Steve Carr’s first collection of short stories is fantastic. His work is intense, reaching into the reader’s head and twisting emotions, shattering logic and reason. The first story Tenderloin is—pun intended—a punch in the gut, as the reader sees the grittiness of the setting and feels the coiled tension in the main character, a veteran of the Iraq War. With journalistic expertise, Carr displays monstrous humanity in a brevity of words, as in The Saguaro Two Step, in which the woman wins the loot in the end, and exposes desperation, as in The Festival of The Cull, wherein Shamina can no longer vote on who is to be terminated. Reality bends as one ventures further into the book, as in the self-explanatory The Girl in a Mason Jar, gets fishy in Strange Water, and disappears in When Wizards Sing, where animals and men blend. The stories are diverse, with main characters of various genders, sexual orientations, ages, cultures, and even species. The book ends with stories of the afterlife on a never-ending train ride for incorrigibles, a man’s struggle for gravity, and the misplaced hope of a senior citizen. Definitely a must-read! Follow Steve on Facebook and Twitter. Purchase Sand at Lulu.com or Amazon.com.
Never Touch It
I couldn’t stop looking at it. None of my friends had cell phones. Dad had argued that a ten-year-old didn’t need a cell phone, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. My mother was a smotherer and had been working Dad for years, and now I had a Smartphone.
“Jimmy, put that stupid thing away and come on!” Ronak screamed back at me as he raced down our street toward the forest.
I stuffed the phone in my shorts pocket and rode after him, feeling the bulk of it banging my thigh as I pumped. It felt like I had the world in my pocket. The forest surrounded me when I hit the edge of the road at the T and bounced along the dirt path to our treehouse that Ronak and I built two years ago.
After dropping my bike next to his, I climbed up the rope ladder to find Ronak waiting impatiently. He too loved to play Angry Birds on my phone and hated that I always played first. It was my phone. I settled into the pile of pillows next to him and pulled out my phone. The game icon was on the screen. I poked it and started level 34, which was killing me. Because of the challenges at certain levels, we’d instituted a new rule of all lives lost before switching if we didn’t level up.
“Dude, you suck!” he yelled as he punched me, bumping my arm, which caused me to miss my target and lose my last life. He snatched the phone from me.
“That’s not fair! You made me lose my last life!” We wrestled amongst the pillows, pushing them out of the way, scraping our elbows and knees on the rough wooden floor from the unfinished wood planks. A tingle-a-ling-a-ling announced a text. “Give me my phone. That’s a text from my mom. If I don’t answer it, she’ll make me come home.”
Ronak handed me the phone with a sigh and rolled onto his back to inspect his elbows. I looked at the text. Mom didn’t usually text so soon after I left. Mostly just to let me know to come home for lunch.
“Look. It’s not from my mom.”
“What? Who else would text you? I though only your mom had your number?”
We read the text together, “Don’t touch it! Never touch it!” There was no number, only a blank space.
That was the first communication from Lorena, who explained that she lived in a parallel universe. Even though they could read her texts, my parents called her my invisible friend throughout my entire childhood, convincing my best friend, though he’d been there for the first message.
For years, I had no clue what “it” was, for she was not forthcoming with an explanation. We discussed everything else. Her responses came always a day later, apparently due to some time-space interference that I still don’t fully comprehend. She had no clue why we could communicate by text, just that it was a rare phenomenon which made her a minor celebrity in her town and me a weirdo in mine.
In a new home way out in the country, my dad decided to get satellite TV, and a dish hung off the southwest corner of our house. We got some new stations, some in different languages, intriguing my dad, who watched despite the language barrier. He especially loved Bollywood films in Hindi.
“Dad, that’s the doll! In the left corner on the dresser.” He spit air through his teeth and changed the channel. “There it is again! I swear—on the bookshelf next to the blue book.” Another channel.
Before I could point it out on top of the fridge in the soap opera, Dad burst out with, “Stop it! Just stop it!” He took a deep breath and continued, “Son, it’s not there. You’re old enough to give up these games. No one sees it. It’s not there. No connection with your invisible friend. It’s time to let her go, Jimmy.” He held out his hand to me, man to man. “Deal?”
I shook his hand and said, “Deal,” and mentioned it not once more, though it appeared on every show.
Again and again, Lorena texted, “Don’t touch it! Never touch it!” Why, I don’t know. It was on TV. I couldn’t touch it.
