Chapter Description: When the world is too big for you, the simplest pleasures are often the best.
Midway through the break, Cassie’s Dad and I went grocery shopping. Misty Brook and the surrounding Little trailer parks all convened in the J-Swift Shopping Center; the closest thing local Littles had to a downtown. J-Swift: Where the ceilings were all only ten feet high. It was glorious.
Every store in the center was run by and catered to Littles. All food sold was unpoisoned and catered to Little preferences. All interactions and sales were done as adults trading services for money. The parking lot was littered with ramped up scooters, sidecars and pull wagons.
Growing up, my Mom told me that such places were common in countries governed by smaller folk. Their Little Town even had one. But here, just an hour outside of Oakshire, J-Swift was a cool and refreshing oasis in the middle of a towering and harsh desert.
Not even Cassie’s dad dared bring one of the Amazon sized vehicles he liked to joy ride into the parking lot. Some things were sacred; including keeping things to scale. We convoyed the three miles from Misty Brook in a small fleet of scooters and three wheelers, making sure the various storage compartments and trunks could hold everything we’d come to buy.
Bruce was taking his kid over to Gulliver’s Sweets for an ice cream cone and some candy to take home. All of the sweets were homemade and completely safe. No one ever worried about having an accident after a scoop with sprinkles at Gulliver’s.
The girls, Cassie, Michelle, and Irene were making a day of it: They were going to Cassinus and Peter’s, (a barber shop and salon that didn’t try to make Little women look like baby dolls); Young Nymph Pedicures, (where women could get their feet massaged in ways that didn’t involve ‘This Little Piggie’); and The Lady’s Dressing Room, (where nothing had frills and all hems went well below the knee).
Me? I was getting to go grocery shopping.
The Modest Proposal wasn’t anything special as far as grocery stores went, but in a weird way it was the highlight of my trip thus far. Amazons may think of grocery shopping as a menial task; something to be avoided on vacation. Vacation is for eating out and treating yourself, not buying the ingredients for Meatloaf Mondays and Taco Tuesdays. Most people on vacation would avoid grocery stores like the plague; Tweener and Little vacationers, too, if I’m being honest.
But for me, shopping was a luxury. An experience. An adventure. I never went shopping back at home. Too many tall shelves and crazy giants who might think that just because I couldn’t reach meant I needed to be picked up and helped in... other ways...with or without my consent.
I tried shopping once when we’d moved into our house in the suburbs. I was lucky that the Amazon stock boy who’d picked me up by the armpits so I could reach a humongous box of cereal didn’t think to keep carrying me. He’d asked me if I needed directions to the baby aisle. I panicked, went to the checkout line, paid for cereal, and made a new general rule: Don’t go to any Amazon store that readily sells diapers. Eating out a few times a year and bribing Tweener waitresses was about as brave as I got.
Normally, Cassie ordered everything online and had it dropped off at the doorstep. She’d gotten a security camera installed in our front door, and just waited until the coast was clear for one of us to pick something up.
It was safe. It was efficient. But it never felt normal.
This felt normal. I got to push around a cart. I could make casual eye contact with fellow shoppers and say things like “Hi,” or “Excuse me.” I could ask people who worked there what aisle the peanut butter was on and they’d just tell me!
Prices at The Modest Proposal probably cost about the same per capita, if not slightly more, but that wasn’t the point. The portion sizes were smaller; Little sized. Microwave T.V. dinners were only enough for one, no sharing required. Cuts of ham, chicken, and ground beef came in small enough portions where I didn’t have to rip open the packaging, cut them into smaller and more manageable chunks, repackage them into plastic bags and toss them in the freezer; they were already the perfect size. Even if I was paying more per unit, the convenience of every item not being a fourth of my body weight was worth it, to me.
At The Modest Proposal I could reach the top shelf. I repeat: I could reach the top shelf! You can’t put a price on the feeling of autonomy that that kind of accessibility brings. You just can’t!
“You look like you’re having fun, Clark,” Bert said to me. I ignored the bit of derision in his voice. Damn right I was having fun. I was wearing a Muffets T-shirt, I’d styled my hair using only a bit of water and my hands, and I had three days worth of stubble on my cheeks.
I had spent fifty-one weeks a year making sure that my personal presentation was flawless and beyond question. These trips to my in-laws were among the few occasions where I didn’t have to go all out for fear of being seen as ‘slovenly’ or ‘immature’. My parents had taught me to be a master of self-grooming. This week was an exercise in self-care. I wasn’t even wearing a belt! It was glorious! Gloriously, effortlessly normal!
This was a weeklong birthday present to myself.
“Take a U-Turn,” Bert said as we came out of the canned vegetable aisle. I did and had to check my fear. If we’d been anywhere but here, I’d have panicked being in the Baby Aisle. “Stuff for the grandkids,” he said, as if it needed explanation.
He started stowing packages under. It was weird seeing bottles of baby powder and oil that I could hold in one hand. It was super strange seeing diapers that wouldn’t fit me. But why would they fit me? Diapers were for babies, and I wasn’t a baby. It was kind of affirming in a way.
