My husband’s weight didn’t come on gradually, gestated over a period of months. Rather I woke one morning to his belly, taut and glistening, skin straining to keep its secrets. I put my face to his stomach. “You can’t hide them from me,” I whispered to his navel. Something moved, a sharp jab against my cheek. “A mother always knows,” I said. The doctor said triplets. I asked if we could still have sex. My husband wrapped his arms around his stomach and said, “Can’t you just give me this time?” The doctor shook his head. “There is no time,” he said. “You’re full-term. We need to do a C-section straightaway.” I scrubbed my arms with orange soap, put on a blue gown and mask. I stood by my husband’s head and stroked his hair. I didn’t flinch when the cool scalpel sliced his flesh. The doctor reached into my husband’s belly and scooped out our first child. “Congratulations,” he said, “it’s a recliner.”
I looked at its tiny wrinkled fabric, at the delicate footrest no bigger than my pinky nail. I put my face to my husband’s head. “It’s leather,” I said. My husband smelled like salt and Old Spice.
The second child was a television remote. “Will it be okay?” I asked. It was so small, minuscule really. “Are its buttons completely developed?”
Two nurses whisked it away to the ICU. “I’m not going to lie to you,” the doctor said. “It doesn’t look good for its volume control, but otherwise it should pull through.” The doctor tugged at the seam he had made in my husband’s stomach. I watched his hand disappear one more time, as if it were digging to the bottom of a Kleenex box, and reappear with the third child. This one was a small man, dressed in a miniature duplicate of my husband’s favourite flannel shirt and boot cut jeans. It looked just like Phil, if only Phil were shrunken into an action-figure of himself. “It looks just like you,” I said to my husband. The doctor clutched Small Phil by his feet, one ankle between the doctor’s middle and index fingers and the other between his index finger and thumb. Just like my husband’s, Small-Phil’s right foot had six toes. With the thumb of his free hand, the doctor smacked Small-Phil across the back pockets of his jeans.
“Go ahead and try it again, you bastard,” Small-Phil cried. His voice was just like my husband’s, only smaller and tinnier.
“Healthy lungs on this one,” the doctor said.
As he stitched my husband’s stomach back up, I grasped Small-Phil in my fist and held him to my nose. He smelled like antiseptic and Old Spice. Small-Phil stuck out his tongue and licked my thumb from knuckle to joint. He looked up at me and winked his miniature eye. “Hey, Baby, wanna go all the way?” he said. I dropped him, feet first, onto my husband’s chest. Small-Phil leaned over and rested his hands in my husband’s chin cleft.
“What’s her problem?” he asked.
By September, the kids were well enough to come home and had grown to what the doctor assured us was full-size. The seat of the recliner was about the size of my palm, and the whole thing could have fit quite comfortably into a tissue box, one of those small square kinds. Small-Phil was just short of seven inches, and though his flannel shirt and boot cut jeans had grown with him, for a change I could tailor Ken doll clothes or G.I. Joe’s — you should have seen Small-Phil at Halloween; he was the fiercest little shrunken soldier you’ll ever see! The television remote had grown the most of them all and topped off at the size of my husband’s sixth toe. Proportionally it was too large for Small-Phil, who had to hold it with both hands or set it in his lap to work it. Even so it was probably the most gifted of the children; without any special programming it worked on our living room TV.
By Thanksgiving my husband, Small-Phil, and I had settled into an uncomfortable sort of routine. We had come to realize by then that, though technically there were five of us, it was hard to give too much credit to the inanimate inhabitants of our lives. The chair and remote became just conveniences, and even Small-Phil hardly seemed like offspring. He slept in a pimped-out cigar box on the nightstand on my side of the bed; he had started out on my husband’s side, but Phil had a harder time waking up in the mornings, and there had been an accident with the alarm clock and a heavy hand and a concussion. We now had to endure unannounced visits from a county social worker, and she never liked finding Small-Phil in his torn briefs, sprawled out in his brother-recliner cheering for the Patriots and drinking toothpaste caps filled with beer. We could cite his facial hair and morning wood and insist he was no child, but still it never sat well with her, and every time she would tell us through pursed lips that she needed to discuss the situation with her supervisor.
