Writing Prompt “Culture Clash”
Theme: Culture Clash
The story should contain a misunderstanding due to either a language barrier or cultural differences.
- a song/tune/etc.
- a dish
Word Count: 1,200
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The writing prompt for October 15, 2020, will be chosen by Alyssa Daxson.
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Correct Change Only
by Robt. Emmett ©2020
This story is from back in the day when I had hair, three kids living at home, and the largest Oldsmobile station wagon GM made. Of the three, I wish I had that car again. This tale is all true ‘cept the parts I made up to get the word count up.
Cruising down the aisle of the local hardware store, I plucked a package of brads from the shelf and put them in my shirt pocket. I noted the price. I added two pairs of small brass hinges to the nails in my pocket and added their cost to that of the brads. While whistling a toneless tune, I continued on my buying spree. I kept a running total of my expenditures. Finished shopping, I headed to the check-out counter. Along the way, in my head, I calculated what the 5.5% state sales tax would be on all the items stashed in my pockets.
At the sales counter, I lucked out and got a recent high school grad for my cashier. I emptied two shirt pockets worth of stuff onto the counter. She started to scan the items. I unloaded one pants pocket of various things. She gave me a curious look and continued to scan. I smiled at her and put a five-dollar bill and three ones on the counter. I knew the price of the items I’d picked up would total $8.20. I double-checked my computed tax and knew it would be an additional 45 cents. I drew out a handful of coins from my other pants pocket and dropped two quarters and a dime. I paused to check which coins I’d dropped.
I didn’t want to make a mistake. I needed a nickel, I dropped it on the pile of money. I had one penny left, so I dropped it in the “If you need one-take one” dish. She sighed and gave me her best, ‘Are you through?’ look and continued ringing up my items. I knew what the total sale, including the tax, was going to be. She smiled and said I owed $8.65 and started picking up the paper money. The five and the three ones went into the till. She picked up the quarters, paused, and then picked up the dime and hesitated. As she picked up the nickel, she looked at me. Her blue eyes nearly crossed and her mouth did the goldfish O. I’d utterly confused and flustered her. By the time I arrived at the automatically opening exit doors, she had recovered, wished me the usual parting salutation, “Have a good day.”
“Hey, you, wait up,” someone shouted as I started to get back into my Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
Usually, I don’t respond well to “Hey you.” This time, I did. I stepped back onto the black asphalt parking lot. I noticed I’d missed parking in a slot. The Truckster’s front tire was in the other space. I hate sloppy parking by others. Oh, well, next time I’ll try harder. I will, really, I will.
A bald-headed paunch wheezed to a stop near me. I gave him half a minute to catch his breath.
Sticking out his hand, “Parsens, Bill Parsens. I teach Mathematics at Craig High School.”
Oh, goody, another college-educated teacher who wasn’t taught the practical side of math.
I nodded my head.
After a deep gasp, he said, “I was behind you, back there,” his head motioned toward the hardware store. “I saw that mental math trick you did.” He took another deep breath, “ How’d you do it?”
“Simple, I multiplied eight-dollars and twenty cents by one point zero fifty-five in my head.”
He noticed my smirk. “Ah, the hell you did. Come on, how’d you do it?”
“Well, a few years back, the sales tax was 5%, and it was easy to do math in my head. In their infinite wisdom, the county fathers decided to build a municipal swimming pool and increase the tax by half a percent. Doing head calcs got hard. Well, anyway, five is not the easiest number to work with, but ten is. All you need to do is move the decimal point one place to the left, and now you have one-tenth of the original number. Move the decimal point another place to the left, and you have one-one hundredth of the original number. Add the two numbers together. See?”
He sorta nodded his head. Suddenly, a big smile cracked across his face. “And then you divide by two, and you’re back to the five-point five percent, right?”
“Righto!” I said. “Move the decimal point left, and the $8.20 becomes eighty-two cents. Move it one more place, and it is eight point two- cents. Drop the point two and add the eighty-two and eight, and you have ninety. Divide by two, and you have forty-five, which is the tax. Then add it to the eight dollars and twenty cents to make the eight dollars and sixty-five cents it cost me for my stuff.”
