by Franco Amati
I was six years old when Mom brought me in to be shrunk. She always told me, there’s no way you could remember it, Gino. Six is too young to remember stuff. But I do. I swear, I do.
“You’re just rememberin’ from the pictures we took.”
“No, I really remember, Ma. The Doc put that shot in my butt. Stuck me real good. The room smelled like lemon, and I was wearing a dress made of tissue paper.”
She just shook her head and got a certain look in her face like people get when they’re bout to cry because someone’s makin’ fun of them, but they’re tryin’ real hard not to. Or like the look people get when they’re bout to get the shits, but they know there isn’t a bathroom anywhere close by. So yeah, she just shook her head and said, “You don’t remember, baby. You don’t remember.”
What difference does it make if I remember it or not? It happened. They made me small. Then they sent me to small school. I didn’t even know exactly what happened till later when I saw my first big kid at the park. Mom wasn’t watchin’ me that close, and I strayed over to the wrong side. I saw this giant kid at the top of the slide. I climbed up and stood behind him, and he just looked at me and was like, “Hey, how old are you?”
“I’m nine,” I said.
“You ain’t nine,” he said.
“Yeah I am.”
“But you smaller than my sister, and she ain’t even three.”
I didn’t go down the slide that day. I just turned around and walked down the steps and went looking for my mom because, well, she had some explainin’ to do.
When your family don’t have enough money or in my case, when your family don’t have enough parents, the government says your kids have to turn small. Half a kid costs half the money. Half the food. Half the everything.
I heard rumors that my dad was real big. Rumors. Only rumors.
On my first day of school I got excited because I saw that my teacher was small too. Mr. Yacobi was real nice and real smart, or at least I thought he was.
One night I was waiting with my mom at the parent-teacher conference. Mr. Yacobi was talkin’ to a normal-sized parent. I heard the normal-sized mom yellin’ at Mr. Y, sayin’ stuff like, “What the hell do you even know? You don’t know blank. You’re nothin’ but a dumb blank. If you actually knew blank then you wouldn’t be teaching here.”
Mom always said, keep your grades up. Study hard as you can because one day you’ll be tested. The big folks will see all the scores you got for all the years you been in school, and they’ll decide one day, when school is over, whether or not you can turn big again.
“What happens when I turn big again?”
“Then you get to go to normal school, and we can forget all the small stuff that happened before.”
“Normal school? But you just said that’s when school’s over. You sayin’ there’s more school after that?”
“College, honey. Do as good as you can so you can go to big college. And then one day you can get a good job and meet a nice girl and have cute kids, and you won’t ever have to turn them small.”
Okay, mom. Big college sounds real great. Study hard, follow the rules, be responsible. And the thing you get to look forward to is more learning, more rules, and more opportunities to be responsible. As a kid, though, all I really heard was: you get to turn big again.
Ever since I saw that behemoth kid on the slide, I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to be big. What it would be like to see things from up high. To look down on the world instead of always having to stand on my tippy toes and stretch my neck out like crazy just so I could barely smell what the normal air smelled like.
I did as good as I could. I got the good grades. Never got in trouble. I won spelling bees and got stories in the school newspaper. The only thing that was tough for me was math. It was all that measuring and calculating that made my brain hurt. I had to study, like, ten times as long just to get a passing grade.
So it was no surprise when I was in my last semester of little high school that everything was riding on my final grade in Basic Algebra II. All I needed was a C.
It was the hardest class I ever took. To get extra help they’d pair you with other kids to motivate you to study harder, which I never understood because half the time in school when you got stuck with some idiot kid you didn’t like, the only thing you were motivated to do was to get away from the other kid.
Anyway, they paired me up with this lazy kid name Vinny O’Reilly who was kind of on the big side. In fact, he could almost pass for a normal-sized kid. He was always braggin’ that his body was too strong for the shrinkin’ juice that the doctors gave him, and his muscles rejected most of it. I think because he knew he was already sorta big, it didn’t matter to him whether he got into big college or not. So he just coasted.
I was real hyped for the final exam. I went above and beyond to study hard, even with this stupid kid who didn’t give a crap about anything. I even did his part of the homework and did all the studying exercises myself. He’d get all resentful about me doin’ everything like I was showin’ off, so we’d argue all intense-like.
Test day came, and I was nervous as hell. They handed out the test along with that scary-lookin’ paper with all the blank bubbles on it. I had my sharp No. 2 pencils and extra erasers and calculator all ready to go. My palms were sweaty. The first part of the test was all right, but then things got tricky. My brain was gettin’ tired after a while. I was all cross-eyed and could barely understand the equations.
I kept lookin’ at the clock. Most of the students finished the test early. Soon I was one of the last ones left. I looked around and saw only a few other kids and dumb-ass Vinny O’Reilly lookin’ as blank as ever with his spit-crusted mouth all open for no reason.
With just a few minutes left, the teacher called my name to get my attention. She told me and Vinny to stop working and to come up to her desk. “Give me your tests,” she said.
“But I’m not finished,” I said. O’Reilly said nothing, just handed over his stuff.
“Cheating will not be tolerated in this class. You will both receive an F for the final exam.”
“Uh–not another word from either of you. I’ll be speaking to both of your parents after school today.”
After school the teacher talked to my mom and O’Reilly’s mom. Apparently, Vinny admitted to his mom that he cheated, but he also said I was cheating too—that I was in on it the whole time. The bastard dragged me through the mud because he hated me for being all responsible and doing all the work myself.
Not another word. That’s all they kept saying when I tried to defend myself. Not another word.
I ended the year a few decimal points below the required GPA to advance to big college. Because I didn’t get in, my mom was upset with me for a long time. Disappointment hung over our entire household. It was as if the whole future of our lineage was done for. It was like I shattered the very last hope of our sad little gene pool getting into the world of the Big.
I spent that summer looking for small person jobs. After submitting a few applications here and there, I decided to stop by my old grade school. I mostly did it to remember the good times, spark up some nostalgia. It was late in the afternoon. School was already out, and the whole place was pretty empty. I walked up to Mr. Yacobi’s classroom, not expecting to find him there, but there he was at his desk with his papers, just like I always remembered him.
We caught up a little, and I told him the sad news that I wasn’t gonna get to be big.
That’s when he told me somethin’ I’ll never forget. He said, “Gino, the bigger you get, the bigger your problems are. My parents were both big, and they were terrible. Most big people are overconfident, and in their arrogance, they find ways to ruin everything. The whole reason we have to shrink poor children in the first place is because normal-sized people ruined our world and made it so there wasn’t enough to go around for everyone. If being big means you have to make other people small, then I’d rather stay the way I am and know that I’m a decent person.”
I said to him, “Do you really mean that, Mr. Yacobi? That all sounds real good, but is that the kind of idea that’s gonna help me live a happy life?”
“A happy life? No. But I do mean it.”
Franco Amati is a writer and cognitive scientist from New York. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Colored Lens, Northern Speculative, Visitant Lit, and other places. You can find more of his work at francoamatiwrites.com