The birds weren’t cooperating, and my shrink ray was losing its charge. I’ve been telling everyone that those solar-powered outlets are exactly what every street corner needs, but even if there was one here, I wouldn’t have been able to use it. I needed more amps than a common outlet would provide.
Alice could not have picked a better day to be born – every day for the past 24 years has been sunny without a single cloud. I kept shrinking Alice and then bringing her back to normal size. The irony wasn’t lost on me. It was supposed to be a birthday present: a ride on the back of a seagull. The tide was cooperating too – nice little waves for her to swoop over.
“I can shrink you one more time, Alice.”
“Can you unshrink me one more time?”
“That’s what I meant. I meant I can complete one more shrink/unshrink cycle.”
The other part of her present was a bird saddle, something that didn’t even exist before I made one out of leather. She unwrapped that part first, and I didn’t tell her it was a horse saddle that I had modified and then shrunk, but I think she knew it, especially after she saw the shrink ray that I had wrapped like it was a present for her.
The shrink ray was not hers to keep. It was on loan, for the day, and then I would take it back and make millions shrinking luggage to fit into people’s pockets and then unshrinking it when they got to places like Paris.
She hugged me and then kissed my cheek and then she surprised me by kissing me on the mouth, that day in our apartment (that would look over the ocean if it wasn’t for a stupid wall of palm trees that I was also thinking about shrinking). I explained that she could either ride a seagull or ride a kite, but I thought she should try riding a seagull first.
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“No, I have a system.”
I told her the system was that I would shrink her and then catch a seagull and install the saddle, which had a long string that I would hold and then I would guide the seagull where I wanted it to go and she would have the ride of her life. I said other things that made her eyes go wide and sparkly. Sea spray. Sunset. Breeze in your hair. Et cetera, et cetera.
But it wasn’t working. Did you know that seagulls are hard to catch, even with a bag of Cheetos to lure them with? Did you know that they aren’t one standard size, so your seagull saddle won’t fit them? Did you know that it’s kind of scary to get on a seagull’s back and sometimes you have to modify a second saddle because it got caught on the seagull’s wings and it flew away before you could get the strings set up correctly?
I would shrink Alice, and then I would try to attach the saddle to the bird and then everything would go very wrong. And then she would usually be pretty shaken up so I would reinstate her normal size and I would hug her and she would smile and tell me that she wanted to try again.
I love her. I love her determination. I love that she is 25 and still wants to ride a seagull, like she told me she wanted when she was five. She loves me and she loves that I remember the sorts of things she told me when she was five.
Other things to love: her willingness to be part of an experiment. Her blonde hair. The way she smiles and furrows her brow when she reads something sad. How her hand feels in mine.
My shrink ray should look more science-fiction-y, I’ve decided. Right now it’s just in a white PVC pipe enclosure and you press a button and the ray shoots out. I also need to color the ray because you can’t really see it unless some mist is in between you and your shrink subject, and I wonder if that makes the mist smaller somehow.
“Want to try one more time, sweetie?”
“And then let’s get some celebratory ice cream. We can make it really large.”
“You have the best ideas.”
When I set Alice up in front of the shrink ray machine, she looks beautiful in her yellow sundress and her hat with a yellow ribbon. She is smiling and I say, “3-2-1! Happy birthday!” And then I press the button on my shrink ray.
It’s then that a flock of seagulls (another coincidence that isn’t lost on me) knock my beautiful young wife out of the way and into the water and a ship that’s pretty close to the bay suddenly gets quite a bit smaller and I lose my balance and hit my head on a rock.
When I come to, I can’t find Alice or my shrink ray and I immediately jump into the ocean, swimming out and shrieking her name. I swim for a long time, ducking my head underwater, looking for Alice, then coming back up and looking out as far as I can, looking for the PVC pipe that must have floated to the surface.
I want Alice back, and then I want my shrink ray back. I don’t need both, actually. I can have one or the other. I would rather have Alice, but maybe if I only got my shrink ray back, I could put it on the emotion setting and I could shrink all the sadness I feel inside of me, and then I could shrink every seagull I ever see as revenge for killing my wife.
But if I had Alice back we would just go sit on the beach and wait for the sun to set and hold hands, hoping the tide would bring my shrink ray back.
You should make people film reaction videos for this story. Then you could have seen my face crumple as I read.
sorry, Laura. I don't want to make you crumple.
I plugged this into http://iwl.me just because I was curious. You got David Foster Wallace. Personally, I'm hoping for a less suicidey future for you.