Melissa’s Quiet Evening With Joanne


Dear Ken,

I’m sorry I haven’t written lately, and I’m sorry to have surprised you so badly. I imagine it is quite a shock to get a phone call from someone you think is eleven or so light years away!

After we were married, Harshan and I had to figure out where to live. He wanted to live on Earth, because he thought I would feel most comfortable there. I wanted to live in his native country of Halakan, back on the planet Homeland. However, when my attempts to learn his native language of Halakanian failed miserably, I had to give in to Harshan. So we decided to live our married life on Earth!

I am concerned that it might be too much of a sacrifice for Harshan, though, because of an incident that occurred right after we arrived in Chicago.

Naturally, when my friend Joanne invited Harshan and me for a ‘quiet evening’ at her place, I was stupid enough to believe her. She said she wanted to chat about my trip, meet my new husband, and just generally catch up on things. Throughout my trip, I’ve collected all sorts of papers, newspaper clippings, photographs (including an autographed picture of the Duke of Thorgelfayne) which I keep sorted away in manila folders. I figured that Joanne might want to look at these, so I made sure that we took them along.

It seems hexacenturies since I’ve climbed this flight of stairs to the second floor. We located her door, and knocked lightly. Harshan nervously shifted the folders from hand to hand as we waited. Finally there was the noise of locks and latches being undone. Joanne opened the door just enough to peer out.

“Melissa!” she exclaimed in an artificially loud voice, “Harshan! You’re here!”

Then she opened the door wide and a huge crowd shouted “Surprise!” Most of them were familiar faces; friends from work and fellow Bobo-readers. I was so surprised! I began to choke up.

“None of those tears, Melissa,” Joanne scolded in fun, “The neighbors will think I’m wasting water during the drought!” There was general laughter, and I had to join in. Harshan just stood there smiling pleasantly as people clambered to greet us. There was even a giant ‘Welcome Home’ banner that someone had printed out on a computer.

“Is that your husband?” one woman asked in breathless admiration, and I nodded the answer with pride. Harshan is about five feet eight inches tall, dark hair, and beautiful blue eyes. He has a very intelligent face and a good physique.

There were a million questions: What is space travel like? Boring, I said to puzzled faces. It’s like being locked up in a luxury hotel without windows. How did you meet Harshan? I told that story about a dozen times. Can Harshan speak English? Harshan answered that himself; his English is good enough to keep himself out of trouble, but not fluent enough to pass the time of day. Has Harshan ever been to Earth before? No, but he’s been to the Moon a lot. This answer intrigued people, so I had to explain about his duties on the shuttle between Alpha Centauri and Earth Watch Base on the Moon. It was a waste of breath, they didn’t believe a word of it. I had to answer too many dingbat questions about alien invasions, monsters, death rays, pyramid power, mind reading, teleportation, and mysterious powers. Most people can’t tell the difference between science fiction and fictional science! It was humorous at first, but it does wear thin. (Harshan was shocked. It was as if he were suddenly surrounded by superstitious savages.) You won’t believe the malarkey that even educated people half-believe. Somebody even wanted to know if Harshan could extend his antennae out of his head! But I think that one was a joke.

“Can you and Harshan have children?” some older woman asked with a concerned look on her face.

“No, I’m afraid not,” I answered, the party mood departing me temporarily. “The similarities between Humans and Homelanders break down once you get to the genetic level. It just won’t work.”

“We can try!” Harshan said with a grin, putting his arm around me.

“Well, I didn’t think you could have children, but don’t give it a second thought,” the woman sympathized. “There are lots of happy childless marriages where both partners are Human. After all,” she said with secret smile and a nod towards a man on the other side of the room, “I should know.”

Then some young man swaggered up with a drink in one hand. He was trying so hard to be casual about his drink, that he only made it even more apparent that he was just over the minimum age for it.

“Hey there, Harshan; how goes it?” he asked expansively, slapping Harshan on the shoulder. It took a minute for Harshan to figure out that the punch on the shoulder was the Human equivalent of a greeting hug.

Harshan brightened and shook the fellow’s hand. “I am very fine,” he said.

“You’ve got one fine chick there,” the young man said in exaggerated envy, leaving Harshan a little confused. “What country are you from?”

“I am from United Republic of Halakan. Oldest country in the world,” Harshan answered proudly.

The alcohol magnified the young man’s confusion. He scratched his left ear. “I’ve never heard of Habblestan. Is that in Europe?”

