The ticking clock woke Rosalyn several times that night. Each time she straightened her undershirt which had twisted itself tight around her, punched the hard feather pillow into a less uncomfortable shape and tried not to think about the questions that kept crowding in. Why was it her problem Jason had recklessly disappeared into a puddle ? Why her? She wasn’t even truly his sister, was she? Lately, she had not been able to stop wondering who her real parents were. She knew that her mother may have been a teenager, too poor to raise a child on her own in a society where single parenting was frowned on. Her father’s name or whereabouts were anyone’s guess. Rosalyn was lucky, she had been told, to be growing up in the West, speaking English without the slightest trace of an accent. Her adoptive parents had wanted her. Phil and Jane, as she allowed herself to call them when she was alone, had spent a lot of money and had traveled around the world to bring her back. No one could ever call her an accident the way Jason had been. “A wonderful accident,” her mother Jane had laughed over the phone one day to a friend. “But they say it happens more often than you’d think.”
They had adopted her and then, five years later, had found themselves expecting a child after all. Their real child, Rosalyn told herself, a mix of their genes, blond and blue-eyed and athletic like Jane, chatty and personable like Phil, even at the age of seven. A dangerous combination, her parents’ friends liked to joke. When he had been a toddler, he would talk to anyone and everyone wanted to talk to the adorable boy with the curly blond hair. He would have walked off cheerfully with any abductor.
At least Jason took the focus off her. People were sucked into his tractor-beam of cuteness and stopped noticing she looking nothing like the rest of them, with her heavy black hair, her eyelids that folded up into her eye sockets without a crease.
And yet, here she was, wishing more than anything to find that rascal, and wishing she could fall back to sleep, to tune out the persistent ticking of the clock, to forget the fact that tomorrow she would have to face these strange women again and perhaps strike out alone in search of her brother who wasn’t even her brother, who, to put the cherry on top of all his other annoying habits, had dragged her here. It was unfair and she just wanted to be back home in her own bed with her own soft pillow. Tears ran in streams down her temples, leaving two cold streaks on her face.
Rosalyn awoke the next morning to a dull, rhythmic clanging sound. Remembering where she was, she lay on her back, straining to identify the sound which was at once odd and familiar.
Eventually, however, she threw back the bed clothes and got out of bed, or rather, walked down the steps out of bed to open the curtains. She wrapped herself in the red woollen blanket that lay folded at the foot of the bed against the chill. The blanket was twice as wide and long as any blanket at home and even after she folded it in half, it still dragged on the ground like the train of a gown.
Rain. That was the sound she had heard, and looking down from the window, through the lines of water streaming down the panes, she saw that it was plinking on the metal roof over the entrace to the supply room Gaétane had led her through yesterday.
The annoying clock which had somehow grown quieter in the gray morning light, read eight o’clock. If that was correct, Rosalyn had slept longer than she thought. She wondered what kind of hours her hostesses kept. Where would she find them? It was always so awkward in the morning. Would they be dressed in pyjamas or with weird things in their hair? And should she use the pot again or find a normal toilet somewhere? Who would empty it? Should she bring it with her?
She put on the green velvet dress again since her other clothes were still downstairs and went in search of Marcella who would have answers.
The house seemed as still as it had yesterday. All the doors were closed and no noises came from behind them. Even the large portraits that hung on the paneled walls seemed to stare straight at her as if she was a noisy intruder.
She went down the medium stairs that shared railings with the small stairs. Passing the grandfather clock or whatever it was, she turned right and found the back stairs at the end of the hallway. At the doorway of the kitchen, she knocked once again on the doorframe, unsure whether she could walk in uninvited to Marcella’s domain. To her surprise, Marcella wasn’t there. A much smaller woman was stiring something with a long-handled spoon, her back to the door. She had greying dark har pulled back into a severe bun. She wore a striped dress and had a long apron tied around her waist. There was something about the commanding way the small woman stood there that reminded her of Marcella but this new person stirring and humming to herself was so short she probably didn’t even come up to Rosalyn’s shoulder. Who could it be, she wondered, given that the household seemed cut off from the rest of the world?
