The Tiny Man Inside Me
There is a tiny man living inside of me. I swallowed him at breakfast. A slippery thing, he was, as he slid down my throat, reminding me of the runny eggs still left on my plate, or those oysters we ate during our last good summer down at the Cape.
It was a week after you left. I sat at the kitchen table and pretended any second you would appear from our bedroom and come join me to eat. I was waiting for life to be as it was. The tiny man sat on the table, in the center, hemming a spare pair of pants with a tiny little needle and thread. He was grumpy because I would not fix his clothes, would not take care of him the way he said he needed, not wanting to since you’d left us both.
“He’s not coming back you know,” the tiny man remarked after catching me give another glimpse toward the door. “You can stop these pretend games.”
With that I picked him up and stuffed him in my mouth. It was so quick he did not have time to speak, much less try and run away. I popped him in and down, down I felt him go, with me swallowing him in one large gulp.
I’m not sure how he was able to go down so easy. Perhaps it was because he’d just bathed and his skin was still soft from the steam of the water. Or maybe it was the gel he put in his hair or the lotion he rubbed along his forearms and hands, his grooming choices becoming the lubricant for my throat. Whatever the case, down he went, and when he was settled somewhere I thought he might never escape, I let out a loud and satisfying burp.
I should not have swallowed him. I should have instead chewed him up and spit out his little bones, using their splintered fragments like toothpicks to pick his flesh from my teeth. I was worried he’d put up a fuss, fighting his way down, and I did not want bloody gums or a sore tongue, so I swallowed him down whole.
I regret this now.
The tiny man I swallowed now lives somewhere deep inside the bowels of my body. He is an angry little man, full of fiery fury that causes me indigestion.
He gets angry when I don’t do what he wants. My sleeping habits annoy him. The erratic hours disagree with his own sleep schedule. He says I roll around in my sleep and I need to stop that too. He also does not like it when I exercise, prefers me to stay as motionless as possible.
The tiny man wants a ribeye with ketchup but I eat sushi. He yells about the smell of it rotting around as the acids in my stomach try to digest it. The tiny man wants the foam of a cold beer but I sip down cartons of boxed red wine. He does not like the fizz pop of the La Croixs I drink. To spite him I chug them down by the case. My burps stifle his persistent little screams.
This little man tries to wear me down but I won’t have it. Everything with him is an impasse. Not just what I eat or drink but what I do. When I bring a rebound date home, he clamors at the movements my body makes while on top of my lover. “You’re giving me motion sickness,” the little man complains after. “You must stop.”
“Must?” I ask, remembering another time. Must was your response when I said I did not want a child. “You must want kids,” you’d said, implying that there could be no other possibility. “You must be kidding, right?” you asked when I told you I wasn’t sure I could ever be a mother.
Must? I think now. Well then.
So I bring another lover home but this one is about as exciting as a sack of potatoes. He tries, but nothing does it for me.
“God, when is this going to be over?” the little man complains and for once I agree.
My stomach gurgles. I think about pizza. “God I want a pizza,” I quietly mutter.
“Yes! Yes! Pizza! Get him off and go get a pie. Sausage!”
I’m not sure if my lover heard me or the little man but he pauses. “What’s that?” he grunts. His hot breath is on my face. “You say something?”
“Keep going,” I tell him as I dig my nails into his back. “Just keep going.”
I let my lover finish. He rolls off and then sighs deeply, feeling accomplished.
My stomach hungers again.
“How long are you planning on waiting?” I hear from the tiny man.
“You got anything to eat?” my lover asks. He gets up and goes to my kitchen, leaving me behind.
I have a habit of this. Of relenting. Acquiescing. I did it with you during all the years we were together.
I did not want the child we lost. I did not want it during the entire pregnancy, but it happened and I told myself we would make do. Even though I did not want to be a mother I believed I could be a good one. I learned to shift my desires for this life into the shape you wanted, until I convinced myself they had also been mine from the beginning.
I remember when you came home early, grinning from ear to ear. “I got a gift for us,” you said, loosening your tie. I watched as you took off your suit jacket and placed it on the kitchen table for me to pick up and hang later. You set your briefcase down. You looked at me and waited for my response.
“Well, where is it?”
“You ready? Okay.”
You went into another room and when you came back you were holding a clear little box with the little man inside. The top had pinholes in it for air. The little man sat cross-legged with his arms folded across his chest. He stared me down.
“I don’t know what this is supposed to be.”