“Use the tens,” he said as I climbed into my Family Truckster.
On the way home, I decided to get lunch. While waiting at the menu kiosk for the person in the large station wagon ahead of me to place a special order for each of the half a dozen bouncing brats, I read the entire McDonald’s menu three times. One more time, and I’d have it memorized.
Ultimately, I reached the McD request window and ordered the mystery-meat burger and a large Coke. The large is the smallest of the three sizes available. I long for the old days when it was just small, medium, and large.
At the pick-up window, I waited behind the station wagon. Finally, the person at the hole in the wall started handing out bags and bags of food. I waited while each bag received a thorough inspection. A conversation between the driver and the food handler ensued. I waited. Finally, another smaller bag appeared. Satisfied, the station wagon drove off.
At last, my turn at the window. I handed the well-coiffed bottle-blond matron a five-dollar bill. My total was four dollars and twenty-five cents. I didn’t need three quarters wearing a hole in my Levis, so I picked a quarter out of the ashtray and handed it to her.
“You gave me too much money,” she said.
“Yes, I know, but this way, you can just give me back a dollar bill.”
She sighed and left the pick-up window. Shortly, she returned with weasel-face. According to his name tag, he was the assistant manager. He asked me to repeat my request. I noted his freckles and center-parted hair as I did. No cow-lick, and his name was Terrance, not Alfalfa.
I repeated my request.
The assistant manager handed back the quarter and said, “Sorry, we don’t do that kind of thing. It’s against McD’s policy.”
He left the window. The blond shot me a “there, smart-ass, you been told,” look and gave me my order, three quarters, and a one-dollar bill.
I pocketed the quarters and dropped the buck in the begging box under McD’s drive-up window to not further confuse the McDonald employees.
— Ԙ —
Getting back to Rob’s story, you cannot expect too much of the Macca’s staff. Usually they are young people who are forced for whatever reason into servitude with the big Multi-national fast food corporations who pay them mini wages for however long they can get away with it and then when they turn 18 they find some excuse to replace them. You only have to be 15 years and 9 months old to be employed there and not many kids make it past 18 years.
Don’t know how you get matrons working there in the USA. Is it the US of A?
Anyway most kids working there are worth more and often undervalued, but by the same token the smart ones know it is a fill in position that they will escape in a year or two and puts $ in the pocket and another line in their resume.
All the people I know, use US, or USA. I feel that US of A is more key strokes than is necessary besides, it sounds pretentious. I’m under impressed with those whom add “of”.
To the best of my knowledge, * McDonald’s employees minimum age is generally 14 years old and the average McDonald employee is about 29.
It’s fortuitous to have large multi-national corporations which encourage the employment of minors so they can learn the interpersonal skills to not only be good workers but also become good employers.
*The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A Pot by any other name…
This is a true story from my teaching days in Israel in the 1990’s.
In my eight years there, I worked for two companies. SET Seminars was and probably still is a company owned and managed by Israel Butchko – a fellow Australian and we mainly taught Department of Foreign Affairs personnel, bank staff of Israeli banks and company personal (often Russian immigrants) who needed English to communicate with staff overseas. ISE the second company, was an umbrella organization for several overseas universities doing degree courses in Israel. Often classes were big and you were not given much in the way of resources and you had to write your own course plans, whereas with SET all the course materials were supplied and if you, as the instructor, felt that the students needed more practice in some areas you negotiated with staff at the office to get such from them. They photocopied everything for you, and you got a package of materials. You simply delivered the content.
