By John McDonnell
“Do they have a Valentine’s Day on your planet?” Murphy said. He was mopping up some spilled beer on the bar, and he shuddered as if the phrase, “Valentine’s Day” was hard to get out.
Larry was curled up in a corner in the form of a full grown male Bengal tiger, all 500 pounds of him, and he was idly toying with a tennis ball, rolling it with one enormous paw and stopping it with the other.
"No Valentine's Day," Larry said. "We don't have flowers on our planet, and we're allergic to displays of affection, so it doesn't work for us."
"It doesn't work for me either," Murphy said. "Once a year I have to act romantic with Dolores, spend money on some gift that she won't like, make myself presentable, and listen to her talk about all the romantic things we did when we were younger. It gets me depressed when I realize the whole conversation is in past tense. It's all about how much promise I had. I hate the word 'promise'. Anything promising about a 22 year old man should never be held against him."
"Did you know that male Bengal tigers are some of the most solitary creatures on earth?" Larry said. "They only get together with females to impregnate them."
"Sounds like my father," Murphy said.
"My father didn't believe in Valentine's Day," Edna said. She had come by to join the weekly game of dominoes at the bar, and was taking a break from beating all comers. She was wearing a riding outfit, complete with tan jodhpurs, black knee boots, and a black riding helmet. "He was a captain of industry, don't you know, and was too busy for that kind of lunacy, as he liked to call it. On Valentine's Day he'd have his secretary send Mother a box of chocolates, although Mother never ate them, because of her figure. I used to sneak a few myself, but of course chocolate makes me talk too much, and--"
"Remind me to lock up the chocolate at our house," Murphy said. "Now, as I was saying: What am I going to do? Dolores expects a present for Valentine's Day, and I'm terrible at guessing what she wants."
"How about a nuclear magnetic resonance machine?" Larry said. "She could get a look into her heart with that. I mean, the holiday is all about cardiac issues, right?"
"Father was one of the first to get a heart transplant," Edna said. "Of course, he always thought they gave him a chimpanzee's heart by mistake, because after the operation he grew very fond of peanuts, and he couldn't stop scratching himself."
"Have you ever been in love, Larry?" Murphy said.
Larry blinked once, snuffled, and then roared. "Yes! There was this android girl named Unit 53K90. We were in space colonization school together. She really filled out an artificial skin, if you know what I mean. We always said we'd go invade a planet together and take it over. It was not to be, however. She was sent to invade a planet with a civilization that was so evolved they hadn’t had a bruised ego in 500 years. Me? I failed my final exams, because I couldn't land a spaceship without burning out the anti-gravity gears, so I was exiled to this backwater planet."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Murphy said. "I remember this little black haired vixen in school." He whistled softly. “Now she had the nicest--"
"Delivery for Mr. Murphy," a voice said, and in the doorway was a blonde Amazon, a girl who looked like she could power slam the Green Bay Packers defensive line with one hand, dressed in a brown UPS uniform. Her legs were like tree trunks sticking out of her brown shorts.
"Over here," Murphy said.
She brought over a large bouquet of roses and handed them to Murphy. "Sign here," she said, whipping out a clipboard and a pen. Murphy signed and she started to leave, but stopped when she saw Larry. "What a beautiful animal," she said.
"Thanks," Larry said. "Usually people are too afraid to say that to me."
"I'm not afraid," she said. "I used to be a lion tamer in a circus."
"Really?" Larry said. "No kidding? Well, I bet you were a good one. If I may say so, I've never seen a more imposing physical specimen than you, Miss. . ."
"Hortense. Just call me Hortense."
"Yes, Hortense. If this isn’t too personal, did you ever train tigers?”
"All the time,” she said. “Although never one like you. You would be a pleasure to train, if I may say so."
"Oh, I don't know,” Larry said. “My listening skills are not that good, and I don’t focus well, and--”
"Stand up NOW!" she bellowed, and Larry sprang to his feet, standing on his hind legs, all 9 feet of him in a vertical position with his paws on her shoulders. "Now, sit!" she said, and Larry sat down heavily.
"That was amazing!" he said. "You had such command, such power, such presence!"
"Thank you," she said sweetly. "I'm a little hoarse today. Throat cold."
"No, no, you were amazing," Larry said. "I'd follow you anywhere."
"Well, then come on," she said. "I have several more deliveries to make, but you can wait in the truck for me." She turned on her heel and walked out.
“Rawwr,” said Larry, and padded after her.
"You know, if William Blake hadn’t already written a poem about tigers,” Edna said. “I might write one myself. However, there’s a domino game calling me.” She went off to the back room intoning, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night. . . “
Murphy didn't comment, because he was busy reading the note Dolores sent with the flowers. It read, "To the love of my life. Our many years of happiness will only be surpassed by our bright and glorious future."
"What do you know," Murphy said, a tear in his eye. "The old girl loves me after all."