Meanwhile, Back on Earth…

The Lady With the Hard Life


Hi, Ken, it’s Bobo again. Sorry I haven’t written you in a while, but I’ve been busy adapting to Human ways.

I can’t afford a television set, as you have probably guessed, but I do get to watch television now and then. Last night, I was invited to the Murphys’ apartment for dinner. (They own the beauty shop where I work.) While Mrs. Murphy was busy with final preparations in the kitchen, Mr. Murphy and I relaxed in the living room by watching a news broadcast. We had just finished cranking an ice cream maker.

Some sort of wild animal managed to find its way into a settled area in Portland, Oregon. I don’t recall the name of the beast, but it was a very large and stately animal with some sort of protuberances growing out of its forehead. Because of the animal’s size and strength, it was, by its mere presence, an obvious danger to Human life and property. Experts were calmly summoned to the scene, the animal was subdued with a tranquilizer gun, and returned to the wild. In fact, I was very impressed with the manner in which the crisis was handled. It was highly reminiscent of the Thorgelfaynese manner of dealing with emergencies: calm down and call an expert.

I was just commenting to Mr. Murphy on the fine, cool-headed manner in which this was handled, when I was startled by a soft scratching on my leg! I looked down in a start and discovered, for the first time, that the Murphys have a small brown dachshund!

“He wants up in your lap, but if you pet him a bit, he’ll go away,” advised Mr. Murphy.

“That’s all right. He’s a very cute dog!” I said, and lifted him up on my lap. He licked my face and wagged his tail and finally curled up on my lap for a nap—occasionally lifting an eye to check on things.

“I think your dog is on 24-hour guard duty,” I observed.

Mr. Murphy chuckled and related a number of endearing stories about his dog. Then he concluded by observing the simplicity of canine anatomy. “A dog’s body contains four basic organs,” he said, “A noise, an appetite, a wagging tail, and a very big heart.”

Dogs are not a satisfactory substitute for Hugmups, of course; but they do have their virtues. What fascinates me most is the canine mind: it is a small and fragile thing, like the flame of a candle. In the broad daylight of Human intellect, a dog’s mind shines too dimly to warrant notice; and if it is mistreated, it can cause a conflagration. But in the deepest darkness of loneliness and despair, it can brighten the largest room with the soft-hearted light from its tiny flame.

Mrs. Murphy called us to the table at this point, so I evicted the dog from my lap. Mr. Murphy and I washed our hands and went into the dining room. We feasted on fried chicken, mashed potatoes and mustard greens and some other things that I don’t remember. Bacon figures as a seasoning in her kitchen, and all the food was delicious.

Afterwards, we retired to the living room with peach cobbler and ice cream. This time the television was off, and we talked about ‘God and the world’ as the saying goes. We touched on nearly every topic, and finally ended up discussing the various employees at the beauty parlor. I’m just the lowly floor-sweeper, but they were chatting with me as if I were an old friend. It was a very Homelanderly thing to do, and I felt right at home.

I set my empty dessert dish down on the end table, “What I would really like to know,” I began, emboldened by the atmosphere of friendship and trust, “is what is wrong with Myrtle.” I was referring to the hairdresser who has the third station. “She always seems to be out of sorts.”

“Oh, don’t pay Myrtle no never-mind,” Mrs. Murphy said, waving her hand, “she’s been that way ever since her husband was killed. She’ll snap out of it one day!”

“Her husband was killed?” I repeated, uncertain that I had heard that right.

Mrs. Murphy still had a lot of peach cobbler to eat, but Mr. Murphy had finished his. “You tell him about it, Harry,” she said to her husband, gesturing with her spoon. I had to shift my position, because the sofa was overly soft and therefore uncomfortable. It must be older than it looks.

“Myrtle’s husband Fred was killed in an accident at a party at the Mulberry’s house,” Mr. Murphy began. “Frank Mulberry was passing around his new gun, and…”

“Gun?” I asked, “Was he a policemen?”

“Sakes, no! He just got it for protection! Anacostia’s a dangerous place to live. A man’s gotta be ready to protect hisself!”