Days were no easier than nights. In the mornings my husband would wake and go to work, and I’d put on my daytime dramas as I vacuumed the carpets and dusted the chandelier. Invariably Small-Phil would use the miniature remote to change the channel to porn, and I’d yell, “Jesus, Small-Phil, forget for a minute that it’s smut and remember that it’s Pay-Per-View! Do you think Phil is made of money?” Then, when I’d change the channel back, Small-Phil would mute out the TV and go piss in the planter.
At Christmastime, I spent a fortune commissioning a tiny functional scuba set for Small-Phil. It really was more than my husband and I could afford, but I understood where Small-Phil’s angst came from. Time, for so small a creature, had to be brutally large; I thought a pastime would give him an alternative to the television and the mind games. After that, Small-Phil became a different man. He’d suit up and study the mold growing at the bottom of the iced tea jug or the minutiae of life growing in the clogged rain gutters after a storm, but in his most repetitive fantasies, he fancied himself a deep-sea diver and spent his days exploring our aquarium. He was the cutest little thing swimming through the plastic sunken ship and exploring the underwater castle. I caught him sometimes fondling the plastic mermaid, but I never said anything. The result was a blessing for all of us.
When Small-Phil was busy, I had peace and —in turn—my husband had unburned toast and regularly washed bed linens. They say that home is where the heart is, and that tiny scuba gear was the pacemaker that jolted ours back into rhythm. The rhythm of our sex life, admittedly, was slower to resuscitate. After the triplets, I first thought my husband was embarrassed by his scarred stomach, but eventually I came to realize that it was Small-Phil who threw him. Some nights we’d set Small-Phil’s cigar box up on the coffee table and tell him we thought it might be fun for him to have an evening to himself with late night television and all the Pay-Per-View he wanted, but we all knew what the ruse was. To be honest, I don’t think my husband was wrong when he accused Small-Phil of listening at the crack under the bedroom door.
And then one February morning the door didn’t latch all the way, and before my husband or I knew what was happening, Small-Phil had pulled himself up by way of the duvet and made our twosome into a threesome. The truth, even though I didn’t admit it to my husband, was that I had noticed before him — how could I not? — but with Big-Phil taking care of the inside work, so to speak, and Small-Phil working wonders on the outside, I was slow to speak up.
“What the hell are you doing?” my husband said to Small-Phil when he caught on, and Small-Phil said he just wanted to thank me, you know, for the scuba gear. My husband picked him up by the flannel collar, and I had horrible visions of Small-Phil crashing into a picture frame and the social worker with her wire-rimmed glasses taking his crumpled form in a tissue box smugly back to her supervisor. I tried to make peace, but my husband balked at being called Big-Phil (which I swear just slipped) and moved out to the couch.
For weeks this arrangement continued; for me, now, time was brutal. Small-Phil did what he could to give me a pastime until that fated Wednesday
when my husband came home early from work and found me in the bedroom with Small-Phil’s feet (all eleven toes) visible between my legs. My husband gripped Small-Phil by the ankles — one between his middle and index fingers and the other between his index finger and thumb — and out popped Small-Phil complete with scuba tank and goggles. “This is it,” my husband said. “This is where I draw the line,” and he walked Small-Phil — wriggling and squirming something fierce — to the toilet and flushed. For a moment I thought about screaming, but then I realized that Small-Phil had his scuba gear on. He had a chance, after all, so I went to the living room to get the remote and flushed that after him. I kept the recliner, though, because I figured it would make some girl with a Barbie dream house a brilliant present
someday. After he was satisfied that Small-Phil wasn’t clogging the plumbing, my husband turned to me. “What did you see in him?” he asked, and I answered truthfully.
“He was thorough,” I said, but I didn’t mean any offense by it. My husband went to the living room and sat on the couch. I followed and sat on the other end. I pulled his feet into my lap, and my husband took off his right sock. And then we played This Little Piggy:
This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy cried Whee! whee! whee!
all the way home,
And this little piggy was a genetic mutation,
but he still managed to marry well.
Jenny Arnold lives in New York and works in communications for a major book retailer. Her stories have been published or performed in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and now Canada.