The Dwarf had to go. It wasn’t just that the little man neglected, every damn morning, to empty the coffee filter, forcing Ed to extract the saggy bag of grinds, the limp filter dripping carelessly on the floor, creating brown splatter marks like its own CSI crime scene. Nor was it because Ed was weary of the parade of barflies the Dwarf dragged home; haggard women, some heroin-thin, some grossly obese, nearly all with horrible teeth, who sat on Ed’s couch, spilling Mateus Rosè onto on his buttercup-colored cushions. Strangely, and this was another trait that grew to antagonize Ed, the Dwarf had a knack for attracting women. True, sometimes he paid for their services, and sometimes they followed him home from the bar because he fascinated them and they would have a story to tell their friends, but there was rarely a night that the Dwarf was alone. And Ed could see why. The Dwarf had a self-confidence that belied his physical stature. The word that sprang to Ed’s mind was “cocky,” and it struck him as odd that someone with such a distinct physical handicap could so readily compensate for this steep disadvantage.
. No, Ed thought, as he washed the crusted dishes the Dwarf left behind in the sink, the Dwarf had to go because of that nasty incident this past Christmas, when Ed had graciously invited the small man to his mother’s house for Christmas dinner.
Christmas, as everyone knows, is peak season for dwarves, and the Dwarf worked a steady stream of mall jobs. Nearly every evening from mid-November until December 24th, Ed would come home from work to find the Dwarf sitting on the couch, drinking Johnnie Walker in a Dixie cup, and wearing the sad costume of the day. Mostly, the Dwarf was Santa’s Helper, and he would don the requisite green and red elf tunic, green tights, and curved elf shoes, but occasionally the Dwarf would be asked to play a Hobbit (pointy silicone ears, black coat with a button vest, a cloak, matching pants, and giant rubber feet), a Wooden Toy Soldier (red jacket with royal blue pants and a black fur busby hat), and, for reasons that eluded Ed entirely, a Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz (knicker shorts, plaid shirt, and a giant swirl lollypop hairpiece). On Christmas Eve, Ed, desperate to get to his mother’s house on time, frantically searched the apartment for his car keys. As he bent over the sofa, ramming his hands in between the cushions, he noticed the Dwarf, sipping on his JW, his tired elf hat hanging limply to the left, drooping like a fading erection. Ed felt a surge of pity for the little man.
“Would you like to go with me to my mother’s house?” Ed asked. “She’s baking a ham. We don’t have to stay very long,” he continued.
“Is this some sort of mercy invite? ‘Poor dwarf doesn’t have anywhere to go on Christmas Eve. I know, I’ll invite him to Mom’s.’”
“No. No. Not at all. I only—“ Ed stumbled, caught off-guard by the Dwarf’s hostility.
“You only what? Felt sorry for me?” he challenged.
“No. Absolutely not. I just . . . you know . . . if you didn’t have plans . . . .”
“Do I look like I have plans, man?” The Dwarf grandly swept his hands in front of him, inviting Ed to survey the emptiness of the apartment. “Yeah, I got Carmen Electra in my bedroom waiting to give me a Christmas blow job.”
“Forget it,” Ed said churlishly. “I can’t find my keys. If you can help me look for a minute, I’ll be out of your way.” He stood up.
And then, unexpectedly, the Dwarf laughed, a deep, masculine wave. “It’s fine, man. I was just messin’ with you. I’d love to eat your mom.” The Dwarf chuckled and placed his hands in front of his mouth, an exaggerated Japanese-girlish gesture of foolishness. “I mean eat at your mom’s.”
The Dwarf flicked the remote and shut off the TV, but as he rose from the couch, he stumbled, nearly knocking Ed to the floor. “Give me a minute to change,” the Dwarf said as he staggered into his bedroom, but before Ed heard the bedroom door close, the Dwarf yelled, “Your keys are in the bowl on the sofa table!”
Ed realized, on the long car ride to Brooklyn, as the Dwarf compulsively pushed the radio buttons, maddeningly changing from station to station, that his judgment was flawed; he had made a serious mistake. He should have known, some sort of primitive instinct should have kicked in, warning him not to invite the Dwarf to a family gathering.
And later that evening, as Ed’s mother leaned over the table, balancing the platter in one hand as she lifted slices of glazed ham with the long serving fork with the other, Ed saw the Dwarf stare down into his mother’s cleavage, her clingy paisley shirt revealing the top of her freckled breasts.
“Nice Boobaloos,” the Dwarf remarked.
Much to Ed’s horror, his mother giggled and blushed like a thirteen-year-old girl. “You’re so bad,” she said, hefting large slices of ham onto the Dwarf’s plate. Ed heard a flirtatious inflection in her voice that troubled him.
“You have no idea,Doris,” the Dwarf slurred back playfully.
AsDorismade her way down the dining room table, serving glazed ham to a cadre of Ed’s overweight relatives, he felt the Dwarf nudge him in the ribs.