“Look at him. He’s a tiny little man. Isn’t he cute? And he’s ours.”
“Why didn’t you just get a dog?”
The tiny man pouted at that, clearly offended, but I forced a smile and leaned down and told him how handsome he was, realizing now I had another ego to try and puff up in my spare time. The tiny man, now placated, smiled back.
“We could be happy,” you said. “This will make us happy.”
When you left me you took everything, everything except this tiny man. I woke up to see the remnants of our life together had disappeared along with the cash in my wallet.
I looked across the bed and saw the tiny man sitting on the pillow. “Well, you’ve gone and done it now,” he said, then asked me what was for breakfast.
The tiny man did not work to fix us because a tiny man does not replace a child. Yes, he too required the necessary things. We fed him and clothed him. Along with the tiny man you’d bought the tiny house and home package—a miniature house with its own furniture, miniature dinnerware for him to eat off of, miniature shirts and slacks, even a shiny pair of miniature loafers with heels that clacked across the kitchen counter as he watched me assemble his miniature food. “Clack, clack, clack!” The tiny man would stomp around, making tiny indentations on the counter I couldn’t see but feel when I ran my fingers across the laminate.
The food kits were difficult to prepare because they were tiny and my hands are large, even by human hand standards. It took patience and a magnifying glass to assemble the tiny salads and cook the tiny steaks and chop the even tinier potatoes.
“You are taking forever,” he would lament while refusing to ever help.
“You could do this, you know. You’re the one with the tiny hands.”
“How much longer?” the tiny man would grumble, ignoring my comment. He clacked his shoes once more.
“It takes as long as it takes,” I responded, ignoring him as he huffed and paced in circles.
I have to say, I did not enjoy swallowing the tiny man but I did enjoy gulping down those shoes.
The tiny man won’t shut up about the men I bring home. He does not understand the urgent longing of one body wanting another. He has lived alone in his little box and now alone inside of me. What could he understand of such a desire? How could he understand the pain of missing what he’s never known?
“You are fooling yourself,” the tiny man says, unprovoked. I don’t ask him what he means. Instead I tell the tiny man tonight I’ll do something different and it’s not until I am on my knees when he realizes what’s about to happen.
“You are not sticking that in here,” I hear him yell.
“It’s my body,” I mutter.
“Yeah, but I’m in it.”
The tiny man yells some more about consent and I tell him he wouldn’t have to consent if he would just die already, solve both of our problems, but he screams and screams. At least, that’s what I assume since whatever noise he makes is now muffled by this man’s dick in my mouth. I suck and blow until it’s over and then I gulp and swallow, swallow and gulp.
I imagine him down there. Like a slick baby seal. He runs his hands through his hair in an attempt to pick out the jellified clumps.
Blow jobs are the only thing that seems to grind his gears so I make my mouth open for business. My jaw aches but it’s worth it to imagine the tiny man’s face twisted in horror and anguish at what keeps coming.
Eventually though, even this becomes old. I thought my body would have digested him by now but he has somehow taken up residence. Like me, he refuses to let go.
I find the shop that sold the tiny man. It did not take as long as I imagined it would. Googling Tiny Man People Toys Real brought surprisingly few results. The market for tiny people, particularly tiny men, was not as large as one would believe.
The shop is actually a convenience store situated on the edge of the downtown proper. I walk straight to the counter and ask the teenager working the register about the tiny people for sale. He glanced me over and pointed to the rear of the store toward the employee bathroom.
Boxes and boxes of tiny men and women are stacked on the shelves. Inside each of the boxes is a tiny man or woman waiting to be waken up. Many of the boxes have been opened and taped back shut.
I yell at the kid at the counter. “Were some of these returned?”
“Most of them,” he says.
“If I had one would you take him back?”
He grumbles. “Not for money. If you have the box I’ll do an exchange for whatever we got in the store.”
I look around. I need some toothpaste and detergent. I think about the packages of Cheetos and condoms I could hoard in my house. They also have a two-for-one promotion on boxes of Little Debbie snack foods. I could get some Zebra Cakes while I was at it.
I’m about to leave when I see a bottle someone left next to one of the boxes. I pick it up, look at the label, and stuff it in my pocket when no one is looking.
At home, the tiny man and I have it out. I tell him I will swallow a piece of string. He can pull himself up and then I will bring him to the store.
“They said I could take you back. You would like that, wouldn’t you? I could take you back?”
“I—I don’t know. I’m damaged goods.”
