July is going through an identity crisis. Temperatures aren’t record low, but they feel utterly unusual. Not as shocking as spotting a tiny man in my home, and certainly not as delightfully puzzling, that’s for sure. I’ve been trying to find little people since birth (there are pictures of me as a baby, being held by either of my parents, always looking down, searching for who knows who), so if one day I do meet a tiny man as he emerges from a small baseboard door, or my shoe, or my panty drawer (what was he doing there?!), or my cupboard, I’ll- I’ll… what will I do? I don’t know. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out. Also, long ago I considered therapy for “this”, but no more. Why destroy the precious bloom of my fantasies with mental health? Also, I don’t like pistachios. Also, I’m rewatching the World Cup games, just for fun.
* * *
Maxine shifted in her chair, looking uncomfortable. “My back hurts.”
“What happened to your back?”
“In my incredible wisdom, I decided to sit in bed so I wouldn’t fall asleep waiting for the little guy to reappear. But I invariably drift off in a terrible position for my back, and after two nights, it’s killing me.”
“Would you like me to get you a cushion? I have a heating pad in my kit that you can use for the rest of the hour.”
“No, thanks. I’ll be okay. Let’s get on with it.”
“Very well. Let’s go back to what you said about the little guy. You’re waiting for it to reappear?”
“I know how that sounds, okay? But I also know what I saw.” She wanted to add, “He’s not an ‘it’, he’s a ‘him’,” but the addition of those words to her declaration felt self-incriminating and counterproductive.
“During your last visit, you spoke of it as a product of your imagination. A hallucination brought about by stress. Has something changed?”
“No. I don’t know! I’ve been telling you for weeks that I think I’m nuts. During my visits, as you so quaintly put it, like you’re my great-aunt Gertrudis, and we’re sharing a cup of tea, and you’re telling me about the Spanish duendecitos that helped you escape Franco’s military police as they chased you through the woods.”
“The Spanish what?”
“Duendecitos. The diminutive form of ‘duendes’, Spanish for ‘elves’.”
“I see. Maxine, you seem upset.”
“Of course I’m upset! Why do you think I keep coming here? I need help. I need to stop feeling like this. I need to stop needing to find some stupid little guy that doesn’t exist! Can’t you just give me some drugs, like I asked? Just prescribe me some Ambien so I can sleep, and something that numbs me so I don’t think about him, or care about the clues he leaves!”
The therapist sat quietly this time and listened.
“Great. Now I’m talking about the clues as though they are real.”
“What do you think they are?”
“They are things I want to see. They are accidents of nature. Or things I forgot I bought.”
The therapist’s silence nudged Max on. “It’s just… if I’ve forgotten so many things, then there’s something very wrong with my memory.”
“I recall you said there have been a few things you found. A ring, a wreath, a letter written on the back of a used stamp. Have you seen more of these tiny objects?”
Max had not told her therapist the whole story, or mentioned the real number of gifts she kept in a box under lock and key; gifts she inspected almost every night as she marveled at the craftsmanship. Craftswomanship, if she was doing that to herself. Over thirty precious little tokens of… what? Friendship? Showmanship?
They felt like more than that; much more, but she refused to define that feeling. One insanity at a time, please. The first order of business was regaining her ability to sleep, which she had lost to the notion that there was a little man living in her house and making her presents and writing tiny notes for her.
“Maxine. You seem distracted.”
“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry. What was I saying?”
“I asked you about the items in your possession. You mentioned three gifts.”
No, lady. Try over thirty gifts. One for each month, one for each of my birthdays, holidays, and a condolence note when I lost my sister. But I’m never going to admit as much, and I’m certainly not going to show them to you. “Yes, that’s right. Three gifts.”
“Do you mind if I see them?”
“W-why do you want to see them?”
“I’ve heard you talk about these gifts as real, palpable objects you can touch. I’d like to offer my set of eyes if you feel comfortable showing me the objects. That way I can tell you what they seem to me.”
“Yeah, ok.” I’m showing her the crown, but I’m never showing- Shit, what’s wrong with me? She’s only trying to help! Max couldn’t help but hold back. As badly as she wanted peace and a good night’s rest, there was something she could only describe as a feeling of foreboding when she pictured spilling every secret about the events that had been taking place for two years. “I wear the cro- the thing that looks like a crown like a pendant around my neck.”
“May I see the wreath and the note as well?”
“Uh, they… the wreath fell apart, and the note did too after I handled it too much. It’s just as well. I probably just imagined it was a note.”
“That’s unfortunate. I would have liked to see them.”
“Yeah…but here’s the crown.” Max pulled a delicate chain from the front of her blouse. The crown slid slightly, a pendant so light it barely had any effect on the silver links. The therapist stood up from her own plush chair, and approached Max. She bent over her and squinted at her chest, trying to get a good look at the infinitesimal gift.
“Would you mind if I get a closer look?”
“Not at all. Look as closely as you can.”
“Would you please remove the necklace from your neck so I can look at it with my magnifying glass?” The therapist said that while walking towards her desk, which for some reason annoyed Max tremendously.
