By John McDonnell
“An old girlfriend looked me up on Facebook,” Murphy said. He was tending bar, and the blue slanting rays of the TV screen at the end of the bar gave his face a pensive, wistful look. Larry was sitting across the bar in his rumpled scientist persona, working out an advanced particle physics formula on the back of a napkin.
“On whatbook?” Larry said, without looking up from his work.
It’s a social networking site. You post pictures of yourself and network with people. You look up friends from years ago.”
“Not for me,” Larry said.
“Why not? Think of all those people that passed through your life and you lost track of them. Well, now you can reconnect. It’s a great thing."
Larry shuddered. “That’s horrible. I wouldn’t want to know what my classmates from space colonization school are doing. I bet I’m the only one who hasn’t conquered even the barest sliver of a planet. I bet some of them have taken over whole solar systems. Meanwhile, I can’t take a rubber chew toy away from a cocker spaniel. Why would I want to look up anyone from my past?”
“My thoughts exactly,” said Edna, coming up to them. Dolores had dropped her off at the bar while she ran some errands, and Edna had been whiling away the time beating all comers at darts, which amazed everyone because she wore glasses with lenses that looked like they’d come from the Hubble Space Telescope. Larry had a theory that she navigated through life using echolocation, like dolphins and bats.
“What is the point of the past, anyway?” Edna said. “Who wants to remember their childhood? Or encounter people one went to school with? Ugh, it’s too odious to think about!” and she went off in search of a pool game in the back room.
“She’s probably right,” Murphy said. “Take this old girlfriend. I have fond memories of her, and they can’t possibly match up with reality 35 years later, right? I mean, how could they? She sent me a friend request, but I don’t know if I should accept it. I don’t want to see if she got fat and old.”
“Oh, because you haven’t changed at all?” Larry said. “You look like a 55 year old man, but in theory I suppose you could have looked this way for years. Are you saying that you always had thinning hair and that paunch?”
“Certainly not,” Murphy said, drawing himself up to his full height. “I was a handsome devil in my youth. I had to beat the girls off with a stick.”
Larry looked puzzled. “Why would you want to do that?”
“It’s just an expression,” Murphy said.
“That’s the trouble with you humans,” Larry said. “You use all these expressions that just complicate things.”
“Oh, and your civilization just tells the simple truth, I suppose.”
“Actually, no. If one of us ran into someone we hadn’t seen for 35 years we would never point out that the other was old and fat. We’d shower them with compliments as if they looked exactly the same. It’s considered bad taste to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we never say what we mean. You have to be an expert at reading between the lines.”
“In this world you learn that skill when you get married,” Murphy said.
“Marriage is different for us. We have queens, and some of us mate with them and then die. Similar to what your ants do.”
“The ants are the lucky ones,” Murphy said glumly.
Just then Dolores arrived to pick up Edna. She said, “Murphy, look at this place. It’s 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon and you have six customers. You’ll never make a go of this miserable excuse for a bar if you can’t draw more people than this. Honestly, I don’t know what makes you think you’re a businessman. . .”
And then Murphy had the strangest experience. He saw Dolores’ mouth moving but he couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Instead, his mind was filled with a sweet, unearthly music and visions of waves on a beach, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and a slight tang of mango in the air. He didn’t know how long Dolores went on with her rant, but then she finished and took Edna home, and Murphy returned to what passed for normal consciousness in his world.
Larry was scribbling away at more calculations on his napkin, but Murphy thought he saw a glint in Larry’s eye.
“Did you do that?” he said.
“It’s a defense mechanism the males in my species have evolved over many generations,” Larry said. “Selective deafness. Comes in handy sometimes.”
“You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” Murphy said. “The next beer’s on me.”