Every morning Charles Schmidt woke up a fairly fine figure of a man but by evening he had shrunk to less than half his original size.
Sometimes he tried to pinpoint the exact moment when this had started happening, and whether it was an overnight phenomenon or if it had crept up on him gradually. After much hard thought, he recalled a tightening sensation he had started experiencing following a dream in which his lovely young wife had been transformed into a feather duster. Not a duster of ordinary feathers, let it be said, but a concoction of flamingo pink that one would hesitate to defile with the greyness of dust.
He had woken that fateful morning with his hands grasping her ankles, trying to swing her up to the pelmets, always notoriously hard to keep clean. The withering look she had turned on him on that occasion had produced a muscular spasm of gigantic proportions. It was thereafter, he was pretty sure in retrospect, that the daily shrinkages had begun although he lacked absolute proof of the correlation. All he knew was that the midget that slid between the sheets of the marital bed at midnight awoke at seven in the morning restored to a respectable height of five foot ten inches and a slim but manly girth (trouser size thirty four), facing the innocently slumbering face of his attractive young wife.
Perhaps, after all, there was no connection. Perhaps it was his job as a lowly computer programmer that drained more than his self-respect from him each day. He had expected more when he had joined the company all those years before: he had certainly thought to rise rapidly in the organisation, to shoot upwards like a cork from a bottle of champagne. That’s how the position had been sold to him. But others had passed him out while he still wrestled daily with bits and bytes. He supposed his beautiful wife must be disappointed: she had surely imaginedthat she would be married to middle-management by now, with all the perks that went with the position (regular tickets to the circus-to the corporate hospitality box, no less; a complimentary purple three-door hatchback with whitewall tyres, acquired as part of a job lot but no less desirable for that-an emblem of the highachievers; a puppy from one of the litters endlessly propagated by the boss’s pair of shitsui-if you didn’t haveone, you were nobody).
Even before the shrinkages, Charles had felt small, answerable to higher-ups for his every move. And nowhis immediate boss-younger than himself, though balder-was starting to look askance at him for his frequent trips to the men’s room where, in the privacy of the cubicle, he had to tighten his belt notch by notch and roll up his trouser legs. The odd thing was that nobodynot his boss, nor his colleagues, nor even his own delightful wife-remarked on the phenomenon. At least, not to his face. Not even when he had to place a telephone directory on his chair before sitting down in order to be able to see the keyboard on his desk or the invariably tasty meal on the dining room table.
The other aspect of the matter that troubled Charles was that, day by day, week by week, he seemed to be shrinking more. One more notch on the belt. One more roll-up of the trousers. One more telephone directory.
Then he had another startling dream: that his delectable wife had turned into a washing machine. Only this time, when he came home from work, he was appalled to find that his dream had come true. There she stood, encased in stainless steel, merrily stuffing his soiled shirts into the open door of her belly.
After that Charles was never sure what he would find on his return. One day his wife was an electric cooker which whipped out a perfect spinach and ricotta souffle from her innards and presented it to him the moment he entered the house. Another time she was crawling around the floor, gobbling balls of fluff, old bus tickets and cake crumbs, transformed into a vacuum cleaner. On yet another occasion, she was a cappuccino machine with hot milk frothing from her mouth. Bad enough as all this was, it was made worse by the fact that when she returned to her own shape-which she did invariably each night while Charles was wrapped in slumber, recovering his own manly dimensions-she shed her domestic appliances like snakeskins so that they started to make the house very crowded indeed. At first Charles, before setting out for work and while still at full strength, would carry them out to the shed in the garden. This was unsatisfactory, however, as the shed-not large to start with and already stuffed with garden implements: a hover mower, a strimmer, shears, a rake and so on-soon filled up. Then Charles in exasperation took to simply chucking the washing machine or microwave oven or steam press or whatever into the garden itself, on the neat lawn and herbaceous borders, the rose bushes and blooming lilac bushes, even into the goldfish pond, startling the carp, until the place started to resemble nothing less than a junk yard. Charles expected a visit from the local neighbourhood watch and tidy districts committee any day and dreaded what he would have to say to them.
‘You know,’ he finally remarked to his wife one evening, as a plastic cup filled with tea from her automatic spout at the same time as her alarm went off, ‘things are going a bit far. I can’t help feeling that you’ve become a tiddly-bit over-domesticated.’
The steam suddenly stopped as she clicked off. Charles feared he had gone too far, as indeed he had. From that moment his charming wife stopped turning into household appliances-which was a good thing, of course. The disadvantage was that she no longer did anything at all around the house, so that when Charles-no taller than two foot four inches at this stage-came home from work, it was to find no more delectable dinners awaiting him. And while he got hungrier and hungrier and even started to notice with increasing dismay that he was failing to return to his full manly stature each night, his wife got fatter and fatter until she was too large even to clamber up the stairs to the marital bed. She would just flop in an armchair and stare at him with eyes like wet pebbles. Finally, she got too big for the chair and took to the couch.
What she ate was a mystery to Charles since she never went out-being too big to fit through the front doorand there was never any food in the house. Then he noticed that the rooms were starting to look emptier and once he even caught sight of screws and washers on the floor around his bloated wife’s gigantic ankles. He had his suspicions confirmed when, peering through the crack between a half-open door and its frame, he caught her snacking on a toaster. So that was it: she was eating her way cannibal-like through the appliances. After one nerve-wracking occasion when she made a lunge for him-there apparently not being anything else edible within reach-he made sure that there was always some household object handy for her, hauling them with increasing difficulty back in from the garden and shed.
There came at last the sorry evening when, weak with hunger and reduced to a height of no more that one foot ten and a half inches, Charles Schmidt could do no more. He pulled himself up the stairs, entered the bedroom, climbed on to the marital bed by means of a previously knotted sheet and then, exhausted with so much effort, lay down and died.
The house shook. Charles’ once virtually fat-free wife quivered like a huge rhubarb mousse. She hiccupped and a flat iron flew from between her lips. She hiccupped again and an electric kettle shot out. She started to laugh-not a laugh of malice or triumph but one of sheer, innocent joy, like a child’s-and between laughter and hiccups gradually all the appliances she had ever eaten piled up beside her on the floor, the last of all being a duster, with pink feathers as if plucked from the tail of a flamingo. Finally, when she was her old self again-her name was Julie, by the way, nee Bunch-she telephoned a gentleman of her acquaintance in the second-hand appliance business, who called round with his van and promptly gave her a rather large cash payment for every single one of her regurgitated objects, not omitting those piled up in the shed and garden. He even complimented her on the up-to-the-minute, state-of-the-art quality of the merchandise, to which she simply replied with a winning smile, as she shoved the bundles of fifties into her handbag. Then she shut up the house, taking only a small travelling bag in which she had placed a change of underwear and a red tee-shirt bearing the iconic face of Che Guevara. She opened the front door, took a deep breath of fresh spring air, and set off whistling down the street to enjoy a well-earned break in the sun.
And if you’re looking for a moral, there is none, nor ever was, nor ever will be. And if you’re wondering whether Julie lived happily ever after, maybe she did and maybe she didn’t, but that’s another story.