By Emily Kendy
I woke up Monday morning feeling out of whack and as scrambled as a failing hard drive. A dream about fizzled love left my mind burnt out to the point where just being alive took a Herculean effort. I wasn’t going to bother getting out of bed but eventually cracked from the pressure of boredom, and extracted myself from self-loathing to take a bus into the city. I needed to rummage up a distraction.
Outside, the streets were sputtering under a lazy springtime shower. With my camera in my lap I peered through the window at the washed-out wetlands of the Downtown East Side. Rows of Asian strip malls pass by; packed to the ceilings with sushi-equipment, Japanese urns, accordion lanterns and mismatched china. Then the Happy Endings Funeral Home; which was conjoined to Vernon Dobb’s Meatpacking Factory. Where reincarnation is both ironic and delicious!
The dripping cement cityscape rushed together in one long watercolour strip of dull and I yanked the bus cord to signal a stop. Moments later, as it pulled away from the curb, exhaust farting out onto the oil slicks in the street, I tucked my camera inside my sweatshirt and sloshed towards the giant red barn.
Inside the flea market people were sweeping the tide of booths like seagulls circling scraps. Older ladies with prune faces haggled down bargains and husbands stuffed hot dogs in puffy donut-shaped mouths. Grease from generations of fast food carts dribbled from the rafters in viscous transparency. The rattle and clang of 100 voices bickering over the heaping of homemade debris created a cacophony of sweet relief. It was a perfect atmosphere for disappearing.
I was in the middle of taking one old lady’s portrait, as she slept behind her booth of doilies, when a brief movement caught the edge of my frame. I let the camera dangle around my neck and reached for what I thought was the pom-pom of a fallen tea cozy.
“Ouch! Owww, you don’t have to grab me by the hair,” came a high-pitched voice. It turned out the pom-pom was actually a head, which was attached to a very small man who was grumbling as he scissor-kicked the air in front of me.
“Sorry!” I mouthed, and quickly placed him in my open hand. He stood a half a foot high and was straddling my Life Line as he flattened down his hair with one arm, while the other protruded awkwardly at his side like an errant tree branch. “Hold still,” I told him quietly, afraid of speaking too loudly and accidentally blowing him over the edge of my fingers. With grave concentration I carefully snapped his popsicle-stick sized arm back into its socket. It was hairy like a caterpillar leg.
“Owww!” he grumbled again as he fidgeted out from under my fingers. I cupped my free hand in the space around him to disguise his existence and keep him from splattering onto the far away floor.
“Thanks,” he told me, grudgingly offering a nod. “Some kid ripped me out of my sleep earlier. Barely got away.”
“Marmion,” he said, glancing up at me with hooded lids.
I couldn’t stop staring; his features were hypnotic, like an endless darting highway line.
“Are you a magic genie?” I asked, excited by the prospect of being seconds away from obscene riches.
He snorted. “Do I look like a magic genie?”
I took in his tattered clothes and hunted expression, wrinkling my nose. “Yes?”
“I’m sure I’m not.”
“Are you for sale?” I asked.
He lifted his right leg in reply where a droopy price tag hung by a few threads of stickum to his bare foot, reading ninety-nine cents. Good deal!
“Do you mind?” It seemed polite to ask.
Marmion shrugged indifferently, he said later he knew from experience there was never really a choice but was willing to bet I wouldn’t go tossing him in mud puddles or sending him to space with ridiculous costuming to battle invincible intergalactic monsters. He was assuming a lack of imagination on my part but in the moment I was thinking only of a general companionship. I dropped him into my sweatshirt pocket and walked out of the market leaving the price tag and a Loonie on the table not bothering to wake the snoring old woman.
Outside again the dreariness suddenly took on a lighter hue, my feet tapping the sidewalk in anticipation of adventure. I felt a sudden sense of purpose with the secret treasure that was biding time in the folds of fabric.
On our first night together he chewed on a splinter of beef jerky as I took his picture. He sat on the edge of my computer, kicking his legs over the tropical fishes that bobbed across the underwater screen saver. I framed the wild cowlicks erupting from his head like knots of wood. His face was an endless source of fascination; rubber features that never seemed to settle in one particular expression, giving the impression he was wading through a million thoughts at once. He swallowed and flashed a crooked smile. With the twitch of my finger I spiraled down through the lens into the rabbit hole, holding tight to the rationalization we’d been thrust together by the design of some obscure master plan.
The next day, Tuesday, the sun came out like yesterday’s flurry had never happened, so I took Marmion to the beach. I built him a sand castle cabana beside my bathroom towel, and handed him toothpaste top pints of beer from my can while eyeing strangers aggressively when they stared. Above us, the sun melted clouds apart like chewing gum.
“Marmion what do you want out of life?” I rested my chin on my knees, staring down into his open ceiling.
He crossed his feet from a prone position on his sand couch, letting out a tiny burp that sounded like a cricket chirp. “This.”
My heart swelled. “I like being with you too.”