With ISE which also paid 100 NIS more an academic hour, you controlled the course content and gave your materials to the ISE staff to photocopy. I actually liked both companies but leaned more towards ISE as the better company to work for creatively. Yes, you needed to find out who your students were and what they needed for the course, so you had to do the background checks on the types of students that made up the classes. I had in one of my classes, fifty-three students and their English abilities ranged widely – from two young women from an Arab-Israeli village in Samaria to a couple of students who topped their school Bagrut (Israeli version of the Higher School Certificate). The latter spoke almost native speaker English, both had American parents; the former young women had to learn the ABC as English was their fourth language. They spoke Arabic, then French and Hebrew and finally English. The goal was to have an intermediate level of English that would allow them to complete some of their course work in English. So I was creative and allowed the two good students to write a couple of texts on topics that were connected to the Business Studies course and respond to a couple of chosen texts. Then, I asked them if they minded helping the two women with some rudimentary English in spoken English and writing. I had to construct an appropriate course for the rest of the class. It was quite challenging at times, but I enjoyed both the work and the students’ company as we worked together on a common goal, improving their English in speaking, comprehension, and writing.
I was given two classes down in Sderot an Israeli town in the south. These guys were IDF veterans who were doing a degree course that would result in an increase their pension payments when they left the army. Most of them had been in the army twenty-five years or more. Out of all the classes I taught in Israel, I really loved these guys (actually they were not all men, there were women in the classes too.) because they were upbeat, funny and just a great bunch of very down to earth people. Academic English was not their strong point overall, so it was hard going at times.
Anyway, this day we were doing some text on everyday English and I started to explain the difference between a saucepan and a pot. One of the students had confused the cooking pot in the text with a saucepan, so I started to explain and drew a few pictures on the whiteboard to make my point.
“A saucepan is not as deep as a pot.” And I quickly drew both on the board.
“You can cook soup in a pot.” I intoned and scribbled in the open mouth of the pot to represent it filled with soup. There were bursts of laughter which I ignored because I thought it was connected to my drawing skills which I had not practiced for several years.
“It’s a great container to cook a good chicken soup.”
“And you use a spatula to move food around in a saucepan.” I drew the spatula and then quickly sketched a wooden spoon. “But with a pot, you will need a wooden spoon because it is deeper.” There were shouts of laughter of laughter and when I turned around to face the class, some of them were laughing so hard there were tears in their eyes, but the three women in the class were red-faced and strangely enough not laughing aloud, but looking quite embarrassed. I realized later that they were embarrassed for me.
Anyway, it was close to the break and the class was in peals of laughter, so we had our fifteen-minute tea break. I heard a comment in Hebrew which I did not quite understand because effectively this man said to his companion that he was going to ask his wife to prepare the chicken soup in her pot from now on. Then they both laughed uproariously. Then one of the Israeli women in the class called out to him in Hebrew “I bet you will not. If you do, she will give you a good box on the ears.”
I had just made my coffee when I had a tap on the shoulder. Yaakov an older student of about fifty was standing next to me.
“Ilana, I want to tell you why everyone is laughing.” He looked a little embarrassed. I was all ears, as I had been wondering that.
He bent close to my ear and whispered, “Pot is Hebrew slang for vagina. You know, female private parts.”
I must have gone bright red. “Oh, aha!”, I said. “Thank you for clearing that up.” We got through the rest of the lesson and focused on less culturally sensitive kitchen utensils and the story which was a short story based in the middle east.
Pot went into my list of words that could mean something else. It was put along side the word “nod” which means “fart” in Hebrew so if you are an English teacher in an Israeli primary school and you use the song “If you are happy and you know it, stamp your feet, clap your hands, etc you replace “nod your head” with “shake your head.” It could have unfortunate consequences if you use the words “nod your head”.
WHEN MEN PAUSE
Marien Oommen (1200)
The day had arrived. Zara was to meet with the gynecologist for that infamous checkup after ages. To take those awful tests women go through that men never understand.
Now if you’re starting on a wild route, stop right there.
It is neither a baby, nor a camel in question. She wasn’t Sarai in the tents of Haran, never would be. Nor was she guilty of laughing in disbelief or mocking angels who may have stopped by, incognito, to bless her aging husband.
Besides, the man by her side was poles apart from Father Abraham. But he was there, that’s all that mattered.