Until I was 21 and saw the little, pinkish, angelic papier-mache doll in a store, sitting on a shelf next to toothpaste. Then another store, right by the candy I was choosing. I noticed it as I was picking up the bag, and I dropped the bag at my feet, picked it up, and went on my day. It was unnerving to be so close to a forbidden object from a parallel universe that no one else here could see.
I married in my mid-30s a widow with two children, children I adopted and love as my own. Lorena knows about my wife, yet she remains my secret. I’m still in the dark about her connection to the freaky, papier-mache doll that I’m now seeing everywhere. My wife knows nothing.
Last Tuesday, the doll appeared in the fridge behind the milk. I spilled milk all over the floor when I saw her. I cleaned it up, but I did not cry. Honestly, I wanted to cry. I mean, in the fridge…really?
Lorena chose to stay with the woman who was selected as her youth partner after school. She says this often happens. I’m glad she’s happy. I know that throughout her life she has continued to be a recognizable figure for her unusual connection to me. I, however, may be going mad from it. That freaking doll is everywhere, and I’m not supposed to touch it. I don’t know the consequences of such an action, but my lifelong fear of accidentally doing so keeps me on edge as she proliferates in my life. I have no one to talk to about this. Not even Lorena.
I now stand still in my living room, staring at my little girl as she gradually morphs into a little, pink angel.
Sharon watched the teenagers approach, knowing the helmet screen was a 2-way mirror. She screamed and banged the metal with her fists and stomped her feet, but cushioning absorbed the sounds. The girl jumped back, startled. The girl asked the boy a question, but he shook his head. The girl blinked a couple times and laughed when the boy poked her and thrust his hands at her to scare her.
Hope died like a candle extinguished. She recalled when she and her boyfriend had come out to the deserted shack deep in the forest, where the inexplicable astronaut suit stood. Rumors held that it came from a defunct amusement park. It had no real functionality, made from metal and heavily solid, as evidenced by the girl tapping on it and pushing it.
Sharon’s boyfriend had gone into the shack while she had investigated the suit. A hand had clamped over her mouth, holding her head tight to someone’s chest as another hand reached around to open the astronaut with a little key that had not been obvious to her. The hands shoved her into the astronaut so quickly that she’d not even thought to fight back yet. She was positioned in a flash and the astronaut suit closed. She didn’t hear the snick of the key, but once she recognized her situation, she found that the suit was securely closed.
Her boyfriend wandered out of the shack, shrugging as though there were nothing to worry about inside. She’d been looking forward to this new adventure—outdoor sex in a forbidden area. Now she witnessed her own disappearance through her boyfriend’s behavior. He called her name for hours, beat the hood of his car, and drove away. Returning with him were her parents and police officers, who searched the premises with flashlights, had a head-hanging conversation with her parents, and also drove off well before morning.
Sharon watched volunteers meet in front of the shack to search for her. When the search party was clearly over, she slumped in the suit waiting to die, wondering if she would succumb to thirst first, as she’d always read. She didn’t know how long she’d been in the suit when she saw the teenagers, who now were fucking in the shack, oblivious to her distress.
She cried without tears.
Singing woke Anthony each morning. He went to bed anticipating the morning serenade. Of course it was in Irish, so he didn’t catch all the words, but the clear voice of his wife Aisling urged him from bed with a yearning to touch her and hug her and kiss her and call her his precious. Life began for him when he saw ash-blond Aisling working in a public house on his visit to Ireland to meet long-lost cousins found through his ancestral investigation. One of the cousins knew her name, but that was all. Not even a summer romance; no words exchanged, only a smile that stopped the world for Anthony.
He returned to the village of his cousins as a Christmas gift to himself. He went to the public house each evening for supper. Until she spoke more than business with him. He met her parents, promising them to care for her until the end of his days, promising as many trips home for her as possible. Aisling came home with him to Connecticut the following summer, after an Irish wedding in her hometown, which all of his cousins attended.
Within a year of marriage, Anthony was working from home, while Aisling attended college to become a kindergarten teacher. In October, she became pregnant. In December, she was no longer pregnant, returning to school hollow-eyed and trembling, but looking forward to the internship at a nearby elementary school in the spring.
