It was a Wednesday morning when Evelyn first noticed her husband was shrinking. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the morning really, the two woke around their usual time, with Richard’s alarm ringing promptly at seven.
They laid side by side together in the same mattress, in the same house they had live in for five years. Richard rolled over and put his arm across Evelyn.
When Richard woke at seven every morning, he liked to be the one to wake his wife. Eve, however, had usually been awake for sometime already, as her side of the bed was closest to the window. She enjoyed the way the sun shone in the morning, waking her gently, giving her a few calm moments to herself before the day began.
Eve felt Richard’s warm breath on her neck. “Wake up,” he shook her. “Be sure not to burn my eggs this morning like you did yesterday.” For years now, Eve had been making him the same breakfast of two eggs scrambled, and one slice of whole wheat toast with just a spread of grape jam.
She listened while he got up from the bed and made his way to the bathroom. The door shut with a click of the lock and Eve sunk into their mattress. When she and Richard first picked out their mattress, Richard insisted they get one that was extra firm because of how his lower back tended to act up. Now, she could hardly tell the mattress had ever once been firm. She seemed to sink into it so that it might envelop her entire body, close right in on her, like a grave.
In the room next door, their five-year-old son, Nate, was lying awake in bed waiting to be greeted by his mother. He laid in bed staring up at the glow-in-the-dark sticky stars and planets spread all over his ceiling.
Nate was the kind of child that didn’t need much to make him happy. To Eve, he was the kind of child that radiated happiness. He had bright, blonde curls and stunning, white crooked teeth. He had said that he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. Even when his father had told him that being an astronaut was not a real goal, not something he would probably ever do, Nate asked his mother to help him make his room look like it was space, just in case he didn’t ever get there. And so his mother placed sticky stars and planets up on his ceiling so he could always fall asleep among his dreams. When Eve went into Nate’s bedroom to wake him Wednesday morning, she found him awake already, staring up into his own galaxy.
They dressed and went down for breakfast where Eve found her husband struggling to retrieve a mug from the shelf in the kitchen. Looking at her husband, Eve felt there was something different in his appearance. She examined him, contemplating what it could be. Richard was always an average-sized man. He was slim, but with defined muscles, with brown curls and bottle green eyes. Although he now seemed to have lost close to four inches of height overnight. She stood next to him and reached the coffee mug with ease. In handing it to him, she found that he was now shorter than her.
Richard also seemed to notice this change and said, “It’s those damn tall shoes you wear for work. I wish you would just wear normal shoes.”
Eve’s shoes for work barely had any heel at all, as her job was very demanding. She worked with preschool age children all day, in a school about ten minutes from their home. It required her to be on her feet a great deal of the day, and heels were simply not a practical shoe choice.
When she and Richard had first moved to Hudson to escape the busyness of New York City, she had not liked it at all. She loved the days she could spend reading in all the stores and coffee shops tucked neatly into the hectic streets of the city. She felt she could breathe there, among all that other chaos around her. But there in Hudson, with so much space around them, she felt only the chaos inside and feared it had become all consuming.
“The city is no place for a child,” Richard said. Eve had told Richard she did not want children, but three years into their marriage he gave her an ultimatum: a child or he would leave her.
“You’re almost 35 already, and soon no one else will want you,” he had said.
On Thursday morning, Eve laid in bed waiting for her husband to wake her as she did each morning. When he did, she rose before him and woke Nate.
When she went downstairs to the kitchen, she found her husband sitting at the table, with his legs swinging back and forth. He had shrunk again, to half the size of the day before.
She heard Nate’s footsteps on the stairs and watched his blonde curls bounce up and down on his head as he skipped into the kitchen. He stopped short at the sight of his father.
“Daddy’s a little boy!” Nate yelled, pointing at his father.
“It’s that damn mattress,” Richard said. “My back has been bothering me.”
“We have to go to the doctor,” Eve said.
“No doctors!” he yelled.
Eve thought it better that Richard stay in the house, so as not to cause alarm to anyone who might see him in this new state. She went to work and dropped Nate at school, hoping her husband would be feeling better by the time she returned home.
When she came home that afternoon after a long day on her feet, she called for her husband.
“Richard!” she said upon entering the house. She searched the living room, their bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen where she had left him swinging his legs earlier that same morning.
She swore she could hear him calling her name, but she searched and searched and could not find her husband anywhere. She stopped and listened as closely as she could to the faint sound of her husband. She traced the sound into their bedroom where she found her husband in the middle of their bed jumping up and down.
