Mr. and Mrs. Dalton were creatures of habit. Each morning, when the alarm clock trilled at 6:30 am, Mr. Dalton would descend to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, dark roast, with vanilla flavored cream on Saturdays as a treat.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Dalton made the bed, pulling the white sheets tight and tucking all the corners smoothly. On Wednesdays and Sundays, she stripped the bed and outfitted it with fresh linens, in the exact same plain white design as the previous set.
Over the years, the Daltons had become so attuned to one another that they rarely felt the need to speak out loud. They communicated with gestures and facial expressions. A smile meant thank you, a raised eyebrow was an indication of mild annoyance. A wink from across the room at a party meant it was time to leave. If Mr. Dalton went so far as to place his hand on the small of his wife’s back during dinner clean up, she dabbed perfume behind her ears and on her throat after her shower, certain that he would inch toward her side of the bed after dark.
Mrs. Dalton loved her husband very much and took great pride in the deep connection they shared. She performed her wifely duties with a graceful ease, comfortable in the knowledge that Mr. Dalton was, and always would be, a solid figure by her side. That’s why she was absolutely dumbfounded when one morning he didn’t rise from their bed at the appointed time.
Uncertain of how to proceed, the befuddled Mrs. Dalton decided to let her husband sleep in, an unheard of course of action in their home. She went downstairs and spent quite some time figuring out how the coffee maker operated. After an hour, Mr. Dalton appeared in the arch between the kitchen and living room, with a look of grave concern on his face. “Rose-Mary,” he said out loud, to Mrs. Dalton’s astonishment, “I believe I’m shrinking.” Mrs. Dalton raised both eyebrows as if to say, what on earth are you talking about, and why have you breached our perfect system of understanding by speaking to me? Incredulous, she inspected her husband, and indeed, it appeared that he’d lost at least two inches in height. Formerly, Mrs. Dalton had needed to raise her chin to meet his eyes, and now it seemed she was almost looking down on him.
In an attempt to regain normalcy Mrs. Dalton fried an egg, over-easy, and placed it next to a slice of buttered whole-wheat toast cut perfectly in two equal halves. To her dismay, Mr. Dalton pushed the plate aside and went back upstairs to bed. Things continued in this manner for three consecutive days, with Mr. Dalton, inexplicably, growing shorter, smaller even. His hands seemed tinier each time Mrs. Dalton caught a glimpse of them, like shriveling french-fries, and his feet receded two full sizes.
On the evening of that third day, after having hung listlessly about the house all afternoon and refusing to eat anything at all, Mr. Dalton met his wife’s crossed arms and tapping foot with a soulful regard. A great longing poured from his bottomless eyes, as much as to say I am profoundly unhappy, and have been for some time. As much as to say, that he felt in fact, as though he were collapsing from within, which was the cause of all this shrinking.
Mrs. Dalton spent a fitful night tossing and turning, consumed with the realization that she had misunderstood their relationship, and must therefore reconsider everything. Every nuance, every light touch, every meaningful glance was obscured now in a shroud of confusion.
By morning Mrs. Dalton’s eyes were red and puffy, her hair wild, and her silk night dress rumpled. When Mr. Dalton rose from the bed, now only the height of an eight year old boy, she watched him with a sense of unease. He went to the closet, took out his brown suitcase, and one by one packed his button down shirts and pressed trousers inside. Socks, underwear, deodorant, cologne. He turned to her and shrugged, as if to say, I’m sorry darling, but we knew this was inevitable. Mrs. Dalton, with a nod of her head, confirmed that yes, it was for the best.
In the doorway Mrs. Dalton stood in a state of semi-shock as her husband trekked down the driveway, growing taller with every step he took. His arms extended out of his light jacket, and she could see him wiggling his lengthening fingers. His spine straightened, his stride increased in distance and by the time he reached the car, he had practically regained his full height.
Once the car had disappeared around the bend, Mrs. Dalton closed the door. She smoothed her hair in an effort to calm her nerves but was overcome by a fit of giggling. As if things hadn’t been strange enough, her feet lifted off the floor. The giggles expanded inside her chest and burst forth as wholehearted laughter, and she rose higher and higher until she needed to feel her way across the ceiling to get upstairs and into her room. She laughed and laughed, and didn’t come down until lunch, after which she got dressed and called up an old school chum.
At the end of a lovely coffee date filled with intense conversation, Mrs. Dalton’s old school chum was compelled to remark, “My goodness Rose-Mary, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk so much in one sitting.” Rose-Mary, for her part, had to stifle a chuckle, just in case she started floating again.
Sara Dobbie is a fiction writer living in Southern Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Menacing Hedge, (mac)ro(mic), The Lumiere Review, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie.