Mon Petit Ami
By Sherri Cornelius
Copyright 2011 Sherri Cornelius
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I first met my tiny man while picking up toys in my son's bedroom. He was a ninja doll, about eight inches high, and spoke to me when I picked him up. "Will I go in ze box again?" he said.
I let out a squeak, dropped him and took a step back. Actually, several steps. Okay, I ran for the door. Who wouldn't?
In the doorway, I turned back. The ninja doll lay where I’d dropped it, a black melanoma against carpet the color of my son’s pale skin. I laughed. It must have been a neighbor or a car driving by or something. I stalked back, feeling silly for letting my imagination get the better of me, and snatched up the ninja.
I looked into the eyes, which were painted blue above the mask that covered the nose and mouth. He didn't speak, of course, because that had been just my imagination, yet he didn't seem inanimate, either. Did his molded plastic body feel just a little softer than before? Since I'd had no reason to pay close attention to the rigidity of the ninja before, I couldn't say for sure. But it could have been softer.
"No, it couldn't be," I said aloud.
At any rate, I couldn't bring myself to toss him into the toy box to lie among all those hard, cold toys. It wouldn't hurt if I tossed him into the stuffed animals instead. The ninja landed on Goo-goo Bear, and I went back to straightening the room.
Soon it began to irritate me, having an action figure in the area designated for stuffed animals. It totally messed up my organization system. My obsessive-compulsive disorder was mostly controlled by medication, but I still had my quirks. My husband, Adam, always said he loved my quirks, because they kept his home neat and tidy. I’ve always had a suspicion that he was OCD-by-proxy, and had married me for my housekeeping skills.
I scanned the bookcase where George's favorite dolls stood. The ninja was dressed in black, and there were a few black-clad dolls on one shelf, but none of them had masks, and they were all of better quality. Two other shelves held planes, shaded from white to gray to black, and another held racecars.
I took a deep breath, like Dr. Denman had taught me, and ran through the problem as if it were happening to someone else. How would I advise a friend to solve this quandary?
"Duh," I exclaimed, slapping my forehead. "I'll just make a new shelf."
There was a step stool under the bathroom sink that George hadn't used in the past year, and that would go nicely on top of the bookcase. As I retrieved the stool, I mulled over the unconventional idea of having a stepstool on top of a bookcase. Madness! I giggled as I slid the stool on top of the bookcase and arranged the ninja on top of it.
The ninja sat contentedly on his make-shift shelf, and as I left the room and turned off the light, I thought I heard, "Merci." But when I turned around I realized I only thought I thought I'd heard it.
The next day while George was again at school, I rearranged his toys on the shelves. He was pretty good about picking up after himself, but boys will be boys, and sometimes a Superfriend was put on the train shelf.
The ninja was lying on the floor again, and I made a mental note to talk to George about climbing on the shelves. Kids could be squashed, doing that. As I reached up to put him on his make-shift shelf, I distinctly heard, "Merci, madame, please do not put me back up zere."
This time I didn't drop him. I glanced around the room for the source of the voice, peered out the window. No cars driving by, no one in my yard. It had to be the doll, yet of course it couldn’t be. I stuck my head out into the hall and listened to assure I was indeed alone before giving the doll a shake. "Say something else."
The ninja doll obliged. "Ah, oui, I have much to say. What would you like to hear first? How ever since I awoke in zis room I have longed for escape? How I have gradually become mobile? How for ze past month I have seen your lovely face every day, and have grown to look forward to the kindness you show me?"
The lower half of his face was covered by a plain, black mask, which moved slightly but seemed firmly attached. Hm, impossible to discern whether he had a mouth under there.
The doll raised his hand to touch my face. Startled, I flung it away. I had been holding it six inches from my nose, not really listening to its words but trying to discern where the sound was coming from. A talking doll was sort of cool, but one that could move was spooky. And—wait a minute—a French accent?
The ninja lay at my feet, moving in a very human way. A Lilliputian to my Gulliver. I crouched down so I wouldn’t be towering over him, because probable insanity was no excuse to be rude.
His face mask fluttered softly with each groan. "Ma cherie, you do me injury."
“I’m sorry. This is all new to me. Here.” I gently scooped him up and sat on George’s bed. "I thought ninjas were Japanese or something. Why do you sound French?"
"I am only what you want me to be, ma cherie," he countered, looking up at me with adoring painted eyes.
I knew it. "So this is my imagination after all, huh?"
