The day looked too good to be true, so Ingrid should have known something would go wrong; as it invariably did. She should have felt it in the air, the fatalistic sheen of a bright morning sun winking at her from the dew that clung to the grass as she walked out the door, down the steps to her car. She should have seen it in the bright optimism that gave her steps some bounce, following the beat of industrious birds as they swept down from her maple tree.
But she didn’t. She went to work, ignoring the invisible but very dark cloud over her head that was raining only on her; ignoring the invisible lightning bolts that shot from it and down to her body. She only ignored them because she imagined them later, omens that didn’t exist, of a terrible day that did. She went to work, and during her lunch hour she went to her meeting with the social worker, who had obligingly offered to meet her at a nearby cafe. It was another sign of a good day she should have suspected. She should have been on high alert. As it was, she foolishly ordered a beer with her burger as she waited for her appointment, who was running late and told her to go ahead and order her lunch.
She was swallowing her third swig when the woman arrived, looking very professional in her work shirt and suit. She fixed her gaze on her beer, and Ingrid felt suddenly self-conscious. Was 1:24 PM too early to be drinking? She began to think so. She got up to shake the woman’s hand, and was shocked when the social worker -let’s call her “Miss Clark” to protect her privacy- ignored it, and sat down. Her smile was tight when she almost met her gaze.
“Miss Clark, hello…”
“Good afternoon, Ing- er, Mrs. F. [Let’s protect her name as well… no need to shame anyone now.] Let’s get this going, shall we? I have another meeting in half an hour.”
“Sure. Don’t you want to eat someth-”
“I’m afraid there is no time, and this meeting will be very short.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I’m afraid so.” Ms. Clark set down her suitcase on the table, and opened it up like a protective shield between herself and Ingrid. She suddenly felt it all go south, and immediately lost her appetite. The cold bottle of beer she’d been holding suddenly felt hot to the touch, and wrong in her hand. She set it down on the table, and waited for a second before she asked the next question.
“When am I getting my new foster-care ward?”
“That’s what I need to discuss with you. I don’t believe that will happen any time soon.”
Ingrid could not believe was she was hearing. The only purpose of this meeting was so that all could be arranged for her receiving another shrunken man, one or more, and tend to him as carefully as was needed. And they needed a lot of care, as they were so small.
“I don’t understand. I’ve been taking care of tiny men for years-”
“The correct term is Size Different, Mrs. F. I wish you would stop using offensive language in my presence.”
Was this the same woman to whom she’d been talking on the phone for days now? After the breakup she was ready to open up her home to another little man, one she would hardly talk to or see, one she would only feed and keep safe in the confines of her own home, until he could be on his own again. It’s what she had always loved to do. Her entire life had been dedicated to the care of defenseless creatures, and when she became an adult, to the foster care of men of all ages that had escaped a nightmarish life as sex-trade toys or slaves, sometimes injured or disfigured beyond recognition. She had always called them “tiny men”, but the recent movement to protect them had become such an offensive, anything could be taken as a slight.
“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. I’ve been saying ‘tiny men’ to you on the phone for days. What’s the difference now? Why are you telling me I can’t open my home to a tin- to a size-different man, as I’ve done for so long?”
“That’s what I’m here to tell you. I’d not run your record when we talked, but I did so this morning, to get ready for our meeting. Certain things have come to light, and your blacklisting prevents my allowing you to, not only receive anyone size different in your house, but your license has been revoked. Permanently.”
“What?!! My what?!”
Ms. Clark pulled out an envelope from her suitcase, and held it in the air in front of Ingrid. She could only stare at it, while her eyes bounced from it to Ms. Clark, to it.
“I don’t understand! I don’t understand! This doesn’t make any sense!”
Now Ms. Clark began to look angry. “Take the envelope. It explains everything. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to go.”
“Stop. Stop! You have to explain this to me!” Ingrid got up and reached over and across the table, making the mistake of grabbing Ms. Clark’s arm. When that happened, it was like dousing fire with gasoline, because the social worker exploded in unconfined rage as she hissed words that sounded like screams.
“Don’t you touch me, you blacklisted, abusive slime. Don’t you ever touch or speak to me again. Let me go or I’ll call the police. That’s where you belong. In prison.”
Her outburst was a slap in Ingrid’s face, and her hand went limp. She could only watch Ms. Clark snatch her arm free from her hold, and walk away. She only looked back once, to give her a disgusted look. Ingrid thought the world had gone mad. Then she looked at the envelope Ms. Clark had tried to hand her but had simply dropped on the table, and she grabbed, and ripped it open. She read it, and the burger bites that simmered in her stomach tried to come back up at that moment. She could not believe her eyes. The little asshole had gotten her blacklisted.
She read the words that explained everything. The last tiny man that had been in her care had also been her love. He had made his way to her heart, but it had all ended badly. Now, since tiny men had so much protection from the law, a single word from them could destroy a normal-sized person’s reputation. She saw it in the news all the time, but she couldn’t believe it was happening to her. She read the words; the lies.
“…alcohol dependence… abusive… sexual predator… unable to care for the sick… mood swings… injuries receives while under the care… incapable of caring for anyone but herself…”
It went on and on. The tiny man she had loved with all her heart had created a false report about her, and now her license was gone? She could never take care of any other tiny man, ever again? She collapsed down into her chair, and felt tears leap from her eyes. She closed them and swallowed back what threatened to come back up her throat. Her mind was blank with pain, and shock at his unbearable resentment. And why? Because she had loved him too much? There had been nothing she had done he had not consented to as an adult. Had there been? No, of course not! Every day had been wonderful… well, nearly every day… until the end.
She paid for her unfinished meal, and left the cafe. She had to go back to the office, but the rest of the day she was too upset to accomplish anything meaningful. She could not contact him anymore, as when he left her, he had rerouted into the system, and his location was unknown, for his own protection. Whoever was taking care of him now was also protected by law, and by anonymity. She tried to send him an email, but it bounced back to her, recipient’s address nonexistent.
So you don’t exist anymore, and now you don’t want me to exist either, do you. Why did you do this? She had no answers, and instead of going home after she left work, she walked out of the office building, and wandered around the busy streets, cars beeping and people rushing by. She noticed nothing. All she had wanted to do was good. All she wanted to be was good. And now she was blacklisted, and unable to ever tend for someone that needed help more than anyone else in the world. She felt dejected. Useless. Unwanted. Undeserving.
She stopped at one of the tiny doors neat ground level. She knew it to be the entrance to a bar frequented by little people. In front and over it stood a man that had to be seven feet tall. He looked at her and told her to get lost. Tiny men had so much protection nowadays. It was no surprise, after what happened all those years ago… but there was no reason for anyone to treat her this way. All she wanted to do was talk to them, care for them, love them. And now there was this bouncer standing with his feet framing the four-inch tall entrance to that little bar, and treating her like she was some kind of criminal. It was too much to endure.
She walked back to the office’s parking lot, she got her things, and returned home, where she belonged. Alone.