Five Feet Eleven Inches
Karen noticed the thinning hair on the top of Sam’s head, and the image captured her attention to the point that she couldn’t focus on what he was saying. She’d never seen him from that angle before. When Sam left the kitchen, Karen stood on her toes testing her height in her sneakers and trying to remember exactly what part of the refrigerator should be at her eye level.
She’d gained several pounds recently too. In response, she ate less and jogged three times a week, even though it meant picking up Ashley later from daycare. After a few weeks of this regimen, she decreased one notch on her belt but didn’t cut weight. Also, her shoes felt tight on her feet.
Without saying anything to Sam, she marked her height against the closet door and found she’d grown a full inch and now stood five feet eleven inches, a half-inch taller than Sam.
After noticing this, she said to Sam across the kitchen table, “Sam, I feel like I’m growing.” He put down the newspaper, sat silent for a moment, then said, “like pregnant?”
“No,” she said, surprised by the disgust in her voice. “Like height growing.”
He tilted his head. “Why do you think that?”
His calm demeanor could be aggravating. “Fuck if I know, Sam.” She told him about the weight gain and the shoes too. She took him upstairs and showed him the marking inside the closet door. They talked in whispers because Ashley slept in the next room.
“See?” she said, pointing at her mark on the inside of the closet door.
He took a book and pencil from the nightstand and motioned for Karen to stand against the door. She did, and he put the book on top of her head and made a mark. She stepped away and saw his mark just above her recent measurement. Then, he moved toward her so that their noses almost touched and ran his hand over their heads. He stepped back and furrowed his brow, which creased his face and reminded her how long they’d been together.
Six Feet Five Inches
During the examination, the doctor wouldn’t look Karen in the eye. If he’d tried, he would’ve had to angle his gaze upward. Afterward, he left Karen and Sam in the waiting room, then reemerged twenty minutes later and led them into his office.
He walked behind his large, mahogany desk, motioned for her and Sam to sit, and sat down in a wingback chair. Sam scooted his chair close to hers and held her hand, a gesture Karen found both belittling and endearing.
“It’s likely abnormal activity in the pituitary gland,” the doctor said.
“Is it harmful?” Sam asked.
“Usually, when excess growth hormone is introduced, harmful changes occur.”
“Usually?” said Sam.
“As far as I can tell, Karen is perfectly healthy,” said the doctor. He looked at her and smiled exposing gleaming white teeth.
“Why is this happening now?” Karen asked.
He shrugged. “Sometimes the body reacts physically to emotional stressors?”
Karen shrugged back. “Like cataclysmic emotional events?”
Both the doctor and Sam looked at her intently. “No,” she said. “Nothing like that has happened.” Sam leaned back in his chair. “Butâ€¦” Sam’s head turned toward her quickly. “What about maybe smaller things?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like nothing. Nothing’s happening, and my body is trying to wake me up?”
The doctor sat up straight and skewed his eyebrows. “I don’t understand.”
“My body is forcing change instead of reacting to it?”
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” said the doctor. He looked down at his desk and scribbled something in a notebook. “The important thing is that you appear healthy.”
“Can you stop it?” she said.
“In most cases, it’s caused by tumor, and we operate. You don’t have a tumor.”
“You can’t stop it?”
“Well, there’s not really anything wrong with you. Growth in adulthood is abnormal, but your growth plates have opened up, your bones are healthy. Everything’s fine.”
Sam turned toward her and smiled. He put his other hand on top of their already clasped hands. She pulled her hand away, then looked back at the doctor.
“Is there anything else?”
He shrugged. “You can go.”
She got up quickly. Sam followed her out and called from behind her, “Karen, that’s good news. Good news, Karen!”
She ducked under the doorway of the daycare center. Ashley’s teacher forced a smile and said, “Good afternoon, Karen.” The teacher turned toward the group of kids and called, “Ashley, your mommy’s here.” Ashley turned, her blue eyes wide, and starred at Karen. Her blond pigtails stuck out and accentuated her expression of surprise.