“They said they’d re-wrap you up all shiny and new. You’d be just like before. Someone else could buy you and you’d have another life. A wonderful life. The best. You should take this offer.”
“What if I don’t want to leave?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know. You get used to a thing. I guess I’ve gotten used to you. Living inside here—inside you.”
I sigh. “You’re not going to ever leave.”
His silence is my answer.
The little man’s comments make me think of the way we were, you and I. We were not in love, not anymore, not for the longest time, and yet still at night we clung to each other’s bodies like lost lovers finding their way to each other in the dark. Our passion was an old habit neither of us knew how to break. We’d gotten used to believing we were in love, living lives that were filled with the approximation of love, and that had been enough. Or, at least, I thought it was.
I may not have wanted a child but I still mourn its absence. My body remembers despite my mind trying to forget. That night the tiny man hears me crying in my sleep. I wake myself up from my own sobbing. I had dreamed of the night I lost, my body’s loss, and when I opened my eyes my hands went immediately down to my underwear to feel for blood.
“What is going on out there?”
“I’m sorry I was just upset.”
“At him for leaving? That you are now alone?”
“No,” I say, suddenly irritated. “That he got the best of me and left first.”
This seems to incense the tiny man, angry that I am not pining away for my once-upon-a-time lover.
“No wonder he left you. You’re an angry, bitter woman.”
“You want to know why he left? Because he couldn’t handle what happened.”
“Okay, well, what happened?”
I don’t know how to say it. I keep thinking of your silence in the hospital room. The cool dampness of your hand as it limply held mine. I saw your face and told you to just go ahead and say what you felt. You rubbed your forehead. I watched as you stifled down the truth of your thoughts.
“Go on,” I’d pressed. “Say it.”
“You must be relieved,” you finally muttered, then took your hand away.
“We just wanted different things,” I now tell the tiny man.
“Ha! Different things. I would leave you too.”
“And yet you are still here.”
“Hrumph,” he mutters, then begins to putter around the inside lining of my body. “Hrumph, hrumph, hrumph.”
Weeks go by and the tiny man refuses to leave. He says I should just settle into this new reality but I refuse.
“You’re just a scared tiny man,” I finally yell, trying a new tactic.
“I am not.”
“Yes you are. You are scared to come out of there because what will you be? Nothing! So it’s easier to stay down there and wreak havoc but guess what? There’s nothing you can down there that I can’t take.”
“Oh, you think so?” He kicks and stomps but I am used to the pain of that by now.
“If that’s all you got I’m unimpressed,” I say.
“You underestimate me.”
I ignore him after that. He stomps some more and I hear him whimpering in frustration but it’s his own fault for not leaving. Eventually, he’s quiet and still and I think I’ve won.
It’s not until the next morning when I wake grimacing in pain. I press my hands against my lower abdomen, feeling for him.
“You’re hurting me,” I say.
He stops whatever it is he’s doing and for a brief moment relief passes through me. “I told you,” he says. “You underestimated what I could do.”
The discomfort I’m experiencing is him eating my eggs. He is chewing on one now, he says. I think of him down there wiping the smear of my eggs off the outline of his mouth.
“How did you even get down there?”
“You don’t know?” he asks, telling me about the morning I swallowed him. He asks me to remember what he was doing. I tell him he was sewing a pair of pants.
He tells me he used the needle to poke his way from my stomach while I slept. “You did not notice,” he says. I thought the pain was from another bad dream.
“Don’t worry, I stitched you right up even though I shouldn’t have. Everything is fine fine.”
He says he is going to eat my eggs one by one until I have none left. A bite here, a bite there. He hopes to agonize me with the process.
“I’ve got the time. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”
He laughs at this. Ha ha ha ha ha. It feels like a trickling itch on the inside of my skin I’ll never be able to scratch. I imagine this will be another annoyance I will have to adjust to.
“Well, what do you make of that?” he asks. He waits for my answer, believing that I will be heartbroken once my eggs are gone, once the option to no longer bear children has been taken.
He does not know why he is here.
I don’t answer. Instead, I open one of the cabinets and find the bottle stolen from the store. I pour a capful into a glass of water and let it dissolve. Like him I will take this slow. One of us will win out in the end. He believes that he will be the one but this time he has underestimated me.
I bring the glass to my mouth and gulp the drink down like I once did him. “Go on,” I say after I’ve finished. “Do what you feel you must.”
LaTanya McQueen received her MFA from Emerson College, her PhD from the University of Missouri, and is the Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. Her essay collection “And It Begins Like This” is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in October 2018.