Well, after being mugged over near Minnesota Avenue, I certainly couldn’t dispute his point. Human society is terribly chaotic. It is the only Homelanderoid society in which one can sanely make a cogent case for the use of deadly force in self-defense against sentient beings.

“It was a truly fine gun,” Mr. Murphy continued, “and it cost a great deal of money. Of course, he had to get a gun permit and all, so he was right proud of it.”

“So what happened to Myrtle’s husband?” I asked, impatient to get to the end of the story.

“Oh, they passed the gun around so everybody could get a look at it,” Mr. Murphy said.

“And I asked if the gun was loaded,” Mrs. Murphy said loudly. “but Frank Mulberry just laughed at me. He said only a fool would pass around a loaded gun.”

“He even took the gun, aimed it at the ceiling, and pulled the trigger,” Mr. Murphy continued, “It just clicked. So he handed back to the person who had it before, and it was passed on. Then it got to Fred. Fred picked it up and made a joke about ‘Russian Roulette.’ Then he pointed it to his head and pulled the trigger. The gun went off. Fred got a sick look on his face, and slumped over onto the coffee table.”

Mrs. Murphy related how everyone just sat there stunned as the sound of the shot reverberated in their ears. Myrtle began to sob, softly crying out her husband’s name; and someone ran out of the room to grab the phone. The DC Metro Police came and interviewed everybody, and the death was ruled an accident.

All that happened twenty years ago, but Myrtle never got over it.

That certainly explained a lot of things about her. She very rarely finds humor in things, and often lapses into cynicism whenever current issues are discussed. Now I understood why she has such an ambivalent attitude about crime and law enforcement. Among Humans, that requires guns; and Myrtle has never made up her mind about them since her husband was killed.

But I can’t help wondering: What social trauma has caused Humans to use tranquilizers on dangerous animals, yet deadly weapons on dangerous Humans?

Just then there was a tap at the door. Mrs. Murphy got up from her seat and walked over to the peephole in the door.

“Well, speak of the devil!” she said enthusiastically, peering out the little hole, “It’s Myrtle!” She undid the chain and opened the door. “We were just talking about you, girl!”

Myrtle shuffled into the apartment carrying a small brown package, and Mrs. Murphy shut and locked the door behind her.

“Well, my ears weren’t burning. I wish they had been. The heat might have dried off some of this rain,” Myrtle replied, brushing herself dramatically with her hands. It didn’t really look like she’d been walking in the rain; more like she had been attacked by an overweight raindrop. She looked into the mirror by the door. “Oh, my hair’s a mess!” she complained.

“Where’d you find a rainstorm in this drought?” asked Mr. Murphy.

“We just had a cloudburst as I got off the bus. Anyway,” she handed Mrs. Murphy the package, “This came to the shop right after you left. I knew you’d want it right away, but I waited until you’d be done with dinner.” She sat down in a chair and sighed. Then, as if noticing me for the first time, she said courteously, “Oh, hello Bobo.” I returned her greeting with a nod.

“You should have come on ahead,” said Mrs. Murphy, placing the package on a small table near the door, “you’re always welcome, and we had plenty of food. Won’t you have some of my famous peach cobbler? Harry and Bobo made the ice cream themselves!”

Actually, our only contribution was to turn the crank. Myrtle feigned reluctant acquiescence, and Mrs. Murphy dashed into the kitchen.

Myrtle turned to me and said, “I seem to have a special talent for running into rainstorms in life,” she lamented wearily. “Even in a drought!” She tried to make it into a joke, but it didn’t work.

“That’s no vice,” I said. “You are a religious woman, aren’t you?”

“I guess you might say that,” she agreed, but added hastily, “but I ain’t no fanatic!”

“I didn’t mean that!” I nodded. “But you should still know that life is a test, and you only give a good student a hard test.”

Myrtle looked into space thoughtfully. “I’ve always wanted to believe that,” she said quietly with a smile. “That would make me a star pupil!” She paused, then added, “Things don’t seem quite so bad when you look at them that way.”

Myrtle and I have since become better friends at work, but the larger problem of Human violence looms over me constantly. It’s a professional preoccupation, since it’s part of my job to help find a cure. I feel so helpless sometimes. Maybe if we get enough heat lamps we can melt this glacier down to size!