“Ashley, it’s mommy,” she said. Ashley only tilted her head. The silence hit Karen in the stomach. Then, Ashley’s stare broke. Karen felt the muscles in her neck and shoulders relax.
“Mommy!” Ashley yelled, and she ran into Karen’s arms. She picked her up and held her against her chest, squeezing her thick thighs and thanking her silently. On the drive home, they sang along to The Rolling Stones.
Seven Feet Three Inches
Karen turned the business card over in her hand and ran her thumb over the Boston Celtics logo.
“You should at least consider it,” Sam said.
“It could be fun.”
“I don’t think so. Plus the travel.”
He shrugged. Ashley played on the floor between them organizing plastic animals on the living room rug. Karen knew if she left for too long, if Ashley saw her growth all at once instead of daily, her daughter wouldn’t recognize her.
“If you don’t want to do it, I understand.”
“Seven foot three isn’t that tall for the NBA, is it?”
“WNBA then. And you could get taller.” He said it like it was an uncertainty. Then he said, “It is a lot of money, though. The first woman ever, too. Wouldn’t that be something?”
“It would be something.”
“I mean for Ashley? Her mom the first female player in the NBA?”
“I don’t like basketball, Sam.”
“This is bigger than you.”
“Few things are bigger than me.”
He smiled, and she did mean it as a joke, but not entirely. He came over to the couch and sat next to her. He leaned against her shoulder. If she moved away, she’d have to explain why, so she stayed. They hadn’t had sex since she’d surpassed him in height nearly three months ago.
“I’m going to start a load of laundry,” she said, and got up.
Seven Feet Six Inches
The nurse led Ashley to the scale. She stepped onto it, her head down, her toddler belly pushed out against her pink t-shirt. Karen knew she was about to cry, but the nurse didn’t. “Thirty two pounds one ounce. You’re getting to be a big girl,” said the nurse. “Let’s measure you.” She led Ashley over to the ruler mounted on the wall. “Stand up straight,” said the nurse. Ashley did. With her chin up, Karen could see Ashley’s watering eyes. “Thirty three inches,” said the nurse. “If you’ll just wait in that room, the doctor will be there in a minute,” she said motioning to a small examination room.
They entered, and Karen sat on a plastic chair. Ashley, her face in her hands, climbed into Karen’s lap and began sobbing. “What if I get too big, Mommy, like you, and the doctors can’t make it stop.”
Karen stroked her back. “Oh, honey, that won’t happen to you Ash,” she said. “I promise it won’t.” But Karen had no way to know.
Eight Feet One Inch
“It’s fine. It’s your decision.” He lay flat on his back, the covers pulled tight across his chest, a position he never used for sleeping.
“I don’t want to go down that road,” she said. After the letter from the Celtics, there’d been calls, emails, and letters from World Wrestling Entertainment, Universal Studios, daytime talk shows, and several publishing houses.
“Maybe it’d be different if I’d always been tall, if I’d grown up with it.”
He didn’t say anything. She turned toward him, but couldn’t see his expression clearly in the dark, only his profile.
“I know you’re right. It’s justâ€¦ you could make a lot of money, Karen, especially now that you’re not working.”
“We’ll get by.”
“We’re gonna need a bigger house.”
“It could stop,” she said, but she didn’t believe it. What she thought more likely was that by the time they found a new house and lined up the financing, she’d be too enormous for any house at all. Not to mention the grocery bills.
“It could,” he said, then rolled over pretending to sleep.
Eleven Feet Four Inches
She held Ashley against her chest and bent her head down so that her lips brushed the top of her blond curls. She inhaled and smelled the remnant of the clean baby smell that, at age three, she hadn’t quite lost. “I love you, Ash,” she said. Ashley squirmed in response. “What’s the matter, kiddo?” Karen asked. She pulled her face away from her daughter’s so as to read her expression clearly.
Ashley’s lip contorted into frown. She looked down. “Too high, Mommy. Too high!”
Thirteen Feet Six Inches
“Sleep in the bed,” she said. “I want you to get some rest.”
