Advice Thursday: February 3, 2007

DEAR ABBY: My son recently got in touch with me after almost four years of absolutely no contact. We had a falling-out years back, and neither of us could seem to put things behind us at the time and move on.

His mother (my wife) died 3 1/2 years ago, and he barely made it back for the funeral.

He called after all this time to ask me for money. It seems he has fallen on hard times and needs my support. I am not sure I am in a position financially to help him, as I am nearing retirement and concerned about my own expenses. I also feel a little resentful that after all this time, the only reason he called was for money.

I’m afraid if I don’t help him, I will lose him forever. But should I give him money as a way to keep him in my life? I am torn about the situation. I want to be a good father and help my son, but what does that mean? — UNSURE IN NEW YORK

DEAR UNSURE: If your son is without a job, help him find one if you can. But do not jeopardize your retirement. Much as one might wish it, money can’t buy love. Until you and your son iron out what went wrong in your relationship, such an investment would not bring you the return you are looking for.

Malcolm woke up, as he did most mornings, to the sound of braying. Drunken braying, if there was such a thing. An experienced person could always tell the difference between a respectable donkey and one that was in his cups. And at this hour! The birds were just warming up, broadcasting their calls out to indifferent or sleeping ears. Grey light was just beginning to ooze through the skylights. It must be–

“Four-thirty,” a voice chirped from the speaker hanging out of his kitchen wall, delicately tethered by only a few wires.

“Are you still here, asshole?” Malcolm asked, staring at the ceiling.

“I’m always here,” came the response, followed by a particularly juicy hiccup. He heard a bottle skitter across the floor, kicked by that klutz, no doubt.

Malcolm rose from the warm spot his body had made on the plastic floor, and held on to the edge of the Formica counter to steady himself. He was relieved to see there was no wet spot of any kind under or on his person this morning. He looked across the clutter on his counter–ignored paperwork, magazines, dirty mugs, food wrappers–into the living room at his visitor.

“Do you ever wonder what it’s like to sleep in your own bed, Herman?” he asked.

“I hear it’s overrated.” An annoyed ear flick, a shuffling of feet, a twiddling of the thumbs of his creepy hands. Malcolm knew what came next. “Are you giving out refills, or what?” Herman picked up last night’s mug and jiggled it at his host, who lurched forward automatically to take it.

Malcolm hunted through a few of his flimsy particle board cabinets. They were filled with mostly empty boxes of stale crackers that he didn’t remember acquiring and odds and ends like wrenches and a dented party hat from some mandatory fun.

And a stock boy vest. Malcolm could not bring himself to think of it as his stock boy vest anymore than he could think of himself as a stock boy.

The last cabinet door he opened came off in his hands. He stared at for a moment, noticing the still-attached hinges with their protruding, stripped screws, before sliding it carefully into the gap between the stove and the counter.

“Coffee,” he said. That’s what was needed here. He remembered that he’d last seen it under the sink.

“Vodka!” Herman countered from where he slumped on Malcolm’s inflatable sofa.

“Did I ever tell you that my father made coffins?” Malcolm asked. A distraction: Herman was always up for one of those. Malcolm fished the can of coffee out. The lid was gone. He wondered where the lid had gotten to. It was important for some reason…

“No, you never did,” Herman said, rolling his eyes. He grunted and rolled around on the sofa, making its rubbery surfaces squeak lewdly.

Malcolm took a deep breath. He felt the story, often told, spinning up from a deep, old place. Sometimes he wondered that he could remember events that happened more than 30 years ago better than what happened last week.

“My father learned how to make coffins from his father. He would retrieve the wood himself from the distrohub, choosing the highest grade of wood for each one. He made coffins for rich men with custom inlays and would do the carving himself. It took so long that they were often paid for years in advance.”

“And you almost took up the trade yourself….”

“I almost took up the trade myself, but Mother had other plans. ‘I see something in you, Malcolm. You’re special.” He aped a mother’s voice, but realized it wasn’t what his mother sounded like. It was more like a television mother. A nice one. Herman liked it when he did voices. It was, at one time, one of Malcolm’s talents. He’d had a few good years giving voices to animated bears and whatnot. It was easy work with a script in front of you and no need to comb your hair, if you didn’t feel like it that day.