"Oh, no, this is not your imagination, my sweet, this is the manifestation of everything you have ever wanted."
"I've wanted an eight-inch toy ninja who can speak French, is that what you're saying?"
"You want a man who will cater to your every desire. One who is romantic, considerate, good with children." His gaze smoldered. "Am I not the manifestation of that desire?"
For the first time I noticed how his molded plastic muscles rippled in my hand. Flustered, I said, "What do you expect me to do with you? Are you wanting to—to eat at the table, sleep in a real bed, what? I mean, if you're becoming a real person—and you are, aren't you?—then won't you want to—" My lips were stilled by a miniature hand.
"Sh-h-h, no, mon amour, please do not fret. I want only to please you. You must go about your life, tend your husband and your wonderful leetle boy. I will be fine here." His head turned toward the sound of George coming through the front door. "Quickly, you must put me back on ze shelf. We shall meet again tomorrow."
Tiny Man had told me that first day that he was the manifestation of my desires, and it was totally true. He was everything I could wish for in a man: considerate, complimentary, demonstrative. A true companion. We got to know each other while he grew more supple every day, until he seemed human in every way. And I mean every way. Naturally, as we grew closer, physical attraction grew as well. He made up for his size by reaching places my husband didn't even know existed.
"You treat me better than anyone ever has, T.M.," I said lying in bed with him one afternoon. He never removed his clothes, even in our special times, so I assumed he couldn’t. I didn’t ask. "As crazy as it sounds, I think I'm in love with you."
"It is not crazy, my love. You are not crazy, no matter what he says."
"If Adam ever found out..."
"Do not worry about it, my darling. If Adam finds out, it will be because I have whisked you away from him."
I giggled and snuggled closer, careful not to let T.M. fall into the crack between our pillows.
What he lacked in physical size, he more than made up for in romance. Once he slipped out the doggy door—we’d given Snickers away when the dog hair became too much for me to bear—and surprised me with a tiny little purple flower from the lawn. “For you, ma cherie,” T.M. said, climbing onto the table and presenting it to me. “You are more beautiful than ze blue sky, ze yellow sun, ze flowers in ze field. I wish I could give you a whole garden, plant you there where you could be queen.” Only a weed before, the tiny purple flower took my breath away. Or maybe it was just T.M.
As I spent more and more time with him, organization systems throughout the house began to fall apart. Adam felt he had to pitch in, and as a result the towels were folded in halves instead of thirds. What's worse, I didn't care. I even went so far as to intentionally scatter a few toys around our bedroom so that Tiny Man wouldn't seem out of place lying just under the edge of the bed.
One night, I was reading before bed when Adam emerged from the bathroom and asked, "Um, are you feeling all right?"
"What?” I put down my mystery novel. “Of course, why?"
"I just noticed that the house is a little messier than usual. It's the kind of thing that would normally drive you cr—I mean, that would normally bother you." He plopped onto the edge of the bed next to me to pull on his night socks, and then stopped and held them out to me. “Look, my socks are unmatched, you’ve been squeezing the toothpaste from the top…”
"Oh, that." I closed the book without marking my place and placed it on the bedside table. "I've just been distracted with—with a new game on Facebook. I just can't stay away from it." I laughed. To my ears it sounded a bit too high-pitched.
"It's just…well, the last time you got like this we had to take you to the hospital."
The hospital. The blood drained from my face, but I pasted on a smile. That he would even think of the hospital showed that I had really let things get out of hand. Tomorrow I would set it all right. Towels would be folded in thirds, toilet paper placed in the over-hand position…and Tiny Man would have to go back on George's shelf. This last thing squeezed my heart, but I had to regain control.
Apparently I had been silent too long, because Adam continued. "I'm not saying I want you to go back, I just want to nip the problem in the bud, if there is a problem." He glanced meaningfully around the room.
I wanted to shout at Adam, Is that all you care about? but I knew I had to play it cool. I jostled him over as I swung my legs around and put my feet on the floor. "I'll clean it all up tomorrow, honey. Thanks for pointing it out." I started to get up, but a touch on my foot stopped me. Tiny Man had crept out from under the bed and was now lying with his hand reassuringly on my ankle, gazing up with painted blue eyes above the black mask. He was very good at looking plastic.
Adam followed my gaze. "That's what I'm talking about, right there." To my horror, he reached down and wrapped his hand around Tiny Man's waist. "Last week this—“ Adam gave T.M. a shake for emphasis “—never would have been allowed out of George's room, much less left lying around our bedroom."