The next autumn, the second baby died. Grief carried over from the first child, her sorrow sung out to the world. By the end of spring, Aisling was ready to try again. Alas, she could not bring a child to life. Unable to console his wife, Anthony brought her mother to Connecticut. Mama made no difference, as Aisling weakened, listless, refusing to eat. True melancholy ate her from the inside out. Her kindergarten class missed their student teacher. The family of every child attended her funeral.
Between the school and Anthony’s home is a park where the children claim they hear singing, but not in words. They don’t know Aisling speaks Irish. This is why Anthony brings his work to the park. He visits the same bench every single day, listening to Aisling sing until her voice becomes wind.
Sarah ran through the crowds downtown, shoving and apologizing the entire seven blocks. Reaching the bridge, she turned right and heaved a great sigh at seeing the bridge empty. Run-walking let her catch her breath as she tried to figure out why Johnny would be late. He’s never late, punctuality only one of his expectations to which he held her to his own strict standards. Maybe he finally stepped in front of a bus. She laughed in her head, hearing that silent voice actually saying “ha, ha, ha.”
From behind the second pillar of the bridge, Johnny stepped in front of her, admonishing her, “You’re eight minutes late. Early is best, Sarah. Late is never okay.” He grabbed her upper arm and walked swiftly across the bridge, pulling her back into a run-trot.
“Let me go, Johnny!”
“The bridge is icy, Sarah. I don’t want you to fall.” He gripped her arm tighter. “You were late. We must walk faster. I have only so much time for lunch and you’ve already wasted eight minutes of it.”
“Rawr!” She screamed to the winter white sky and karate chopped his hand.
He let go. “Christ, Sarah, what is wrong with you today?”
She pushed him. He shoved her back and turned away, walking on, stating his case, “If you act like that, I don’t even want to have lunch with you. You’ve wasted far more of my time than the eight minutes you were late. Go on back to work, Sarah. You don’t deserve lunch with me.”
“Rawr!” Sarah shouted out to the world and gave Johnny a bigger shove than before.
He slid sideways, hit a cable in front of the railing, fell over on his side, and slipped under the bottom bar, clunking his head a couple times, scrabbling at the end with glove-less fingers before flailing toward the East River.
Sarah screamed after him, “The bridge is icy, Johnny!”
Mama stood in the already blistering heat of the Nevada desert we both loathed. She watched the blood-stained dress burn, as I watched her. Black Irish, my mama looked like a Disney princess, with her long dark hair and fair skin. But she was no princess. Not that she was evil. It’s the ridiculous nature of the princesses that I deny in her. Practical to her core, does what she’s gotta do.
She had to do this.
Podunk, Kentucky was founded in 1842, boomed with forty-niners, and exploded with railroad and river travel. Then it slowly died. I lived in a dead town. Mama worked in the big chicken farm, like most everyone else. Smelled like shit every day. Whole town smelled like shit.
I heard Mama making call after call one day when I got home after school. I lingered in the doorway to the kitchen, so I could get the gist of it from her side of the conversations. They all sounded the same.
“So you work for Harley? Uh-huh. I see. Oh, really? It pays well? Higher than most? Oh, that’s good. You like living there? Gotta be better than Podunk, Kentucky.” She didn’t have to laugh that loud, and not every time. I could even hear the other women laughing loudly with her. Whoever they were, I didn’t want anything to do with them. After the fifth phone call, she turned and saw me. I faked like I was just coming in, threw my backpack on the table.
“Hey, Suzi Q, how are you?” I grinned. Though she said it every day, that phrase made me feel loved. Maybe it was the continuity of it, the expectation fulfillment. “My precious girl.” Mama kissed my forehead and pulled out a chair. “Sit down. I’ve got big news.”
“Yeah?” Why was I suspicious? Was it the phone calls, all them women laughing at my home town? Mama sat next to me, held my hands, and took a deep breath.
“We’re leaving this chicken shit town.”
“What?” She placed her hand on my cheek.
“Mr. Harley, the guy I met yesterday? He’s legit. He does own a club in Vegas. I called all nine of the dancers on his list who work for him.”
“Mama, you ain’t been a dancer since before I was born.”
“Ain’t that kind of dancing, sweetie. it’s all a show of fancy costumes and bright lights, with easy dance steps. Mr. Harley told me I’d fit right in.”
We piled everything we especially wanted in our old pickup and drove west on the advance from Mr. Harley. Two days later, we pulled into Vegas near midnight. It was glorious. Sparkles everywhere, even from the fountains. Huge fountains of sparkling water in the desert. Crazy.
