The Teeny-Tiny Scotsman Who Lives on my Dresser
There’s a teeny-tiny Scotsman who lives on the top of my dresser. His name is Hank. Me and Hank, we talk about life, mostly in the early morning moments after waking just before I leave the room to shower, have a bowl of cereal, and slush through the day. Hank goes about his business – whatever the business is of a teeny-tiny Scotsman who lives on the top of dressers – and I go about mine, but those early morning conversations are our most sacred time. If and when I tidy up my home, I extend him the courtesy to let him know that I will be using the vacuum. Hank is not a fan of the vacuum, and he appreciates the advance warning.
Hank’s hair is curly and red and a little wild under that wool tam of his, white collared shirt tucked into a red tartan kilt. His shiny black ghillie brogues tap around the dresser’s smooth surface, which sounds like the tick of a wall clock, and I’ve often wondered about who makes the teeny-tiny kilt hose and garter flashes. Is there a traditional teeny-tiny Scottish shop run by a teeny-tiny Scottish tailor somewhere in my home? And if so, is there a teeny-tiny economy with teeny-tiny currency, and taxes, and loans?
“Money,” Hank tells me one day, “only holds value when it is spent. ‘Tis the absence of something that creates true worth.”
I stretch, reaching across the cold and unused side of the queen bed.
“Some things cannot be measured by wealth,” I say. Hank takes out his teeny tiny bagpipe and plays Amazing Grace, which has been one of my favorites since I started sleeping alone. Sometimes I think that Hank understands me in a way that no one else ever will.
I work in an office and do office work. It’s not important work, but it’s work nonetheless. My coworkers love to celebrate mediocrity by handing out coffeeshop gift cards for hitting arbitrary quota numbers set by corporate, or always showing up on time, or having a positive attitude. When it’s someone’s birthday, we gather in the kitchen and sing a song and cut store-bought cake with a plastic knife. I think people act happy on cake-days, not because they’re celebrating someone surviving another year, but because they don’t have to do their work and hit the arbitrary numbers set by corporate.
Hank lives in a bothy built out of clay, pine needles from an old Christmas tree, and q-tips. He doesn’t complain about wanting more, and is happy for what he has.
“If I spend my life pining o’er the things I want and ne’er appreciate the things I have, then my life is spent with the constant grieving of fulfillment,” he tells me.
“If I had a time machine,” I tell him, “I would take better index of moments. The small moments. The way the tiny hairs on her ears would stand when I whispered her name, the quiet comfort of reaching for me amidst a bad dream and the feel of her pounding heart that slowed when I reached back, the look in her eyes after a yawn as the final bits of sleep gave way to waking life.”
“Aye, a time machine is a nice fantasy, but that makes us all immortal. Absence gives meaning to worth.”
“I don’t believe in time travel anyways,” I tell him. “If we had the ability to go back and change the past, it means we are currently living in the best-case scenario.”
“Still,” Hank tells me. There is a familiar longing in his teeny-tiny eyes as he strokes his teeny-tiny bushy beard. “What I wouldn’t give for one more day with Merida, my sweet bonnie lass.”
The day I returned to work after Cassie’s passing, my coworkers gave me hugs, and succulents for my desk, and said if there was anything I needed – they were there to help. How could I tell them that I didn’t want a stupid job, or their stupid succulent plants, or that I knew they didn’t actually mean what they said? If I asked for a raise to help pay for funeral costs, they’d do an office collection instead. If I asked for leniency on workload, they’d give me a week before corporate said I wasn’t hitting the required arbitrary numbers. If I asked for them to help me understand why me, and why her, and why, why, why, could they ever give me an answer that eased the burden? Instead, I sat behind my computer and clacked my fingertips against the keys to fill the empty spreadsheets with numbers. My first day back, I only ever looked forward to that next paycheck.
Hank cooks and the aroma fills the room. Smoke comes out of the teeny-tiny chimney while he cooks teeny-tiny meat pies, and haggis, and shortbread cookies. The smell pulls me from the land of dreamless dreams. By the time I sit up, Hank is sitting on the edge of the dresser, his teeny-tiny legs dangling over the lip, sipping his teeny-tiny mug of coffee. He watches me paw around for the orange pill bottle until my fingers pinch the sides and I fiddle with the cap.
“Drugs,” I say, after dry swallowing the morning score.
“Do you know the difference between legal and illegal substances?” he asks.
“Tell me,” I say. “What is the difference between legal and illegal substances.”
“Productivity,” he says. “Those illegal substances decrease the ability work and function with cognitive certainty, which means you can’t do your job, which means you can’t make someone else money. The rich do all the drugs they want.”
Hank disappears momentarily to let the meat pies and haggis cool on a teeny-tiny window. He reappears chewing a teeny-tiny shortbread cookie.
“I make them money, and they pay me their table scraps,” I say.
“Scraps for you is a meal for me,” he says, and then he laughs so hard that I think him unhinged. Sometimes I feel as though he takes great pleasure in being a teeny-tiny Scotsman, and I envy his ability to be so self-aware and self-accepting.
The boss calls me into her office one morning. The invite comes via email. Not even a personalized email, just a link to block off time on my calendar. Once inside, she tells me to shut the door, so I shut the door and sit in an exposed chair while she sits behind her desk. She lectures me about, OKR’s, PTO, SLA’s, SOP’s, and other arbitrary metrics. I sit there listening without listening. It has been a year since Cassie’s departure, but time doesn’t exist above water the same way it does beneath the surface.
