The Dreaded Shrinks

Jan 08 2014

At first it was imperceptible, but it must have started after his first book was published. I thought he was stooping under the pressure. He had always been a quiet man, too shy to even ask me out, and I knew that the media attention was too much for him. “I’m tired, Jane,” he said, and his eyes looked tired.

Things did not improve after his second novel, they became worse. The attention intensified. It seemed like there were photographers everywhere, spying on him, on us. And the fans seemed to lose control. Before that they had noticed us from a distance, which was inevitable, and fine. They had been determined to leave us alone, but after the second book they lost their restraint. It seemed like it was impossible to get away from them, and they wouldn’t leave him alone. They were asking for autographs, but when he signed for them they always wanted more, and it was difficult to shake them off. John was that very unusual thing: a literary superstar. He collected a crowd wherever he went and it became impossible for him to go outside.

I realised that something was really wrong. John had been taller than me, but now he was shorter. He was shrinking. For the time being I resigned from my position and we went to live in the country. It was a bad time for my team but I was becoming very worried. I took blood and tissue samples from him, telling him that I needed them for a project that interested me, but in reality it was him that I was studying. I could not bear to discuss what was happening to him, so I didn’t. I just called the best people I knew. John was not doing that well emotionally and felt harassed by correspondence. He complained that assumptions were being made about him that he didn’t believe were true. And it didn’t matter whether they were true, he said. What was supposed to matter was what he had written. It seemed as though reality mattered less and less.

After his third book, as his bank account grew to a size neither of us had imagined or knew how to be comfortable with, it would have been possible to buy just about anything, but the most talented professionals were confused. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do this again,” he said as he lay on my chest after we made love for the last time. And with a shock I admitted to myself that it was true. He had become very small, the size of a baby. I hadn’t realised how quickly he had shrunk. I had been pretending that it had been happening more slowly, but now there was no longer any point pretending. I asked him how he felt about agar jelly. “Because soon I’ll have to keep you in a petri dish, and I don’t know how else I’m going to feed you.” We laughed mirthlessly. “It’s because I’m always thinking all of these wicked thoughts,” he said. “I’ve got The Dreaded Shrinks.”

I banished the other scientists that had I had invited to stay with us with us so that we could spend our time alone, but John spent all of his time working. He said he had to finish one more book. For a while doll clothes were the right size for him, and even after that I was able to sew him tiny trousers, but by the time he finished he was dictating his work to a microphone and wrapping himself in a shred of flannel. His size seemed to stabilise briefly, but after the publication, he continued to diminish even further. We talked then about what might happen next, and we wondered whether rather than shrinking forever out of existence that he might somehow exceed that infinity of smallness beyond which he would begin to grow again inversely, like subtracting quantities into the negative. He gave his final interview to a highly sensitive microphone, and after a couple more days, I really did have him in a petri dish with a few blobs of agar. Another couple of days later I was peering at him under my highest powered microscope. He was waving up at me, and then he was gone. As though he had been a bird disappearing into the horizon, or a star fading into the dawn, I could no longer even determine the place where he had been.

Beyond exhaustion, I wandered around our home, carefully picking things up and placing them back where they had been – pens and pencils he had used and other things he had touched and left behind, his toothbrush and wristwatch. I lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling fingering his wedding ring until I closed my eyes and fell asleep without knowing, and then I dreamed about him. In my dream, he was big again, just like we had imagined, and he was in a different sort of space. He was swimming in the air like an angel or a dust mote, and two forces were fighting over him. The forces were disgusted by each other, and they were trying to come as close to destroying him as they could without each touching the other. I was afraid, but then suddenly I understood that they were benign polarities, and that they did not hate each other and they were not attacking him, but that they were dancing with him. John smiled at me and then I woke up. And I threw the petri dish in the garbage, and started to clean the house.

4 responses so far

  1. LOVE.

  2. Thanks Scout.

  3. Wat

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