Wisdom says a woman must follow up with periodic tests from time to time. Zara hated the thought of vulnerable exposure, so off she went.
The wait was incredibly long in spite of a 11 am appointment.
“Patience, Zara!!” She told herself.
“How much longer should I read useless posts?”
Zara’s IPhone was hot baby in her hands as she succumbed to all the stupid videos. With every tempting ping, she fell like Rome.
News stressed her immensely. More than she liked to admit.
So now to indulge in her favorite pastime which was people watching, building stories around them.
“O God, they are all young- in the summer of their discontent. Nobody’s anywhere near my age.”
The moms-to-be appeared brave, perched on different rungs of the ladder of harassment, with their little baby bulges. Balancing work schedules, older babies, running the home were the burdens that hung heavy.
Their men sauntered close behind.
One chappie sat like he’d accomplished a great deal, sunk deep within the newspaper. His legs shook furiously, like churning in a flour mill. Had a wire been wound around his vibrating knees, electricity would spark.
His job was done. Now it’s over to his partner in crime to carry out the rest of the job! His woman sat with shoulders slung, worried, mournful.
When could she apply for leave?
Across sat a pretty belle, staring at the floor, her eyes were getting bigger as moment succeeded another. Zara dubbed her the Lily of the valley. She coulda chatted, but she was seated far away.
“Had Fido been here, we coulda made friends.” Zara spoke aloud.
You’ve the liberty to talk to strangers with a dog at the end of your leash. But a hospital corridor is no place for a dog. Cancel that thought.
Lily’s Billy looked bored, but closed his eyes, his palms folded, as if praying earnestly. Definitely praying for a son right at the first trimester.
His mom, back in Jabalpur would be ecstatic, call him her ‘pyari beta’, ( dahhling son). In the village back home, a son is huge.
Suddenly Mr. BroadShoulder pushed his way around and in a rather stylized manner, announced noisily that he’d been waiting for 15 long minutes and his patience was being tested.
“Which patient is teisted, sir?” A kind attendant queried. “For Covid?”
“Now what’s his hurry? Perchance he has a uterus? Why’s he heading for the female toilet? Jumpin’ the queue to see the doctor who checks female complaints?”
Zara mulled over this bull but didn’t dare to ask. He had no Bull Terrier. After all, it WAS a hospital corridor.
Next arrives a full suited guy. Call him Bala. There’s no pregnant wife by his side.
It’s annoyed her to see these men sit at the woman’s consultation area.
The Gynecology department is definitely a women’s area of domain- to wait patiently, breathe deeply, drink thirstily, check ultrasoundily and waddle ducklingly.
Men in black suits shouldn’t be made welcome in this place.
Why was he sitting there? Zara wondered.
Heavens! His mama had asked him to check out how women look once they get married. He was a medical representative apparently. The good son he was, he got on the phone to his mama, far away in Chennai.
“Yes, Amma, I can handle it. The bulge doesn’t look terrifying. It’s like a little balloon, that’s all, Amma. The women appear strong, Amma. They can carry out all domestic chores even if they get pregnant. I think we can go ahead with the proposal.” Classic MCP.
Zara’s attention now shifted to a stout gentleman, holding up his wife, who seemed to be in some sort of agony. She wasn’t about to deliver on the floor but was surely in some form of distress.
He looked deeply stressed too, but not distressed. That was because he had taken leave from work and this was around his coffee break time.
Subtle eavesdropping revealed that to Zara.
The courteous bloke propped up his woman as she walked painstakingly to the doctor. Or it could’ve been a ruse to walk in and break the queue. One would never know.
Soon marched, in a row, four very, very tall people, of Nordic descent, Zara was certain. The woman in front was largely pregnant, followed by her family, which included her mother, all of them carrying bags of great import. Mama-to-be strutted in with a confident air and she cared less that her dress revealed all.
Zara secretly admired her confidence, showing off her baby bulge, and calling the shots.
Asian women lack that confidence.
