Mina had saved money for a long time, and done without things her friends took for granted. She stopped eating out, styled her hair herself, and finally started buying her clothes at the local Goodwill. When she finally had enough money to order her own tiny man, the very moment the price for made-to-order little people skyrocketed, and Mina felt her eyes fill with tears when she visited GutterWorld.com and found out that the ticket price for a single little guy had gone up fifty percent. She repeatedly watched the short videos showing little men dancing, climbing furniture, and performing other tricks.
Her heart ached with longing, and she finally went to bed, where she stared at the ceiling and fantasized about breaking into the local Gutterman farm, which looked nothing like one, and more like a military facility, surrounded by high walls and patrolled by heavily armed guards.
I’m never going to be able to afford my own little guy, thought Mina as she drifted off to sleep.
[To be continued later today.]
[But really the following day:]
Her sense of loss came upon her like an illness, slowing her down and sapping her energy until she felt she had the flu. On Friday night she left work, crawled into bed, and stayed there until Saturday afternoon, when she read an email from her friend Danielle that propelled her from prone to upright at a speed unmeasurable using existing technology.
Mina was too happy to be angry. Her friend had complained about georgie from the moment she got him, and not without reason. He was unlike any tiny person they had ever seen: rude, untidy, unwilling to please, downright destructive, and extremely moody.
All little people had been modified to establish a deep bond with their owners, one that was difficult to break, if not impossible (the Tandem Chip—a charge that detonated in a tiny person’s brain upon the death of their owner—was one of GutterWorld’s best-selling add-on purchases, and eliminated the trouble of having to deal with an ownerless tiny person). georgie had not formed a bond with Danielle, and seemed to hold her in the deepest of contempt. When Mina and their friends visited Danielle, the little guy was sullen and uncommunicative. Still, Mina was delighted.
A string of texts later, and georgie’s delivery was arranged. Danielle didn’t get out of her car when she handed Mina the small cage that contained the little guy, and a garbage bag with his belongings and an open bag of dry food.
“Don’t you want to say bye to georgie?”
“You know the little beast, Mina. He’ll probably make an obscene gesture and call me names.”
“Does he know what’s happening?”
“I have no idea what he knows. I have to run. I’ll see you tomorrow at the party, okay?”
Mina wanted to thank her friend, but Danielle took off and left her feeling oddly subdued. She should be trembling with joy, and not doubting this transfer of property that went against every manual of ownership. She walked back to her house and closed the door behind her, placed the garbage bag on a side table and sat on the sofa, the small carrying cage next to her. She was too nervous to look at it, at him, but made herself turn to face him.
“You should let me go,” said a small voice, and Mina had to slap her mouth shut to stop herself from giggling.
“Do you know what’s happening?”
“Yeah, that bitch finally did the right thing and sent me away before I killed her. You should do the same.”
“Don’t call your owner— Ah, look… I know Danielle can be cold sometimes, but there’s no need for name calling. Without her you might have ended up in the trash, or recycled into bottles, or food, or whatever they do with you guys.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I know this is sudden, but Danielle is not your owner anymore. You’re mine now. I’m your owner. Do you remember me? We’ve met before, but you’re always screaming at us and saying terribly insulting things.”
“Fucking crazy bitch, I don’t care what your name is. You’re not my owner. No one owns me. Let me go, or I swear I’ll—”
Mina began to feel a deep warmth in her chest. Here was this tiny man, one she admired from afar, one that had shocked her because he never behaved like the little men in the videos, one she’d never touched because only an owner can touch their little possessions, one she thought beautiful beyond description.
“I don’t care what you say to me!” She unlocked the cage door and the hinges chirred slightly as she opened it. Mina brought her face lower until it filled the small cage opening. “You’re my little man now, and I’m going to take very good care of you.”
“You’re just as crazy as the other one. Back off! Don’t you touch me! Don’t ever touch me!”
“Shh, stop that! Now… I don’t know about you, but I don’t like your name. ‘georgie’ sounds silly. Let’s give you a new name, okay?”
“My name was never georgie, you stupid cow! And whatever idiotic name you come up with will never be my name.”
“There’s a smart little man! Of course you hate that name. Now… what’s your name?”
“I’m not gonna tell you. I’ll never tell you anything!”
Mina smiled as though every word out of his mouth was a declaration of love, and wiped her hands on the fabric of her pants, never taking her eyes off geor— the little guy. Her little guy. She felt her cheeks contract as her smile widened, and she brought her hand closer to the cage. The new movement caught his attention, and she saw a spark of fear in his little eyes. It ignited something in her… something that made her mouth water.
“Shh, little one… don’t be afraid—”
“Afraid? I’m not afraid! Go away! Just put me outside and let me go. I’m no good for you!”
She purposefully moved her hand gently, inching toward the cage opening in slow motion. “I’m not going to put you outside, little guy. It’s too dangerous out there. You’re nothing but a little morsel for birds or neighborhood cats, or the raccoon that lives in the backyard. He’d devour you in one bite. Is that what you want?”
“I’ll take my chances. Anything but this. Anything but being taken and used and treated like I’m nothing, like garbage, like I’m not a person!”
Mina’s hand stopped midair for a fraction of a second, then continued advancing. Her loving smile never faltered. “I’m never going to treat you like garbage… but you are a mystery. Every little person my friends bought at the farm is so friendly!”
“Every little person? You mean… I’m not the only one?”
“And of course you’re a person! But you were born tiny, like all the others. You were grown in a lab so you could make someone happy.”
“I was not born tiny, you dumb, stupid fuck!”
Mina was puzzled at his last statement, and decided he was just being contrary. The little man seemed to shut down somehow, and when she touched him lightly with the tips of her fingers, he swayed in place, limp of limb and silent. She wrapped her hand around him, and felt all the fight gone from his body. It disturbed her. She brought the fist-encapsulated man to her chest, and spoke softly,
“There now, don’t worry. I’m not sure what’s wrong with you, but I’ll help you in any way I can. You’re safe with me, and I’ll never hurt you.” Her heart was pounding hard, and she was sure he could feel it beating through the thick wall of her hand. She hoped he could hear the truth of it in her words,
“I won’t abuse you or put you in a box all day long like she did. You can tell me anything, I know you don’t like me, and have no reason to trust me… but I’ve waited all my life for you, and will always protect you.”
There was a slight twitch in the hold of her palm, and Mina trembled with joy.
“Tell me your name, little man.”