by William Squirrell
In those days Daddy was the manager of a bank in Minneapolis. But I don’t really need to tell you that because everybody who has read Mizzletanker’s classic study The Sexual Life of Savages already knows Mizzletanker chose Minneapolis because he wanted to observe humans in suburban conditions away from the big cities with their starports and associated nonhuman populations. And you probably know too how Mizzletanker ended up living in a studio apartment above our attached garage while he did his fieldwork because the District Commissioner in Chicago knew an export-import man who was married to a cousin of Mommy’s and the export-import man golfed with Daddy whenever his wife dragged him out to Minnesota for family get-togethers. Anyways, the District Commissioner called while we were having a dinner of cold chicken and potato salad and Daddy said “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” and “Thank you, sir” into the phone a few times, and a week later that strange little man moved in.
I liked him OK, I suppose, especially when he first arrived, when I was still in grade school. He was like they are, so small and tidy and self-assured and indifferent to consequences, and he would look directly at you when he asked you his questions, and take you so very seriously, no matter what you said, even if it was in direct contradiction with what the adults told him, and that is very flattering for a ten year old who is the youngest in her family and always ignored and has never before seen an alien, let alone talked to one, so yes, when he first arrived, I quite liked Mizzletanker. Of course by the time I got to my teens my attitude changed a bit, and my girlfriends and I would tell him the most absurd lies, some of which naturally made it into Sexual Life and caused all kinds of outrage.
In our family, however, it wasn’t the lies Mizzletanker reported that had unfortunate consequences, but the truths. Poor Daddy didn’t really understand what all those late-night talks with the little fellow in the garage, passing the bourbon back and forth, and puffing on cigars, were really about, that it was all going into the book. Daddy just understood getting ahead and making money and taking care of business. I doubt he ever even wondered why Mizzletanker was asking him about Mrs. Gunnarson, or Martha the new teller from Wisconsin, or Mommy on Friday night after half a bottle of Chablis. It never occurred to him to be surprised that someone who had seen cloud cities floating in bottomless skies, and triple sun rises over syrup-thick oceans, and honeycombed asteroid worlds that were hives of industry and commerce and scholarship, should be so very interested in the dalliances of a bank manager in Minnesota. At least it didn’t occur to him to wonder about it in time to save his marriage.
He was always on the make, Daddy, in all sorts of ways, and in some sense at least he knew that Mizzletanker was using him for something, but he didn’t understand for what and felt like he was using Mizzletanker too. “The old squid pro quo,” he’d say to Mommy and wink. He figured it could only help him – cultivating networks with the serious financial players in Chicago, having his name dropped in conversations with the District Commissioner, rubbing shoulders with an honest-to-goodness off-world somebody. He was always trying to get information from Mizzletanker about politics “up there,” about who was in orbit and who was coming out and who was going home and what the markets wanted and didn’t want, but Mizzletanker knew nothing about that sort of thing, nothing he would admit to anyways. And then one day Daddy found one of the letters Mizzletanker was writing to the District Commissioner – writing it out in lazy luxuriant longhand swirls on thick scented paper like they do when they’re making a big show of their intimacy with someone important – and he came running up to my room and stuck it in my face and said: “Use some of that over-priced education of yours to translate this crap for me, let’s find out once and for all if that little bugger is greasing the wheels like he promised.”
And so I did.
“My dreams of civilized life,” I read, “provide a stark contrast to my life with these savages.”
I stopped and asked Daddy if he thought this was really such a good idea and he said, “Yes, yes, read on, read on, that’s just how the miserable bastards talk,” and he went and stood by my window and looked out past the lace curtains at the lovely June day.
“The natives still irritate me, particularly Big Ginger, whom I would willingly beat to death.” I continued. “I now understand all those previous colonial atrocities.”
I looked at Daddy and he was frowning a little but said nothing so I kept going.
“And the only way I can repress occasional violent whoring impulses is by realizing that it would get me nowhere, that even if I possessed women under these conditions, I would merely be sloshing about in the mud. That adolescent girl with her animal-like brutishly sensual face, I shudder at the thought of copulating with her.”
I stopped after that. Daddy just kept looking out window. His hands were clenched in his linen pockets, the cotton of his shirt pulled tight over his broad shoulders. His thinning red hair was turning grey by the ears. We could hear the whizz-whizz-swish of the sprinklers and someone trying to start a lawnmower and Mommy downstairs talking on the phone. I put the letter down on my night table and padded out of the room.
William Squirrell’s writing as appeared in Monkeybicycle, Drabblecast, Daily Science Fiction and other venues. More information can be found at blindsquirrell.com and on twitter @billsquirrell.