Melissa Encounters the Fourth Morality


We had perfect spring weather last weekend: sunny and warm, with flowers everywhere! Unfortunately, I spent the day alone with Darryl’s Hugmup, whom he named Harry. Harshan had to go into the office that day, and Darryl was spending the day with one of his playmates, and for some reason Harry elected to stay home.

I decided to pass the day cleaning the apartment, and Darryl’s Hugmup helped. At least he thought he was helping; actually, I had to keep thinking of harmless things to keep him busy and out of my way. He put away Darryl’s toys while I scoured the bathtub, and he polished the dining room table while I mopped the kitchen floor.

Things went very smoothly until I ran out of cleaning fluid before I ran out of dirty floors. There was no choice but to run to the store for more, since I was in too far to quit at that point. I didn’t want to leave Harry alone in the apartment for fear that he’d clean it beyond my wildest nightmares, but he just didn’t want to go with me! At first he was docile enough. He dropped the rag on the table next to the furniture polish and followed me meekly out the door. We were doing fine until we got halfway down the block, and it became clear to him that we were going for more than just a short walk. You’d never believe the fuss he put up! He was as reluctant to go with me as I was to leave him home. We soon reached a very public and very embarrassing impasse.

Two homely adolescent girls walked up.

“Can we help you with your Hugmup, friend?” the tall one ventured politely.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” I said in exasperation. I composed myself and explained, “This is my son’s Hugmup. My husband and my son are both away for the day. I have to run to the store for a few things, but I can’t get the Hugmup to go with me!”

“I understand!” the short one smiled. “They don’t like to leave home when the person they’ve adopted is away. Why didn’t you leave him at home?”

“That’s not a good idea,” I said, “We were cleaning house. If I leave him at home, he’ll just try to finish the job without me…” The girls giggled sympathetically.

“How about this,” the tall one proposed. “We’ll escort the Hugmup home and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, then you can run your errands!”

I readily agreed to this. I told the girls our address and waved at them as they departed. Then I walked to the market, purchased what I needed, and returned home. Well, I have to admit I did get caught up in two lengthy conversations. One was with Darryl’s teacher about the school play in Sixthmonth (I volunteered to serve on the wardrobe committee), and the other was with an old man who insisted on telling me all the difficulties he had during his latest bureaucratic run-in with the Pension Board. (Most of those problems did not extend beyond his skull.) After all that, I was nearly home when I discovered I had purchased the wrong cleaning fluid for the type of floors we have. I had to trudge all the way back to the store to make the exchange.

All told, it took me three hours to run my “little” errand.

I climbed the stairs as fast as I could and arrived out of breath in our little entry hall.

“Girls! I’m back!” I yelled, but there was no answer! I hastily dropped my purchases on the table, and entered the living room. Harry the Hugmup sat in the middle of an immaculately tidy room, contentedly cheering his favorite cartoon hero on television. Goodness, I thought, if Hugmups tidy things up this well, I’ll have to leave Harry alone more often.

I walked from the freshly vacuumed living room carpet onto the sparkling kitchen floor. (My shoes made little clip-clops as I walked.) “Girls?” I called, “Sorry I’m late, but…” That’s when I noticed that the mop and bucket weren’t where I had left them: in the middle of the room. I searched the kitchen briefly. They weren’t stored in their customary places, but someone had wrung out the mop and rinsed the bucket clean and put them both in a logical place.

This is just like mother, I thought, but she’s twelve light years away on Earth! She couldn’t have casually dropped by. Or could she have?

I searched the entire house. Everything was immaculately clean and very tidy, and the girls were nowhere to be seen. Finally, I stood in the living room, with my hands on my hips, looking all around as if I could solve the riddle that way. No use interrogating the Hugmup! He’s too distracted, and his gift of speech is too meager for occasions like this.

There was really nothing left for me to do other than put away my purchases—not that I need them now! I went back into the entryway and lifted the shopping bag. A note fluttered gracefully to the floor. I was so rushed when I walked in the door that I didn’t even notice it.

I got down on one knee to pick it up.

The note said: “Your son’s Hugmup was a real delight. When you took so long to come back, we decided to do your apartment as a fourth morality project for school! Hope you don’t mind.” I looked on both sides, but there were no signatures.

When Harshan got home, he seemed surprised that I was curious about the four moralities; but then he remembered that we don’t have things like that in our high school curriculum back on Earth. He says it’s the hardest course in school, and that everyone secretly hates it.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “Morality can be active or passive, individual or social. That makes four combinations.”

“Which one is the fourth one?” I asked, “And why would they ‘do our apartment’ as a school project?”

“The first morality is individual and passive,” he explained. “It reacts, but does not act, on an individual scale. It’s also negative. It credits morality where immorality is absent.”

“I see,” I said, drawing my hair back with my hand. “You mean when a person thinks he’s moral because he’s never robbed a bank?”

Harshan nodded. “The second morality is also passive but on a social scale.” His eyes darted all over me, as though morality was truly furthest from his mind! “The third morality is socially active. The fourth is individually active.”

“Don’t you have the third and fourth ones backwards?” I asked. His blue eyes were distracting me again!

“No,” he said and shook his head. “They are all equally important, but they are traditionally listed in order of difficulty. The fourth morality takes initiative to act as an individual for the benefit of another individual. It’s the hardest to do because it is largely undetected and unrewarded.”

“Like doing my housecleaning,” I muttered to myself. “Since I don’t know the two girls, I can’t extol their virtuous deed or reward them in any way! Is that what they meant?”

“You’re catching on,” Harshan smiled. “Not even Homelanders are born moral, it has to be learned. I don’t know how they teach it in Thorgelfayne, but in Halakan we were assigned to do eight acts of fourth morality per year in the twelfth through fifteenth classes.”

“Can’t that be faked?” I giggled, and playfully slapped his hand.

“It can be faked,” Harshan conceded, “but a good teacher can detect that sort of thing.”

Then we changed the topic of our conversation.

Every day I learn eight new ways in which I am an alien from the planet Earth, and eight new ways in which I am grateful that I am on Homeland. They are usually the same eight new ways.