A demure Indian Sita, on principle, necessarily hid the full term bulge behind a sari, as if apologizing for her gawkiness. She worked double hard, whether in an office or on the field, then returned to more work at home cooking, cleaning, sweeping the yard while her husband read the newspaper, legs up, demanding hot chai.
Nordic women, on the other hand, if pregnant, manage to get their husbands’ trail behind them doing most of their odd jobs.
Zara herself had reached the winter of her life. She was mighty relieved that part of her life was over and done with. As she surveyed the young couples, she began softly humming…
“I have often walked down this corridorrr,
Having babies, been there, done that all before,
That enchantment now.. has poured from all my doors
Yes, it’s time to close my shop for evermo’…”
Zara remembered the agony and ecstasy of giving birth almost a century ago. Squeezing her mama’s fingers in the throes of pain, the water bag breaking, the absolute joy of seeing a tiny, nearly perfect creation of God, so dependent on you, washing nappies, smooshing carrots, reading them stories in rhymes, watching them grow.
Motherhood is worth all the waiting, the pain and the agony.
It brings the warmth and love you need in the winter of your life.
Would men ever know that special worth, that reward?
Never! Especially not that guy with the shaking leg syndrome.
Her name was called.
She walked into Room 207.
O Lordy me! The old High School bully, Mr. DreamyEyes, was sitting on the doctor’s chair, a steth around his neck.
“ZARA, O MY GOD!! Don’t tell me it’s YOU???? Where have you been all these years?
Still looking quite the dish you were at school.”
“JOSH, IS IT REALLY YOU? Sorry, I can’t take you on for this appointment!”
Zara ran out the room, faster than her legs. Her face flushed.
WHATEVER RHYMES IS TRUE
By Ken Miles
The weathered street-sign at the junction pointed into a narrow pot-holed sidestreet. My GPS said nothing of a village with such a name. It was supposed to be all countryside out there.
Limerick, my destination, was still two hours away, and I was dying for something to eat. So I bumped along the badly paved sidestreet, to this Bells place, for a bite. Ten minutes on the worst surface I’ve ever driven and I did my butt a favor, pulled over onto a clearing and walked the remaining short distance.
Why does the GPS sometimes skip the small places! This Bells was such a charming gem of a village. It had an old-fashioned rural flair about it. Simple but enchanting architecture surrounded its lovely central square. Multitudes of people descended upon it like colorfully dressed ants from countless little alleys that led down into it. Jolly and friendly, they greeted me musically.
“Gid’day! Watch what you say! Me on mee’way!” a bearded man sang out.
“Gid’day to you, may yee sky be blue!” another augured me.
I sat at the only eatery in the square, with tables laid out on the sundrenched cobblestones. The menu contained all sorts of strange names for food. Llrydrychyws? Wdyollycymbys? Lywdyllafryncylls?
A really good-humored old waiter hopped – danced almost – towards me and figured I was clueless.
“Yee gotta taste our Lydllemyshmlyips! Yee’ll be lickin’ yee lips!”
Anything would’ve done, really. I was starving. But a local delicacy, why not? I just hoped it didn’t take long to prepare!
“I’ll go with that,” I told him. “But be quick!” I then joked, “I won’t lie. Another minute and I’m gonna die!”
He dropped the menu in horror, snatched a half-finished plate from a customer at another table and gave it to me.
“Eat! Quick!” he ordered me, “Lydllemyshmlyips…”
When I refused, he forced my mouth open and shoved a spoonful of that mashy thing down my throat. True, I’ve never tasted anything that good.
People got up from their tables, covering their children’s eyes.
“He’s fine, he won’t die!” the waiter announced, keeping his customers from fleeing. “He swallowed it. Inside a minute… phew!”
A cop, in a rather unusual uniform, asked the waiter what the commotion was all about.
“He tried to commit suicide! Challenged me to make him Lydllemyshmlyips in one minute, or else… But I saved him.”
“Attempted suicide?” the cop said as he apprehended me, “that’s punishable by death!”
