“That’s looking a little tight, Richard,” Ann said.
Richard finished buttoning his shirt. “It feels tighter for some reason,” he agreed. “I’ve been working out every day. Haven’t been eating more. It must have shrunk in the closet.”
“Uh-huh,” Ann said.
There was a loud sneeze.
“Bless you,” Ann and Richard said to each other. They exchanged a funny look even as another sneeze rang out. They looked at the closet and Richard rushed over and yanked the door open. He shoved aside the shirts and trousers hanging from the rod.
Standing about two feet high each were three little men, one with a handkerchief to his face.
“Who are you?” Richard demanded. “Come out of there.”
The little men, annoyed and embarrassed, moved out into the bedroom where both Richard and Ann could see them. They wore workman’s clothing of a bygone era and funny little pointed caps. One of them had a flowing white beard; he glared at the one with the handkerchief.
“I’m sorry,” that one said, “but there must be some jasmine in that lavender cachet in the closet. You know I’m allergic to jasmine.”
“That’s right,” Ann said. “Lavender and jasmine.”
“Never mind,” the bearded one said. “We’re caught now.” He looked up at the couple. “I am Franxt. This is Joncil, and this…” he indicated the one with allergies, “is Blorft. We are gnomes.”
Richard wasn’t sure about that; they didn’t look like the art of gnomes he had seen. Then again, gnomes weren’t supposed to be real, so maybe this is what they looked like.
“What are you doing in our closet?” Ann asked.
“Just what he said,” Joncil said, pointing to Richard. “We’re shrinking your clothes.”
Neither Ann nor Richard had much to say about that for a moment. Richard eventually asked, “Why?”
“So you’ll go buy new clothes, of course,” Franxt said. “We’re employed by the global garment industry. There are millions of us around the world. Collectively we’re called the Gnomal Society To Redress In New Garments.”
“G-STRING for short,” Blorft said, then blew his nose.
“And you shrink people’s clothing,” Richard restated.
“Just a little at a time. We’ve been working on that shirt for two months,” Franxt said proudly, “and only today did either of you notice. Our work is subtle, cautious. People would notice if overnight they needed a new wardrobe.”
Richard glanced into the closet. He could see tools but couldn’t identify any of them.
“That’s a terrible waste,” Ann said. “Clothing is expensive.”
“Garment makers have to eat, too,” Franxt said. “If a shirt lasts five or ten years and you don’t purchase another until then, that’s clothing not being sold and garment workers not earning money.”
“We do most of our work among the middle and lower economic classes,” Joncil said. “Rich people are always buying new clothes, so we don’t waste time in their closets. Although we do go into them occasionally just to roam around. They’re always so roomy.”
“Not like your poisoned, cramped closet,” Blorft complained.
“So very sorry,” Ann lied.
“We’re not in children’s closets often, either,” Joncil said. “They grow quickly enough to need new clothes frequently.”
“But for the rest of you, we have to maintain turnover in clothing,” Franxt said. “G-STRING has been on the job since the birth of the modern garment industry.”
“And you’re costing the rest of us lots of money,” Richard pointed out again.
Joncil shrugged. “We have our job to do.”
“You’re gnomes, all right,” Richard said. “I recognize that bureaucratic beancounter mentality. I want you to stay out of our closet.”
“Like Joncil said, we have our job to do,” Franxt told him. “You may fill your closet with jasmine and keep Blorft out, but a jasmine allergy is rare among gnomes; others will come here instead. We who proudly labor in G-STRING will never cease our efforts.” If he had had a flag, he would have planted it right there in the bedroom.
“We’ll tell the world about … no, we won’t, will we?” Richard finished lamely.
“ ‘Local man says gnomes shrink clothes in closets. Story at 11,’ ” Blorft said.
“So we’re just stuck with you invading our homes and shrinking our clothing?” Ann asked.
Franxt shrugged. “You always have been.” He nodded at his fellow G-STRINGers and they marched back into the closet. They gathered their tools and walked through the back wall.
Ann and Richard stared after them for a long moment and then looked at each other.
“What do we do?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Same thing we do with all the other gnomes in our lives. The ones at the license bureau, the ones who collect the property tax. All the gnomes who rule various parts of our lives and make us miserable.”
“Hope we don’t have to deal with them too often?”