“Oh, my God,” Bailey said, “there he is.” Amira looked: right behind a young, giggly couple entering the bookstore, right before the door closed behind them, a tiny little man slipped inside. He stepped out of the way of the next customers, enormous sneakers pummeling the floorboards and flying away as he brushed off his little wool trousers and straightened his little gray blazer. Amira stared at him with bald fascination; Bailey covered her mouth and blushed furiously. He trekked across the broad plain of hardwood and ducked between a woman’s red pumps, disappearing into the shelves.
“You really like him, huh? You go for the short, older, mysterious types?” Amira elbowed her friend, standing a head taller than herself. “He’s been coming in a few times a year for the last three years. Why haven’t you introduced yourself?”
Bailey looked scandalized. “I don’t like him like that,” she stammered, “and I can’t just start talking to him. What would I say?”
“Tell him what you’re into. I bet he’ll appreciate it.”
“No, that’s just my dumb little… hobby.”
“Well, if you’re not gonna make a move on him,” Amira said, “maybe I will.” Leering up at her friend, she turned and flashed her big, round rump, giving it a resounding slap before sauntering out from behind the counter. The thought of her precious little man getting lost in those cheeks gave Bailey vertigo. She busied herself with organizing the preorder fulfillment shelves and tending to customers as they came in.
“Order up!” Amira’s voice rang loud and brassy, as she placed a large hardcover on the counter. “Wanna take care of your customer, Bailey?” Before Bailey could retort, she found the tiny man standing in the center of the book. Bailey glared at her friend as Amira blew kisses and danced away.
This was Mr. Emmett Dawe, whose name Bailey had scried from several previous purchases. His purchases, as Bailey tracked them, had been all over the map: Eliot’s Middlemarch, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Tonight, she noted with a start, he was bringing home Marilyn Scott’s The Potter’s Bible, and she wondered how she could dare tell him this was her favorite book. Per their established custom, she laid her hand upon the counter and, nodding his thanks, Mr. Dawe climbed into the center of her palm, so she could lift him to the card reader (American dollar bills were slightly longer than he was tall).
She held her breath, holding her hand steady despite how her heart hammered in her chest. The tidy little crease in his trousers, the thin black tie peeking between his lapels, and those masterfully hand-tooled little Oxfords all conspired to command Bailey’s imagination. This elegant little man was now standing fully within her grasp, as light as a crumpled ball of paper, and all she had to do was curl her fingers, seize him in her fist, hide him somewhere yummy, and sprint out of the store, maybe never to return.
Instead, she lifted him to the card reader. He removed his blazer, folding the sleeves back to expose a gold computer chip in the lining, and slid this into the reader. When prompted, he hugged the stylus like a dancing partner and turned with great control to paint out his beautiful name upon the LCD screen.
How she wanted him! How Bailey craved to clutch him in her hands, this elegant little man, despite being twice her age, and steal him away and just stare at him. But what would such a gentleman want with her, taller than most men as she was, jamming her chubby body into too-tight jeans and covering herself up in a crocheted cardigan, somewhere between geekchick and dowdy. And so she hugged herself, hating herself, watching another customer help Mr. Dawe off the counter, watching The Potter’s Bible bob and glide across the floor and out the door.
“Big news, guys,” Bailey typed under her alias, Mme. Majolica. “Just secured another big sale, an entire dining set to a food artist in Osaka. That’s another two months’ rent for me!” She toasted her monitor with a bottle of Malbec.
The denizens of Hilliard’s Chamber, a miniaturists message board, cheered for her effusively. Ball Foot Barry, who specialized in 19th century American furniture, said he wasn’t surprised at all. Stitch Witch, a master of 1:12 scale wardrobe, hoped she would post pictures before shipping it all out. Tame Twee MD, resident lurker, showered her with praise before commenting, “Or one month’s rent and a convention?”
Bailey blinked. “What convention?” Stitch Witch posted a flyer: an artist’s gallery was hosting a weekend showing of miniaturist works. The Dresdener said he would fly in to show off his tiny necklaces and jewelry, and Olive & Cromwell, father-and-daughter team, were preparing tiny gold frames for their replica portraiture. “You’ve got to go, though!” Tame Twee MD insisted. “I’ve got a full collection of your Versailles dinnerware, it’s astonishing! Everyone else needs the chance to see your work up close.”
Ball Foot Barry asked him not to embarrass her, “seeing as how hotel and flights can really add up.” He took a shot at Tame Twee MD, asking if they were finally going to see what he’d been working on all this time; the latter demurred, explaining that he couldn’t really advertise as his craft wasn’t entirely legal, whatever that meant.
“I’ll think about it,” typed Bailey, before logging out. What she hadn’t been willing to advertise to her online friends was that, in fact, the convention was happening in her city. She took a long pull off her bottle before turning to consider her makeshift studio. Dozens of gray bowls lay around a small, working kiln and throwing wheel. Even more glazed and finished pieces sat arranged in the Victorian dollhouse she used to frame photos for her merchant’s website. She was strong in miniature hand-thrown pottery, she knew, but a convention? In her own city? She really had no excuse…
She took another drink.
