The plan was simple, as stupidly simple as little kids packing sandwiches, drawing up a map, and going out to hunt for buried treasure.
That’s what Petia felt like, listening to the tiny man in the pocket of her cardigan. Everything Milan suggested, she could only reply with “really?” or an incredulous laugh. This little man, born tiny into normal-sized society, it seemed to her as though he understood nothing of her world. Sure, he’d been able to survive this long, hoarding the scraps that regular people left behind through carelessness or stupidity. He’d even carved out a comfortable little hole for himself, in her house. But to listen to his big ideas and lofty goals… Petia stroked the outside of her pocket gently, smiled and nodded, and made a sandwich for them to share, and drew up a little map with the landmarks he’d described.
Sava was hanging outside his house, having a smoke. The odor wafted directly from his place to her kitchen. “One moment,” she hissed to Milan. “That stupid oaf.” She pressed her cheek to her door and peered through the sliver of light. Her boorish neighbor stared up the street, tugging up his filthy workout jacket and scratching his vast, hairy belly. It took far too long, but eventually he finished his priceless cigarette and concluded what philosophical straits he doubtlessly wrestled with and went back inside to get drunk with Nikifor. “Finally,” Petia breathed, slowly opening the door. With a tattered shoulder bag holding lunch and a trowel, she skulked out the door and around her house.
Nikifor happened to be glancing out of the living room window as she slunk conspicuously away. “Hey, what’s the vèštica up to?” he called to his partner-in-crime.
The larger oaf glanced over his shoulder, watching her sneak out to the dirt-field behind her house. “Probably finally succumbing to dementia,” he said, chuckling. “Just like her grandmother.” He laughed, it looked like, but he locked this strange little fact away for later.
The wind blew cold and dry at Petia’s jacket as her boots picked their way across calcified lumps of fallow field. There were no distances marked on Milan’s map, just where to turn and the next landmark to walk to. She reached the rusted out tractor, walked to the other side of it, pressed her back to the rear wheel and looked for the nearest oak tree in the grove outside of the field. “I wish you knew what you were putting me through,” she muttered under the lapel of her grandmother’s quilted jacket. “If I twist an ankle out here, the hospital fees will be the end of everything in my life. And that’s if anyone accidentally finds me out here in the middle of nowhere, to say nothing of whether they’d even bother to call or just rifle through my pockets and kick some dirt in my face.”
“You’d better not let me get stolen,” Milan said. “I’m too precious.”
Petia thought how lucky he was that he was far too small for her to punch, as she made her way over to the nearest oak, which was also the largest oak. “Why didn’t you just say the largest oak?”
Milan swore. “They’re all huge. The difference is negligible. Now dig.”
“Where am I supposed to dig? Any place special?”
“Let me out,” he groaned. Petia carefully snaked her cold fingertips into her cardigan pocket and lowered the tiny man to the ground. He had no cold-weather clothes, only a tea-cozy she chopped up and stitched to wrap him up like a burrito. His tiny bare feet tolerated the chips of bark and cold, claylike ground as he hopped around the vast tree roots, some taller than himself. Finally he picked up an acorn cap and placed it on a bare patch of soil. “Here. Dig straight down, and be careful. Try to feel through the instrument.”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” Petia muttered, but dutifully she knelt and began poking at the ground in good faith.
“Harder than that, seriously.”
She glared at the bossy little man reclining between her knees. “I’m trying to be careful!” She loosened up some soil with her fingers, scooped it away with the trowel, and worked her way down to the roots under the ground. In a couple minutes, she felt something a little spongier than the soil. She carved out the ground around the object and carefully broke it away from the oak roots.
She dusted it off and, despite Milan’s protest, rinsed it in a little of her spit. In her hands sat a spongy lump the color of old yogurt. “What’s this supposed to be? Is the tree going to die?”
Milan stood between her thighs and hopped out, waving her to bring her hands down. He climbed up into her palm and sat beside the creamy mass. “This is a white truffle. A peasant girl like you wouldn’t know anything about this, but they’re basically the best.” His tiny fingers patted the side of the lump, and then he sniffed his fingers. “This is a pretty good size, and if you know where to sell it, it should net you around…” He frowned and rocked his head back and forth. “Around four or five hundred lev.”
Petia froze where she sat. She stared at the amorphic lump of yellowy sponge in her palm, and at the rakishly handsome tiny man beside it, wrapped up in a pink-and-yellow crocheted tea-cozy. Somewhere a dog barked, but there was no traffic, just the quiet white noise of wind over broken terrain. Just when she thought her life couldn’t become any more surreal.
“That’s half of what I earn in a month,” she whispered, suddenly afraid to attract attention.
“I know. I can hook you up with−”
“You know where to find these?” Petia’s eyes were huge. “You can sniff them out?”
