Long, Tall Sally

Everywhere Sally left, there remained a symphony of titters and sneers. Behind the palms of her peers, giggles appeared. In her wake, jokes were made. She was a long girl, sinuous and spindly. From the age of ten her forehead brimmed equidistant from the floor with those of teenaged men. By sixteen she towered over the drug dealers congregated in the foyer of the suburban skyscraper in which she dwelt.

Though willowy she was sturdy; a notch above robust. But her kryptonite was her loneliness. She realized not her power; for her strong hands caught only tears, for her great bear arms only gently cuddled her own rippled torso, and only the elevator took her to giddy stratospheres.

So she was oblivious to a simple fact: with a lacklustre thwack she could have disabled even the most indefatigable of her rude pursuers. Neither were they aware of their Davidith status: she looked unlike a Greek God, or biblical monster. A bookworm! She enjoyed poetry. She didn’t do the things that archetypical big badass banditas did: she didn’t smoke, nor poke, didn’t sniff glue, didn’t shoplift legal highs, not once did she smash windows, or ever break and enter, never even considered kidnapping and ransoming puppies, and she daredn’t shiv a teacher (or a policeman). She wore glasses.

In short (that is, in a way our titular Goddess is not): she wasn’t a big badass bandita. She was, dear friend, much like you were when you were a little girl: she longed to assimilate, she sought anonymity, she wanted nothing but to read poetry inconspicuously on the branch of a sycamore tree. But they wouldn’t let her.

Sometimes it seemed that every time she turned her head some missile or other would strike her forehead. This she got used to. She got used, too, to waking up to find the neighbourhood boys had snuck into her bedroom and filled her ears with potatoes. What she never got used to was the loneliness. Kids aren’t brave, she told herself. Sure, they are brave enough to come out as homosexual, or take enormous risks with their own lives for almost no return, but she never met the child brave enough to befriend a tall, bookish girl.

So, like many of us intellectuals, she spent her childhood in the midst of deep sad sighs, and she waited for the freedom and acceptance that would inevitably come with adulthood. And then at last the day came, and she bounced in earth shuddering stomps of trepidatious glee to her English Literature lecture, clutching a new Moleskin notebook to her chest, with the entire year’s reading bought and in her satchel.

She walked up the aisle, eyeing spots to perch, but the hall was already busy. She saw her fellow scholars, sitting a space apart from each other, playing with their mobile phones. But nobody would meet her eye, much less budge along to let her in. Up and down the stairs she went, looking for a display of kindness. And then when the professor said, ‘will the people on the first row please bunch up to make space for our late-coming leviathan; no, that clearly won’t do, you’re really going to have to squeeze,’ she had had enough and out she stormed, a symphony of titters and sneers behind her.

And so she learned that adulthood was no panacea, and even lovers of literature (but not you dear reader, not you) are often as rotten a bunch of bullies as its writers (who she knew from her autodidacticism to be misanthropes and torturers). In short, she was on course to become one herself: a writer!

But first she had to become a misanthrope, and this came naturally. She struggled through a year of university: a year of no boyfriends, of intercepting a furtive stares (gawks), of being laughed at, of not being listened to, of being just a great big, loud-taking, deep-voice, big boned mega-lump hyper-curiosity. She was no longer certain of her identity. And I mean this in the most basic sense: she wasn’t sure if she was the same species as anyone else on the planet at this point.

She spoke just like the humans (okay, it’s fair to say: louder and deeper, but essentially the same), and she felt the same pain as them, and she enjoyed the same stories, laughed at similar things (aside from one exceptional elephant-in-the-room), and looked the same but bigger. But when she spoke to them (in her eloquent but pretentious English) they heard not a word, but instead saw a novelty. They treated her like a snooker-playing dog or a talking parrot.

So she dropped out. Of an evening she would sit and read in her room, in the skyscraper. She would leave it only for calls of nature and to refuel herself. Eventually her mum said, ‘you really ought to get a job; I can’t afford to keep feeding you.’

Her mother too was a sturdy woman. Incomparible in height, but made strong by frequent exercise and heavy lifting (obtaining groceries for Sally). Four huge meals a day came up the skyscraper stairs, from mother’s paltry wage.

And though all Sally wanted was to opt out entirely, she was again forced to confront the world. She made up her CV and she spread it around town, and in her wake the waves of cruel laughter crashed off every building, and the ripples poured down every street, and around every corner Sally met an echo of the derision she’d experienced her whole life. And she could see it now: echoing on forever, long into the future, continuing even after she had ceased.