“Good morning,” said Rosalyn tentatively.
“Good morning, dear,” said Marcella’s voice. “Did you sleep well?” The tiny woman turned around and Rosalyn felt dizzy. She looked and sounded and stood like Marcella but in miniature. The smile faded from the woman’s lips. Her mouth open and closed, then she said with wide eyes, “Well, I shouldn’t be too surprised, but still, it’s a shock when you’re not expecting it, and so early in the morning.”
“Is that you, Marcella?”
The tiny woman looked offended. “Of course it is.”
“What happened? Are you all right?”
“Am I all right, she asks,” said miniature Marcella in the same affronted tone. “Of course I’m all right. You’re the one standing there, as tall as ever and on such a rainy day that you could walk outside and have a drink standing up.”
Rosalyn just stared.
“Come in, come in,” said the housekeeper. “You can have a cup of tea before breakfast.”
Rosalyn sat down at the long work table and noticed that the lower end was now actually perfectly suited to Marcella’s height. There was a black and gold tray laid with a yellow teapot, three teacups, bowls and spoons and a matching yellow jug filled with cream.
“As soon as the porridge is ready, I’ll send it up, but you may eat down here, if you prefer.”
Lots of people she knew ate porridge, but Rosalyn’s mother’s idea of breakfast was more often than not a blueberry kale smoothie.
“And how do you like yours, dear?”
“Uh, I don’t really know. I never eat it at home. Cinnamon?”
“I’m all out of spices, don’t you know. Cream, butter and honey are all I’ve got.”
“Honey, please, then.”
As she drizzled the honey into a pile of zigzags onto the mound of porridge in her bowl, Rosalyn said, “I still don’t understand why you’re so short this morning.”
“Why, the rain, naturally. Pass the honey, please.”
She handed the honey pot back to Marcella who was looking at her darkly, curiously, queerly. Rosalyn’s heart skipped a beat. Had she done something wrong? She shifted nervously on her chair. Should she not have asked? Was it some kind of deformity you weren’t supposed to mention? Marcella didn’t seem perturbed by the fact that she herself was a fraction of her former size.
“Don’t wait for me. Go ahead,” urged Marcella.
The sweet creamy cereal went down her throat like a hot coal. If she wasn’t so worried, she’d really be enjoying having something warm for breakfast. So much nicer than cold, slightly fibrous liquids.
Marcella took a sip of tea and cleared her throat. She put the mug down slowly and looked up at Rosalyn for a moment. She clearly had something to say but wasn’t sure how to begin.
“You haven’t rapetissied, my dear. That’s quite serious, I’m afraid.”
“Ra-pe-ti-ssied. You know, grown smaller with the low pressure system.”
“You mean you shrank because it’s raining?”
“But no one does in my world. We never shrink. We just grow from babies to adults. My grandmother claims she has shrunk but it’s been very gradual, nothing overnight.”
Marcella humphed, perhaps in disapproval, perhaps in disbelief. “That may be so, but here, those who don’t are, how shall I say, not exactly normal. It’s always a terrible blow to parents when they discover their baby is fixed.”
“Fixed?” It sounded like an operation to sterilize pets.
“You can imagine—your two year-old needs a bath and you’re not much taller than he is. And he flails around and next thing you know he thinks you’re his bath toy. Oh, it’s very hard on the parents. They have to send them to special schools for the fixed. And when the family has grandified, the child can’t keep up and has to be carried in a sling even if he’s as old as you. Terribly embarassing for them if they see their friends, if they have any. In any case, the fact that you are fixed complicates things. I had thought of passing you off as my young cousin, but everyone knows my family hasn’t had any fixed children in generations.”
“You mean, when we start asking around if anyone’s seen my brother?” Despite her annoyance at being considered deformed, Rosalyn’s was relieved they had given the search some thought.
“Well, now I don’t know. We’ll just let them finish their breakfast and try to break it to them gently. Nora can be nervous and Herself was in a black mood this morning.”