Excerpts from The Gigantic (2006)

The GIGANTIC By Milana Braslavsky

My new Pumas are getting dirty. Not in a good way, by which I mean a dirrrty way. They’re getting dirty, and the fact that I’m upset by this plagues me.

When I was thirteen, I made my father drive me to Payless Shoes so I could buy a discount imitation of the super popular shoes at the time. The most popular shoes of the time were, of course, black and white Sketchers with a thick platform sole and a chunky heel. Everyone was wearing them.

They looked like someone designed Chuck Taylors for a new, urban-oriented doll, and somehow the design found its way into the vengeful hands of a bitter shoe manufacturer (was Steve Madden in jail yet?) and ended up on the hooves of every pretty pre-teen girl at my middle school. At this point in my assimilation, I still naively thought the right shoes would magically point me in the direction of that Oz of suburban normality. My inability to discern between the real and the copy has become a self-conscious point of interest now that I’m almost fully aware of the intricacies of my relationship to middle-class culture.

After choosing the perfect, implacably white (never scuffed!) Skecher knock-offs, I nervously brought my golden ticket to the cash register, only to be informed that the shoes I chose so carefully were actually different sizes. The right was nine, a size I still seek out in clearance racks at every “Designer Brands for Less!” type store. The left was a ten. Ten is a number usually reserved for those pretty preteens from my middle school who grow up to be bulimic sorority girls at my graduate school with nose and boob jobs (and some other, genuinely pretty girls). I chose the tens, because it was an even number, and because I foolishly believed my feet would expand forever and ever. They didn’t. They stopped at eight and a half. Sometimes I wear a nine, especially in heels, but mostly I like to say I wear an eight and a half, which makes everyone of a certain class and education think of Fellini and smile that special acknowledging smile everyone of a certain class and education is seemingly born with.

I wore those shoes twice. I bought them so late in their short-lived season, and so much larger than my feet, that they were rendered useless almost immediately. My mother still brings up the large shoes. They’re my Payless albatross. I’m embarrassed for forcing my father to pay for those clods of a pair of those, and for asking for the gigantic size as a precaution for the feet that stopped growing. Maybe the purchase of the shoes stopped the expansion of the feet. In any case, I have become wiser in my shopping ways.

My graying white Pumas used to correspond so well to my white IPod and my subscription to the New Yorker and my numerous failed attempts to be an impressively speedy crossword solver. I don’t know when I became the person with a subscription to the New Yorker and little white buds in my ears.

This strange and false status I’ve ruefully allowed myself to embody with the help of expensive yet faulty monochromatic objects withstood a serious test when my father’s hip was crushed after he was slammed into a wall by a forklift. The test came much later. Later than the early morning on which I took an Amtrak train to Baltimore and a cab to the hospital instead of a day trip to New York I had originally planned. It came after the weeks I spent at the hospital and the physical therapy center, worrying about internal bleeding and blood clots, options I had only experienced previously with the help of highly rated prime-time dramas. The test came after my father moved from being bedridden to a walker to crutches to finally limping slowly from the kitchen to the couch. The test was in my explanation of my father’s accident to acquaintances.

I found myself faltering when I was explaining the circumstances in which my father works, the windowless factory, sweltering hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. My friends don’t have fathers in factories. It was as if I expected them to be confused, to assume a car accident or a rock wall mishap. Factories are the stuff of Henry Ford biographies and Charlie Chaplin Film 101 assignments. It was as if my brand-name (it’s the quiet flash of logos that gets the knowing glances) clothes would be exposed, and I would be known as the girl who buys her Ralph Lauren shirts at TJ Maxx.

It was an irrational sensation, but I felt it. What’s worse, I identified it and still felt it. I will probably feel it my whole life, just like I will continue to buy Pumas at Burlington Coat Factory, and marvel at the deal.