So when the midget behind the recruitment desk at TK Maxx said, ‘we’ll be in touch—what’s your semaphore call sign?’ Sally felt she had no choice but to snap her neck with the flick of one wrist.

‘I didn’t know my strength, m’lud,’ she pled in court. M’lud doubted that and sent her down for all her puff.

‘For a woman of your dimensions,’ so he sentenced her, ‘I’m afraid that I must find that the use of the hands in violence is in itself an aggravating fact. No reasonable person could not realize that you are, in essence, an offensive weapon.’

It was in the gaol that Sally found her niche; from the judge’s words she took self-belief. She was a great, powerful woman. She was a weapon. And she was in the perfect environment.

She didn’t have to work, she had time to read and write her poetry, and nobody dared laugh at her. Not to her face. Not when there was a chance of an echo escaping down the corridor, or within earshot of a fellow inmate who might owe long, tall Sally a favour.

She didn’t care if her gang liked her or not. Their relationship was based solely on brute physical force. If they didn’t harm those she wanted harmed, if they didn’t obtain her her extra rations, if they didn’t claim to enjoy her poetry: well, they were replaceable.

And it occurred to Sally that she was so strong that, if she wanted, she could have killed everyone in the prison and walked on out. But then what? There was no point. She had as much as she thought she ever could have.

That was, until she met Petra. Sally was doing the rounds, the show of force (reminding everyone that she wasn’t funny), when a guard reached up and tapped her on the thigh.

‘Someone here to see you,’ she said.

‘This will change your life,’ said Petra.

‘Who are you?’ said Sally.

Petra came from the research and development department of a global pharmaceutical company. She said, ‘we need participants for a drug trial and we believe that you would be perfect.’

‘But why do I need a drug?’

‘It’s a shrinking pill. And if you take it, we can get you out of here.’

And so Sally had thought she had just about all that she could have in the gaol; but was it not true that her followers had followed her for protection? And was it not the case that she had never been loved physically? And must it not be that they, everyone, still laughed at her, still sneered, when she was nowhere to be seen and not to be feared?

‘But why me?’ she said.

‘Because I watched your trial and I read your file; you are not a bully, you are bullied. You write poetry. You went to university. I know that deep down inside you you are just a normal girl, who should be a normal height, who should do normal things: like work in a call centre, drink the occasional Lambrini of an evening, post poems about bands and boys you like to your personal blog, and of course you should be exploring your sexuality with boys (and girls?) and of your own height and strength (less you have any little accidents!) That’s why you, because you want it, deserve it, need it!’

Fair enough, she thought.

So she took the drugs and she left the gaol and she resumed her studies at the university. However, the drugs could only shrink her for twenty hours at a time, so, to help repay her debt to society, she would work her four tall hours a day at the air force base directing aeroplanes in to land.

For years her life was good. She moved town and changed her name, so people wouldn’t remember her crime, and she wouldn’t encounter her erstwhile bullies (who, though they may no longer find her as funny, would be much more able to subject her to violence.) She met a short little man who had a decent job and a pleasant sense of humour, and together they moved into a tiny little house. After she finished university she took a job in a call centre and in the evening she would post poems to her blog. Sometimes after work she would go out with her colleagues and drink a few Lambrinis. Even her tall periods weren’t so bad! The boys at the airfield were alright. Sometimes she even had a few pints with them after work!

But she never doubted the great importance of being small. Oh how nice it was to be completely unthreatening! To come up to only the chin of even a smallish man. And of course, how small their little pricks had seemed when she was tall! What use would that be? she quite reasonably wondered. And, dear friend, let us not beat around the bush: not much use was her man’s little thingy, really, even when she was small (but wasn’t it nice to be loved?) Oh yes, wasn’t it a joy to be little and to have a little man, all of her own?

So it was with a great deal of distress that she took a call from her pharmacist.

‘No such drug,’ he claimed.

‘Let me speak to Petra.’

‘Not someone I’ve heard named.’

‘She works in R&D, run trials, etcetera.’

‘Nope, she’s not on my list.’

‘So that’s it? She doesn’t exist?’

‘And neither does your drug; which barely made sense.’

‘But it did! I was tall at work, and small at home.’

‘I doubt this. You’re on your own.’

And Sally could barely breath; she had sixteen small hours more. She had to squeeze every last second of inconspicuousness out. She walked down a street and nobody looked at her. She went to dinner with her little man, then they indulged in clumsy lovemaking. She took a bath and got her knees under the water. She tried on clothes in front of the mirror. After fifteen hours, she fell asleep.