“You made a rhyme, a most horrible rhyme!” the Prosecutor at the trial accused me, “And what rhymes comes true! D’you even have permission to rhyme?”
“I don’t think I… anyone really… needs permission to rhyme… and I didn’t even try to rhyme…”
“Answer the question!” the Judge thundered, “Do you? Or do you not? Have permission to rhyme.”
“I think I do…?”
“Is it in written form? Does the certificate carry the seal of the High Council of Poets?” the Prosecutor grilled me.
My assigned lawyer, perturbed by my digging myself deeper in a hole, spoke on my behalf. I’d insisted I’d do the talking. I needed no lawyer – or so I thought – for such a ludicrous accusation.
“He doesn’t have permission, Your Honor High Poet. But he’s totally oblivious of the rules that govern the Universe. Your Honor, show this stranger mercy. On assumption of his ignorance.”
The Prosecutor replied fiercely, if poetically:
“This stranger made a mockery of our customs
Sinful words frothing from his mouth,
We need to clear ourselves of this demon
We must, Your Honor, send him South!”
The audience sighed in unison. Apparently, to be sent South meant execution, for my lawyer immediately lashed out his counter-rhyme:
“The stranger doesn’t understand the Cosmos,
Look at him sitting benighted on that chair,
He deserves our scorn, but not death;
Spare his life, Your Honor, give him torture!
Did my own lawyer plea for me to be tortured? For mercy! I wanted to speak again, but wasn’t allowed. My mouth was deemed too dangerous.
The rest of the trial had little to do with me. Prosecutor, lawyer and His Honor debated at great length, till the wee hours of the morning, if ‘mouth’ and ‘south’ and ‘chair’ and ‘torture’ constituted true rhyming pairs, if the metric was right, which rhyme superseded which in Cosmic Truth. They sang their verses so many times, that even to my own ears, they started to ring true. The High Poet, in his infinite mercy, finally decided on torture:
“Thirty eggs, half-a-tomato to pelt,
Seventy-seven floggings tied to a pole,
And on his bare buttocks
Two smoldering pieces of coal.”
“I saved your life!” boasted my lawyer. I was starting to get used to this, people in this village saving my life.
They locked me up in a beautifully vaulted prison-cell in a Medieval castle. There was but a little window overlooking the same old square. The eatery where my misfortune started was now closed and deserted. The clock on the Church bell-tower opposite shone in the moonlight and marked five-minutes-to-three. Under it, large carved letters warned: ‘Weigh Words Wisely’.
My punishment was planned for midday. Sleep wouldn’t come to shorten the desperate wait. In the silence of that damp vault, the horror of my predicament finally dawned upon me. I wept. The first time since my mother died when I was eight.
Whatever rhymes comes true! That’s the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. And yet there I was, about to get battered for it.
But what if it’s actually true? What if they’re damn fucking right?
What if I said…? Let’s say… Words rolled out, ahead of my thoughts:
“The ground shall tremble and shake,
Before that clock’s even struck three,
A castle’s no match to an earthquake,
This poor man shall be set free!”
Would it? Would the ground shake? Would the walls trapping me, just crumble? Just because I simply sang so? Just what’s wrong with these folks?
A mighty rumble followed. I was thrown across the cell. The smell of musty clay rose from the mortar that had held those stones together for a thousand years. Dust shrouded the room, choking me. The ground shook even wilder and the wall with the window ripped open, like two giants had tugged at it from either end. The bell on the bell-tower announced the hour.
‘DONG. DONG. D…’
It didn’t dong a third time. The bell-tower collapsed in one clean swipe.
I instinctively jumped out of the generous opening in the wall, the cool night air a welcome respite from the cloud of dust I’d emerged from. Seconds later the whole castle came crashing down. The other edifices surrounding the square danced to the rythym of the tremors. The whole village was soon one flat heap, its skyline erased. Distant screams punctuated the silence that followed, until they too died out.
I ran towards the clearing, where I’d left my car.