“I hired a coffin from your father but I don’t know where it is anymore,” Herman said.

I do, Malcolm thought. He made a non-committal reply and put the coffee pot on.

“I think you should just skip to the part where you met me,” Herman said. Malcolm made for the living room to do his customary pacing while he was waiting for his coffee to finish, but was pushed back by an appalling smell Herman had made. He opened the front door instead.

Malcolm looked out his door at the courtyard before him, morning sunlight streaming through the ficuses, and saw that the streetlights beginning to snap off. The small birds that always managed to get in sang feebly in the bushes, their chirps bouncing off pillars and walls. He heard the sounds of his part of the Village waking up: bottles clanging in collection bins, whoop-whoops rolling around keeping an eye on things. Mrs. Thomson across the way yelling at her poor deaf boyfriend.

The hologram in the center of the courtyard flicked off news and onto a pop singer, shirt hanging open, wailing into a microphone. They kept fixing the imaging base and Mrs. Thomson’s boyfriend kept smashing it again. Malcolm sighed and retreated from his doorway.

Coffee. Yes, that was the thing. Malcolm poured himself a cup and waited for it to cool. It seemed like all his life was now was waiting, just like when he was a kid, before he’d had his big break.

“Something almost happened,” he said.

“Eh?” Herman said, his eyes still closed. Malcolm watched as Herman’s hands ran over his pelt and crawled over his legs, hooves kicking. He hoped that Herman had not brought fleas in again, but it was pointless to say anything. Better just to roll him out of here and have the property management fumigate.

“So Mother took me to the big city for an audition. Bright-eyed children wanted, background in tumbling ideal. That was a big week for me. Father had just decided he could trust me with the planer.” He looked at his trembling hands, untouched by manual labor. He remembered his father’s–the scarred, enlarged knuckles, palms that felt like the sandpaper he worked with.

“Then you met me,” Herman said.

“Not for a couple of years. There were the commercials, and then the Children’s Mystery Hour–”

“Friday nights, seven o’clock.”

“–And then you came as a guest star, a crossover from your medical drama–”

“Donkey Surgeon,” Herman finished. “The start of our friendship.”

“I wanted to talk about Father,” Malcolm said, picking up his coffee.

“He was a good man, which is why I had him make my coffin when I had money. The only man in the whole Southeast who made specialty coffins.”

“Final repose for unique personages.”

Malcolm sensed movement outside. A skinny fellow, barely more than a boy, framed himself in the open door.

“Mr. McKee?” He edged into Malcolm’s doorway, a darker shadow with the glow of sunrise outlining him. He hadn’t seen this boy before. He had bad teeth and those fat modern sneakers that look more like medical devices than footwear, probably provided by management if he was to run errands and messages like this.

“What is it?”

“They want you at 3 p.m. today.”

“Just me?”

The boy hesitated, raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Okay.” Malcolm nodded. The boy wasn’t moving and Malcolm stared at him, waiting.

“Mr. McKee? I saw you on Sky History. Your old show?”

“Oh yes?” Malcolm stood up a bit straighter and tugged his shirt down. He wished then he wasn’t wearing yesterday’s clothes, though the boy had no way of knowing he was.
“It was good, sir. You murdered every line.” Before Malcolm could reply, the boy retreated, leaving a streak of shadow, footfalls muffled from the lurid plastic booties he wore, and then nothing.

“Do you want to run lines?” Herman asked him, snapping him back to the room.

“For what?”

“Your appearance today.”

Malcolm shrugged. “It’s just remarks. Not lines. ‘Savings that aren’t a mystery.’ Some claptrap like that and then cut a ribbon, or pretend to cut a virtual one. What time is it?”

“The time is four fifty-three,” the dangling wall speaker said.

“I’m going to be late,” Malcolm said.