“I want to be next to you.”
They lay on the floor underneath several blankets, which together, covered Karen’s length. Sam scooted close to her and nuzzled into her armpit. He reached his arm across her belly in an unmistakably platonic way.
“This isn’t going to work for much longer,” she said. She’d propped her pillow against the wall, and her toes almost touched the opposite wall of the bedroom.
“Let’s not talk about it right now.”
“I’m going to need to leave.”
“Where will you go?”
“You won’t want me here much longer.”
“I love you, Karen. We’ll make it work.”
“Christ, Sam.” She rolled over so her back faced him. He pulled his arm away. She began crying but held her lips tightly so she didn’t make any noise. Still, her sobs made her shake. Sam began stroking her shoulder. She scooted away further taking most of the blankets with her. She heard him exhale deeply and turn over.
Thirteen Feet Eight Inches
As Sam put his keys in the front door, Karen stood hunched between the kitchen and the living room holding the package she’d found on the doorstep. The return address read California Bodies, LLC, and the Internet showed they sold everything that claimed to make you bigger.
He walked through the door and let his work bag fall to the floor in the foyer. “Daddy!” said Ashley, and she ran to him and gave him a hug, her small arms reaching to his shoulders when he bent down to her. “I’m watching Dora, Daddy,” she said.
Ashley scrambled back to the couch. Sam stood up again, meeting Karen’s eyes as he did so. Karen saw her stern look reflected back at her through his worried eyes.
“This came today,” she said holding the box toward him. She shook it gently. It rattled. “Some kind of pills? California Bodies?”
His look told her she’d caught him at something. She raised her eyebrows to invite an explanation. He walked toward her, his eye level near her belly button, and talked in a hushed tone to keep his words from Ashley. “I needed to do something, to have some control.”
“What’s in here?”
“I felt I was losing you,” he said, looking up at her and reaching out to touch her.
She stepped back. “What’s in here?”
“What kind of pills?”
She shoved the box into his chest. He took it, retreated back into the living room, and placed it on the coffee table. He sat down next to Ashley and put his arm around her. She leaned in close to him, and he kissed the top of her head.
Eighteen Feet Ten Inches
Knowing Sam would arrive soon with Ashley, Karen pushed the hay into neat piles in the corner of the warehouse behind the beer stills. She brushed the hay out of her hair with her fingers and smoothed the skirt that Jackson, the brewery owner, had made for her out of burlap sacks. She straightened her black Capital Brewery T-shirt. Contractually, she had to wear it at all times. Regardless, it was all that fit her.
She heard the squeak of the door. Sam lead Ashley by the hand, but as soon as Ashley saw Karen, she burrowed into Sam’s leg and reached her arms high signaling she wanted to be picked up.
He obliged, then said, “Ash, it’s Mommy. See Mommy?” He pointed at her. Ashley turned into her dad’s shoulder.
“Ash, come on. Say ‘hi’,” he said. He turned his body trying to position her to face Karen.
“It’s okay, Sam.”
“Ash, just say hello. Your mommy loves you so much, Ash. She just wants to see you.”
Ashley began kicking her legs.
“It’s okay, Sam,” said Karen.
“I don’t know why she’s doing this. It hasn’t been that long, and we talked about it in the car.”
“It’s okay, Sam. Stop.”
“She still loves you Karen,” he said.
“Okay, Sam, okay.”
“I still love you, Karen.”
Ashley’s whimpering grew into crying, then shreiks. “DAAaaady, DAAaaady,”
“You look like you could use a beer,” said Karen. Sam laughed. He laughed so hard he began to cry, too.
“It’s fine, Sam.”
“I still love you, Karen.”
“Just shut up, Sam.”
“You’re not saying it back.”
They stood there awhile, Ashley still screaming. Karen said, “It’s okay. Go home. Maybe try another day.”
Sam nodded, and they left. Karen took the top off a barrel and drank it, though her contract expressly forbade it.