And when she woke she was long and tall. Her feet protruded from under the covers, and her legs had bent their way out of the bedroom door. Her little man was cradled like a chihuahua in her arms, which were bulging and muscular and getting bigger by the second. She tried to squeeze out of the bed, upturning it in the process and braining her little man. She pinched him into the recovery position, then crawled down the stairs. She couldn’t fit out the door, so pulled herself head-first through the French windows and she set off to work at the airfield.

People gasped at her in the street and ran out of her way. She avoided eye-contact and all her old and nasty memories came back. Every scream brought with it tremendous sadness and an increased sense of misanthropy.

When she reached the airfield there was no one there she recognized. The air commander mobilized the aircraft and they chased her away again. She ran away in terror, barely able to breathe as she choked on tears. Such was her distress, she hardly even noticed the stream of bullets bouncing of her as she ran back to her house.

Back home she raised the roof a little and picked up her man. ‘It’s me,’ she said, ‘I’m big again.’

He looked at her with dozy eyes, but even through his concussion he was clearly terrified. ‘But,’ he said, ‘I’m too small to love you.’

‘And,’ he continued, ‘you don’t fit in our house.’

She wanted to reassure him, but she could think of nothing to say. She could think of nothing that could make her happy ever again. So she cried; she cried uncontrollably. Fat salty tears poured from her eyes. Gallons of mucus oozed from her nostrils.

She buried her head in between her thighs and she screamed and screamed until she had no noise left; and all the while still she cried. And on the high notes of her harrowed call, all the windows of her nation did shatter. And when she raised her head she saw that her town was already mostly destroyed from the thunder-shunks of her elbows on the earth. And in a microgap between teardrops she tried to find sight of her little man, and she saw that her little house had flooded to the roof, and she knew he must have breathed his last wet breath, and this set her off on another torrent of tears. She rolled on her front, knocking over houses and crushing cars, and cried with her face against the earth, and so she remained for many hours, until she felt that the tide has risen to her ears.

Still she cried, and the world slowly flooded, until finally she had cried so much there was no more water in her, and the only men alive where those who lived on boats, and she pulled herself up and sat back against a mountain, and, just as she began waiting to die…

***

Somewhere in the ocean a submarine rose and an English submariner tingled with excitement as he waited to surface. For a week now he had cultivated his anticipation of those opening bars: dun-di-dun di-dun di-dun…

To hear that sweet melody would almost be a sexual release. He checked his watch (set to BST) and it was 9:59 and life was fine, fine, fine. He turned on his radio, his pulse was high.

It would be dream, to listen to Barwick Green. It would be divine! He longed for the sound of the accordion (that Sunday treat that confirmed: this was the omnibus edition.) But the clock turned ten, and the air: was dead. For today, and every other day: there would be no Archers.

So with horror he went to the safe to take his instructions….

***

…and, just as she began waiting to die, in the corner of her eye she spied the nuclear missile coming towards her at the speed of sound and, she didn’t know why, but she opened her mouth and swallowed it whole, and with a kaboom it exploded and sealed her tear ducts.

And still she waited, but death didn’t come, and she noted with curiosity that (though hunger had been far from her mind) she no longer felt hungry; not just that, but she could not imagine eating again. And she felt no desire to speak or move, and no particular sadness at being alone in a drowned world.

So she sat there, comfortable in the warm salty water, leaning back against the mountain, and with her finger she wrote poems in magnetic rays of light on the stratosphere, and she watched as the radioactive crumbs dripped from her words and fell into the ocean. And she sat there for many days and wrote many poems, until one day she was joined by a gigantic fish monster who swam up between her legs. And instantly she knew that it was her little man; for they seemed able to communicate telekinetically or something; and he told her how his DNA was subsumed into the primordial oceanic soup, and how it had become attached to a mutant fish egg, and then how one of her radioactive crumbs had touched that egg, and lent it the vital property of gigantism, and in order to maintain his enormous growth he had had to eat every other creature in the sea, and, this being done, he had came to her so that finally they could just be the way they were, together. And so for many years they nested together.

She would lie, stroking her fish with one hand and writing her poems with the other, and as the crumbs fell into the sea her fish monster man would eat the crumbs, thus maintaining his enormous size. And then eventually, a million years later, she had written every poem, every story, every novel, every song, every history, every fable, every proverb and every recipe and then finally she wrote, ‘the end,’ and she reached over to the moon and she plucked it from the sky and fed it to her fish, and then she fell into a deep sleep.

And so her fish ate her too, and then he left for planets new, through space, powered, as he was, by Long, Tall Sally.

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I am an amateur novelist, an aspiring tax advisor, a cycle commuter, and a graduate of philosophy, politics and law

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Posted in fiction, short story

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