He took a large swig of his hot coffee. He felt it all the way to his stomach and he imagined it traveling in one burning bubble like some elevator down to hell. His jaw clicked as he recoiled from the pain of it. He’d be feeling that later. He pulled the stock boy vest out of the open cabinet and remembered then it had something sticky on the front, just below where his nametag was meant to go–cough syrup? No matter, on it went.

“Do you remember–”

“I don’t have time, Herman.”

“The last day of the shoot. You kids were supposed to ride me down by the river.” Malcolm stopped just outside of his doorway, impatient, not wanting to cut him off, but not wanting to swipe in late and lose some of his privileges for the week.

“Which was outside of your contract,” Malcolm said.

“It was outside of my contract, but I needed the go away money for my first wife. Ugh.”

“Do we have to do this now?” Malcolm felt himself shifting from foot to foot, antsy.

“And you slipped! You slipped off the back. Do you remember, Malcolm? And then I slipped, I guess. I panicked. I had a little bit of what they called a–”

“Drinking problem,” Malcolm said. He sat down on the small plastic square that signified what would be a foyer in a more reasonably-sized residence and stared at the cracks and ground-in dirt. He looked out to see Mrs. Thomson watering her plants as she did every morning, humming loudly and tunelessly. He often thought it was a blessing her boyfriend couldn’t hear her, ever. “I landed on my feet,” he prompted.

“And I kicked. Very humiliating. They thought they had zapped that kind of behavior right out of me. But that day I was tight as a tick. I went back to the time before–”

“When you had just one name.”

“The time is now four fifty-seven in the a.m.,” the wall speaker interrupted. Malcolm felt certain it had developed a testy tone, or was at least speaking louder.

“When I was just Pancho, Malcolm! It felt so good to kick.” He stopped then, and looked as mortified as was possible with a face that could only approximate human expressions. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say that.” He sat up partway then, leveling his head, attempting to make eye contact with Malcolm for as long as he could keep his eyes focussed.

“It’s okay,” Malcolm said.

“But then I connected with something.” Herman ran his hands over his muzzle. His horrible, crawling, superfluous hands that were a mistake, that science should never have given to him, regardless of how much the people didn’t know they badly wanted to see a donkey perform surgery on live television.

“My face. You connected with my face.” Malcolm felt his jaw begin to click involuntarily, as it did when he thought back to that day.

Eleven years old. Episode four. Jaw shattered and then rewired. He had been intervened with and then rebuilt just as Herman had, the difference being that Herman went from being a dumb animal to a star, and Malcolm went from being a rising star to being a trivia question on a quiz show. Herman was given human flesh and he was given metal plates and pins. His father out of his reach, after his mother had taken him to live in the big city to be near the television studios. Why did he never go back? He didn’t remember.

Work–he had to go to work. He stood, making himself dizzy. It was going to be a long day.

“Do you ever think about that? That was so long ago,” Herman said.

“Every day,” Malcolm said to himself, closing his door on his empty apartment behind him.

Advice Wednesdays: August 11, 2009

DEAR ABBY: My 18-year-old sister, “Cheryl,” left home abruptly a week ago. She suddenly stopped taking all her medications, shut off her cell phone and left town with her underage boyfriend. She is a delightful person who also happens to be diabetic, asthmatic and bipolar. Mom received one phone call (from a landline) mentioning that she “might” be heading toward the East Coast.

I consider my sister dangerous to herself and others because she has a history of reckless violence when she’s off her meds. My question is, how can you find someone who doesn’t want to be found when they NEED to be found? — HEARTBROKEN SISTER IN INDIANA

You know one of those nights when you stay up too late and everything starts jumping around, just out of your line of sight? This was one of those nights, except, like, it started three nights ago. We hadn’t slept, we had to keep moving.

We were in a small town so far outside of Chicago it was more accurate to say we were in the next state. I say it was small, but it had all the trappings of everywhere else in this country: strip malls, the one megamart that never closes unless there’s a quarantine. We sat in the parking lot of that megamart now, listening to the car’s engine tick and cool.