Leaning in close, so no one else could hear, the Dwarf whispered, “Maybe I will get that Christmas blow job, eh?” He slapped Ed on the back, snorted in laughter, and then went back to shoveling spoonfuls of mashed potatoes into his mouth.
After that tortuous night, as Ed drove back toQueens, the Dwarf snoring loudly beside him, he realized that this roommate situation was not to his liking. That he must suggest politely, and if that doesn’t work, more forcefully insist that the Dwarf start looking for a new apartment.
But he didn’t always feel this deep well of hostility. In fact, at first, he had liked the Dwarf. Ed had advertised in the Queen’s Chronicle, looking for someone to share the expenses of his two-bedroom apartment, and he remembered how he carefully worded the ad: “Must be neat, have steady income, and like cats.” Well, the Dwarf was none of those things; he was sloppy, could not keep a regular job (except for the brief Christmas season), and once, in a drunken rage, grabbed Lola by the scruff of her neck and tossed her, nearly punted her, outside the apartment door, into the hallway, because she had taken a dump on his bed.
Furious, Ed retrieved his cat, and told the Dwarf that if he ever mistreated her again, he could find himself a new apartment. The Dwarf grabbed his coat and stumbled out of the apartment. Ed was relieved, believing that finally the Dwarf would, on his own, look for a new place, but a few hours later, as Ed sat on the couch stroking Lola while he watched the news, he heard the familiar drunken jingle of keys as the Dwarf struggled to put the key into the lock. The Dwarf had come back.
When the Dwarf finally managed to open the apartment door, he carried with him a small, plastic bag. He walked over to the couch and plopped down next to Ed, clutching the bag in his small hand.
“When I was eleven,” the Dwarf began, “I used to pass this pet store on my way to school, and every day I would come home and beg my mom for a pet. I knew we couldn’t get a dog or a cat because my brother had asthma, or some shit, but I was willing to compromise: a guinea pig, a bird, an iguana, a hamster–anything. Well, for my twelfth birthday my mom got me this turtle. And I was stoked. It wasn’t a puppy, but it was something. I took it outside and played with it on the patio for about an hour, and then I got bored. I wanted to go inside and watch TV, but I didn’t want him to run away, right? So I found this empty flowerpot and put it over him. You know, a makeshift cage. I thought he’d be safe. But I left him in the sun, and it must have been really freakin’ hot that day, ‘cause when I came back the next morning, that sucka was fried. Fried. ”
“Who cares? Why are you telling me this?” Ed said.
The Dwarf shrugged. “People fuck up, man. Even when they finally get something they want, they somehow manage to fuck it up.” And with the flourish of a magician demonstrating a trick, the Dwarf pulled a cat toy from his bag. He grinned at Ed and tossed the toy on the floor. Lola sprang from Ed’s lap and jumped at the jingling toy mouse, batting it between her paws. In amnestic cat fashion, all was forgiven. The Dwarf stood up. “Sorry,” he said, and then walked into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
That first morning, however, when Ed met the Dwarf, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Ed recollected that the Dwarf had a steady knock, and while most would have rang the doorbell, he realized, much later, that the Dwarf couldn’t reach the bell, so he knocked, hard and solid, like a much larger man. Ed opened the door.
He looked down at the Dwarf, surprised. The Dwarf was only about three feet seven or eight, and he had the distinctive markings of his kind: a relatively long trunk and shortened upper parts. His head was large, with a prominent forehead, but Ed noted that the Dwarf was also strangely good looking, with longish hair, nearly down to his shoulders. He had dewy, intense brown eyes, reminding Ed of a miniature Jim Carrey.
“Not what you expected, huh?” the Dwarf said, extending his small, misshapen hand for Ed to shake. He didn’t wait for Ed to answer, but instead walked through the door, scanning the apartment.
“Nice place. Kitchen’s small.”
“Do you cook?” Ed asked. He thought he could detect the faint scent of liquor on the small man’s breath.
“Me? Nah. But if I did, the kitchen’s kind of small.”
After he inspected the apartment, the Dwarf sat down at the kitchen table and told Ed that he would sign the lease papers. While Ed hadn’t intended on making an offer on the spot, he was taken with the Dwarf. Perhaps Ed was intrigued with the idea of being friends with a dwarf. After all, he hadn’t any dwarf friends, but if truth be told, he hadn’t any friends at all. He was painfully shy, conscious of his receding hairline, and he hated the idea of sitting at a bar and approaching a strange woman. It filled him with dread, a sickening pit in his stomach. Instead, he went on Match.com and J-Date (even though he wasn’t Jewish), and he managed to meet a freckled-faced, heavy-set woman named Myrna Goldberg. She was a school secretary, or something like that. They had dinner a few times, and while her company wasn’t objectionable, he stopped returning her phone calls.
