At first, it doesn’t bother him because most kids are four feet eleven inches or even shorter. He gets to stand on the middle riser for class pictures in the fifth grade. By the end of middle school, he’s definitely short, but it’s okay because his mom says some people are late bloomers and he’ll probably grow in high school like crazy and since his dad and his older brother and sister are all nearly six feet tall, there’s just no way he’ll be a shrimp. Totally no way.
After sophomore year, he loses some friends to basketball, which he’s too short to play, and some to football, which he’s too skinny to play. He hates the thought of wrestling so he abandons sports and starts a D&D club instead. He listens to metal and grows his wispy hair longish and start dating one of the nerdiest girls in school, who he always thought was Amish because she wears old-timey long skirts and a braid. But it turns out she’s just into Renaissance stuff. She calls herself a wench, which he thinks is kind of weird, but she has huge boobs for a sophomore and her hair is red and pretty when it’s not in a braid. She’s also an excellent Dungeon Master.
Senior year comes and he still hasn’t grown. His mother’s dragged him to a few different doctors. They all say the same thing: He’ll certainly shoot right up his first year of college. He is tired of thinking of himself as a dormant plant. By now his former friends have forgotten they ever knew him. They call him Frosh and are delighted to find that he fits perfectly into lockers and trash cans. His girlfriend dumps him for fellow D&D club member Patel, who already takes classes at the state university and stands nearly six feet tall. Patel will be my minotaur now, she says, and that night he weeps alone in his bedroom while listening to Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals. Run for the hills, that’s what he’d like to do. But instead he packs his bags and takes the Greyhound to college.
He doesn’t shoot up in college, doesn’t even gain an inch. As everyone gets taller and taller, he feels like the Incredible Shrinking Man. He feels like he’s disappearing, like he’s more transparent every day, like soon he’ll just be a speck drifting around under beds and in dark corners. People no longer make fun of him. Now they just overlook him entirely. Even his roommate frequently forgets he’s there lying in the top bunk at night, listening as the roommate bangs the local roller derby team, one by one. Sometimes by two.
In need of money, the only job he can find involves wearing the female mouse costume at the Piece-a-Pizza Palace. What about the bear, he asks, but the manager just snorts.
Bear’s gotta be taller than the kids for Christ’s sake, the manager says.
Kids kick him in the balls all the time. He’s supposed to be a girl mouse, so he has no idea why they aim for the balls, but they always do. Sometimes they ask, hey, are you a kid? Are you a kid like me? Are you a midget? Why are you so short? They dump soda down his neck and try to push him over when he’s singing the Super Happy Birthday song.
One day he gets so pissed that he punches a little fat kid in the stomach. The little fat kid’s mom runs screaming for his supervisor, and he gets fired on the spot. Pick up your check and don’t ever show your face here again, says the manager. He steals his mouse gloves to spite the place and also as kind of a miserable souvenir. Then he heads next door to the Chinese restaurant and picks up an order of wonton soup and fried rice. The guy at the restaurant hands him the wrong change, and he argues for three minutes before finally giving up on his five dollars. Keep the tip, asshole, he says. While he’s walking across the street to his dormitory, a semi runs the light and plows right over him. The mouse gloves fly out of his backpack and land, palms-up and three-fingered, on the median. The soup is all mixed in with the bits of his head.
Jesus Christ, says the truck driver, standing with the cops looking over the bloody mess on the road. I never even saw him. I swear to god, I never even saw him.
Amber Sparks’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including New York Tyrant, matchbook, PANK, decomP, The Collagist, and Wigleaf. She lives with one husband and two beasts in Washington, D.C., and blogs at www.ambernoellesparks.com.