Darling Dearest was very good at taking care of herself, which is how she ended up living all alone on a houseboat. She used to live in an ordinary house with her parents, until the government told everyone to Stay Where You Are. The night of the announcement, Darling Dearest packed a small bag filled with only the essentials, crawled out her window, and walked down to the dock.
Darling Dearest loved many things about her houseboat. It had wooden floors that she liked to polish until they smelled like lemon. The kitchen had the most delicious smoothie ingredients like bananas, frozen raspberries, and hemp seeds. On the counter was a magical blender that cleaned itself.
A rope ladder connected the kitchen to the upstairs room, which was filled with books, toys, and beanbags. When sat upon, each beanbag made a different sound. The red one whistled, the one with yellow polka dots sighed, and the blue one farted. Brightly colored lightbulbs were strung from one corner of the ceiling to the other. The lights responded to Darling Dearest’s moods, and, to cheer her up, turned brighter on the days she felt sad. The only time she ever felt sad, however, was when she finished a really good book or took the last bite of chocolate cake. The rest of the time, Darling Dearest was happy.
Her houseboat had a green, checkered couch that turned into a waterbed when Darling Dearest squeezed a fuzzy pom-pom attached to the side. She had a TV with many channels including one that only showed episodes of Adventure Time and Full House. The TV was voice-activated, and when Darling Dearest came back from a swim, she could call out, “Play the one where Stephanie starts kindergarten.”
Most of all, Darling Dearest loved her balcony that circled the top level of the houseboat. She liked to recline on her lounge chair with an orange popsicle and feel the sun on her belly. When she got too hot, she’d spray herself with cucumber water from her glittery spray bottle, and when that wasn’t enough, she jumped from the balcony into the cool water below. Darling Dearest read many books on her balcony, and often had dinner there while watching the sun set. She always made a wish on the first star. Sometimes it was hard to think of a wish, when she felt that she had everything she ever wanted. At those times, she’d make a wish for the world.
One day after her swim, Darling Dearest was on her balcony enjoying a quesadilla with extra jalapenos and a cup of black coffee, when something flew out of the sky and hit her on the head. “Ouch,” she exclaimed, “What was that?” She put down her quesadilla and licked her fingers. She looked down, and there, next to her white plastic chair was a large, brown, hairy coconut. “Where did that come from?” Darling Dearest said to no one in particular. She often spoke aloud, but not because she wished for someone to answer her, but because she enjoyed hearing her voice, which was medium-pitched and singsongy. She reached down and picked up the coconut. It was heavy, like a small bag of groceries. She plopped it down on the table next to her plate.
Darling Dearest had never seen a coconut in person, but she had read about them in The Encyclopedia of Fruit.
She took a bite of quesadilla, and stared at the coconut. She took a sip of coffee and stared at the coconut. Finally, it began to roll from side to side. Darling Dearest was not scared. She knew that the best surprises often came in the form of interruptions.
The coconut began to speak. “Hello!” it said. “Nice to see you.” The voice was low-pitched and friendly sounding.
Darling Dearest adjusted her sunflower hair clip and leaned down to speak to the coconut. “Hello!”
“Would you mind letting me out of here?”
“Do you want me to cut you open?” Darling Dearest asked.
“Yes please. I’ll stay to one side.”
Darling Dearest told the coconut that she’ll just be a minute, and went to the upstairs room where she kept her machete in a leather case hanging on a wall hook.
“I’m back. Are you on the right side or the left side?”
“If you’re looking at the coconut, I’m on the left.”
Darling Dearest gave the coconut one strong whack and it split right down the middle. There, standing on the left half was a tiny man wearing a brown three-piece suit and a red necktie. He smiled and waved. “Well isn’t this a glorious view?” he said. “Would you mind helping me out so I can get a better look?”
The tiny man gracefully leapt into Darling Dearest’s open palm. He dusted himself off and small white flakes blew off his body into the warm air. He stood on his tiptoes and looked around. “It really is spectacular,” he said. “I can see why you love it here.” His voice was loud, given the size of his body. “Are you drinking coffee, Darling Dearest?” he asked, craning his head over his shoulder, staring at the table.
“How do you know my name?”
The tiny man took a deep breath and said, “I am your grandfather.”
She leaned over and stared at his miniscule bushy eyebrows and chin dimple. “Grandpa! Why are you so small and how did you get inside of a coconut?”
Her grandfather rested his hands on the tops of his thighs, took another deep breath, began speaking and did not stop until the coffee was cold and the sun had set. He told his granddaughter what happened after the government told everyone to Stay Where You Are. Many people got sick from the virus and some people died. Darling Dearest’s parents had both gotten sick, but thankfully recovered. He spoke of Darling Dearest’s grandmother, who smoked clove cigarettes and wrote rhyming poems about nature. He said their love was like a pavlova, sweet and filling without ever feeling like you’d had too much. The tiny man’s tiny eyes filled with tears when he described the moment of his wife’s death, when he held her hand and promised he would always love her.
“And that’s when the shrinking began.”
Darling Dearest wiped her tears and said quietly, “The shrinking?”
“Soon after your grandmother died, I began to shrink. Slowly at first, but then very quickly. Soon my wedding ring fit my wrist.”
Darling Dearest had read many books but never one about a shrinking disease. “Were you scared?”
“Yes.” The tiny man held his index finger up towards the sky. “Until I remembered my coconut collection.” He smiled. “Do you collect anything?”
“Shells,” she said softly, “And duck figurines.”
“Did you know that coconuts stop people from shrinking?” Darling Dearest had not read this in The Encyclopedia of Fruit.
Darling Dearest looked around at her balcony and inside to the upstairs room with the rainbow lights and the farting beanbag. She could not imagine living inside of a coconut.
“But you’re ok? You don’t have the virus?”
“I’m more than ok, Darling Dearest. Never been healthier. And you. Look at you. You have taken good care of yourself, being alone on this houseboat. I am proud of you.”
She was happy her grandfather was here. At night, he slept next to her on the couch, curled up on a bamboo coaster.
In the morning, they both noticed his feet were hanging off the coaster and his vest was tight around the middle. After a breakfast of coffee and scones, followed by a refreshing swim, Darling Dearest stared at her grandfather. Crouching down to look into his eyes, she declared, “I think you’ve grown, Grandpa.”
He smiled. “I also noticed this, Darling Dearest, but I didn’t want to say anything until after our swim. Indeed, I have grown nearly one inch since I arrived yesterday. I think it is because I am no longer sad.”
The next several days were filled with storytelling and smoothie making. And all the while, Darling Dearest’s grandfather kept growing.
“I don’t think I need to live in a coconut anymore Darling Dearest,” her grandfather announced one afternoon, after an episode of Adventure Time.
“You wouldn’t fit in one, Grandpa!” They both laughed.
Darling Dearest had also noticed something changing within herself. She had really enjoyed living on her own for quite some time, but her grandfather’s arrival had made her realize there was nothing quite like the company of someone you love.
“Grandpa?” Darling Dearest said, placing her hand on his. “Would you like to stay here with me?”
“I would like that very much,” he replied.
Darling Dearest sighed with happiness. And then the two of them played backgammon. They didn’t even notice when the first star appeared.