And I wish I had created it, but I didn’t. Does anyone know who did? All I know is that I saved it when I found it, back in January 2009. It’s one of my favorite half-sized-man collages, and perfect in its simplicity. The blurriness adds to its realism, as it makes me imagine it was shot by a friend, in the spur of the moment. It also tells me a story…
Petronila sat alone in the waiting room. She had hardly moved since they took her husband deep into the hospital bowels, and told her she had to stay put. She hated the way they were looking at her; she hated the questions they had asked her; but most of all, she hated the way it hurt to breathe. Terror starts in the lungs, she thought. It starts there, so that I have to make myself breathe despite this oppressive weight on my chest. Where’s the doctor? What are they doing to him?
Her best friend peered in, and sprung from the door frame to Petronila’s side as soon as she saw her. Petronila felt tears leap from her eyes like escaping prisoners when Nora embraced her fiercely. “Pet! I rushed over as soon as I got your text. What happened? Where’s Peter? Oh my God, you are shaking.”
Pet broke into sobs in her friend’s arms, unable to speak for a moment. Nora let her go just to sit next to her on a couch no one would have thought comfortable. “Nora, I don’t know what I’m going to do if…”
“Shh! Don’t say it. Don’t ever say it. He’ll be OK. Everything is going to be OK.”
“I should have never let him climb that wall! But you know how he is. He’s been impossible since the outbreak. Everyone tells you to expect wild mood swings, and bouts of terrible anger, but there’s nothing like living with a shrinking man whose brain is no longer his.”
Nora sighed, and stroked Pet’s arms soothingly. Her own husband had received the vaccine against the Shrinking Death, called that way despite the fact that very few of its victims died after contracting it. Nanoretroviridae. It replaced ever cell of its host with an exact replica, except smaller. Much, much smaller. Peter had not been vaccinated in time.
“You should have seen how the doctor looked at me. Like it was my fault! I didn’t push Peter. I begged him to get down, but we had been fighting for days. I thought this outing would help. Some fresh air, some exercise…” Pet started crying again, and she sunk her face into her friend’s shoulder. Nora just sat there, comforting her friend silently for as long as she could, but then she just had to ask.
“Is… does Peter know? Did you tell him?” Nora felt Pet grow stiff in her arms before she pulled away. Her face was taut with angry grief.
“Yes, I told him. I wish I hadn’t, thought there’s no way to hide it. I won’t be able to hide it if it’s a girl. I have never seen him so furious. He told me- no, ordered me to get an abortion. He knows about the babies, now that so many of them are being born.”
Nora wished with all her heart she could help her friend, but she knew that baby would not be normal. What could she say? She could think of nothing to say.
“What are you thinking? Just tell me! Do you think it’s my fault?”
Nora gave Pet a shocked look. “ Of course not! I know they will tell you Peter should have stayed home until his brain is fully replicated, but I’ve known you guys forever. I know how tough this has been for you, and Peter is the most stubborn man I have ever met.”
Pet’s eyes filled with new tears as she tried to get the words out. “Nora, I think… I think he might have jumped.”
Nora’s head swung back as thought she had been slapped. Her eyes were big. “No, no way. God, no. I can’t believe it!” She hugged her friend again.
“He thinks he’s going to father a freak!” Pet dissolved into sobs again, but quickly regained some composure, and continued. “Those babies are beautiful. I mean, they all are perfectly proportioned. So what if the female babies grow abnormally long after birth? That one in Scotland is, what now? Twelve feet long? And she’s only six months old. And the ones born male are so tiny! If this is a boy, it’ll never show. I’m having this baby.”
Nora sighed, thinking about babysitting a giant baby, no matter how beautiful. She blurted, before she could stop herself, “I’m not changing those diapers.”
Pet looked at her, and exploded in uncontrollable laughter. Nora joined her, and they shook in each other’s arms until a nurse peeked in and gave them a curious look mingled with disapproval. The doctor rushed past her, and Pet jumped to her feet, and was at his side in an instant. “Doctor! How’s my husband?”
“He’s fine. We scanned his head, and see no apparent injuries. There’s some external swelling where his head hit the ground. His skull is intact, and we’re going to keep him overnight. He’s regaining consciousness, so I’m going to run some further tests. I see from his records that he contracted the Nano virus a year ago. Is that accurate?”
“Look, I know I was hard on you when you first brought him in, but I know the brain is the last organ affected by the mutation, and it’s the last one to reorganize. He should be back to normal soon. I know how difficult his illness must have been for you.”
How the hell do you know anything, thought Pet. You don’t look shrunken to half, or one third of your size. But she didn’t say anything. She was too relieved to say anything. She just wanted to see Peter.
“Can I see him now?”
“Yes, go ahead.”
The end? Hmm, no. Not the end.