“The real reason I called you in here today,” she says after a while, and leans forward in a whisper, “is that I have this friend…”
She explains that she wants to set me up on a date, that I could say totally say no, that her friend is sweet, and compassionate, and heartbroken too.
“Is that how you see me?” I ask. “Heartbroken?”
Hank and I talk about love, and the unsupported belief that love will save us.
“Companionship,” Hank says, “is what we truly desire. Love is too vast, undefined, and unexplainable to be actively sought. What we confuse for love is a combination of intimacy, vulnerability, and being comfortable with silence.”
“Love is talking about pancakes on Friday night, and then waking up Saturday to eat them,” I say.
“Love is tending to a teeny-tiny herd of sheep without realizing that one of them is a cotton ball, and then laughing at the absurdity of gained perspective.”
“Love is carrying on after love has left,” I say.
“Love is the absence o’ love,” Hank says, and we both spend the quiet early morning routine contemplating the words of the other until I get up to shave. Hank collects the fallen whiskers. He uses them to make teeny-tiny stuffed animals in the shape of Scottish terriers.
I go on that date. The woman meets me at a restaurant and introduces herself as my boss’s friend, and that she’s heard so much about me. I wonder what she’s been told. As far as I know, the boss sees me as a measurable set of data points.
We sit at a small, round table with a candle flickering between us. She orders red wine, and they bring her a glass three-quarters full. I order water, and my glass comes filled to the brim.
“What’s the most interesting thing about you?” she asks. She has a kind way about her. Gentle eyes, soft voice, the longing eyebrows of separation.
“There’s a teeny-tiny Scotsman who lives on my dresser,” I say. “We talk about life.”
“Do you ever talk about death?” she asks, and I shake my head no and stare at the menu pretending to read it.
The next morning, Hank doesn’t come out of his bothy. The lights aren’t on, so I imagine him feeling a bit under the weather. Dust builds along the surface of the dresser and teeny-tiny footprints track the pacing of wandering thought. It appears as though Hank, through all of his teeny-tiny wisdom, has thoughts from which he cannot escape.
At work, I get called into the kitchen for a cake-party. My coworkers in their bland shirts and pants and haircuts make their best attempt to sing me a cheery song. After a steady increase in my measurable metrics, I’ve managed to consistently hit my arbitrary goals. We cut the cake and put each piece onto flimsy paper plates too small for slices of cake, even though they are built to hold pieces of cake. Coworkers pick over the selection trying to find their preferred balance of icing to innards.
“My friend really likes you,” my boss says. She pushes a piece of yellow into her mouth with a cheap plastic fork. She bounces her eyebrows like we’re friends.
“She’s nice,” I say. I pick up a plated slice of arbitrary victory cake and use the dull, serrated edge of a plastic knife to remove the icing entirely. Looking at the plate, both ingredients seem sad and purposeless the moment they are apart.
“You’ve come a long way,” my boss says, but she isn’t aware of the situation on my dresser.
“We define one thing through the absence of another,” Hank says. He looks older, his teeny-tiny body is hunched and fragile. “Clean is the absence o’ filth. Dark is the absence o’ light. Companionship is the absence o’ loneliness.”
My home desperately needs cleaning. Clothes are piled in the corner, dishes stacked in the kitchen sink, the living room rug tracked with dirty footprints.
“I may use the vacuum later,” I say.
“Spring’s blossoms are Autumn’s death,” Hank says, and I get the sense that something is bothering him.
“Can we talk about death?” I ask.
“Death is the absence of life,” Hank says. “A candle without a wick is just wax.”
Hank goes inside his teeny-tiny home and closes the door.
When I come home that evening, a FOR SALE sign made out of a toothpick and matchbook is posted on the dresser in front of the bothy.
I vacuum the living room, put dirty clothes into the wash, and clean the stacked dishes in the sink.
My date spends the night. For the first time since Cassie, I wake up with someone beside me. Come morning, she yawns and stretches and checks the time until she notices that I’m awake.
“Are you happy I’m here?” she asks.
“Happiness is the absence of sadness,” I say, and look at the dresser where Hank’s bothy has fallen in on itself. It looks abandoned, weathered, and empty.
“What was she like?” the woman asks, and I start to cry because I still feel so alone.
“She was here one day, and gone the next,” I weep. I don’t care about being strong, or holding it in, or anything else the grieving are supposed to do to make the not-grieving feel comfortable. The woman holds me.
“When my husband passed,” she says, “I used to sit up all night with a cartoon cat. Nothing else mattered except for those conversations.”
“What happened to the cat?” I ask.
“Chased a cartoon mouse outside, and they all just disappeared.”
I look to the top of the dresser waiting for Hank to emerge, waiting for some sort of goodbye, desperately waiting for closure to our unique time together. But that’s the honest truth about moving on. It just kind of happens.
“Hank hated the vacuum,” I say. “Told him it was coming, but he might have forgotten.”
“Is he the teeny-tiny Scotsman who lives on your dresser?” the woman asks.
“Lived,” I say. “Past tense,” and saying it out loud make the early morning feel new again like mistaking a cotton ball for a sheep, and then laughing at the absurdity of gained perspective.
W. T. Paterson is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and is a graduate of Second City Chicago. His work has appeared in over 90 publications worldwide including The Saturday Evening Post, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Fresh Ink. A semi-finalist in the Aura Estra short story contest, his work has also received notable accolades from Lycan Valley, North 2 South Press, and Lumberloft. He spends most nights yelling for his cat to "Get down from there!" Visit his website at www.wtpaterson.com.