She screamed out in shock at the sight of him. While she had been gone during the day, Richard had shrunk again, down to nearly the size of a pen. He was flailing his arms and legs and seemed to be shouting out but she could not hear a word he was saying.
She bent her head down and tilted her ear towards his tiny body.
“Pick me up!” he was saying.
She lifted her husband’s body into the palm of her hand.
“Watch my back!” he yelled.
She held him eye level and he stood in the middle of her palm with his hands on his hips. He shuffled around a bit in her palm, leaving her with a tickling sensation.
“You really ought to moisturize more. It’s a bit rough up here,” he said.
“What happened?” Eve said.
“Nothing. I’m feeling just fine,” he said.
Eve heard the sound of the school bus pulling onto their street and tossed her husband back onto the bed.
“Hey! Careful!” he shouted, though he was no longer audible to Eve without being so close to her ear.
“Nate can’t see you this way!” she shouted at him.
She opened up the top drawer of their dresser that was lined with pairs of Richard’s socks, now twice his size. She picked him up off the bed and dropped him into the drawer.
“Where’s daddy?” Nate asked while eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and banana. He was sitting at the kitchen table, swinging his legs back and forth.
“Oh he’s fine. He had to go to the doctor for his back,” said Eve.
The next day Richard demanded to be carried around by Eve.
“Put me in your purse! You won’t even know I’m there,” he said.
And so she did. She carried him around with her, hearing the squeaks that had become his voice and feeling his pinch in her palm when she picked him up to listen.
For days Eve convinced Nate that daddy was away at the doctors and would be back soon. Eve could not decide what to do about her husband. Now that he was too small to do anything on his own, he demanded she bring him everywhere with her.
She found it difficult to do things she normally could with ease or with enjoyment, such as going to the grocery store or working with the children at school during the day.
At work, he wanted to be carried around in the pocket of her blouse, so he could talk to her throughout the day.
“This job is so easy,” he said. “I could do this.”
At the grocery store he tried to climb out of her shirt pocket and onto her, desperately trying to talk into her ear. He scratched and bit at her chest. She thought about putting him in with the grapes but didn’t want to risk anyone seeing him through the clear packaging. She thought about putting him in with the bread, but didn’t want him to climb out of the bag. Finally, she decided to plop him into her purse.
Eve couldn’t find a moment to herself, not even when she went to the bathroom. She asked Richard to have that time to herself, for her own privacy.
“You’re being too sensitive,” he said. “I am your husband.”
And even when Nate’s school announced they would be going to the Museum of Natural History for a field trip, he wanted to be placed in her purse and go along.
In the museum, Nate was quickly drawn to the galaxies exhibit. She watched her son scan the planets, carefully examining each one with his deep brown eyes.
In doing this she felt a rustling around in her purse. Her husband was attempting to climb out. Before she could stop him, he had grabbed hold of her sweater and was climbing up her shoulder. He latched onto her earlobe, pulling it tightly towards him and scratching her with his fingernails.
“He won’t ever become an astronaut,” he growled. Eve flicked at her ear and watched her husband lose his balance on her shoulder and fall back into her purse among a wad of tissues.
Eve watched Nate spin circles while looking up to the hanging exhibits around them with the wonder she hoped would never leave him. She had never seen him so happy. She imagined he would one day become an astronaut and would travel to far, far away places where the people were as happy as he was right now, and maybe one day he would even take her with him.
In the museum gift shop, Nate quickly located a rocket ship.
“It can be set off with a match,” an employee said. “But it’s not a toy.”
“Please, please, please,” said Nate.
Eve agreed to buy the rocket ship for Nate and while leaving the store felt a sharp pain in her rib cage. Her husband was using the tweezers from her purse to jab at her. She grabbed him out of her purse, opened the little door on the front of the rocket ship she had bought for Nate and shoved her husband inside. In closing the door, she felt a sense of peace.
On the way home from the store, the winter air finally broke for the season and the sun felt of Spring warmth. Eve shed her jacket and scarf like a heavy burden, and found her son doing the same.
When they returned home, Nate pleaded with his mother to set off the rocket in the front yard with him.
“Okay,” she said. “But remember it’s not a toy.”
The two set the rocket up on its stand, pointing straight up to space, and Eve went inside to retrieve a box of matches.
She came back outside to see Nate bouncing up and down with excitement. She told him to stand back and lit the end of the string. They watched in anticipation for the rocket to launch, and just as the flame reached the end of the string did Eve remember placing her husband’s tiny body inside. They watched the rocket shoot up with a final PING into the sky and then burst into tiny, unrecognizable pieces.
“Wow!” Nate hollered. He jumped up and down, clapping his hands together.