Last Saturday was an unusual day. Mother was called into work at the department store quite unexpectedly, and I was already committed to go into the office that day. That meant that both cars were gone, and Harshan had to spend the whole day alone at home with the dog.
“Are you sure you don’t mind, honey?” I asked, the car keys dangling from my right hand. You can come along!”
“I’d either be in the way or bored,” he reassured cheerily. “This just means I can catch up on my reading and watch some television. I’ll be fine.”
“You’re sure?” I asked again to be certain.
“Melissaleoma,” he said in sudden intimacy, “For you this is just ordinary old home-sweet-home. But for me, it’s a whole new alien planet! I’m still not used to everything yet. Even the things you think are ordinary are very interesting for me. I will have a grand time here by myself with all these exciting books and television shows.” He gave the dog a hearty pat, “And then there’s Lucy.”
Lucy is mother’s well-mannered collie. There are animals on Homeland that are similar to dogs, but they have never been tamed. For Harshan it was a delightful novelty to have a mild-mannered and obedient “wild” animal in the house.
So I left my husband in Lucy’s competent paws and drove to the office in Itasca.
I got everything ready for the meeting on Monday, and then I logged on to the network… and that was my undoing! I’ve been gone for a while, what with extensive interstellar travels and all; so I decided to catch up on the Bobo stories—just to see how all my letters turned out, and to see if I could capture the impression that Earth-bound readers would get of my letters. Of course, everything from John Anderson and Bobo Lornifar was new to me. The file was absorbing, and the hours melted away.
One thing, though: if I were just the average webslinger reading this stuff, I’d never believe it really happened! Ken did a good job of making it seem like fiction, although I think he made me look overly emotional. So I read those parts over and over again, convinced that Ken had somehow done something wrong; but the more I read it, the more I realized that that’s just the way I am. It’s like hearing your own voice on a tape recorder for the first time. First you ask, Is that me? then you say, No, that couldn’t be me! My voice is much different! Finally you admit, I guess that’s what I sound like. How depressing. I actually didn’t realize that I was so… so… so human. I suppose I just have to live with it.
Unfortunately, so does Harshan.
When I was finished and logged off, I was shocked to see how late it had become! I spent close to three hours on my terminal! So I dashed home as quickly as I could—after all, Harshan must be very worried about me by now!
Twenty minutes later, I parked my car at the curb in front of the house. No one peeked out the living room curtains as I walked up the sidewalk.
The house seemed deserted when I walked in. “Harshan?” I called. Lucy came bounding down the hallway to greet me.
“I’m just getting out of the shower!” he called.
A shower in the middle of the day? I wondered. Shrugging it off, I walked into the kitchen to see what I could cook for dinner. (I hate last-minute trips to the grocery store!) While I was looking, I noticed that Lucy was nearly out of dog biscuits, and I could have sworn we just bought a new box.
Just then Harshan walked into the kitchen, freshly showered and dressed. He greeted me with a cheery “Resh gol, Melissaleoma!” as he got a drinking glass from the cabinet. “I got a little dirty playing with the dog in the yard,” he explained as he rummaged around in the refrigerator. “Did you get everything done at the office?” He settled for orange juice.
“Yes, I did,” I answered, “And I must apologize. I got completely wrapped up in the Bobo stories and lost track of time.” He didn’t answer because he was still guzzling his orange juice. “I hope you weren’t worried,” I added.
“That’s okay,” he said, rinsing out the glass and placing it next to the sink. “I watched a movie on television, did some reading, and then Lucy and I had a great time together.”
“I know that Lucy did!” I said, “Apparently you gave her all the dog biscuits in the house!”
“It was for a good cause,” he explained. “We did some training! Lucy can do all sorts of things now!” Then he demonstrated how Lucy can sit, lie down, or leave the room on command. That last trick will be very useful when I’m cooking dinner and don’t want her in the kitchen. I was amazed that he had taught her so much in such a short time, and said so.
Harshan doffed an imaginary hat in an exaggerated pantomime. “Twarn’t nothin, ma’am,” he said in a television-style western twang.
“Harshan,” I said, in a little-girl voice, “Something is bothering me.”
“Did I do something wrong with the dog?” he asked a bit fearfully.
“No,” I chuckled playfully, “It has to do with me.” He drew closer, and I could swear his eyes got bluer. “While I was at the office, I read all those letters I sent to Ken…”
“You mean the ‘Ken’ I didn’t think existed?” he asked. “Was he offended?”
“Yes,” I said. “No! I mean, yes, that’s the right person, but no, he wasn’t offended!” It’s so hard to laugh at yourself when you’re in a bittersweet mood; I tried, but all that came out were tears… again. “It’s just that in reading all those letters over again, it makes me feel like an emotional basket case; it makes me feel so human!” There. I blurted it out.
“Melissaleoma,” he said tenderly, “What bothers you?”
“How can you love me?” I asked in a shaky voice. “I’m only human, and Homelanders are much nicer people. What could you possibly see in me?”
“Oh, Melissa,” he said somberly, “is it not obvious?” I shook my head no. “You have been ostracized all of your life because of your defective eyelid; and you bear the emotional scars even today, in ways you cannot see.” He put his arm around me, just like on the spaceship when he pointed out all the stars to me. “Despite it all, you have faith in people. You know they can be better, and you resolve to be better yourself. Your hardship has not caused you to sink into cynicism; no! Instead, it has refined your personality.” His voice took on an earnest tone, “You have a rare, noble quality that most people lack; even Homelanders lack it.” He looked at me, and gently lifted my chin with his hand so that we were eye to eye. “Melissa, you are like an accomplished concert pianist who is forever doomed to play the harmonica!”
I fell into his arms, and he hugged me tight.
“You don’t pity me, do you?” I quavered.
“No, Melissa,” he answered impatiently, “One pities the weak, not the strong. I love your noble spirit, your loving soul.” He paused for a while. “How could anyone fail to love you, Melissa?” he asked with an admiring choke in his voice. Then he added in a squeezed little voice, “Melissa Lahtissimon, I love you so!”
We stood there wordlessly rocking each other for a while, then Harshan abruptly pushed me back to arm’s length and changed the subject.
“I’m sorry to bring you bad news, Melissa,” he said, “but something is seriously wrong with Lucy!”
“Nothing’s wrong with Lucy,” I said, a little confused. “We just took her to the vet last week, and she’s perfectly healthy!”
“Oh, I know she’s healthy,” he stammered. “I spent all day trying to teach her, and I finally came to the conclusion that she simply can’t do it.”
“What?” I asked impatiently.
“Talk!” he said indignantly, “She cannot talk! Not one single word!”
He was so serious about it, that I was completely reduced to hysterics. So dinner had to wait while we had a little chat in the living room about the physiology of dogs, and the absence of hugmup-like creatures on Earth. Harshan was appalled.