“Oh, no; Is Hala... Halakan is on Homeland,” Harshan smiled.

“Well, I know that Habblestan is your Homeland, but where is it?”

Harshan was beginning to realize the ignorance he was dealing with, so he just said that Halakan was very far away.

“So what’s this language you’ve been speaking with Melissa?” was the next question. Harshan explained that we speak Thorgelfaynese with each other. Then he had to explain that Thorgelfaynese is not his native language; that we speak it with each other because it is the only language we have in common. The young man obviously couldn’t absorb all this new information at once.

He watched the ice swirl around in his glass, “That sure sounds complicated!” he said abruptly. “I’ll catch you later. Have a good life!”

Harshan cracked a joke in Thorgelfaynese about how cute a person is whose concept of the universe never gets out of the house. We had such a good chuckle that we knocked the folders onto the floor. If I had known this was going to be a party, I never would have brought them. They’re just in the way. Then I caught Harshan wiping a tear from his eye.

Somebody actually walked up and asked Harshan how he likes America! At that point, Harshan wasn’t sure what the question meant. So he improvised.

“America is very nice,” he said simply, and the person wandered off satisfied.

A little boy squeezed himself between Harshan and the arm of the sofa. He had a small model of a dinosaur and bounced it across his legs, pretending that it was ferociously seeking a victim.

“Is what that?” asked Harshan.

“What is this?” the boy inquired, dramatically lifting the dinosaur into view.

“Yes, I mean to say, what is that,” Harshan said, correcting his word order.

“It’s a dinosaur!” proclaimed the little boy. Suddenly the dinosaur had become a jet plane in his mind and he swayed it through the air.

“Is what... I mean, what is a dinosaur?”

The little boy looked at Harshan in childlike astonishment. “You don’t know what a dinosaur is?” and then he explained that dinosaurs lived long, long, ago; and now they’re all dead. He continued to swoop the dinosaur through the air while making whooshing noises.

“What is it now?” Harshan’s career as a spaceship purser has acquainted him with a child’s power to metamorphose toys into any object at any time.

“This is my jet plane,” the boy answered. All the chatter in the room died down. This exchange was priceless, and no one wanted to miss a syllable. Fortunately, our two little chatterboxes were so absorbed in their conversation that they were unaware that everyone was eavesdropping.

“Oh, I see,” said Harshan confidently, “Is a jet plane manufactured by McDonald’s Duck Lust!”

“That’s ‘McDonnell Douglas’!” I shouted over gales of good-natured laughter. Harshan blushed deeply, and I explained the difference quickly in Thorgelfaynese. Then he shared in the laughter himself.

My former coworker George walked up at this point, “Come on Alex, you have to give everyone else a chance to talk with Harshan!” The little boy agreed under protest, and squiggled off the sofa to play happily with a toy car on the rug.

“I’m very glad to meet you, Harshan,” George said, seating himself on the arm of the sofa. He peered down at the folders that lay on Harshan’s lap, “Don’t let Joanne get near those folders, or you’ll never see them again!”

“I heard that, George!” came Joanne’s voice from the other side of the room. It was some sort of inside joke, and the two of them shared a hearty laugh.

After about an hour or so, Harshan leaned towards me and whispered, “Lask atak poin?” I realized that he didn’t want to make any assumptions about floor plans that might prove embarrassing; after all, he did not want to violate Joanne’s hospitality by wandering through non-party areas of the apartment. So I gave him directions to the main bathroom and off he went.

Suddenly there was a scream! It was Harshan’s voice! He ran into the living room, white-faced and terrified, “Lask poinap lüdim epgal stor!” he announced to a blank-faced crowd.

“What’d he say?” came a thin female voice.

“Some sort of wild animal has broken into the bathroom!” I translated in disbelief. Before anyone could react, Joanne ran down the hallway. We all waited apprehensively until she emerged with a broad smile and a cat!

“It’s only Kitty!” she said. Everyone had a good laugh, including Harshan. He knew all about cats and dogs, but had never seen any.

Later in the evening, Harshan and I went out onto the balcony and looked at the pond and the trees. The party went on without us, generously allowing us some time alone. We talked about weeping willows and water fowl, and how pretty Earth birds are compared to Homelander ones.

“I really am enjoying myself,” Harshan assured me in Thorgelfaynese. His left hand stroked my back a few times and came to rest on my waist. “Although I must admit that my mastery of your language is somewhat lacking.”

