David Bishop was driving to his mother’s house for dinner when he checked his cell phone and found ninety-eight messages. Every one was from his mother. After listening to the first seventeen, he discovered that the wording in every message was exactly the same. Only her inflection changed with each message, and this only slightly. Pressing some other buttons, he learned that all ninety-eight messages were sent at exactly the same time. He found this strange.
Arriving at his mother’s house, he parked and was getting out of the car when he heard a tiny voice. ‘Watch out, you oath,’ he heard, barely. Bishop looked down and saw that he was about to step on a very tiny version of his mother, roughly one ninety-eighth her usual size. With his foot hovering in the air he looked at her front yard. It was populated by many tiny versions of his mother. There were tiny mothers on the sidewalk. There were tiny mothers on the porch steps. There were tiny mothers everywhere.
‘I’m sorry,’ David said. Very carefully he set his foot on the sidewalk.
‘Don’t be so dramatic,’ said a tiny mother. ‘It happens with age.’
‘No it doesn’t.’
‘It hasn’t happened to anyone I know.’
‘How many old people do you know? It’s happened to me.’
‘Pick us up. We’ll tell you inside,’ one of David’s tiny mothers said, lifting up her arms. David stooped over and picked her up. As he walked toward the house, every tiny mother lifted her arms in the same fashion. David picked up all of them. Though they were tiny, he could only safely carry twelve at a time. Making nine trips, just to be safe, Bishop collected all ninety-eight of his tiny mothers and set them on the kitchen table in their house. They were slightly smaller then the pepper shaker.
The tiny mothers all looked up at him. Not one of them seemed happy. David couldn’t believe how frail his tiny mothers looked. Ninety-eight graying heads, ninety-eight stooped shoulders, 196 sets of crow’s feet around 196 squinting eyes — in repetition, how she’d aged was impossible to ignore.
He couldn’t leave them like this. Carefully he started putting mothers in his pockets. His jacket had six pockets; twelve tiny mothers fit in each outside pocket, eight in each inside pocket, and twelve tiny mothers fit in his deep overcoat pockets. Bishop put the remaining thirty-four in the box of a toaster he kept forgetting to return, which had been in his trunk for weeks. Some of the tiny mothers would have preferred outside pockets where they could see, while others would have preferred inside pockets, where it was warmer. None of them wanted to be in the toaster box. Bishop didn’t ask their preferences, he just put tiny mothers away as he reached for them. There was a lot of complaining. Carefully he carried the box to the car, carefully setting it on the floor in the backseat. Carefully he got into his car and then he drove home, carefully. Wendy, his wife, was paying bills at the kitchen table when he walked into the house, setting the box beside her.
‘I thought you were going to return that,’ she said. Bishop didn’t answer her. He started taking tiny mothers out of his pockets and setting them on the dining room table.
‘She seems to have split.’
‘Is she staying here?’
‘I can’t leave her like this.’
‘No. I don’t suppose you can.’
Although the mothers were tiny, they proved no easier to take care of. Each tiny mother was just as particular in her eating, sleeping, and social habits as David’s mother had been when she’d stood six foot four inches. They all wore the same dress, but had just that one dress to wear. They had no cutlery or plates to eat from and were forced to sleep on makeshift beds of Popsicle sticks and cotton.
The tiny mothers got all over the house. They would wander away and become unable to find their way back. David was constantly finding tiny mothers hanging from the heating vents or stuck knee-deep in the soil of potted plants. For some reason they especially liked the medicine cabinet. Several went missing.
The next day Wendy called David at work, asking him to come home. When he got there he found more tiny mothers standing on the kitchen table than he could count.
‘They split again.’
David watched the tiny mothers split again. Their numbers doubled, as they got doubly small.
‘What do we do?’ David asked.
‘I don’t know if there’s anything we can do.’
Standing shoulder to shoulder they covered every inch of the dining room table. The tiny mothers split again. Collectively they all raised their heads, motioning David to bend lower. He did, turning his head so his ear was almost touching the tops of their tiny heads.
‘We’re not afraid,’ they said.
‘That’s good,’ David said. He wanted to hold their hands, but they were so tiny he couldn’t even see their hands, so he held Wendy’s instead. Moments later the tiny mothers split again and then split once more after that, becoming so small David could only see them if he squinted. Walking to the window, David opened it and let in a breeze that swept across the kitchen table and picked up all the tiny mothers and carried them away.
Excerpted from The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman. Published by Madras Press, which creates individually bound short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of charitable organizations chosen by the authors. More information here: http://www.madraspress.com