Approximately Twenty Nine Feet
Sam put in the DVD and set up the LCD projector so that it shone on the wall of the warehouse. Pushing buttons and twisting dials had become too difficult for Karen.
She sat on a pile of hay and hugged her knees, her head a few feet from the rafters. Sam sat on her left kneecap. Looking down on him, she saw the white of his scalp through his brown hair.
“Are you sure you want to watch it?” he asked.
“It’ll be fun.”
“Okay,” he said. He patted her knee.
The ominous music began. The title came up: The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman.
Karen liked the simplicity of the plot line and wished she felt same rage as the film’s gigantic protagonist. She could throw cars and destroy the city. She looked at Sam sitting there on her knee. She thought about pinching his head between her fingers, picking him up, and tossing him out the window. That’s it. Done.
Before he left, he said, “I love you Karen.”
“Don’t say that anymore, Sam.”
“You shouldn’t come here anymore.”
“You don’t love me?”
“I know it’s hard, Karen.”
“You don’t know.”
“You’re right. I mean, I can’t imagineâ€¦”
“I’ll tell you, it’s ridiculous. Insurmountable.”
“Nothing is insurmountable.”
“Then tell me where I’m going to live next,” she said and pointed up at the ceiling.
He patted her knee, and she thought how easy it’d be to squeeze his head until it popped. “Thanks for the movie,” she said.
Approximately Thirty Seven Feet
She found a can of red paint in a closet and spread out several sheets of cardboard she’d taken from the dumpster by the loading dock. Her index finger just fit into the gallon can. When she pulled it out, it looked bloody. She did her best to write small.
I’m leaving. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to disappear, but please know that I would if I could. I know things will be tough for you and Ash, and I’m sorry. You don’t see it yet, but this is the end. Don’t come after me.
She looked over what she’d written. Callous, but it stated things clearly. After spending time deliberating over how to sign the note, she wrote:
With love, affection, and fond memories,
A closing appropriately backward looking.
She took a barrel of beer from the storeroom and drank it, something she did frequently now. There wasn’t much her benefactor could do about it, and without a barrel of heavy stout daily, she couldn’t ingest enough calories. She grabbed six more barrels and a dozen loaves of bread, wrapped them in her spare t-shirt, tied it into a ball, and slung it over her shoulder.
She bent down and inspected the sliding loading dock doors in the back of the brewery. Like the oversized Alice, she’d become too large to fit out the way she’d come in. Placing both hands against the support beams of the roof, she pushed open a large section, then climbed over the wall, careful to step around the cars at her feet.
Approximately Fifty Feet
Helicopters, most covered with T.V. station logos, others painted a pea-green military tone, buzzed around her like houseflies. King Kong, she thought, acted out of annoyance more than viciousness when he swiped at those biplanes.
Karen sat on the bank of a small river, her knees bent to form an archway over the water. She leaned against a rocky embankment and sipped on a barrel of beer. The treetops swayed erratically in the wind from the copters. Still, the sun shined, and Karen felt comfortable in her Capital Brewery t-shirt. It was September. The weather would hold for a few more weeks.
A Park Ranger emerged from the forest holding a clipboard. He looked up at her, cupped his hands to his mouth, and yelled, “Excuse me!”
She turned toward him.
“Hi. If you want to be here, in the park, you need a permit to camp. Do you have a permit?”
She looked up and watched the slow progression of the clouds while trying to ignore the helicopters.
“Excuse me! You’re going to have to leave!” he said.
Karen looked at him, slowly raised her left hand over his head, and held it there. It cast a shadow over him, and he stood staring at it wide-eyed. His stern expression broke, and he took off running into the forest. A pea-green helicopter swooped down toward her. She raised her hand to shoo it as she would a fly, then realized the severity of her gesture and put her hand back in her lap.
Several hours later, a Channel Seven copter set down on the riverbank. The rotors spit dust into the air, and she shielded her eyes with her arm. The helicopter left, and when Karen took her arm away from her face, Sam stood on the rocky beach, a cameraman behind him.
“Hi,” he said. He wore a suit and held a bouquet of red roses at his side.
