At five feet one and a half inches, I was the tallest person in my family. Together with my father, mother and twin siblings, we moved contentedly through our compact lives; effortlessly picking things up from the floor, deftly controlling the presence of mice under the fridge. Our house was naturally cooled by the shadows of all that surrounded it and the lofty ceilings inside created a sense of majesty that never failed to lift our spirits.
My father was a man of science and ingenuity. When the twins were born, he created an instrument to monitor the air quality at different levels of each room. He would never tire of reminding us that the greatest atmospheric clarity was always found nearest the floor.
Whenever I felt down about my stature, my mother would remind me that life in the clouds was no picnic.
“While we may have to contend with the contents of someone’s nostrils, they are constantly peering down onto the tops of people’s heads and I simply can’t imagine it – all that scalp mange and grease!”
She would count off our natural advantages.
“If you wish to hide, the task could not be easier while notoriety is only a footstool away. For them, there is no real escape from scrutiny unless they bundle themselves into a broom closet. We are more fleet of foot and swift of mind. We are not bowed by arrogance or lofty notions of the self and so laughter comes more naturally to us. Believe me, my darling, life is much easier near the ground.”
Our bookshelves groaned with all the classics: The Borrowers, The Hobbit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Every Christmas we would gather around the television and watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the original film – and sing along with the Oompa-Loompas. Toulouse Lautrec’s cheeky women winked at us from every wall and father often had Tiny Tim spinning on the turntable, whom he admired for the sentiment.
One day our cousins came to visit from the city. They were giants. My Uncle stood at a commanding five foot eight inches and delighted in literally standing over father. Although we all knew where the greater brain power lay and so let him have his fun.
Out in the garden, we children re-enacted our favourite scene from Gulliver’s Travels. Wehijacked our grotesque cousins as they stood haplessly near the bird bath, pulling them to the ground where we pinned their gigantic limbs down with rope and camping pegs. Andre and Delilah roared with indignation as they pulled at their restraints, unable to lift themselves up from the ground. Then Rory hit on the winning idea of re-enacting the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots who, at five feet nine inches, would have towered over her stunted Elizabethan cousins. Delilah’s red hair made her a prime candidate for Mary while Andre would be her faithful man servant, fated to go to the grave with his queen in the style of the Egyptian pharaos. Tutankhamen was a whopping five feet eleven inches by the way.
Once, when mother was cleaning out Rona’s bedroom she found her secret collection of platform shoes. Our parents were devastated. Locking themselves away in the study, they could be heard turning scenarios of punishment and counselling around and around, trying to find a way to pull their beloved child from the evils of elevation. It was well past dinner time when they finally confronted Rona and everyone was tired and emotional.
Mother cried and said she couldn’t understand why someone who had been so loved would feel the need to do such a thing. Then father shocked us all by admitting that as a young man he had once purchased flamenco boots and a pair of insoles which he used to increase his height by several inches. The effect was so mesmerising he would stand in front of shop windows, unable to tear himself away from his reflection and the way he suddenly blended in with the stream of shoppers passing behind him.
With a new found vanity, he began frequenting the town’s many bars and gambling houses but as his arrogance grew so did the disreputable nature of his destinations. Finally, one night, he was led down an alleyway, drunk on the promises of a statuesque beauty only to be set upon by a couple of rouges who took everything including his boots, but in so doing, restored something far more valuable to our dear papa.
The next day, father and Rona left the house with a shovel and buried the platform shoes in a shallow grave at the edge of the garden. Rory and I watched through the kitchen window as they patted down the soil and then hugged each other tearfully. Behind us, mother continued to cry while she made a bread and butter pudding.
That night, we all sat around the dinner table, eating pudding and listening to Tiny Tim sing ‘Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight’. Harmony had been restored to our little lives and I shall never forget the sense of pride I felt, being part of a family that was somehow compact and colossal all at the same time, complete in its microcosm of love.