On Mama’s first night, I went with her. The club was way off the strip, with a couple bars on both sides. Harleys filled their parking lots. Inside was busy, women wearing extraordinary costumes. We passed a wall of photos across a map of the US. I pointed out Mama’s picture to her and she grabbed a passing dancer.
“Why’s my photo on this map?” The woman looked at the photo and back at Mama.
“Rosalie!” She hugged Mama. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Donna. Let’s get you a costume. You’ll be in next week’s show, so you’ll be backstage tonight. But you gotta get used to the heavy costume.” She took her by the hand, but Mama didn’t budge.
“Tell me about the photo.” Donna turned around with a blank face.
“Oh, that’s how Mr. Harley chooses his dancers. He’s got a whole system of traveling salesmen and tourists giving him pictures of beautiful women. He’s rescued all of us from dead boring little towns across the country. Isn’t that wonderful?” Mama snake-eyed her, then followed her to costuming. On the way, Donna explained, “When someone leaves, we dancers get to pick the next one on the map. We chose you. Anyone else goes, you get to help choose our next dancer.”
Mama’s look told me she didn’t give a crap. She smiled and shrugged at me, whispered, “Whatever.”
In the costume room, Donna helped Mama pick out her size in the white dress covered with rhinestones, with slits up the sides at the waist. Mama handed it to me. Man, was it heavy. Then she tried on the headdress and nearly fell over.
“Yeah,” Donna said, “Practice at home. That’s what we do. Each costume forces a different center of gravity. Just a matter of focus, really.” She stopped and looked at me. “Hey, if you’re interested, we can get you a costume for backup. I mean, it’s not regular pay, but…..you’re still in high school, right?”
“She’s 13,” Mama snarled.
“Holy geez! I thought you were at least 17. Sorry.”
Everything went okay, I guess. I wandered through the casinos every day after school before I did my homework. Mama made more money and nobody smelled like chicken shit. Vegas had its own stench. The desert, however, had no scent of its own, which freaked me out. Mama didn’t seem too much happier here than in Kentucky. Still didn’t date, said cuz of me, how I didn’t need no one messing up my childhood.
About three months into Vegas, on a Tuesday, the only night I was allowed, cuz of low traffic, a dancer’s boyfriend touched me.
Mama danced on stage as I watched from the sidelines. She was gorgeous in the rhinestone dress with the feathered headdress that doubled her height. Just before she came offstage, Ella’s new boyfriend stepped close to me and breathed into my ear lewd suggestions that I didn’t understand. Then he latched onto my butt cheek and I screamed. I didn’t mean to. I’d never been touched like that before.
Like Mama says, all hell broke loose. The music went louder. Mama and Ella crashed through the other dancers. Mr. Harley was yelling on the other side of the stage. Mama launched herself at Ella’s boyfriend. Ella jumped me. I went down easy, the breath knocked out of me. Mama hauled Ella off me. Then the weirdest thing happened. Ella reached into her dress. I swear I heard the “snick” of the switchblade, though I know I couldn’t have. Out of the tussle, Ella backed away with big eyes.
Mama’s dress was shifting to red, like a wave coming in. The boyfriend snatched Ella by the hand and dragged her out the back door. I helped Mama to the truck. For the first time in my life, I drove. I felt bad for every jerk and lurch that made my mama gasp in pain. I doctored her up and threw everything we especially liked in the truck. By sunrise, Mama claimed she was rested enough.
“One more thing,” she said.
The rhinestone dress sat in a bucket in the bed of the truck as we drove into the desert. We watched it burn together.
“You and me, babe.” We held hands.
“I hate this fucking town,” she said.
“We going back to Podunk?”
“Let’s go to California, Mama.”
“Yes, my love, let’s go be beach bums.” She smiled and we hit the road.
The glorious sunrise shone down upon my face. I daydreamed of vacations on the beaches of North Carolina, a different one each summer, and after 17 years, plenty to visit. They were all perfect, golden hot sand, like his golden hot body. Blonde hair so thick and luscious, super sexy when wet and curling around his ears. Oh, God. I love him so much even though he’s no longer perfect. It’s so bizarre that he looks exactly the same, but needs me to move him, feed him, care for every little personal need. One riptide and my love is mute and still. Mother Nature is a bitch. She took his essence and left me his body. Which is why we were walking in the stupid, fucking woods. Walk. Pfft! He’s so noisy in his all-terrain wheelchair. I stare at the remote for the wheelchair next to my unnaturally bended knee. It looks fine. I could probably reach it. I could probably move him around. But what would be the point? I mean, who the fuck digs a 20-foot hole in the middle of the forest? Three sunrises and no one has come to see what’s been trapped. I’ve vowed to stay positive until the end. The glorious sunrise shone down upon my face.