I was on my fifth burner phone and I was staring at it now, wondering who I could call, and if I should bother. I scratched at my face, knowing I was at that in between place between respectable and complete hobo. I missed four check-ins so I knew I was beyond AWOL. I hoped my last message had gotten in or I knew they’d be hunting for me as well.

I turned to the cause of all of this trouble.

“How’re you holding up?” I asked her. She sighed, fidgeted with her book, dogeared a page. She was always glued to her phone in school and in the hallways, but I had backed over it as we were leaving town. Now I knew that the fact of the matter was she just needed to be glued to something, like she didn’t trust her hands if they were unoccupied. As we drove through the nights, too dark to read, she played with rubber bands, made little origami creatures, and finger knitted string into long, useless braids.

“I’m okay,” she said. Her voice bounced off the windshield and struck my ears, making me jump a little. I realized it had been several hours since we’d spoken. Her dark hair was braided back elaborately, more of her hands’ busywork, the long part held in place by nothing that I could see, but loose bits of her bangs covered most of her eyes.

When she shifted in the passenger seat I caught the coppery, dirty smell of old blood. My father’s truck always smelled a little like it for months after the fall hunts, no matter how much he hosed it out. There’d been no time to bathe after we blew town.

“I thought I’d go in first,” I said, pointing in the direction of the megamart that was beyond my fogged windshield. “Make sure this is the right one.”

“I know this is the right one.”

“Well, let’s just–”

“Wilson.” I knew what she was going to say. “I’d like to come in.”

“It’s too–”


“Kat. There are cameras everywhere,” I reminded her.

“I’m untagged. You know I’m untagged.”

“They’re going to look for you harder since they can’t just scan you. Let me go in and check it out first.”

Kat shrugged, turned away. “My hair’s dark, I look like shit, and I’m with a strange scumbag. They won’t look twice.”

I smiled. It was true, as far as anyone knew I was a stranger. We hadn’t talked at all in school, not until that last couple of days before everything went sideways.

“Okay,” I said, while feeling it was the wrong call. I had a nagging feeling she was getting so stir crazy that if I kept telling her no this close to our goal I would come back to the car and find it empty.

The megamart’s doors made their customary hiss and suck to admit us, chattering away all the while.


“Flaxman?” she asked me.

“I dunno. My personal address is set to rotate every fifteen minutes or so,” I said, tapping my arm. “Maybe I’ll find out more at checkout.” I was looking forward to collecting my paycheck, leaving her, doing a little shopping, and getting seriously drunk a safe distance from her radius of dysfunction. Maybe a couple towns from here. Then I would sleep it off and check in with HQ to see if I was still employed.

The store, other than its announcements and talking displays everywhere, was fairly quiet. The autochecks stood idle, except for the stand nearest us. It jerked slightly, repeatedly turning what served as its head towards us, big scanners looking us over.


I ignored it. There were no people in the front of the store, which seemed unusual, but maybe the autocheck manager was doing maintenance nearby.

“Look,” Kat said, pointing at the wall just inside the door. She walked to a screen displaying a loop of a man giving every valued shopper a politician’s smile and a thumbs-up as they entered. Words coalesced over his head: Store Manager, Todd Van Buren.

“I told you this was the right place,” she said.

“I don’t see the resemblance,” I said. Their hair was the same, but at least one of them was faking it. I had covered Kat’s light hair in the bathroom of a gas station a couple of days ago.

“Well, he’s my half brother. And a lot fatter than he was a few years ago,” she said, with amusement. “He looks like his mother.”

I took a look around the store. The ceiling stretched up fifty feet, shelves towering upwards almost as high, with just a little space for the skylights. My arm twitched and I glanced at my screen reflexively; the store’s map had dropped in. It was a typical setup: government services to the right, worker housing near the back behind that, and an unlabeled area near the back where I imagined we’d find Kat’s brother.

I was itching to get moving “Do you want to take the tram back, or–”

“Let’s look around some before we go into the back,” Kat said. I agreed with her–it seemed like a good idea to get the lay of the land before we went into an area requiring higher authorization.

