoulders. “Listen—I’m sorry, I know I just got back. But this dinner’s not gonna get made without this stupid cheese. Can you… I dunno, keep an eye on my little brother while I’m gone? It shouldn’t be more than half an hour. Pretty please?”
Beck stiffened and seemed to freeze. “Uh…” She looked at Milla, then twisted to regard Simon. Her face was now completely flushed red, almost the color of her fingernails or lips. And the expression on her face… Simon couldn’t place it. “Uh… Yeah. All right. I can do that.”
“Perfect—you’re an angel,” Milla beamed. She air-kissed the space near Beck’s cheek, then vanished out the apartment door in a whirlwind of cool evening air.
Simon and this strange girl, Beck, were left alone inside the apartment.