"Don't touch him!" I snatched Tiny Man out of his hand, and Adam blinked at me. "Um, it, don’t touch it. I'll do it, darling. Let me just get these toys to George's room." I hastily gathered up the other action figures from the floor and felt Adam's eyes on me as I left the room.
George’s soft snore greeted me. Tiptoeing into the darkened room, I placed the action figures—the inanimate ones—in the toy box and turned to the bookcase. "Good night, Tiny Man," I whispered as I began to lift him to his shelf. His touch stopped me. I brought him close to my face.
He was barely visible by the indirect light from the hall, but I thought I saw a tear sparkle in his eye. "You are suffering because of me," he said in a hoarse whisper.
"No, no, darling. I'm not suffering," I said, trying to keep an eye on George and the doorway at the same time. "But what are we going to do? We can't go on like this. I mean, it's only been two weeks and look at this place."
"Tomorrow. We will remedy the situation tomorrow." He gestured and I brought him up to my cheek. "Good night, mon amie." His breath on my skin made me shiver.
"Good night, my tiny man," I replied, boosting him up onto his shelf. "Tomorrow."
I couldn't get to sleep until late. As I lay next to Adam, listening to his slow, even breaths, I turned over everything in my mind again and again. There was guilt about the affair, that's for sure, but even from this end it seemed crazy. Adam would never understand. I could never come clean.
Clean. Tiny Man would help me clean tomorrow. Together, we would set things right, and Adam would be none the wiser. There would be no hospital, no Dr. Denman. Hmm, Maybe Tiny Man would be willing to dust behind the couch for me, and under the refrigerator…after all, he is the perfect man.
I finally drifted off with the white noise of the vacuum cleaner running in my head.
"It is time."
My face was half-buried in my pillow. I turned my head slightly and opened an eye to make sure I wasn't still dreaming. For a moment all I could see was the dawn-lit room, then there was movement and Tiny Man materialized in front of my face. I jerked, and he put a finger to his ninja mask.
It was too late; my involuntary movement had stirred Adam. In a flash, Tiny Man froze, falling to the bed with doll-like rigidity. I held my breath and considered flicking the ninja onto the floor, but he blended with the shadows.
Adam peered at the clock and grunted, settling back under the covers. When his breathing settled into a slow, even rhythm, Tiny Man sat up.
"Time for what?" I whispered.
"Time to set things right, ma cherie."
"But—" I slid out from under the covers, careful not to jostle the bed, and tiptoed to the kitchen, Tiny Man in hand. I continued: "We can't start cleaning the house yet. Adam won't go to work for three hours."
Tiny Man's little painted eyebrows came together. "Clean? Why would we clean ze house?"
"We decided to set things right, so Adam wouldn't suspect us."
His laughter was low and raspy. "Oh, mon amie, you are so innocent. I thought you understood—Adam must die."
I did a double-take. "What?"
"It is ze only way you will be truly happy. Adam wants to put you away, yes?"
"He doesn't want to put me away, T.M. I have a history, a mental history, if you know what I mean. He just wants me to be happy, too." I didn’t know how true that was, but I was dealing with an apparently homicidal little ninja.
"But, I brought ze necessary tools: ze throwing stars, ze nun chucks—"
When he produced the weapons I laughed. "They're tiny. You couldn't kill a one-legged grasshopper with those things." I shook my head to get back on track. "Wait a minute, you are not going to kill Adam."
His once-painted, now-real eyes glittered in the nightlight. Where before there was uncertainty, now there was passion. "You are too close. You can not see it. I will save you, ma cherie!" Before I could react he leapt from my hand, hoisted a paring knife from the counter, and sprinted down the hall with it over his head. For a little sucker, he was quick.
"T.M., no!" I cried, racing after him. When I arrived at the bedroom door, Tiny Man was on Adam's chest, poised to plunge the paring knife into Adam’s exposed throat.
I bounded to the bed and snatched up Tiny Man. His muscles rippled as I wrestled the knife away from him and held it out of his reach.
So, I was this way, standing over my sleeping husband with a knife in my upraised hand, wide-eyed and panting, when Adam opened his eyes.
"And that's how it was, Dr. Denman. I wasn't trying to hurt my husband, I was trying to save him."
"From an inanimate object."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, Tiny Man is alive." I wanted to cry from frustration, but I knew from experience that it would only make me seem hysterical.