I picked up a couple of packages of diapers that Bert had picked out. “Lil’ Monkeez,” I read. “Size one. Eight to fourteen pounds.” I looked at the other one. “Size two. Twelve to eighteen pounds. These are way too small for Ollie”
My father-in-law threw a bigger pack in. “Those aren’t for Ollie. They’re for his baby brother or sister. He showed me the label- Size 4. 22-37lbs. “These are for Ollie.”
I twerked my mouth to the side. “I’m not a doctor,” I said. “But I wanna say those other two are a little big for a newborn.”
“We’ve got plenty of newborn diapers already,” Bert grunted. “They grow out of those real quick.”
I nodded. “Fair.”
Bert went over to the disposable training pants. “You’re still a teacher, aren’t ya?”
I laughed. “Potty training is like forty-five percent of my job some days.”
Bert waved his arm down the row of training pants. “Which one of these should I get for Ollie?”
I frowned. “Kid’s not even two. Isn’t he a little young for potty training?”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t stockpile for when he isn’t.”
“Why stockpile at all?”
Bert looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. “We’re not Amazons, Clark. We gotta be ready for our kids to grow up.”
Something clicked with me that I’d never considered before. Amazons can just go out and buy diapers for whatever Little they captured. Barring a serious weight loss or weight gain, they could keep their Little in the same size diapers their entire life and be set. Same thing for cribs, changing tables, bottles, toys, and baby clothes.
Babies grew up. Every lifestyle item purchased for them had the obvious proviso that it was to be short lived and very temporary. They’d grow out of them, not need them, or no longer be interested in them. Littles that caught the attention of a baby-crazed Amazons weren’t so lucky, they weren’t allowed to. Little parents pushed and prepped their kids to grow up. Amazons hated the thought of their kids growing up so much that they stole children who were done growing.
I pointed to a box. “That one.”
Bert frowned and picked up the box of disposable training pants. Store brand. Super generic. Super cheap. Plain white. No bright colors or cute cartoons drawn on them. The kid on the front of the box wasn’t displaying them, just regular clothes. Wasn’t even smiling but just looking straight ahead.
“Seems kind of plain,” Bert said.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s the point. If they’re all cute and colorful like a diaper, the kid will think it’s just a diaper he can pull off by himself.”
“But if he doesn’t like them, he won’t wanna wear them.”
“That’s why you introduce big kid underwear at the same time. Those are training pants. If Ollie gets good at wearing those and can keep them clean and dry, he gets to wear the fancy and colorful big boy undies.”
Bert smiled and it was totally despite himself. He seemed genuinely impressed. “So it’s like a dangling carrot in front of a horse with a stick.” He thought for a second. “What about diapers?”
I shrugged. “What about them? Ollie’s done with jarred baby food, now isn’t he? Eating ice cream? In half a year to a year he’ll be done with diapers. You get rid of the ones that fit him so that training pants and underwear are the only options.”
My father-in-law scratched his chin. “You tell that to your Amazon students’ parents?”
“The ones smart enough to listen.”
Bert laughed. Really laughed. I’m sure this is hyperbole, but I genuinely can’t remember any other time before when I’d heard the old man laugh. He actually seemed impressed with me. He put the training pants in the cart and we kept shopping.
“Why are you asking me for tips?” I asked as we rolled out of the baby aisle and into the frozen food section. “You did a good enough job with Cassie. I can’t vouch for Michelle, but Cassie’s potty trained.” I grinned like an idiot.
Bert went for the fish sticks. I went for the chicken nuggets. “Helping a kid grow up ain’t riding a bike,” he said. “It’s something you gotta practice to get good at and keep doing or else you get rusty. I’m rusty at this part. It’s why I think you’ll actually be a good father when the time comes.”
I sucked in my breath. That was both the greatest compliment Herbert Braun had ever paid me, and easily the worst topic of conversation. How did you explain to someone that his daughter doesn’t want kids and that his son-in-law was on the fence at best, himself?
Bert saved me the trouble. “I know you and Cassie don’t think you’re ready, but you are.”
My father-in-law held up his hand to silence me. “I know she’s got her reasons, but they’re not good reasons. The world ain’t fair, but not having kids because of what you think some nutty Amazon might do is letting them control you just as much as if they scooped you up and took you home to one of their nurseries. They’re still controlling your behavior with the same old threats.”
I shook my head in denial, not at what he was saying but that he was knowing to say it. “How do you know this?”
“I follow her posts on MistuhGwiffin.web. I know her handle. She don’t know mine, though.” Bert’s face was completely serious; his tone steady. My jaw dropped. “What?” he said. “You think she got her paranoia from her mother?”
I broke down laughing like a madman. Okay. Revision. Cassie and her father had more in common than just the hair. Bert stared at me until I regained my composure, and we headed to the checkout line.
“Hi!” The lady at the checkout line greeted us. “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
“We did,” Bert said. “Thank you.”
“Fantastic! Do you have a membership car-?”