“What? No, I was talking about this living room, it’s killer.” He put his cup on the floor and rolled over with his back to me. “It’s so hard to find pleasantries that are just my size.”
I bit my lip and let him be, willing myself to be patient. It was going to take him time to open up. He needed time to trust, he wasn’t used to someone treating him with special care.
On Wednesday, I went to work at the toy store. During my break I browsed the aisles with vague intent until a quick succession of epiphanies led me to the checkout with a battery charged motorcycle and a skateboard Barbie. I would tell him, jokingly, that the doll could keep him company while I was working. I imagined us laughing, moving into comfortable intimacy that would lead to yet unrealized profound mutual fondness.
Later, I took pictures as he opened his gifts and after a startled laugh at the Barbie he fell silent over the bike, running his dime-sized palms across the red emblazoned flames. I was worried I’d missed the mark until he turned to gaze into the lens with an expression less shaded in skepticism. This would be our turning point, I thought. But instead of gazing at one another side by side in my bed that night, he spent the remainder of the evening crouching around every angle of his new bike as it sat hunkered down like a thoroughbred on the tile floor of my kitchen.
On Thursday when I got home he asked to take the bike out into the hallway. I stayed on the alert for opening doors or giant’s feet appearing around the corners. He drove up and down in endless circles until I went cross-eyed and had to lie down. I listened to the purring in the hall, worrying that he took my absence as a lack of interest in his new hobby.
On Friday he made his first appearance of the day at dinner, and did not speak while eating. I almost choked on my macaroni from not asking him what he was doing with his time. I needed him to break first. I needed him to want to tell me, without being asked. He’s still nervous. I was, after all, the size of Mount Everest from his perspective. I understood this could be intimidating.
On Saturday, I rolled over to greet an empty pillow with only a hollow indent in the centre like a miniature crater. A rumpled dishtowel lay crumpled in a heap at my elbow (Marmion had an aversion to the suffocating effects of bed sheets explaining by
way of his dry sarcasm, “Would you sleep in a pool?”).
“Mar?” I called out. The apartment was still, the smell of exotic spices wafting in from the apartment next door. Letting out a breath I stretched my arms over my head and pointed my toes, as the muffled sirens of an ambulance careened through the street
below. It wasn’t until after breakfast that I noticed the motorcycle was missing from its spot beside the TV. I scanned the rooms and came up empty. Not that it mattered. He wasn’t a captive, after all – I was just worried about his safety. Even if he magically
figured out a way down the stairs and out the door, a tiny man on a toy motorcycle was only going to get so far. I should have gotten him the more practical Scoobie Van. The rest of the day was spent worrying that I’d not given him enough freedom and as a
consequence he was strawberry jam on some street below. By the time I got back into bed that night, I prayed that he would come back to me.
When he did return, on Sunday morning, I forgot to be grateful. “Where were you?” I demanded, bending over and resting my hands on my knees when I spotted him crawling under the crack of the front door. He ambled forward, dirty and grinning.
“Sorry,” he said, sounding brazenly unapologetic. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to sign out.”
“A heads up would have been nice,” I replied, gritting my teeth against the rest of the sentence that went something like, “since we’re living together.” I couldn’t use that against him with so much still unknown. I retreated to the couch and sat down, deflated.
He followed me and crawled up my leg like a pro mountaineer, idling for a moment on my knee.
“You’ve got some jam,” he said, pointing towards my mouth. I wiped at the corner of my lips, self-consciously.
“You missed breakfast,” I grumbled.
He broke into his lopsided grin as he moved up my thigh, voice leveling out smooth and low, in a tone that made my stomach flip flop. “Don’t be mad…”
I was distracted by a flash of yellow behind his back: “What’s that?”
He spun away but I was able to quickly pluck a small stack of yellow sticky-notes from the back pocket of his tweed trousers. The pages were covered in strange calculations. Before I could parse the diminutive scrawls Marmion jumped up and grabbed it back, running down my leg to jump off my knee. Using the notepad as a headcushion he landed on the ground with a roll and then raced down the hall, disappearing from sight. I shook my head in awe, wondering what he was hiding. I couldn’t help myself from imagining a thrilling surprise.
That night, while fiddling with my keys in front of the apartment, I made out a faint buzzing noise coming from behind the door. It sounded like a hair dryer, or an out of tune radio. Once inside I located racket, which was emanating beneath my hope chest.
Sparks were flying out from the crack below in a tiny fireworks show. When the flicker died and the apartment fell silent I peered into the splinter of darkness. Before I could say anything the noise started again and a tiny fireball shot out into my eye.
“Ow, dammit! Marmion what is that noise? Are you using my hair dryer?”
The room dropped off into stillness again. “Patsy?”
“Marmion, what are you doing down there?” I asked, rubbing my eyelid. “You’re going to burn the apartment down!”
He appeared in a small gust of particle matter, lifting a cardboard plate from his face, where a plastic shield had been fashioned from scotch tape.
“Building a growth spurt?”
From his homemade tool belt dangled an assortment of curious appendages: a staple screwdriver, safety pin, a razor blade saw.
