Pinocchio and Thumbelina are sitting down to supper. It’s the first thoroughly cooked fish in days, but neither of them are very hungry.
They need to feed themselves with something, though, or they’ll go crazy. So, they have a misery contest to chew on.
“I’m breakable—my bones won’t heal back,” says Pinocchio proudly.
“I’m misplaceable. I almost got baked into a muffin,” says Thumbelina, flipping her black hair braided with sunflower.
“I actually got eaten. Twice,” boasts Pinocchio.
“Oh, you silly ass. Do you know how many times I got betrothed?”
“Hey, we were talking about bad things.”
“It IS bad! The rats who arranged it didn’t even know me. Would you marry a toad? Or a mole?”
“I like toads.”
“Then you marry him.” Thumbelina scowls in disgust and looks away.
There’s a dead bird puppet there. She hates reminders of death, so now she looks away from that.
Pinocchio keeps talking to ward off the metal silence. “I have nightmares 24/7. I have a terrible phobia of donkey sounds. I was hanged and chewed on by a school of fish and trapped in a carnival ride that never ends. Not in that order. I broke things and pushed away the only one who really loved me, not just to play with. My eyes water too much. I blame that drink they gave me.”
Thumbelina, sitting upon his nose, can’t help but poke and prod. “Carnival rides sound fun, and you say I’m whining.”
In a mirror shard reflection, Pinocchio looks at her. “The ride never ended.”
Eyes used to the dark now, Thumbelina looks down at his brown wooden limbs—chipped and scarred. Hanging limp, his shoes—carved as parts of his feet —are torn haphazardly. There are teeth marks on his arm from when he desperately tried to take off the donkey fur growing on him. Scars. She knows a thing or two about scars, especially after the insects called her nasty things.
She pulls on her shredded sleeves and sighs. “I’ve been a terrible conscience.”
“I didn’t ask you to be my conscience. I can take care of myself.”
“As your big sister, that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
“You’re one inch tall.”
“For the last time, Gnocchi, big means older.”
“There wasn’t much you could do, anyway. You couldn’t stay on my shoulder all the time. It was my choice.” Pinocchio rubs his eyes fiercely on his faded sleeve. Drink me, be animal, still hiccups in the back of his mind, a haunted jingle. There’s still a bad taste in his mouth of a drink run dry; there’s still a high-pitched break in his voice that scares him. “I miss the maker.”
Thumbelina catches his hand and briefly hugs his thumb, which is about her size. “We’ll find him.”
“But what if we don’t?”
“But what if we don’t?”
“I said we will.”
“But what if—”
“Pinocchio! We will!” Standing, Thumbelina tries to yank on his hair before realizing it’s still all wood, smooth and carved and painted. Except not so smooth anymore. She’s torn off a black-painted splinter.
It’s quiet for a long time. It gives the bumping wheels underneath them more attention than deserved.
“At least you were loved,” says Pinocchio, to break the silence.
Thumbelina lights up like a little match girl. “Don’t give me that. That was not love. I wanted nothing to do with the toads. The cockchafer only wanted a night, and then when others pointed out that it looked human, he threw me away. And the mole just wanted me to fill some void because he says miser amet dolor.”
“Misery loves company.” Thumbelina pushes her sunflower hair out of her face in disgust. Though her braids go so well with the petals, a flower is the last thing she feels like. She examines her own scars, thankfully too small for her brother to see. “They’ve done a lot of things to me, Pinocchio, but the total opposite of love.”
Pinocchio can’t stay quiet for long. “But I can’t be real. Ever. All those real boys I saw, they don’t ever break. I’m not real.”
Thumbelina looks down at him and softens. She’s still annoyed that Pinocchio doesn’t understand how stressful it is to be small. But he is her little brother.
“Whoa,” she says, wobbling a bit.
“What? What is it?”
“Watch it, Pinocchio, don’t say lies like that.”
“What are you talking about?”
“At least wait until I’m off your nose to start telling lies to make it grow. Sheesh.”
“Your nose just grew.”
“Shut up, you know it didn’t.”
“It did! It’s just that you’re not little enough to appreciate it. Just like you’re not little enough to hear heartbeats so clearly. Remember the robin you thought was dead, but I could hear it wasn’t?”
Pinocchio nods—then catches himself and slows down his nods so as not to knock his sister off. “I tried to bury it and you kept sneaking out every night to nurse it. I thought you were a ghost the size of a tissue.” That was also the time he thought she was dead because he didn’t know what sleep was. (It had been the first day of his life).
Thumbelina laughs. “Well, I’m telling you, your nose grew when you said that about yourself, about how you can’t ever be real. You know it’s not true. I’ve seen my share of fakes, and you’re the most real person I know. Hey. What did the maker tell you about lying?”
“I should ask you the same question,” says Pinocchio warily. But a smile forms on his lips anyway.
It’s quiet again. They don’t know how far they’ve travelled, how much longer they’re being dragged away. Soon, the door would open and they’d be forced to act and dance like dolls again.
“So…” says Pinocchio, “You don’t like being called pretty?”
Thumbelina scowls. “You still don’t understand. Creeps think it’s a password to keep me in a jar or something.”
Pinocchio shrugs. “I always thought you were beautiful, Thumbelina.”
Quiet. Only the sounds of banging wheels and grinding halts and abrupt starts and pounding rain outside.
Thumbelina doesn’t know how to explain that he can’t copy her technique of consolation. She knows he doesn’t go on flattering her glowing umber skin or flowery black hair like others did. He doesn’t make any insulting, inhuman comparisons to food or accessory, or a product now soiled and wasted. Pinocchio doesn’t understand how deep this goes, that “beautiful” falls empty. He’s innocent. But it still doesn’t break any curse.
Thumbelina sighs, “I know you thought that would help, Gnocchi, but—”
“Remember when you spun around and around forever without getting dizzy? I looked at you and you made me feel like I could get up and walk. Remember when you saved me from that bee? You weren’t afraid of anything, when I thought it should scare you cause it’s bigger than you. And—and—and I love how loud you get, loud as a giant when you’re really happy! And when you dance on a windy day, and it’s like you can fly! You…you made me feel like I could be alive.” He sounds like he’s breaking down, this little boy, desperate to cling onto memories like a makeshift nightlight. He’s trying. “Forget the animals, sis. They took nothing. They can’t ever take that from you.”
It’s quiet again, except Pinocchio can hear how Thumbelina breathes. “Well…thank you, Pinocchio.” Just then, her stomach growls. Pinocchio’s stomach seems to agree. “This place still sucks, though.” She breathes out, seeing her own breath. She sees dangling puppet bodies, and broken mirrors enough to make a superstitious go berserk. She knows it’s no use to look in those mirrors, but they have nothing else to look at themselves with. Not without the maker.
She sees the fallen bird puppet again, sprawled on the dirty floor, dead. Or did it move?
She could do it; she could tell a ghost story to Pinocchio about a heart beating in the bird still. A ghost story about themselves, as souls still living when, worst case scenario, their bodies were sacrificed. She could nurse hope back to life. Or they’d die. Or she’d be betrothed to the darkness, and her poor immortally animated brother digested in the monster that consumed them.
She could talk about the maker’s creased hands, his open arms, their freedom and the boundless rolling grassland they’d run through someday. The stars there’d be! The trees there’d be! And you’ll be real, and I’ll have my wings. We’d both be real, Gnocchi.
Pinocchio’s way ahead of her—he suddenly lights up. “Look,” he breathes, pointing at the bird puppet. “I saw it move. I saw it move!”
Thumbelina stands up. “We have got to get out of here.”-