“You’re doing fine,” I protested, “and you’re making a very good impression on everyone.”

“That might be,” he conceded, “But a new language is like new shoes. It’s tight and uncomfortable, and you cannot go as far or as fast as you’d like.” Harshan is an expert on this sort of thing; English will be his fifth and least important language. “But the people concern me most.”

“I don’t follow,” I confessed.

“They are so... they are like children, so immature.” He glanced back into the living room. “They have spent the whole evening trying too hard to make friends with me.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I objected. “They’ve never met an alien from another planet before, and that is certainly a strong motivation to get to know you!”

“And at least one of them still doesn’t know that he’s met an alien from another planet,” Harshan chuckled. “But that’s not the point. They don’t feel significant.” His voice was beginning to crack, “They try too hard to be my friend because they think it will make them important.” Harshan’s eyes puddled up, “Oh, Melissa, they have so much pain! It is so sad.”

We became aware of someone behind us, so we turned around. It was the young man, but he had managed to escape Joanne’s watchful eye and was totally snockered. It turned out that he had several people supplying him with drinks; there wasn’t a thing Joanne could have done to prevent it. He tried to smile pleasantly, but it came out a leer.

“So this is where our guests of honor are hiding!” he said in an overly loud voice. His breath smelled like hair tonic, and he was in definite need of immediate help.

I grabbed him by the shoulder and shouted into the living room, “Joanne! Time to make some coffee!” I made a broad gesture to point down at the fellow’s head. Joanne was the picture of consternation; she made a little “O” with her lips and vanished into the kitchen.

“You are an alright guy,” he informed Harshan, punching him a little too hard on the shoulder. He looked like he was about to pass out.

“Yes,” Harshan agreed, “We are good, good friends.” He grabbed the young man firmly in a lateral hug.

“Hey! What gives!” the fellow squawked, but alcohol made him very suggestible. Harshan and I had a brief conference in Thorgelfaynese. Harshan was going to take the young man into the bathroom (not the main one) and throw some cold water on him, while I would go get the coffee.

“Joanne,” I shouted, “Forget the coffee! Just melt down some asphalt!”

“Very strong coffee, coming up!” came the reply.

The other guests stood quietly by while Joanne and I got the coffee and Harshan escorted the drunk into the bathroom. (He is surprisingly strong for his build.) We wanted the guy sober enough that he could go home, without disrupting the party much.

“I am so terribly sorry,” Joanne apologized, wringing her hands, “I feel so horribly responsible.”

“Is that... That is stupid,” Harshan stated categorically, pausing briefly to search for words. “This is an accident. No one is responsible for random chance.”

A young girl, obviously the young man’s girlfriend, vacillated between violent anger and intense embarrassment. “You lousy drunk,” she screamed, “You have ruined a wonderful party! I hope you’re happy, you lousy drunk!”

That was a little too much for Harshan to take. The young man had lost his ability to stand and was just dead weight. Harshan turned and stared the girl right in the eye.

“Propriety is nothing,” he said angrily, “Compassion is everything.” He lectured her on compassion, his defective English giving his words added weight and poignancy. He managed to do it without belittling her or robbing her of her dignity.

The young man got his face washed, had three cups of thermonuclear coffee, and fell asleep. It all happened very fast, and things were back to normal in no time.

“My goodness, Harshan handled that very well,” Joanne said admiringly.

“That’s his professional training as a spaceship purser,” I explained, “he’s had to handle situations like that before.” Joanne raised an eyebrow. “Homelanders are very nice people,” I said, “but they’re still not infallible saints!”

A tall, thin fellow walked up. “If I ever have too much to drink, I sure hope your husband’s around,” he remarked, glancing back towards the bedroom. “He certainly nipped that problem in the bud. Imagine, if that guy had had anything more to drink, or had tried to drive!”

The party ended a couple hours later, and the brief business about the drunk was nearly forgotten. But as the guests left, they all reassured Joanne that it was the best party they’d ever been to. Harshan got a lot of very respectful looks as he shook hands with the departing guests. Then Harshan went in to awaken the young man, who emerged from the bedroom rubbing his head and moaning. His girlfriend drove him home.

Harshan insisted that we stay and help Joanne clean up the apartment. We hugged her as if we were back on Homeland, and left her in a “dawn after the storm” mood.

Harshan is a good man.