“Well, good to see you’re keeping busy,” I said, in an effort to be easy going.
Secretly, I was disappointed he wasn’t spending his days waiting quietly for me to get home.
He winked and disappeared under the crack again.
“So, you’re not going to tell me what you’re doing down there?”
“It’s a surprise.”
That’s all I needed to hear. Sweet validation! That night I dreamed of his hands, alternately tickling over my body and labouring under the shadows of his workshop where carefully soldered a singular ring.
On Monday morning I opened the bathroom door and nearly stepped on the Skateboard Barbie that was lying out in the middle of the floor. I realized an instant later she wasn’t actually prone but was standing up on her feet, a spaghetti string of wire sprouting half-exposed from her forehead.
“We’ve got to be quick hon-oh!” Marmion’s voice trailed off and he appeared around the corner carrying two Altoid tins that had been fashioned into suitcases, the handles made of twist ties.
“Uh, hi Patsy. This is Claire. Claire, Patsy.” Marmion seemed to think he was introducing us at a cocktail party.
“Take a picture, it lasts longer,” Claire snapped.
I turned to Marmion in confusion, hurt already dissolving like an acid tablet in a glass full of liquid fury. “Don’t tell me this is the surprise?” My voice was breaking into an uncontrollably high decibel level. “This is what you’ve been working on, Marmion? A… a robot Barbie?”
“At least I’m not an enormous cow,” scoffed Claire, folding her stiff arms across ample cleavage and giving me a once over.
I saw him shoot her a reproachful glance before he turned back to me, pursing his lips and frowning. He seemed to be having difficulty searching for the right words.
While I waited stupidly for his explanation, my bitterness intensified. “Un. Believable. After everything I’ve done for you?”
Marmion frowned, finding his voice. “What exactly have you done for me, Patsy? If you want my advice, I think you should get a cat. Maybe a few.”
I gaped at him. I was so unable to qualify the enormity of my misguided devotion, there was nothing left to do but scream. “This apartment building doesn’t allow pets!”
With pure, white-hot rage boiling over I marched towards the kitchen cupboard and rooted through cleaning supplies until I found the dust buster. Switching it on it roared to life and I dashed after them vindictively. They were quick, each wriggling underneath the door frame as I ran at them waving the vacuum out in front of me like it was a Rottweiler straining on its leash.
I flew after them into the hallway just in time to watch them mount Marmion’s motorcycle that was idling a few feet away. As I ran forward I tripped and fell face first into the carpet, momentarily knocked breathless. The vacuum whirred, spurring me on and I staggered to my feet laughing manically. I was having an out of body experience, the real Patsy watching from a distance, shaking her head at my madness. The bike disappeared around the corner at the top of the stairs and I reached it just as it was taking
flight over the staircase. Swinging the dust buster out I pushed an inch too far forward and, in what felt like slow motion, tumbled head over feet down to the landing below, narrowly missing the airborne couple with one flailing arm. The other two were spared a similar fate by a dishtowel parachute, puffing out the back of the motorcycle, that gently swept the couple onto the ground floor.
“Good luck, Patsy,” I heard Marmion say, before I blacked out.
I came to with visions of my twisted body hanging in portraits on the walls of an art gallery, showcasing the effects of delusion. Slowly I was able to focus in on the shaky-chrome surroundings of an ambulance. A nervous looking attendant with sweat beads glistening against his forehead took my pulse.
“Am I going to die?” I asked, feeling as if I might. Breathing felt like stab wounds breaking open.
The attendant laughed and raised his eyebrows, as though to suggest riding in the back of an ambulance was no big deal.
“No question that,” he said, revealing the twang of a Scottish accent. “You’ll be fine. Have a few cracked ribs, concussion likely, some bruises and scrapes. Lucky really, it coulda been much worse. Your Landlord found ya… didn’t know how long you’d been
“At the bottom of the stairs,” I finished, my heart sinking into a dull ache.
“He did want t’thank ya for taking the time to vacuum the stairs. But ya just might be more careful next time.” At this the attendant smiled, revealing a charming set of crooked teeth.
“We ‘ave a saying: It’s an ill wind that blaws naebody any guide.”
I nodded feebly, unclear whether he was speaking English but wondering if all that I had endured was to get me here to this point. I spent a quiet moment soaking up the concern in his warm brown eyes and digging deep for fresh resolve. Then, conjuring a gritty smile, I introduced myself.
Emily Kendy lives in Vancouver, BC. She has a background in journalism and spent many years freelancing for music publications in Vancouver, Toronto and California with articles published in the Globe and Mail, the Calgary Herald and Adbusters magazine. Her first novel, “What She Left Behind”, was self-published in 2008 and chronicles a year in the life of some girl (wink, wink) working for an underground music magazine in the Vancouver. She was also runner-up in SubTerrain’s 2009 Lush Triumphant Short Fiction Contest with her story, “Adelaide’s Initial Interest in Taxidermy.” Her hobbies include hugging babies and watching people in neighbouring highrises through binoculars.