Milan scooted back on her palm, brow furrowing. “Yes, they stink. I’m honestly surprised you can’t find them yourself. I bet you could, with a little training. Now, what you need to do is contact−”
Petia clasped her other hand over Milan and the fungus, and she pressed them to her chest. If she found another one, she could skip work for a month. Twenty, and she could take the rest of the year off. She looked up: did they grow around oaks? How many oaks were there here?
Something pounded against her palm. She peeked in her hands and found Milan kicking her. “Come on, this thing is foul! Let’s just get it home and I’ll teach you how to sell it off!”
There wasn’t even time to enjoy the sandwich. She packed up her dirty trowel, slipped her wonderful little man under her blouse and into her bra, and hustled back home as quickly as she dared, over the intellectually challenging terrain. He called my place home, she thought, grinning. Sure, he lived in the basement, but he chose that word instead of “your place.” What would her mother say, if she knew her sweet and innocent daughter were living with a man, outside of wedlock? She laughed, dropping off her bag by the garden hose to rinse the trowel later. They would feast on the sandwich together, inside, at their home.
She stored the truffle in a glass bowl, in the refrigerator. She shed her quilted jacket and cardigan, carrying the little man upstairs in her bra, her breast bouncing into him with every step. She turned on a lamp by the bed, tuned in a Romanian FM station, and slid out of her clothes as she slid beneath the covers of her large bed.
Milan looked stunned to find himself in a huge, cloth cavern, in the company of a naked giantess. Slowly he pulled off his blue satin top, watched her expression as he slipped off his pants. “I’m sorry, I haven’t washed for a couple days,” he said shyly.
Petia only laughed, stroking his fine little spine with her fingertips. “Maybe I can’t clean you off,” she murmured, “but you’ll get nice and wet.”
His little eyes trailed up her wrist, over her forearm, her elbow, up her bicep to her shoulder. She could feel his gaze as distinctly as though a man were running his fingertip over her skin. Not just any man…
Light glowed through the opening in the sheets. Petia settled down, one arm behind her head, and she nudged the tiny man closer to where her breast lay on the mattress. He didn’t need much urging, though at every step he studied her expression. She had to ask him, “Is something wrong?”
Music played and crackled quietly, outside of the thick blankets. The tiny man drew a long breath and Petia saw his chest shudder. “I’ve been here before, Petia.” His face was serious. “You know you’re not the first… no, that’s not what I’m trying to say.” He ran a minuscule hand over his spiky, superfine black hair.
She stroked her other breast very slowly, cupping it above him. “Just let it out, my little man.” The phrase shocked her, so she said it again, very slowly: “My… little… man.” She thumbed her nipple and felt her heart speed up.
“Do you know why you’re doing this, Petia?” His eyes were earnest little black dots, shining at her in the dimness of their shelter. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
She had a ready answer, but she swallowed it. “Well, you’re a handsome little guy.” This was a safe statement. She walled her palm around him and ruffled his hair with her thumb, the one that had just nuzzled her nipple. “You’re very kind to me, when few other people in this town are. And you’re very generous, sharing your time with me and offering me help.” She stared at his bare legs, lean but toned, splayed before him. “You work so hard to survive, but you never stop smiling.” He scowled so she winked at him. “On the inside. There’s a smile in your heart, and I’ve never met anyone like that before in my life.”
Gently she swept him closer to her chest. He glanced up at the higher breast, at her nipple pointing down at him.
“I’ve been struggling too, but I haven’t smiled. I’ve been clinging by my fingertips, and this, in my normal society. You!” She shook her head slowly. “Tiny little you, struggling and alone in giant society, and yet you have a TV, a library, video games! I think you’re doing better than anyone in this wretched village!” She laughed softly, and her breast wobbled above him: Milan was unable to tear his eyes from it. “You could’ve gone on quite happily by yourself, but you troubled yourself to assist me. Not just keep me company and make me laugh, but you’re actually solving my problems. Problems that enormous me couldn’t fix on my own. How is this possible?”
She shoved him closer. The soles of his hot little feet pressed against the smooth skin of her breast that lay on the bed. She leaned her shoulder forward slightly, bringing her breast down to his head. A little further, and she could easily have buried him beyond rescue. Her heart pounded to think of that, his helplessness, his frailty, yet at the same time he had a keenness of mind that allowed him to thrive in an otherwise hostile society, living much better than those who could destroy him thoughtlessly.
“Yes, Milan, my little lover,” and these words sent another thrill down her spine, “I do know what I’m doing. I’ve found an amazing man who is giving me more than I dreamed possible. And if I have anything to offer you, I want to share it with you.” Her fingertip ran down his frail spine, rubbed against his pert little butt. Her breathing grew harder, gusting over him. “Not just scraps of food and clothing, either. Me, Milan. I want to give you me, your velikanka, in exchange for never being able to let you go.”
He stood, then, boffing his head against her boob, and he trotted up to where her head lay. Before she could react Milan thrust his face between her lips. His tiny arms pressed them around his head, and it occurred to her that he must have been kissing her.