She looked at the ad for a long time.
Small house $1,000 / month. Follow the path into the woods at mile marker 72.
It had been up in front of Dale’s Grocery for a week. A jeep was needed to follow the path into the woods.
So she bought a jeep. A Wrangler, 13 years old, bright orange. Stan would have loved it. The ache balled up in the center of her chest. She lay down and kneaded the ache flat. It was easier to bear then. Nine months. All her friends had disappeared, as though Stan’s death might be contagious.
Mile marker 72 stood at the end of a dirt pathway into the forest. Without hesitation, she drove right in, until the path opened up into a small meadow of wildflowers in various hues. In the middle sat a small house with a scalloped roofline, like a tiny Victorian. A man sat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He approached her car when she drove up. They exchanged pleasantries and went inside. She exclaimed aloud her delight and signed the lease laid out on the table.
Though the house came furnished, she placed accessories throughout to make it her own. The second week in her new home, she woke to singing and followed it to the source, the guest bedroom. The owner of the house was dressing in her home. When she knocked on the door jamb, he startled.
He called her Evelyn and told her to get on with it then. She snake-eyed him, but decided to get dressed before resolving the situation. The front door slammed and his singing moved into the woods behind the house. When she finished, she followed his voice to him. And she helped him carry the firewood he was cutting for the fireplace.
“Winter’s a’comin’,” he said with a grin and a wink. Speechless, she carried her armful dutifully. At the back of the house, he stacked his and then hers meticulously. They finished before sunset, he cutting it up and her stacking as shown. Then he left with promises to return later, told her “no worries.”
I should probably get a dog, she thought as she sat in her front room staring at the empty fireplace that night after supper alone. After locking all the doors and windows, she slept with her bedroom door locked. Three days later, she ran into her landlord in town, acting like her landlord, not calling her Evelyn, but informing her that he would be out of town for the next month, exploring several islands south of Australia.
It was a quiet month. The woods grew chillier, the wind whistled, and she used the fireplace almost every night. Just before the month was up, she visited the animal shelter to pick out a ferocious canine. But the one who called to her was a Jack Russell terrier mix. She took him home. He roamed the woods with her. She mailed her check as usual, seeing nothing of the landlord after the month was up.
Until a few weeks later, in a pub in town, she looked across the table and saw him come in the door. She waved. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes as though he couldn’t place her. He halfheartedly waved and moved away to the left. She finished her wine and told her friends goodnight, grabbed the terrier and drove home.
The next day, at the grocery store, she saw her landlord again, and he asked if he should know her when she said “good day” to him. She stammered that he should, that she was his tenant. He shook his head and backed away. She put chairs against the doors that night and let the terrier sleep with her.
He arrived on foot the next day from the woods at the rear of the house, called out “Evelyn, I’m home” before he reached the back door and knocked. She peered out the kitchen window and hollered at him to say his name. He gave her a different name than the landlord’s. He even acted in a manner dissimilar to the landlord, yet it was him. She let him in and gave him tea. He slept in her guest room. The terrier slept on her bed.
Over the years, he remained a good landlord, making repairs in good haste, maintaining the house and yard. “Evelyn’s” guest never overstayed his welcome, routinely going off to explore parts of the world. The stranger met her one day, but never took a liking to her as the other two had, but still, he seemed harmless, keeping to himself when he saw her, nodding a quick hello. He eventually said a “How ya doin’, Evelyn” each time he saw her.
“Mother, I swear!” I looked around the pantry, though there could be no one to hear me. Who else would willingly clean up after my mother? She had so many grudges, and she kept everything related to them. In every room of her home, I saw the evidence of her inability to let go of circumstances, accidents, basically any incident where someone disagreed with her perception or somehow slighted her by not following her expectations. This book in my hand had to be the longest running grudge in the history of grudges, with more animosity on both sides than the Hatfields and McCoys.
