My trampoline was in the den, where the old man had all his fucking deer and bear heads. There were lights strung over the deer antlers…”
by gary moshimer
This was the old couple’s last Christmas party. They were ninety.
I heard Carol was coming, with her husband. I heard she had no kids, and that this husband was older, and very large. I’m almost as tiny now as when she saw me last, twenty years ago at the Christmas party. I stopped growing. I had a small wife for a while, but no kids. I have no complex about it; I’m comfortable in my skin. I have a lot of energy. I play basketball with kids in my apartment complex. I’m what you would call ‘scrappy.’
I bought myself a little trampoline for Christmas, and I brought it to the party to show how high I can bounce. I’m thinking of doing kid parties, learning tricks, the flying tiny man.
Before Carol showed up, I’d had several drinks. My trampoline was in the den, where the old man had all his fucking deer and bear heads. There were lights strung over the deer antlers. I did some flips and was dangerously close to the antlers with my red velour coveralls. I caught lights with my bare toes and rearranged them, I was that good.
The hosts were plastered, nearly to the point of being dead. They leaned together, quite motionless, at the end of the sofa, big denture smiles frozen. Their boxes waited in the garage with instructions. This was how they wanted to go out, blitzed with people dancing and cursing and flying around, broken glasses and spilled chips and a face in the punchbowl. You had to admire them.
Then Carol came, filling the archway in her faux fur, putting to shame the wall animals, the husband on her arm an upright replica of the Hindenburg in candy-cane stripes and wide green tie, his bloated head ready to explode with pent-up gases, eyes popped with veins like fuses.
I did a somersault through the air for him to catch me, but I just bounced off his gut and rolled. He grunted and expelled a foul- smelling breath. I looked at Carol. Yes, Carol was large now too, but how could Carol kiss this man? How could Carol love him?
I hit the drink table, triple spiked the punch, ladled a cup for the two of them. I reached up to shake his hand, and he bent over and kissed my little one. His dark hair was full, parted down the middle, and a river of sweat ran down onto my hand. I was touched. I looked up at Carol, and she seemed not to know me, and for a second I liked him better than Carol. Carol asked whose kid I was. “It’s me,” I said. “Gerald.” She held her mouth and shook her head. Her husband bowed once more; he was very polite, perhaps British. But I wouldn’t find out, because he was deaf and dumb.
“Gerry.” She spoke softly, closed her eyes and downed her punch. I brought both another, so they could catch up. She introduced the husband, Nilson. I could call him Nils. I got Nils more and more punch. I found a fish bowl for him to drink from, until those bulging eyes had tiny red fish swimming across them and his huge body pulsed like a dam about to break.
Carol tossed her animal. It covered the unmoving old couple. She wore a short red dress, her thighs bulging with muscle, her breasts pointy and manufactured. Her face had filled with spider veins but was still vaguely beautiful. I wanted to kiss it and was sure Nils would just bow if I did.
Nils had spotted my trampoline. For a big man his feet were tiny. I wondered how they held him. He removed his shoes and stepped up gingerly. The fabric hit the floor, and I feared for my trampoline. He took off his green tie and threw it to Carol. Carol shook her head. Nils made a wailing sound I translated as, “I’m doing it!” She signed something fiercely, her hands slapping and twisting. He called out like a Wookie.
He was a talented bouncer, twisting gracefully while airborne, as if he were indeed filled with a gas lighter than air. He sang an eerie whale song. Carol held my arm tightly. I moved closer to her, gulping her fragrance. The crowd cheered for Nils, chanting his name. His feet scraped the ceiling. His ass took down the moose head. He did a one-eighty-half-gainer-niner and belly flopped the sofa, springing the old couple across the room. They landed under the tree like a pair of stiff mackerels, open eyes reflecting the Christmas lights.
I produced the Silly Straws, and everyone finished the punch. I pressed my head to Carol’s shoulder and she held me like she did way back when. I wanted to kiss her breasts. I wanted to be lost between them. Nils rolled off the sofa and around the room. He was good at rolling. We jumped on and rode him around, down the hallways, through the kitchen, off the porch and over the snow packed gardens. He laughed. We all laughed. I tucked my face between Carol’s breasts, pressed my nose through the fabric until I felt her sigh and her heartbeat.