We started in the main area of the store, in Personal Care, avoiding the Villages for now. It was the usual squalor I’d come to expect from a megamart–malfunctioning vending screens with flickering images of giant lipsticked mouths or made up eyes. Other displays were completely shattered, jagged shreds of screen hanging out. Spills on the floor with varying levels of stickiness. One brown puddle looked like it might be cola syrup, but was so sticky it had entrapped the plastic coating of the sole of a large shoe.

“This place has really gone into the shitter,” Kat said.

“Really? This one actually looks pretty average to me.” A broken screen next to me popped and issued a small spray of sparks, making us both jump back. Kat laughed.

“Did you want to pick up some razors?” she asked.

“Yeah, maybe, if we can find them,” I said. We set off walking, passing through several aisles before getting to the shaving department.

“It’s really empty in here,” Kat said, stepping around a floor-cleaning bot that seemed to have somehow avoided the first aisle for a few months.

“I noticed that.”

A whoop-whoop rolled to the end of our aisle and turned its head towards us making its distinct siren sound. It had a stout body like an antique vacuum cleaner and a flashing light on top of its head to alert shoppers to current specials. Some of them issued discount codes or stickers for the kiddies. Others, I knew, were more like store bulls and were armed to protect against vandalism or theft.


“Oh shit,” I said.

“Don’t worry about this,” Kat said. “My brother doesn’t keep a dangerous store.” She switched to the over-enunciation you use on particularly stupid machines, just in case. “Thank you, bot, list sales.”


“Bot, call store manager,” she said, trying a new tack. I heard a noise and looked behind us; a second bot rolled up at the other end of the aisle, and gave the signature “whoop-whoop” of its siren that they were named for.

“PROTOCOL UNAVAILABLE,” the first bot said. “WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ASK YOU TO PROCEED TO THE EXIT AT THIS TIME.” The clamps it had as quasi-hands that were used to clear the aisle of debris and errant children were clicking at us menacingly.

“Wilson, what should we do?” Kat asked. I stepped between her and the bot so it couldn’t pick up what we were saying.

“You think we can just ignore it?” I asked quietly. “Do you know any other codes?” She shook her head. On our drive she’d told me stories about spending her summers in the store when she was much younger, getting to know her other side of the family. I looked around–there was nothing in the aisle to slow the bots’ progress if and when they decided to move on us.

The first bot gave its siren another couple of blasts, followed by a whooshing noise. I felt a sharp pain in my left buttcheek, and turned in circles trying to remove it. It pinned my coat and my pants to my ass so every move I made wiggled it around a little, making it more painful.

“JESUS FUCK!” I said.


“Oh my god, it darted you!” Kat said.

“Is this thing going to just annoy us until we leave?” I said.

“Probably,” Kat said. She gave me a slow blink then, and I saw one of her blue eyes drift down her cheek and give her chin a little nip. It drifted back up to its proper place on her face like a fish lazily being carried by a river’s current.

“I’ve got a plan,” I said. It took me ages to get it out, and I hoped she understood me. “Follow my lead, tell it we’re leaving.”

“Bot, we are exiting the store, thank you.”


I dropped to my knees and crawled over the cracked linoleum to the first bot. The specks in the flooring were so beautiful, flicking along like a whole school of small fish. I dove towards them. I was a majestic kestrel. They tasted of dust and bubblebath.

“I’ve got him, Kat. You run!” I wrapped myself around his rollers like a doughnut and hugged it with my whole body.

She followed me over to where I lay, bent down, and pulled the dart out of my ass. “This is your plan? To hug this whoop-whoop to death?”

“It’s foolproof,” I said. So tired. There were spots in front of my eyes, like beautiful drifting snow. They made me sleepier.

“I don’t think that was a flu shot,” Kat said. That was the last thing I heard before everything went black….

Turn to page 98 to dream about spawning herring

Turn to page 164 to have Kat feed Wilson the antidote

Turn to page 31 to change the space-time continuum and turn right at the entrance instead of left

Advice Wednesdays: February 21, 2002

DEAR ABBY: I am the other woman you rarely hear from. I had an affair with a married man and married him after he divorced his wife.