Yet six months later found her in the garden-level room of W.A. Kitridge Gallery, carefully unpacking her dollhouse from the packing peanuts, carefully unrolling her finest pieces from scrolls of bubble wrap. Before her display stood a placard, issued at the door, rendering her name and website in lavish calligraphy. Any trepidation turned to joyous affection as she hugged lanky Ball Foot Barry for the first time, gushed over Stitch Witch’s 1940s Paris wardrobe, marveled at Olive & Cromwell’s paintings, and scrutinzied the Dresdener’s meticulous whitesmithing with a heavy magnifying glass.
She excused herself to run her packing materials out to her car, noting no one had claimed the booth beside hers. When she returned, however, that spot was now fringed in tiny, antique-looking bookcases (perhaps Ball Foot Barry’s work), surrounding a glistening knot of black iron, hissing and chomping. It was a letterpress, painstakingly recreated and apparently fully operational. Intrigued, Bailey knelt before the exhibit, resting her chin on her forearms and gawking at the incredible mechanism, until its operator appeared from behind it.
Mopping his brow, Mr. Dawe nearly jumped back in surprise to see the enormous woman’s head. She noted his dress sleeves rolled up and whisker-thin suspenders complementing his tie to a heartbreaking degree. Her fingers twitched with longing.
“You! You’re that girl from the bookstore.”
Bailey gaped, stunned that he could recognize her. “I’m, um, also your neighbor, it appears.” She nodded at the Victorian dollhouse, whose ground-level dining room was fully loaded with elaborate plates, dishes, bowls, crockery, and so on.
“Well, I’ll be. You’re Mme. Majolica?” He bowed slightly. “Tell me, is your name a play on the Italian glazing technique and Mme. Mirbel, the miniaturist painter of the French court?”
Her heart burst into flames, and she wondered if she might gobble him down on the spot. “No one has ever figured that out before! How did you know?”
He laughed and gestured at the bookshelves behind him, featuring embossed titles such as Middlemarch, Critique of Pure Reason, and The Second Sex. “I do a fair bit of reading, when not book-doctoring with printing and binding. Speaking of, I made you a little something.” The diminutive Mr. Dawe walked over the plastic booth table and stepped inside her dining room, perfectly at home. He lifted a largish book from the center of the table and stepped forward to hand it to her, with a nod.
Her hand trembled as she reached for it and plucked it gently away. The words inside were too tiny to read without really straining, but she recognized the illustrations. “You made a copy of The Potter’s Bible! How did you know?”
“It was just a coincidence.” The tiny man rocked on his tiny heels and grinned. “How could I have any idea the lovely young giantess I visited in the bookstore was the talented Mme. Majolica?”
Through her blushing cheeks, a thought gave Bailey pause. “Wait a minute. You’re on Hilliard’s Chamber? Who…” She looked at his placard and her jaw dropped: Tame Twee MD. She closed her eyes and untangled the letters in his name. Disappointed in her obliviousness, she sighed heavily, not noticing how her breath ruffled his clothes. “And that’s what you mean when you say your work’s illegal: your replica books aren’t out of print.”
“I prefer to work with private, discreet collectors, yes.”
“So what’s this for?” She held up the kid leather book between thumb and forefinger.
He stepped out of the house and approached her arm, resting on the table. “I wanted to thank you, personally, for the attention you put into your dinnerware set.”
She reared slightly. “You use it? You can actually use it! Good thing I bothered to find a food-safe glaze.”
“That’s the kind of detail I especially appreciate. So, thank you.” With another little bow, Mr. Dawe walked back to his letterpress and resumed printing. “What do you suppose we do now, though?”
Bailey rose to her full height. The booth table bit into the skirt around her thighs. “What do you mean, Mr. Dawe?”
“Emmett, please.” He chuckled at himself. “I’ve just discovered that the Western hemisphere’s finest miniature hand-thrown pottery artist is actually the young giantess from the bookstore.” He smiled ruefully, gesturing toward her. “And you, for your part…”
“…Just discovered my overly affectionate online fan is the tasty little snack I’ve been lusting after for three years.” Her audacity surprised even herself.
His flinch at her first phrase melted into a deep blush at her second. He shut down the letterpress and turned his tiny head up. Bailey was pleased to see him struggle for words, for a change. “My question stands. What do we do, now that the illusions have fallen?”
She looked around at the other booths, where her friends were entertaining visitors and potential customers. “I suppose we just get on with the conference. I mean, we’re here.”
“Yes, we are. And as it turns out, we share a city.”
She nodded slowly.
“Will you mind if I keep turning up at the bookstore? Is that going to be weird now?”
She looked at Mr. Emmett Dawe, who was Tame Twee MD and back again. “No. No, of course you can. You’re only there like three times a year, aren’t you?”
His tiny jaw opened and shut a couple times before he solemnly agreed that he wouldn’t be there much at all.
“And, you know… after the conference, maybe I’d like to see what my plates look like in a real-world setting. Over tea, maybe.”
His fine, tired, beautiful little face beamed at her. “I could work that into my schedule.”
“So I guess there’s only one question I have for you, Emmett.” She knelt once more, resting on her elbows to lean her head over him, casting him in shadow.
Bailey tilted her head. “Are you a hugger?”