PLENTY OF FISH

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Well, Sarah realised that she had been alone too long. Pretty soon she would lose the habit of romance altogether. It was as if a radio warning had gone out that snowstorms were due: but she was already freezing inside. She needed to be warmed up.

What to do? Search a dating app? That was tricky. Plenty o’ Fish was for people who just wanted sex: acrobatics without feelings. There were other dating sites, although it was important to get the name right: she had a friend who had confused Tinder with Grindr, to disastrous effect. Sarah recalled the old days of Heather Jenner’s Marriage Bureau, where prospective swains were interviewed for their earning capacity and sexual continence. But those days were gone. Now you had to throw yourself on an open market, and that was risky.

What did she want? She remembered the Julia Roberts’ declaration in Notting Hill: “I’m just a girl asking a boy to love her”. But that wasn’t it, exactly. What she wanted was tenderness, respect, desire: to see and to know, to be seen and to be known. Such a paragon was not to be found on dating sites, probably. Well, perhaps she’d have to make one.

Accordingly she set to work in her greenhouse. She purchased four 6-inch ceramic pots and filled them with the richest compost she could find, adding nitrogen and chicken manure. She bought some wooden clothes-pegs, and proceeded to customise them. After much thought, she decided to make the lovers all male: these were,after all, the conditions of total emergency, and it was not the time to experiment. She began to dress them. Each peg-doll was different. One was a Scotsman, with a kilt and a little Tam-o’-Shanter: the second was a sailor with a big square white collar: the third was an artist with a tiny palette-knife: and the fourth was a share dealer wearing a pin-stripe suit.

Sarah put the little peg-men into the compost with their heads just showing. She wondered if they would grow. Would they yell like mandrakes when she pulled them up? Well, she would have to wait and see. She watered them with tepid rainwater, and with her tears if she was having a bad day. Nothing much happened for ages. Then she noticed that they were beginning to get bigger, and as their tiny shoulders bulked up, their arms pushed out of the compost and flailed around. Their little mouths opened and closed. Sarah cut up tiny bits of food for them: a teaspoon of haggis for the Scotsman, some rum toffee for the sailor, a bit of baguette for the artist, some caviar for the business man. They all grew apace, and she had to procure bigger pots, 12-inch ones this time.

After awhile, they outgrew these pots too, and started to clamber out and and scamper around, though they went back to their pots to sleep. Sarah began to feel uncomfortable. She had manufactured them as potential lovers: should she, tiny as they were, begin to instruct them in the arts of love? That made her feel quite dirty. Suppose they all grew up and they all wanted her? Should there be a cull? And how were they to converse together, since (for the moment) they had not managed to acquire language? She had talked to them a lot, but all they could do was to emit the most frightful ear-piercing screams.

Sarah monitored their development. With her heart in her boots, she realised that they had stopped growing. They were perfectly proportioned little men now, but they were only six inches high. They were fond of her, and ran squealing towards her when she came into the greenhouse. She let them into the garden now to play, and they started to follow their own nature: the Scotsman could whistle “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, and the sailor made a little boat which he sailed on the garden pond. She could watch them for hours.

One thing was certain. She should never let them into the house. But one day she was careless, and she awoke in the middle of the night to find that they had all climbed into her bed. They were trying to snuggle into the crevices of her body. They found her armpits first, and God knows what they would find next. Sarah lay there in the darkness, thinking bitterly that things had come to a pretty pass. It served her right for trying to grow a perfect man.