Please warn your female readers that even when an affair leads to marriage, it isn’t going to be what they expect.

My husband and I have been married nearly nine years. We have a beautiful daughter. She is the only good thing that has come out of this mess. My husband is selfish and cares only about his own needs. His ex-wife still won’t speak to me (not that I want her to), and their son barely acknowledges my existence. All I feel is guilt over breaking up their marriage and remorse for the mess I made of my life.

So, Abby, if any of your readers are dating a married man — give them this warning: Run for your life now! He may seem sweet and caring, but that is only because he likes the chase. Once he gets you hooked, you will be treated the same way he treats his present wife. If you complain, he will tell you that you “asked for it.” After all, you knew he was married. — SORRY FOR EVERYTHING IN TEXAS

This is a textbook example of what my inbox looks like day in, day out: a depressing stew of cliches from an embittered person. Most people get my form response, since there’s simply too many letters to personalize an answer for every one, and my stock reply usually includes suggesting some kind of writing therapy. This advice may seem ludicrous on its face, but I figure if they think writing to me could help them, they may be inclined to keep writing. I’d like to think I am responsible for no small percentage of little outposts in the “blogosphere.” Even if it’s just a Myspace “blog.”

But I have lifted your letter out of the dross pile because today, it resonates with me. Since you don’t actually have a question, let me ask you one: what do you think sets man apart from the animals? I like to ask people this question as an ice breaker at parties. I know the answer, but I always pretend there isn’t one. Most people will say things like, well, clothing. Or medicine. Or even the heart of your letter–infidelity.

We can make claims that animals participate in all the rituals–the expressions of our human-ness, if you will–that man holds dear and believes are unique. Infidelity is an obvious one, but I could make compelling, if slightly tortured, arguments about animals and their use of clothing, medicine, politics, rudimentary postal systems, and so on.

Alright, lest you begin to suspect I am being paid by the letter, I will out with it. What separates us from the animals is the notion that we are special. Think about it. Celebrities think they are special and it is proved to them by the number of pageviews on their particular pudenda. Your coworkers think they are special. They do not even think they are coworkers! That guy you saw on the bus one time wearing a hat in the form of a frog’s head, even he thinks he is special, as if he held some kind of patent on being a loser.

As of this writing there are about 6.5 billion humans on this planet. If everyone realized tomorrow exactly how special, how un-unique they were, you would hear the wailing sound of an entire planet’s human hearts breaking in unison. There would of course follow rioting, men raping everything in sight, and sportkillings. The fact that we’re all just basically deer in pants will be our secret, okay?

Reread your letter. Do you know how many of this flavor of confession letter I get a week? Christ. It’s like a treatise on the futility of human existence. I recommend having someone read you some Russian novels and spending less time outdoors, or failing that, leaving the thinking to the professionals.

That might have been a little harsh. I mean, even I, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” have fallen prey to thinking I was special. I, too, was once the other woman. Because of my notoriety as an internationally-acclaimed and award-winning advice columnist, it has been challenging for me in the past to have a normal dating life. I can’t just walk into the pub and grill down the street and meet the man of my dreams. I mean, I could, but I might get stepped on.

See what I did there? I think you could use a little self-deprecating humor in your situation as well.

Naturally I did what any woman would do with additional dating challenges: I logged on to the World Wide Web and I found what was the only site at the time with the mission of connecting little women with the men who adore them. There were some unsavory sections of that site that I avoided spending time on, involving relationships of a more “casual” nature and downloadable photos and “art.” No, I was looking for real, lasting love with a man who understands the specifics of my situation and was willing to prove it by building me special staircases.

Then I found Him. His profile said “divorced.” His children were grown, and of average size, having taken a big bite out of his genetics. He was a professor of Etruscan Studies, the real deal, leather elbow patches on his tweed coat. If that doesn’t send your heart racing then you and I should probably never go out for lemondrops.