That may be why I decided to return the library book that my mother had vengefully held onto for 52 years to the librarian who refused to let it go. If she was still alive, I would find her and hand her the god-damned book that had boomeranged around my childhood and beyond. Everyone else had let go of whatever trophy Mother chose to keep to emphasize her point, socks that actually did belong to my cousin and my mother had accidentally packed with my stuff, the lighter she said my father had given her, though he’d not recognized it and asked her to return it to his friend, so many other stupid, little things. Letters were written and phone calls were made, where arguments ensued, with no one as relentless as my mother.
I went directly to the address on the most recent letter in the box on which the book sat. Miss Habscomb apparently still lived in our town. Alas, this was not true. The new tenant informed me that she had moved three years prior, but gave me the name of her son, who lived in the neighboring state. The next weekend, I knocked on his door. When I explained my mission, he gave me the name of a cousin in Germany who’d taken her in, since he and his mother weren’t close. I took an indefinite sabbatical from work to fly to Germany. The cousin passed me on to his brother in Amsterdam, who sent me back to the US, Ohio specifically. Three weeks later, I had traveled most of the country.
Suffering signs of early dementia meant round the clock care, but her family passed her around like an unwanted pet. I was feeling sincerely sad for this woman. More than once, I had doors slammed in my face and thus returned to the previous kin to brainstorm her next possible move. Once I found out that she was in a nursing facility, I thought my journey was over. But they had sent her to a specialized hospital for an acute something I couldn’t pronounce. She then moved around from assisted care facilities and various nursing homes, depending on which relative was paying.
I found her in a California rest home, sitting in a bay window, scowling at the sunny beach. She waved me to sit down.
“I don’t like people hovering over me.”
“Sorry.” I set on the sofa next to her wheelchair.
“Do you need something?”
She still scared the little girl in me returning a book late. I swallowed and persevered. “Miss Habscomb?”
“Mrs. You’re not a child. Call me by my proper name, please.”
“I found this book in my mother’s pantry. There were several letters between the two of you.”
“I don’t know your mother, child. I don’t even remember you.”
“Oh.” I tapped the box on my lap. “Of course.”
“May I see the book?”
I opened the box and handed her the book. “Here you go. She kept all your letters, and even the ones of hers that you returned.”
Miss, er, Mrs. Habscomb’s eye widened and brightened. Lucidity shone like beacons.
“This book! This book! I do remember this book!”
“You do? That’s great. I’ve spent a long time and traveled a long way to return it to you. My mom died this last summer.”
She gripped the book tightly in her arthritic hands and held it up, looking at it with glee. “It’s too bad your mother died, dear.”
“Thank you.” I sniffled, holding back tears I hadn’t expected.
The book floated down to her lap and she pet it as though it were a cat. “But I have to tell you something.” She leaned forward, holding herself in the chair by placing her forearms along the wheelchair arms. The twinkle in her eye was alarming. “I win!”
I snatched that damn book from her lap and hissed at her, “No, you don’t!” and drove home.
“Class, class, do we all have our translators? Remember, you are not to rely on them outside of class. They are a teaching tool only. Let’s begin where we left off yesterday, with phrases.”
The teacher waited as students settled into their seats, popping the various translators into their ears. There was a bit of grumbling still about the price of the translator modifiers to fit the different alien ears – “should be included in the price,” “can’t believe we have to buy these just for class.”
“Must we do this every day? It wastes valuable learning time. We are not children.”
A tiny, orange insectoid hopped on the desk, giggled, and said, “Some of us are.”
The teacher sighed and hung her head. “I know, I know, but you will never be an adult. Let’s move on. Aringhanja, what was the last phrase we learned yesterday?”
A tall, slender, martian cyborg stood next to her desk to recite, “Mi nij ay troy. It means a three-legged dog, which is a favorite plaything of grown human males in over-populated, centralized habitats of the obsolete planet, Earth. Why do we have to learn this old stuff?”
“History of the Earth and its language is relevant to understand its demise. Your planet may one day be in danger of termination.” She rubbed her foreheads with all four tentacles. “Why must I go over this every day? I realize your governments sent you, but it’s up to you to learn. Just do it. Please.”
She tapped a tentacle on the front wall to bring up the presentation. It read “Menage a trois: 3-legged, mangy dog, a favorite plaything of grown human males in over-populated, centralized habitats of Earth.”
The students grumbled as they wrote down the definition and prepared for the next.