Dr. Denman wasn't really a meanie, he was just doing the dance. He withdrew, I pursued; he pushed, I retreated. But he threw me this time, when he added a new step in our little psycho-dance: he casually opened the desk drawer and lifted out…Tiny Man. Brilliant. "Adam got it from George," the doctor said. "He knew exactly which doll we were talking about."
I realized with horror that Tiny Man was in two pieces, broken in half at the waist. "What happened to hi—it?" He handed the doll over the desk. I hesitated.
"Your husband was distraught, and took it out on the nearest thing. Understandable, under the circumstances."
With shaking hands, I reached out. Even before my hand touched the molded plastic, I could tell there was no life in it. I peered into T.M.'s piercing ninja eyes, looking for the spark, but it was not there. Tiny Man was only a toy now.
As, I admitted, he must have always been.
When I handed the doll back to Dr. Denman, the tears spilled over. I cried for many reasons: one, I felt like an idiot; two, I felt like I was handing over my sanity. But even more than that, I cried because no matter how false my relationship with Tiny Man was, I still remembered every bit. It felt real. And it hurt like hell to see him lying in two pieces on Dr. Denman's desk.
Finally my sobs slowed enough that I could speak. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and said, "Can you make me better?"
Dr. Denman's face softened. "I think an adjustment to your medication will take care of your symptoms, but I want to keep you here for a while, just to make sure you're healthy before I send you home to your family."
"You mean to make sure I'm not a danger."
He smiled benignly. "That, too."
I went home after a week in the hospital. Dr. Denman reassured Adam that the hallucinations had been caused by an overdose in my medication. My first day home was awkward, but I threw myself into the housework. Had to set the house right though it would probably take days. I made a game out of it so little George could help. I had to make it up to him, especially. He was glad to have me home.
Adam, I wasn't so sure about. At bedtime that first night, I waited on the bed for him to come out of the bathroom. He had changed in there, hiding, I guessed, because he was angry with me. When he finally emerged, I said, "It's going to be a while before we can sleep in the same room, huh?"
"Yes, but it'll be all right. I'll be perfectly comfortable on the air mattress in George's room." He looked at me as if he might kiss me good night, but he didn't. "I'm glad you're home. This place already looks better."
Maybe I should have let Tiny Man finish the job.
I chided myself for that irrational thought. Tiny Man was a figment of my imagination, as much as that hurt. If Adam had died, it would have been by my own hand. He could be insensitive, but he didn't deserve to die. Cut, maybe. A little.
No, stop it.
Adam followed me into George’s room and went to his air mattress on the far side. George opened his eyes when I kissed him on the forehead. "Hi, Georgie. I just wanted to say goodnight." I gazed at his perfect little face, with its luscious eyelashes and cherubic cheeks, not yet touched by sorrow. What had I almost done to my baby boy? A lump rose in my throat as I pondered what might have become of him, had I allowed my delusion to continue.
"Mommy," he said, "I have to tell you something. It’s a secret."
Adam was bending over the air mattress on the other side of the room. I leaned my ear close to George's mouth. “What is it, sweetie-boy?” I asked, with my eyes on Adam.
George’s voice pulled my focus back to him. "I have a message for you."
A chill went down my back. It couldn’t be. "From whom, darling?"
My eyes darted toward Adam as I tried to keep the alarm from my voice. "What's the message?" I whispered.
"He told me to tell you…" George's face twisted as he tried to remember the words. "Ah—au revoir. Yeah, that's it. Au revoir. What does that mean, Mommy?"
I pulled back in surprise. Tears slid down my cheeks and splashed onto George’s blanket as I processed his words. “Well, Georgie—” My breath hitched, and the sound drew a sharp look from Adam before he turned back to smoothing the sheet over the mattress. His disinterest would have stung five seconds ago, but suddenly I didn’t care. In my mind, I could see Tiny Man lying in two pieces on the floor, choking out his final words as his face mask fluttered with each labored breath. Had he simply winked out of existence, or would he come back to me some day?
George was still looking up at me, brow creased, and I knew I had to pull myself together. The tears had stopped flowing, but I could still feel them on my cheeks. He had died trying to secure my happiness, the only thing he cared about. I wouldn’t let T.M.’s death be in vain.
I made my voice softer than I wanted to, for my son’s sake. “Au revoir is French, Georgie,” I said, with my eyes hard on my husband. “It means good-bye.”
It was up to me now. So where did Tiny Man stash those throwing stars?