After months of getting to know him, I flew to his city. On leaving the airport, I had my driver take me straight to his office at the university. My future husband had offered to meet my plane, but I demurred. I didn’t want to make a scene there; I knew if my driver opened my bespoke traveling case I would be immediately recognized.

Upon being delivered to his office and first laying eyes on him, I immediately felt this intense connection between us. I asked my driver to beat it for a couple of hours. I felt foolish and hypocritical that I had repeatedly cautioned my readers about internet romance and how it is false and dangerous, when here I was standing in front of a man I thought I knew so well. I managed to keep my tiny pants on through exactly one scotch, which he had helpfully provided to me in an antique glass thimble.

We made love then. I will avoid boring you with the lurid details, since we’ve all been there. I guess it’s a little different for me. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of people standing next to a great sequoia? Or perhaps you have stood next to one yourself. Let me say, though, it was not my first time at the giant redwood rodeo. I was not afraid. I knew I was in love.

Afterwards, as I laid out across his hands, he admired my perfect proportions and extremely toned arms. I have never had a special typewriter or keyboard made until recently, so when I work it’s a process that looks a little like cross-country skiing, or like I am using giant dialing wands. Why not multitask, has always been my philosophy.

There was a natural lull in the conversation and I knew I was getting a little sleepy from the scotch and our frenzied activity.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re married.”

I moved to be near him before the ink was even dry on his divorce papers. I spoke with his wife exactly twice. The first time was before the financial settlements were finalized, in the home where they had raised their children. I was living with him in his temporary apartment by then, and he drove me over so we two could meet. It was a kind of formal attempt to be civil, since it wasn’t like I would act in the capacity of a stepparent to their grown children. And she already knew who I was, of course, having seen my face over the column in the newspaper every morning for a dozen years.

They had been married for twenty-seven years, and I was surprised how resigned she seemed about their impending divorce. She was just under three feet tall and even managed to make a few jokes, which as I said, is a trait I always admire. I sat on the armrest of the couch, with him next to me for support, though he assured me he did not expect an emotional scene.

“Well. Good luck with him,” she said, putting her feet up on a tiny footstool with an embroidered cover that I could probably not even touch the top of without a strenuous jump. She tsked at me, and addressed my soon-to-be-husband as if I was some kind of pet or a child. “Smaller than me and famous. What a coup for you.”

As the tiniest living woman in the world, nay, in all of recorded history, it was a coup for someone who loved small women. He could do no better than me, and I believed other women posed no threat. I was his prize, his jewel. Our small, private marriage made minor headlines with the attendant puns, like “Thumbelina Marries Paul Bunyon” and other ridiculousness. Reputable publications were respectful, and we even granted People a short interview, which became a sidebar on married couples with physical compatibility challenges.

It was a happy time. I had a new book to promote and was glad to make the breakfast show circuit, which allowed me to gush about married life a little. He was traveling for work and preparing to publish a paper on some pottery fragments that had been found in the Alps, but he was set to wrap up his travels and settle in for the new school year, which was about to start.

In the midst of all of this we managed to find a small 40s bungalow and I was having it retrofitted to my specifications. Due to some childhood trauma relating to dogs, I prefer to travel on special walkways that are near the ceiling. The house had a child’s bedroom upstairs that overlooked the back garden and I did my work there, stuffing silicone in my ears to block out the hammering and sawing that went on all day long. My favorite times were when neither of us were traveling, after the carpenters had gone home for the day. We ate with a fire crackling, and I sipped claret out of one of my thimbles while I ate a tiny piece of his lambchop. We applied to adopt a child, and we thought we were in the running for a precious little boy whose young mother consistently peed clean. Our lives felt complete.

However, the honeymoon, as they say, did not last. His paper on the new Alps pottery find was accepted by a prestigious archaeological journal and published. As the bustle of the new school year turned to the tedium of winter, he was out more at nights. He was distant, distracted, unavailable for conversation behind his stacks of papers. Too tired to make love. This was a man, who, a year before, would stay up on the phone with me until two a.m. his time, chatting to me about my day or asking me to describe my tiny custom-made undergarments, his breath growing ragged on the other end of the line.