The GIGANTIC By Nathlie Provosty

One time I was chased by a GIGANTIC bumblebee. I swear it was about the size of a humming bird. But humming birds are the epitome of cuteness and giant bumblebees are the epitome of soccer game nightmares. I was walking along the creek of Burnet Woods, the urban woods near my house. Actually, I was walking my dog Chacco (she’s a girl) who was having a grand old time leaping into the puddles, sprinting forward twenty yards, stopping and bending her head around to make sure I was still there, then sprinting back directly into my shins. Repeat. Anyway, I was hopping along the rocks and the hubcaps busy sniffing the moist soil air. Moist soil is a delicious smell. You know at The Gap or Bath and Body Works or one of those types of stores, they sell a perfume called “dirt.” It’s true. It sits right next to “cut grass.” It’s like how the brand Jelly Bellies has the jellybean flavor “throw up.” But throw up is disgusting—no moist soil, that’s for sure! I wonder how many people enjoy gummy chunks of vomit hurls. Hmmmm.

Anyway, so I was walking enjoying the fresh earthy air and Chacco started barking at a hole in a tree trunk. I decided to check out what all her yipping was about. And I love tree trunks. I really do. So I go up there and peek into a hold. It is a dark hollowed out interior about half-crouching level from the ground. The trunk is the size of about half-crouching level from the ground. The trunk is the size of hug-ability, meaning if I wrap my arms around it the tips of my fingers on either side nearly touch. I look inside and hear a low painting sound that if I didn’t know better resembled an evil little chuckle. Immediately I thought of the scene in the movie “The Labyrinth” where the worm comes out of his hole in the wall and says, “Hello. How aw’ you? Would you like to come in and ‘av a cup ‘o tea with misses?” Classic. But that was a nice hospital worm, and this sound was foreboding.

Chacco continued to bark and I proceeded to search for a stick. Yet, I had poking in mind. It is called passive curiosity. You want to touch something but the feat factor keeps you from expressing your desires forthright—hence the intermediary. I find a stick suitable for marshmallow roasting and bring it back to the hole where Chacco tirelessly perseveres with her incessant yaps. Making sure to keep my head about fifteen inches from the hole I insert the stick. I hit a goes wall. Blahh. Circular pokes render no more insight so I start getting bored. Okay, I’ve had enough.

I continue walking along the creek, figuring Chacco’s herding tendencies will catch her up with me. Little did I know it was the GIGANTIC, not Chacco, on my tail. I hear the evil chuckle behind me. Out of my left periphery comes this ENORMOUS bumble bee madly flapping its wings. I am dead serious. It is the defensive tackle of bumblebees. It is the iron man car pusher, the shot-put thrower, the big Bertha of bumbles! With blind glory it aims, shoots, scores…right up my surprised left nostril! I scream that makes all the frogs on this side of the Midwest hop back into their respective bodies of water. This GIGANTIC has thoroughly lodged its furry black head into my fuzzy dark hole. I shake my cranium so vigorously my brain sloshs around. No change. Eventually I begin to calm down. No change.

I didn’t want to brush the bee off with my hand because with this pricker pointing out I could possibly receive the mother of all stings, the atomic bomb of beestings! Actually, setting it free of all be an invitation to receive its wrath. Seeing no other option I readied myself to throw my head into the creek. But suddenly, pity overtook me. How audacious to kill this creature just to avoid a string. How selfish to value my comfort over its life!

Growing up I was the type to always save insects. You know, I would let (a.k.a. throw) the spider out my window instead of smooshing it. Or I would see a roach and do the grossed-out hopping dance until it, terrified, scurried back into some dark nook. I never wanted to be the killer. And hey, I had to give the GIGANTIC the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it got lost and mistook my nostril for the hole in the tree. I mean, my nostrils are pretty big. And they have a pleasant habit of flapping in the breeze that I’m sure any creature in a time of fear and confusion would find comforting.

Unfortunately I realized I could not continuously sit idle as the poor helpless bee wiggled in vain like a stubborn bogger. Pity is not action. I took a hard look at my face in the reflection of the water. After a few minutes I made the decision. If I stuck my face in the creek I would drown the bee—but help the bee forward in its spiritual journey. It would be a blessing in disguise. It would be the right thing to do. I bent down on my knees and looked up to the heavens. The light flickering through the late autumn leaves was stunningly beautiful. After a deep breath through my mouth and right nostril, I took one last look down my nose at the poor striped wiggling creature. I lowered my head into the pure sacred water. The bee’s body jerked as it struggled to break free. Echoing inside my skull I heard its last little gasps. Then there was silence. Then there was nothing.

I felt profoundly sad.

The ephemerality of life was literally placed right below my nose. But what can you do? What can you do? Keep walking I suppose.

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