But on that initial meeting with the Dwarf, and some weeks after he moved in, the Dwarf seemed like he would work out. He was congenial, did the dishes, occasionally vacuumed, and frequently invited Ed out to the neighborhood bar, although Ed rarely accepted. But it was after one of these bar excursions that Ed first realized he had made a grievous error. As the night wore on, and the Dwarf pounded Jack Daniels, he grew embarrassingly boisterous and obnoxious After he grabbed a woman’s ass on his way to the bathroom, and was then unceremoniously slugged, slammed against the bar, and repeatedly pummeled by the enraged boyfriend, the bouncer told the Dwarf he needed to leave. While Ed urged him to leave, nearly dragging him out of the bar, the Dwarf grew belligerent, his face red with alcohol and rage.
“Fuck you,” the Dwarf said to the bouncer, a six-foot four African American, who, at least in Ed’s estimation of this man’s biceps, had done some serious prison time.
“Fuck me?” the bouncer countered. And without warning, he picked up the Dwarf, kicked open the bar door, and tossed him onto the concrete. Ed followed behind, apologizing to the waitress, and leaving a small tip on the table.
When he made it out the door, and saw the Dwarf sprawled on the sidewalk, Ed reached his hand down to hoist the Dwarf to his feet.
The Dwarf swatted Ed’s hand away, and pulled himself into a seated position. He wiped blood off his lip. “Don’t you pity me, man. I hate that shit.”
“Come on,” Ed said gently, reaching his hand down to the Dwarf again.
This time, the Dwarf conceded, letting Ed hoist him to his feet. He staggered, but Ed caught him, and they made their way back to their apartment.
It was subtle at first, like gaining weight—barely perceptible, then starkly undeniable, but, around March, Ed thought that the Dwarf seemed happier. At first Ed attributed the buoyancy to the Dwarf finally getting a part-time job as an Internet sales consultant, making cold calls for an online used-auto dealership. But it was more than that. Ed could detect that the Dwarf appeared to move with a different rhythm, a slower more controlled cadence, seeming to dance to an inner waltz.
And then, at breakfast one morning (a Cherry Pop Tart for the Dwarf; sliced mango and whole wheat toast for Ed), the Dwarf announced that he had been cold stone sober for three weeks.
“Why?” Ed asked. He realized later that it was an odd question, and that a more appropriate response would have been to say something banal like, “Good for you,” or “I knew you could do it.”
“You want to know ‘why?’” The Dwarf said, incredulous at the question. They ate in silence for a few moments, and then with his mouth still full of Pop Tart, crumbs spilling out the side, the Dwarf continued. “Sometimes you’re a real asshole, you know that?
“Me?” Ed stopped eating and stared dumfounded at the Dwarf. The small man irked him with every breath.
“Yeah, you,” the Dwarf persisted. “Look around, Little Suzy. How come your phone never rings? How come you never leave the apartment? Don’t you see what’s happening, man?”
Furious, Ed stood up, whisking his plate to the sink. He roughly turned on the faucet, adjusting the water, and then started furiously scrubbing his plate with a worn, green scrub pad. “Why am I forced to explain myself to an alcoholic—oh, excuse me, ex-alcoholic, whose only life ambition is to get plastered and sleep with hookers.”
“They’re not all hookers,” the Dwarf answered evenly.
“Really?” Ed countered angrily. “The Redhead? The one with the poodle purse. She wasn’t a hooker?”
The Dwarf guffawed, his deep baritone laugh filling the kitchen, taking Ed by surprise, as it always did. “Oh, Tangerine was definitely a hooker.”
The doorbell rang. Both Ed and the Dwarf looked at the door. Neither spoke, startled by the interruption.
“I’ll get it,” the Dwarf said, after a few seconds had passed, and he wiped the remaining crumbs away from his lips with the back of his hand.
The Dwarf opened the door, and Ed saw his mother.
“Mom?” Ed panicked. His mother never came to Queens, and she certainly would not come unannounced. “What’s wrong? What happened?” Ed felt the pit form in his stomach.
Doris ignored Ed and turned toward the Dwarf. “You didn’t tell him, did you, Caleb? You promised.”
And then, in that moment, it was startlingly clear. The shared intimacy between them, a palpable unveiling. And Ed knew.
“I tried, Dee, I really did. But you know Ed. He doesn’t listen very well.”
Doris nodded, confirming the Dwarf’s assessment, and that slight gesture, that assent of her head, wounded Ed, and he could feel the rush of tears start to rise deep in his throat, but if you asked him why, he would not be able to tell you. His words had dried up.
The three of them stood in the doorway, waiting for someone to continue. Instead, The Dwarf put on his coat and wrapped his arm around Doris’ waist. And then Doris, with the backside of her hand, gently touched Ed’s cheek.
Together, the Dwarf and Doris exited, leaving Ed alone to shut the apartment door. He leaned against the closed door for a few minutes, afraid to move, and then he picked up the phone. He dialed Myrna’s number. She wasn’t pretty, but she would do.
Andrea Greenbaum, Ph.D., is a Professor of English at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, where she teaches classes in fiction writing, cultural studies, gender, multimedia writing, and screenwriting.