The Romance of
Ms. Fish and the Midget

by Tom Whalen

Illustration by Walt Phillips

The midget repairman was at work on the overturned refrigerator in the house on Peach Street. He thought, "My underwear is too tight." Then he thought of the girl of his dreams who had never once visited him in his dreams or called him on the phone. Ms. Fish slithered into the kitchen. "Why haven't you finished your work?" she hovered over him. "My thumb," he thought, "she is standing on my thumb." The midget smiled up at her hoping that his teeth sparkled. He needed this job.

Ants crawled in the freezer compartment in search of something sweet to take home to their queen. The worker ants thought, "Our lives are useful. We serve our queen. These humans are pitiful. They have no radar. They have no goals. They have no morals." The midget repairman squashed one of the ants with his hammer. "Your refrigerator is infested with ions," he said.

Ms. Fish swayed over the little man. "I will not pay you if you cannot repair the refrigerator," she said. Then she thought, "I am cruel because my mother was cruel and her mother was cruel and her mother before that was cruel and so on back to the beginning of mothers." Then she paused to comprehend what she had thought. "Fathers are even worse," she added in afterthought.

Beached on its side, the refrigerator hummed to itself, "I have been opened nine hundred thousand thirty-three times, fondled, fumbled, fingered. Now it has come to this. A midget unscrews my bulb." The refrigerator coughed, then felt an icy chill course through itself, followed immediately by a hot flash, then its coils ceased vibrating. It shuddered. It was dead.

"I am sorry, Ms. Fish," said the midget repairman. He had taken off his hard hat. "Would you like me to butter your cracker?"

Ms. Fish nodded gratefully and returned to the magazine she was reading. The article explained the structure and functions of sea water aquariums in domestic households. "I do not want an aquarium," she thought, "but do I want a midget repairman?" She pondered the midget from her position on the settee. Without his hat on, he was bald. He drank his tea like a horse.

One of Ms. Fish's six children stood at the bottom of the landing. "Bennie is dead," the little girl said scratching at a spot on her lavender robe. "Bury him," Ms. Fish replied. "O.K.," the girl said and went back up the stairs.

To the midget the ceiling was higher than it was to Ms. Fish. At this point the midget felt obliged to say, "I maintain that mind and spirit are essentially interconnected and make between them a single entity. But what I, for want of a better term, call the head and the dominant force, or Urmacht, of the body is that guiding light which we call mind or intellect or Geist. This we find firmly lodged in the mid-region of the chest cavity. Here is the place where anxiety and alarm throb. Here is felt the gentle finger of joy. Here then is the very seat and soul, the very essence and Essenz, the well spring and spring board, the earth and the sky, the flyer and the flown, the minute and the small, the smile and the frown, the cough and the laugh, the swell and the swollen, the infinite, interminable, irreplaceable by transplants, vital spirit and final resting place of the mind. The rest is food for the hogs."

Ms. Fish bit into her bread. "That's Lucretius, isn't it?" Outside the window, night fell. A postman folded a newspaper in his lap and dropped it outside the door of his truck. A fire engine languidly turned a corner. A child fell off her tricycle. Dinner was served.

The midget sat at the head of the table eye-level with the wine glasses, buttering everyone's bread. Mr. Fish, home from a day at the office, said, "I do not feel well, the milk is warm, I am going to bed," then he went to his bedroom. Shortly thereafter, the five remaining children followed suit. Ms. Fish and the midget were alone again. She handed him a glass of wine. The air in the room tensed with the question: What will happen next?

Ms. Fish stared into his eyes and found her gaze returned with interest. The midget hitched his tool belt that had slipped to his thighs. He thought, "It is true that she is taller than I. Most women are taller than I. Some dogs are, too. Would she pay by the hour?" Her lips were full. So were her years, all thirty-eight of them. A smile crept across his face and onto his bald head where it disappeared in a fold like a polar bear in a snowstorm.

Ms. Fish grabbed the midget by the arms and pulled him down with her to the carpet, which accepted them without complaint. "Oh, oh," she said. "Umph, ahhh," the midget responded.

They tidied their clothes and proceeded to the door. As they held each other in their arms and kissed good-bye, time circumspectly stood still and not a single star, looking down on the scene, blinked out.

When the midget repairman stepped out onto Peach Street, he was run over by a refrigerator.

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