“What are you doing?”
He shrugged. His face sagged in embarrassment. “I wanted to see you.”
“Who’s he?” Karen said, gesturing to the cameraman.
“They want to do a TV show. They got me past the barricade.”
“There’s a barricade?”
“Oh.” She sat up and peered over the treetops trying to spot the military presence. Then she said, “Did you see my note?”
“Yeah, butâ€¦” he looked toward the river for awhile, then turned back toward her and said, “Ashley misses you, too.”
“I can’t go back.”
The cameraman crept behind Sam and used one hand to hold the camera, the other to nudge Sam’s hand holding the flowers.
“Oh. These are for you,” he said, holding up the roses.
“I’ll run and get a vase from the pantry.”
He set them on the beach.
“Nice suit,” she said.
“Yeah, they bought it for me,” he said. “Look, I don’t know what to say. I just wanted to come.”
She noticed hair on the back of his hands and assumed it was a side effect of the growth hormone. If he’d grown at all, she couldn’t tell. Then, gesturing to the cameraman, she said, “Good money?”
“You know that’s not why I’m here.”
“I wish it were.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“What do you tell Ashley?”
“That Mommy had to move away. That we still love each other, but that you just got too big. That’s true, right?”
“Things weren’t perfect before,” she said.
“Marriage takes work,” he said.
“So, can I still come see you?”
“At some point, the work isn’t worth it. It’s just done.”
“How do you know when? When did that happen to us?”
“At about thirteen feet, sleeping on the floor in the bedroom but knowing it wouldn’t last much longer.”
“That’s when you knew?”
He picked up a pile of rocks from the beach and began throwing them into the river one at a time. Then, still facing the water, he said, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know this morning.”
“Well, now you do.”
“What’s going to happen now?”
She shrugged and looked up at the helicopters swirling above. “Maybe I’ll lash out and see what happens.” She turned back toward him, “Tell me about Ashley.”
“She misses you.”
“Other stuff. Good stuff.” A tear fell from her cheek. She caught it with the back of her hand.
“She likes cows now for some reason. Everything cows. I think she saw one on the milk carton, and now she carries her plastic cow everywhere and holds it up and moos.”
Karen smiled. “Cows? Really?”
“Yeah. This weekend I’m taking her to some touristy farm. They’re having a milking contest.”
Karen smiled. “You’re a good dad, Sam.”
“Thanks,” he said, then threw a handful of pebbles into the river.
“I’m running out of food. Even in the brewery, they couldn’t keep up with my appetite.”
“Well, you’re not exactly wasting away”
She lifted her shirt on one side exposing her clearly visible ribs.
“Oh.” His face melted into a look of severity.
“It’s okay, Sam.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Well, I was going to jump off something but couldn’t find anything tall enough.”
He looked at her horrified.
“Sorry,” she said.
“So, cows, huh?” she asked.
“She loves cows.”
They sat together, neither speaking, until the cameraman approached Sam, his camera at his side. “Um, excuse me. My producer wants you to kiss her hand or something.”
Sam looked startled. Karen said, “It’s fine, Sam.” Then, she turned to the cameraman and said, “We can do better than that. How about a full-on lip smack?” She carefully positioned herself on all fours straddling the river, her chin resting on the riverbank next to Sam, and puckered her lips. He stood on his tiptoes, his face aligned with her enormous mouth, and kissed her.
“Perfect,” said the cameraman. He put down his camera and said to Sam, “Okay, we’re done.” Then, he called for the copter on a walkie-talkie.
The copter touched down on the beach. Sam looked at Karen. She nodded in response, then watched him climb into the helicopter. It ascended, and Karen watched it head east toward the city, toward Ashley, getting smaller and smaller. She’d never get over losing Ashley, but watching Sam recede into the distance, knowing the National Guard would keep him away, made her feel good. She picked up the barrel of beer and took a swig. The alcohol started to soften things. She extended her legs and leaned back against the riverbank. Even with the helicopters buzzing overhead, she had some solitude. It’d been years since she’d been alone this way.