I knew he was always surrounded by excited, fresh-faced graduate assistants, both young men and women, clamoring for his attention (and probably ready to give him some as well) behind his closed office door. I tried to ask subtle questions about the physical appearance of his colleagues and mentees, and scanned the room at university cocktail parties from my perch on his shoulder, on the look out for any small women.

Again I took a path contrary to all of the sound advice I give to my readers and stand by, now more than ever, after bitter experience. I snooped. I looked through his desk at home; I “accidentally” logged on to his academic email. I was not satisfied that this lack of evidence was a true indication of his fidelity. After all, he had kept me a complete secret from his first wife.

I saw on his calendar that he had written in a regents’ dinner for that night and I hastily concocted a plan to travel to his office. Either he would be out, and I could snoop, or he would be in his office, probably not alone, and I could catch him red-handed. I had my driver bring me to the campus and let me off on a dark corner, making the excuse that I wanted to surprise my husband.

“I don’t think this is a great idea, Ms. Van Buren. What about, er….”

“Cats? Birds?” I said. “I think my biggest worry might be rats. If people are walking dogs on campus they will probably be leashed. This is for the best. Can you park nearby and I’ll call you in about an hour.” It was more of an order than a question, and my driver was always very good about doing what I asked him to.

I had a little antique walking stick that I believe was some kind of skewer or cocktail pick that I carried on rare occasions I went for a walk outdoors. I had used it as an impromptu weapon in the past and I knew how to defend myself. People were not a threat to me in an environment like a college campus because I avoided sidewalks, preferring to hike through the hidden miniature forests under the carefully-manicured shrubs. I made my way to my husband’s office, which was a short walk, and slipped in the door of the archeology building when a group of students left.

His door was ajar slightly and the light was on–had he gone to dinner and absentmindedly left things this way, or was he down the hall or in the restroom and returning shortly? No matter–I knew I could easily hide if I heard someone coming. My heart pounded in my ears and I listened intently to every sound from the corridor or outside.

I knew his drawers were on a very easy glide system, since I had given him this desk after we were married. Even I could open them. In addition to the potential peril brought about by common domestic animals, I was also vulnerable to danger in the form of drawers, cabinets, and vases. Everything in my life needed some kind of latch or release on the inside. In theory, I could starve to death in a bathtub and I took measures to make every aspect of my life safer.

I shinned myself up to his chair and desk by way of his wool overcoat. He was right-handed so I opened his top right drawer first, figuring that was where the good stuff might be. I was in the drawer sorting through a stack of receipts that he was overdue to expense when I heard his voice in the hall, low, murmuring. He closed his office door quietly and I heard his feet scuffle. Was he drunk?

Then I heard a feminine laugh, loud and large, and the unmistakable sound of compatibly-sized mouths meeting with a hungry suck and pop that disgusted me from my spy’s nest in the drawer.

“Come here,” he said to her in his low voice, heavy with desire, that I had once heard over the phone.

That was when I heard your voice for the very first time, soft, girlish, with a Texas twang. I don’t remember what you said; it doesn’t matter. I pictured your face at the last cocktail party: soft, eager, eyes bright, turned up to my husband like you were his own baby bird waiting eagerly for your next meal. I guessed he wasn’t going to stick regurgitated worms in your mouth, though.

Suddenly my drawer slammed shut and I lost my balance then as everything went dark. I bit my tongue as I went down and almost cried out. When the desk started rattling, I wish I would have cried out in pain when I had my chance. I suspected that once you were really going at it, you wouldn’t have heard me had I yelled. I waited for it to be over. I told myself that you were a phase, a fling, and that I sat at the true throne in his heart. Fat, hot tears came quickly.

And then when I heard my beloved husband tell you, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” that he loved your “monstrous vagina,” my heart broke twice. Once was for my marriage and this man I held so dear. The second break was the sound of me realizing, that I! Not even I was special. Like I said, this belief that is the real thing that separates us from the animals–it will be our secret.

P.S. Apology accepted.