The Low Ones: a magical realism writing experiment
plus a lil recap on a fun thing I did
“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Matilda (1996) is one of the first films I remember dreaming about. Inspired and energized the next morning, I, naturally, spent hours around the house trying to move things with my mind.
Matilda delves into emotional abuse and toxic family dynamics, yet a child like me could watch it and feel freer rather than distraught. I couldn’t explain then how empowering such a film like this was for an imaginative, repressed, little shy bean like myself. But now I know that this is what makes magical realism, a genre rooted in reality with twinkling undercurrents of magic, so special.
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Magical realism has this unique power to cloak otherwise heavy subject matter into fanciful and liberating tales without dampening their poignancy.
Indeed, this genre is one of my favorites. So it was an absolute delight to teach a magical realism class just a few weeks ago.
I got to join several writers on their creative journey’s into fantastically whimsical tales. It was such fun to hear the many different paths we chose for our short stories: some comedic, some cerebral, others steeped in viscerally visual horror.
Well, everyone read their work except one: me! Ain’t it just like the teacher to be the only one?!
So today, I’ll share the story I planned to share with my class. A tale about a very normal world, except for the way in which depression exists in our bodies.
The Low Ones: a short story
Melancholy, flighty little things, The Low Ones. Discreet. Quietly existing in the dusty corners of their own once-befitting homes until the feelings wear away. That is, if the feelings wear away. For some, they never do.
Oh, anyone can be a Low One. All that’s required is a low enough feeling for a long enough time, and there you shrink, as small and minuscule as a thimble.
Teddy Evans lived in his parents kitchen cabinet right beside the cups and bowls. And after years of this lowly existence, dear Teddy was on the cusp of a sort of nonchalance that his parents, most specifically his mother, would detest. Especially as she trudged through their home this very moment teeming with some subjectively great news, “Teddy? Honey, you seen Teddy?”
If only she could find her tiny son. Evelyn (her name was Evelyn) abhorred scrambling around her two-story home trying to find her thumb-sized only child. Especially when he didn’t wear his button. The one they bought over the counter at Walgreens that was supposed to sound an alarm in times like these. The one she spotted on the counter beside his lunch just moments ago.
No, Teddy was not in his cabinet sleeping or settled on his couch made of pillow stuffing in the living room. Actually, Teddy was in the worst place he could be: the backyard patio. Oh, Teddy missed the sun! He needed fresh air and a change of scenery, and so, against his doting parent’s wishes, Teddy snuck out atop the family dog Gumbo quite frequently, indeed.
“Teddy! Honey, where is your son?” Evelyn asked her husband, Teddy Sr., once again.
Teddy’s father paused his favorite “Family Matters” rerun and shook his head without the slightest hint of emotion before he said, “He was in the kitchen last I saw him.”
Back to the show.
Teddy Sr. was growing frustrated with his dear son. In fact, his frustration was the only thing growing in that house as of late. Because Teddy Sr. never intended to accommodate his grown son longer than the usual three-month stint in between firings and/or breakups. But it had been five long years now. Five years, five increasingly somber birthdays, five hot and humid summers since Teddy’s roommate left that life-altering voicemail on Evelyn’s cell phone.
So no, Teddy Sr. did not know where his grown son was hiding this unfortunately typical Tuesday early-afternoon. He might have even grimaced to know Teddy Jr. was, in fact, having a marvelous time amidst the fresh autumn breeze. Marvelous, for him anyway. It was one of those moments Teddy Jr. now embraced in which he didn’t feel quite so small. No matter that these moments were actually somewhat painful for Low Ones. To be a Low One during a moment of bliss is to resist the pangs of a body fighting against itself.
Teddy embraced these moments. He swallowed the pain. Not like he’d actually get big again. He’d tried that. He’d almost stopped trying. Nearly stopped caring. He’d told himself being a Low One wasn’t so bad after all. He also told himself other little lies he almost believed.
“Teddy!” His mom shouted right above his head this time, not knowing her son lay easy in the grass right before her espadrilles. Gumbo the dog would never tell, as he lay there right beside him. If only Teddy’s relentless allergies didn’t give him away with a larger-than-life sneeze.
“Boy, I could have crushed you!” Evelyn badgered.
“You didn’t.” Teddy said, arms folded, as his mother scooped him up into the palms of her freshly manicured hands.
“Why are you even out here by yourself?” She kept going.
“I’m thirty!” Teddy whined before catching himself and then, in more of a mumble, “I’m a grown man and I can’t even go outside by myself.”
“Well, that’s why I was trying to find you actually, “ Evelyn said.
Teddy froze to the twinge of his mother’s “good news” smirk. The one that often preceded some outlandish promise to cure his current state of being. She continued as her expression warned with, “I met with Dr. Cade before my manicure.”
“Listen! Listen, now she said the team just started a small group study,” Evelyn pressed on.
Teddy groaned. She kept on, ignoring him, “A small study for Low Ones like you,” she said as if that weren’t clear enough.
“Uh huh.” Said Teddy, forfeiting in her grasp as she placed him on the kitchen counter.
“They’re seeing really good results already,” Evelyn beamed. She had this fascinating optimism that seemed to erase all previous failures on the subject. As if she had no recollection of just nine months ago, the last time Teddy tried one of these…studies.
“Oh, folks not exploding this time?” Teddy asked with a defiant sort of sarcasm, hoping to jog his mother’s memory.
Of course she ignored again, “There’s this one woman in Cincinnati? She’s in her forties. Five kids. She’s been big again for a whole year now. No side effects.”
“No side effects? None?” Teddy knew the answer to this. There were always side effects.
“None!” Evelyn begin to lie before her son’s tiny frank expression thwarted her, “Just a little mild depression here and there. Nothing like she used to have! And you know, maybe a few vomiting fits. The shakes… A few little glitches…nothing serious is what I’m saying.”
“Glitches? Mom.” Teddy wanted to walk away, but where could he possibly go that would be far enough. He massaged the space between his temples. His mother was still speaking. He knew it, because that is how these discussions would go, historically. But don’t ask him what she said next. He would never in his life be able to tell you. Not until she said the thing he hoped she wouldn’t. He wasn’t ready to speak on this truth aloud.
“You know, I’m starting to think you don’t wanna be big.”
Teddy played with the arms of a chair made of one single recycled plastic bottle and he contemplated shrinking further. Perhaps into oblivion.
The end (for now!)
Thank you all for reading. I’d love to read more magical realist novels and/or short stories. If you happen to know of good ones please let the people know, below.
Talk to y’all soon!
p.s.: I’m quite excited for the next post. It involves touching grass.