“BUT I WANT BOTH!” A high pitched wail drowned out the wonderfully mundane prattle. “IT’S NOT FAIR! I WANT BOTH!” Behind us, a kid; four or five, maybe...six tops; was having a classic grocery store meltdown. In his fists he clenched onto two different types of impulse buy candy.
“You can have the peanut butter cups or the lollipop,” his mother said. “One or the other. Not both.”
“I WANT BOTH!” The kid’s wailing made the last word come out like a scream on a bumpy ride. “BOW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OWTH!”
“Martin Hill!” the lady hissed at her son. Her voice was low enough to get the kid quiet but loud enough so that I could hear her. “If you keep crying on and on like that an Amazon will think you’re a baby and snatch you up. Do you want that?”
The kid shook his head, his face turning red and snot bubbling out of his nose.
“Which one do you want?”
His mother was losing her cool. “You’re acting like a baby! You know that?! Do you want me to go and get you some diapers?! Is that it?! Do you want me to put you back in diapers like you’re a baby? Because I can!”
I felt my hands clench into fists. My ears started ringing and my temples started throbbing. Time to not mind my own business. I stepped forward and took a knee. “Hey, Martin,” I said. My voice was low, calm and friendly, just like with my students. He was a lot shorter than my typical students, but he was close to the same age.
“Excuse me!” The mother said, sounding offended.
I looked up. “I know I’m overstepping boundaries, but I think I can help.” She looked annoyed but made a motion for me to go on. “Your mother’s giving you a choice,” I said. “Isn’t that neat?”
“But I want both,” the kid said.
I nodded. “Yeah, both would be pretty cool. But think about it this way. You’re getting a choice.” His crying quieted a little. He wasn’t on board, but he was listening. “When really smart people can’t get everything they want, they make a choice. That choice makes everything they do more special.”
“Special?” He started blinking.
Almost there. “Yeah, bud. Special. When you can’t get everything you want, that makes what you can get much more special. So here’s what I want you to do. Think about the candy you want. Which candy would feel the most special if you got it right now?”
He looked at the peanut butter cups and then the lollipop. Then back. Without saying anything, he put the peanut butter cups back and held up the lollipop to his mother. “This one.”
“Then I’ll get you that one,” the mother said. She looked up at me; it was the same look that so many Amazonian parents had flashed at me over the years. “Thank you!” she mouthed.
I nodded and followed Bert. In the time it had taken me to butt in and diffuse that situation, he’d already paid for everything.
A guy who’d just finished checking out in another lane came up to me. “That was pretty good, man. Where’d you learn that?”
“Oh, y’know,” I said.
“He’s a teacher,” Bert said.
I felt my face flush and not in a good way. “Bert…” I said. I had a bad feeling about this.
“A teacher?” the stranger said. “Where?”
I looked to Cassie’s dad. “Bert, don’t!”
The old guy had heard his name chanted in warning for so many years he’d just tuned it out. “He works in the pre-kindergarten unit out there in Oakshire Elementary.”
I saw a lightbulb go off behind the stranger’s eyes. “Oakshire? Isn’t that that Amazon school?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. I froze as he spit right in my face. “Fuckin’ Helper!”
Bert’s was in front of me in a flash. He laid his hand on the stranger’s shoulder; his hand no giant’s, but plenty big. He leaned in and whispered something quiet and low. The man stood there and when Bert pulled away, he was shaking, his eyes boring holes in the ground.
“Come on, Clark.” Bert walked out. I followed him.
We walked in silence over to our little caravan of scooters and loaded up the compartments. A cooler was already packed to the gills with ice for the frozen food we’d bought. “Thanks,” I said when we were done.
“You’re welcome,” he replied. Then he asked me a question that I didn’t expect. “Why’d you talk to that kid that way?”
I gave an answer I didn’t expect. “Because we’re not Amazons,” I told him. “We don’t threaten our kids with treating them like something they’re not.”
For the second time that day, Bert smiled at me. “It’s shit like that that makes me think you’d be a great father.”
“Thanks!” I blushed. Damn. We were having a moment.
“Not as good as me, mind you.” And now it was done. “But close.”
He gave me a slap on the back hard enough to force me to exhale. “Ooof! What’d you say to that dickhole anyways?”
Bert’s face stiffened and he cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t worry about it. The girl’s are still gettin’ pretty and Bruce is still bonding with the baby. Lemme take you to The Tub.”
The Tub was the local bar.
magicformula · Aug 1, 2021Hello! I'm really enjoying your story and wanted you to know that I'm excited to experience the rest of the journey you've created here. It's great stuff, filled with its own world and parameters. I love the suspense feelings from thinking our hero had almost lost himself to the life of a baby and then the relief we feel for him when he was saved. I do wonder, though, about his own people, the other Littles, and how they may be angry at his coziness with those who unleash such terror onto his own people. Even working so closely with the classes for Littles being acclimated into infancy and babyhood. Perhaps there may be some justice in store for him, as seen through the eyes of his fellow Littles. Maybe even with his own in-laws... Thank you for writing this and for the joy it brings me and all who read it.