“I’d rather not”, she said as politely as she could. The therapist seemed surprised, and to Max’s shock, slightly annoyed. “Maxine, I’m only trying to help. I can’t see small things up close-”
“Then put your reading glasses back on, and that magnifying glass will really come in handy.”
“Yes, but the chain around your neck is quite short, and the light in this office is not sufficient for close inspection.”
“Then I’ll stand by the window, in direct sunlight.”
“Maxine, how can I help if I can’t do my job?” The therapist’s voice was pleasant enough, and she was smiling when she said the words, but there was a glint of anger in her eyes that she failed to hide for a fraction of a second; long enough for Max to notice.
“I’m not removing my grandma’s chain from around my neck. If you like to see the ‘object’, then get as close as you like. I don’t mind.”
“Very well”. The therapist walked around her desk, and while she unlocked a drawer and searched for her magnifying glass, Max stood up slowly–her back twinging painfully–and walked over to the window. While she she looked for the lever to open the blinds, they lifted by themselves with a soft whoosh. Max turned around and saw the therapist holding a small remote.
“Fancy”, she said, suddenly feeling uneasy. The therapist only smiled again as she moved closer to Max. She set down the remote on the window sill and held up the most ornate magnifying glass Max had ever seen. Max brushed her hair back from her shoulders, and fished out the tiny crown again. When the therapist reached for it and pinched it between her fingers, Max felt a wave of nausea hit the pit of her stomach.
“See the tiny red jewels?” She asked, when she felt the therapist’s fingers grip the crown and tug at the chain. “What are you doing? Stop!” Max’s own hand flew to the therapist’s hand, closing around it and struggling to keep it close to her chest. She looked at the therapist in disbelief, and saw a look in her eyes, a mixture of rage and desperation that made no sense.
The therapist reached for her with her free hand, and Max realized she was determined to tear the crown away from her. Fury filled her thoughts like a red curtain. She rushed forward, tackling the therapist and sending her sprawling on her back. The fall had the desired effect as the therapist’s grip loosened. Max, having toppled over her with considerable more weight in her much wider hips, rolled off the steamrolled therapist, and scrambled to her feet as quickly as she could.
“You fucker. What the hell do you think you’re doing? What’s wrong with you?” The therapist lay still on the floor, clearly conscious, a calculating look streaming from her eyes like a stock market ticker. She’s… regrouping. Fuck, I have to get out of here. Am I locked in here?
“Max, why did you attack me?” The therapist was lifting herself from the floor, and Max took a couple of steps back. “Max, stop. Please, calm down. I want to help. Why did you push me so hard?”
Max only took a few more steps away from her, too scared to look around for the door, thinking the moment she did, the therapist would rush her, but she had no choice. The moment she glanced around, she looked back long enough to see the therapist lunging toward her desk. Max didn’t wait to find out the reason, and half expected the door to be locked as she turned the brass knob. She heard it click a fraction of a second after she opened it. As she rushed out of the office, the therapist screamed in frustration, but Max ignored her. She saw no one as she ran to the main entrance and then sprinted off again, looking back at the glass and metal doors of that brand new office building, now thankful she hadn’t driven there.
My paranoia finally paid off. I didn’t give her my real address or phone number, and I paid cash. I only wish I hadn’t used part of my first name. But she can’t find me, can she? And what the fuck was that about? Why would she try to rip his crown from my neck? Fucking lunatic. Just my luck. The adrenaline pumping through Max’s body made everything look too bright, and she realized she was still running when she saw people staring at her.
She slowed down and looked around. She had no idea where she was, but she hopped on the first bus she saw. Four bus connections and one hailed cab later, she was home. She didn’t mind having taken the long way home. She didn’t always take her cell phone with her, and now she was glad she hadn’t. There was no GPS, no cell tower, no credit card trail on her.
In the dim light of one single lamp in her living room, she spoke out loud, alone, to someone not herself. For the first time in two years, she addressed the little guy that had been leaving tiny notes containing one single message, always somewhere they could be spotted easily. The notes were always clues to the location of a gift, and there was no explanation for any of the dozens of gifts in her possession.
“Well, that was a bust. I hope you’re happy. I hope you’re real. I saw you… I know it was just a glimpse, a moment, and I was blitzed beyond belief… but I know I saw you standing there, next to my shoes, polishing a scuff mark on one of them. And then you dove under the couch and I couldn’t find you no matter how hard I looked.” Max was speaking softly, affectionately, the way one might address an adorable kitten clawing his way up one’s leg.
“I tried to get some help. Mainly drugs. So I can sleep. For two years you’ve been giving me these precious little presents, and I’m grateful. I’m even grateful if it’s just another personality trapped in my head making these tiny works of art, because there’s real talent and creativity behind all that work. But I really need to sleep. I’d be very grateful if I could have enough sleep sometimes… and thoughts of you make my brain burn like it’s on fire.”
Now Max felt her exhaustion, all the adrenaline that had coursed through her like a tornado added to that devastation, and tears began to fill her eyes; however, her voice did not break. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, or if you need my help, or are recruiting me for your army of giants. If you could let me know, maybe I can get some decent shuteye.”
In the wall, in the darkness interrupted by an otherworldly source of light, the air stirred.