The Shrinking Game - Tara Talland

            Jenny, Julie, and Jesse were such good friends that they knew exactly how to hurt each other. They sat on the rug, each girl consumed in loving resentment for the other two. Jenny would imply Julie was fat only because she was looking out for her. Julie was just being a concerned friend when it came to Jesse’s wardrobe. And Jesse knew the only way they could fix Jenny’s rather thick eyebrows was if they, as a group, addressed the problem.

            Jenny’s mother walked in with a plate of cheese and crackers. I thought you girls could use a snack. Don’t have too much fun,” she told them. As she left the room, the girls looked at her with pity. They felt sorry for her naive assumption of what was going on among the girls. Jenny, Julie, and Jesse were not having fun; they were playing a game requiring strategy, wit, and strength. What they were doing was not even really a game at all. It was combat.

            Julie’s hand reached for a cracker while Jenny’s and Jesse’s piercing eyes watched every move. As Julie took her initial bite of sharp cheddar and buttery cracker, Jenny fired the first broadside: I’m not going to have any crackers. I want to be thin like the ladies in mummy’s magazines.

            Julie looked up at her friend, her eyes watching the sour words float toward her. As the words hit, Julie got a little smaller. She tried to adjust her dress so it would still hang nicely on her, even though she had shrunk a little.

            It’s a shame,” she said. It was brand new. My granny got if for me when she was visiting France. Well, maybe you would like it, Jesse?”

            Oh, I would! I mean, are you sure, Julie? It’s so pretty and expensive looking. I couldn’t.”

            Of course you can have it,” Julie eyed Jesse’s plain frock. You have so few pretty things to wear.”

            The girls watched Julie’s remarks make their way over to Jesse. As they landed neatly on Jesse’ arm, she too got a little smaller. While Jesse struggled to keep her dress from falling off her shoulders, she contemplated her next move.

            Why don’t we play a game?” asked Jesse.

            Well, I don’t know if Julie is done with her little feast here,” noted Jenny.

            No, no, I’m done,” Julie interjected, trying to finish the cracker before Jenny’s words could touch her. She failed to do so, and as the words brushed her hair, she shrunk so suddenly that she couldn’t keep a grip and the cracker hit the floor. Julie’s menacing eyes looked up at Jenny and Jesse, Let’s play make-over.” Julie and Jesse grinned at each other.

            The girls traveled down the long hallway to Jenny’s mother’s room to use her make-up. Jenny led the girls, the slightly smaller Jesse followed, and the now knee-high Julie brought up the caboose. Both Jesse and Julie tried not to trip on their dresses. As they marched to the parents’ bedroom, no girl made eye contact with another.

            Seeing as Jenny was currently the tallest of the three, she was nominated to get the make-up off the shelf. She scaled the sink with skill and opened the medicine cabinet. Once she had gotten her mother’s cosmetics bag, she jumped down and stuck her landing. Although she was not the prettiest of the girls, she took pride in knowing she was by far the most athletic of the three. Okay, who’s first?” asked Jenny.

            Why not you?” Jesse said it as more of a command than an offer, with something wicked darting in her eye.

            Okay, fine. I’ll go first.” Jesse started unpacking the bag as Julie hovered over her shoulder. She started with foundation, then blush, then eye shadow, then lipstick. Once she was done with make-up, she rummaged through the bag and pulled out a pair of tweezers.

            No! My mummy says I’m not allowed to tweeze my eyebrows, not until I’m thirteen — which is no good because that means I will have to wait three years.”

            Oh, too bad. I could have made you look so pretty.”

            Yes, Jenny, it doesn’t make sense. Your mummy is really pretty.”

            Yes, yes, your mummy is so pretty. You look nothing alike.”

            Yes, maybe you’re not even related. You might even be adopted.” The girls waited patiently as they watched the cruel sentences scurry across the floor and into Jenny’s toes. Jenny shrunk so small and so rapidly she was swallowed by her dress.

            Jenny was now the smallest at approximately three inches tall and was losing the game. She felt hopeless in a heap of blue cotton and white sashes, her dress piled high like a volcano around her. She was furious. She erupted, I’m ugly? Julie, you’re fat and stupid! When you eat you drop crumbs everywhere, and it’s repulsive!

            Julie shrunk to the size of a finger. Me? I’m repulsive? Jesse wears the same grubby thing everyday! Jesse, you look like your wearing a potato sack! You’re poor! You’re dirty!”

            It was no surprise that Jesse too shrunk down into her dress. Me? Dirty? Well pardon me, I didn’t know I was in the company of royalty! You two! You’re both vain, spoiled princesses.”

            Chaos broke lose. Jenny, Julie, and Jesse had all thrown manners to the wind and were out for blood. The three girls were calling insults over the mountains of oversized dresses and socks and hair ribbons, each one getting smaller by the second. There were little electrical charges of hate and disdain being sent from girl to girl in a triangular formation.

            All of a sudden, Jenny, Julie, and Jesse heard a car door slam. They could hear Julie’s mother saying hello to Jesse’s mother. They could hear Jesse’s mother exclaiming how it has been forever since they had dinner together. They could hear Jenny’s mother welcome the other two at the door. Oh, come in! The girls have been playing non-stop all afternoon. I haven’t the slightest idea of what they’ve been up to.”

            A wave of relief washed over the girls. Slowly, Jenny, Julie, and Jesse started to grow. Their limbs began to stretch, their heads to swell, and soon enough they were back to their original size. They sat there for a moment and then all three of them jumped up and rushed into the kitchen where their mothers were chatting. Julie got to her mother first and latched on to her arm. Her mother looked down and smiled. Hi, sweetie. Did you have fun?”

            Yes, very much. Are we going home now?” Julie tried to sound reluctant, but somewhere hidden in that question was a plea.

            Jenny and Jesse walked in. Jesse grabbed her mother’s hand. Do we have to catch the bus home now?” She too was trying to sound casual and indifferent, but similar to Julie, Jesse also wanted to go home.

            Jenny, Julie, and Jesse hugged each other goodbye. Their hugs were tense and stiff; they were merely the rulebook etiquette of the game. Jenny sat on her mother’s lap in the living room. Julie sat curled in a ball in the backseat of the car as her mother drove them home. Jesse sat on the bus with her arm hooked tightly in her mother’s. Each girl cried softly. Their mothers were regrettably unsure, for they had forgotten the game.