I suggested we stuff ourselves into the upstairs closet, as we had done as kids. Nils carried me in his arms up the stairs. He went in first, face into the sour smells of old people shoes, and we piled on top. The light disappeared until the closet was full, and someone shut the door. “How many?” someone asked, and each person called out their name until we counted twenty, plus one, which was Nils. His breathing moved our pile up and down. Carol’s voice was at my ear, and I squirmed to get face to face. I found her mouth and kissed it, tasting the gin and fruit and something metallic like blood. “I still love you,” I whispered. My breath was being squeezed from me by the pair of huge hands coming from below, working my ribcage like an accordion. Then the hands moved to my neck, the fingers at first delicately touching my voice-box, reading my words, and then tightening to crush my declarations of love. My mouth became a dying fish, gasping for her skin. The whole pile lifted then, bodies mashed against one another and the walls and ceiling as Nils rose with a great cry of mourning. He was discarding others, looking for me, the smallest body, the one whose words he had felt.
I managed to slip out with Carol’s hand in mine. I tugged. “No,” she said.
I rolled under the bed with her, all over her, a tiny rapist. I pulled her dress up and put a hand between her legs. She punched me square in the nose and I felt the rush of hot blood. “I love him,” she hissed, and rolled away. I let my blood soak the carpet. The bed suddenly broke and smashed me into the floor. I knew he was on it. My ribs were crushed. He was dense now, no more gaseous frolics. I tried to breathe. I made dying whale sounds of my own.
He finally got up, cooing to her. His tiny feet walked out the door, but I heard her voice leaving, so I knew he was carrying her. He broke into a tender off-key version of “Yesterday.” Was that meant for me? I had news for you, Pal, I had her on many yesterdays. I consumed her yesterdays, so there. I heard them go down the stairs. I heard breaking glass, thumping on the walls, a cuckoo clock springing and crowing out of control. People laughed. The springs of my trampoline shrieked. “Nils! Nils! Nils!”
When I crept down, Nils was stretched out on the sofa, holding his chest. “You did this,” Carol said. “You call 9-1-1.” But I was dripping blood from my face and felt my ribs crunch when I breathed.
Carol had a hand on his neck, an ear to his mouth. “Everything has stopped. Do something.”
Everyone started chanting: “Ger! Ger! Ger!” I stuffed a doily up my nose and stood on the sofa. I positioned my feet over his sternum and began to bounce. My head touched the ceiling. Beepers went off around the room: most of the medics in town were here, shit-faced. But they tried their best. One of them drove off to get the rig. Another had a box in his car with a mask and oxygen tank and resuscitation bag. He placed the mask over Nils’s mouth and nose and squeezed the breath in. I was bouncing at a perfectly controlled level and rhythm, compressing his chest just the right depth. His color went from blue to pink, and suddenly he seemed to deflate, breath hissing out around the mask. His chest buckled and then filled with a spasm that sent me flying. He rose with a roar. I landed on a table of lunch meat leftovers.
The rig came and some of the stronger guys had to strap Nils to the gurney. He protested in some devil tongue, like the Beatles singing backwards. “You were dead,” they said. “You have to go to the hospital.”
They took me, too, roast beef clinging.
Carol rode along between us, holding our hands. She was crying, and I tried to wipe her cheek, but Nils beat me to it and that made me sad.
In the ER they wrapped my ribs and packed my nose, gave me some pills for pain and let me loose. I went to see Nils. Carol had explained how I saved him, and he trumpeted and hugged me and crushed my rib again. Then Carol walked me out and said if I’m ever in Boston to look them up. She leaned down and gave me a tiny peck on the lips.
I walked back to the old couple’s house, slipping through the snow, a pack of dogs gathering, sniffing and licking my pants. I think one was a coyote; they’d been seen around here lately.
At the house the couple’s housekeeper, Sal, was cleaning the mess. The hearse was there, the couple being loaded in. “This was just how they wanted to go,” I said to Sal.
“It was a doozy,” he said.
I got my trampoline and put it on the lawn. The snow was a ghostly blue. I took the spotlight from the wreath and pointed it at the trampoline. I bounced, the dogs jumping with me. People who were up late, or early, gathered to watch me fly. I saw the clouds of their breath and heard the eerie cry of the coyote as I reached for the sky.
(illustration: john richen)
Gary Moshimer has stories in Frigg, Wigleaf, Smokelong Quarterly, Pank, and many other places. He works in a hospital in Pennsylvania saving lives. More from Gary Moshimer can be found in the Vault of Smoke.