“Siri, open the car.” The voice-recognition software complied, I slipped inside and drove off on the bumpy road, made even bumpier by the quake. The sign at the junction saying ‘Bells’ had also fallen off. I roared the engine, breaking every speed-limit, and was in Limerick before breakfast.
The dish at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was the first to detect it: a body half the size of the Moon, moving towards Earth. There was a leak and the news got out, causing widespread panic among populations all around the world. The authorities tried to quell it but the group imagination was stronger: the meteor was going to collide with the Earth, annihilating all life.
Hundreds of thousands died in various violent ways: people fighting for supplies, suicides, the authorities defending strategic bunkers … World leaders and their entourages retreated to those bunkers and tried to plot a future for their countries while anarchy raged on the outside, but the future shrank rapidly and relentlessly as A-Day approached. Millions prayed, millions suddenly found faith. The world braced itself for impact.
Then it stopped, one thousand miles above Earth. The world held its breath. What was this body? (It was clearly not a meteor.) And if it was some form of vessel bearing alien beings, what did they want? After three days, we received an answer, of sorts.
It was a radio message consisting of 1,679 binary digits, swiftly identified as the radio message transmitted into space in 1974 from the very same Arecibo Observatory. The message contained, among other things, the atomic numbers of key chemical elements, a basic profile of human beings, and a graphic of the Solar System, indicating which of the planets the message had come from. It was meant as a demonstration of human technological achievement. It became, effectively, a homing signal that the aliens – now there was no doubt – had followed.
The world powers came together in a rare show of solidarity to discuss what should be done, the decision: to wait and see.
The message was transmitted around the clock for six days, while the body kept its distance, positioned above Central America. The panic amongst the populations was exacerbated by the uncertainty; violence ruled in the streets, the authorities increasingly unable to control it.
On the seventh day, the message stopped, to be replaced by something that initially baffled experts: a rhythmic signal that initially had no relation to the previously transmitted binary signal. Then it was de-coded. It was the music from a song: ‘Indian Love Call’, by an American singer, Slim Whitman, from 1952. The song had featured in a film, used to kill aliens who had attacked Earth. Experts explained that satellite signals containing the song must have been picked up by the visitors – presumably along with many other signals transmitted. The aliens on the body hovering above the Earth now, it was concluded, were showing us that it wasn’t with a song that we would be able to vanquish them. And it was a warning.
The following week, the body moved closer, blotting the sun from the sky for those below. It became visible to the naked eye: it looked like a meteor, but when the tubes were sent down, it was finally confirmed that it was far from being a mere lump of rock. Then the extraction began.
The extraction of oxygen.
As our atmosphere became thinner, so people began to die. At first it was the weak and sickly, then the old, then the rest. The violence stopped and the praying reached a peak of intensity. But the various gods of the various faiths were not listening, or not answering.
The powers launched a joint attack on the vessel, but it was like gnats attacking a giant. Most became resigned to their fate. All except us.
We are a group of survivors, selected for our various skills, genders and health profiles. This is our third year in space. We are not sure what the future holds, but we are equipped for self-sustenance, for the time being; we have gardens, and re-cycling, and medical facilities, and hope. For how long any of that will last, we do not know.
And so we send this message. It is a simple one, which we hope, if picked up, will not be misinterpreted this time.
NAVIGATING FOREIGN AFFAIRS
By Victoria Chvatal
“I don’t know what happened!” wailed Yulia. “Honza’s always been such a nice guy!”
The occasion – the first serious fight with a hitherto exemplary boyfriend – had warranted an emergency war council over tea and cookies at her best friend Oksana’s.
“What did you fight over?” asked Oksana, giving her friend a sympathetic hug around the shoulders.
“Food, of all things!”
“Didn’t you say Honza was easy to feed?” inquired Oksana’s boyfriend Igor.
“Yeah,” sniffled Yulia. “Czech food is pretty similar to ours. Lots of meat and potatoes. It’s just like feeding Dad, really – easy peasy. … And Honza loves my brambourachky. That’s basically potato pancakes, just with marjoram,” she explained in response to inquiring glances.
“Okay, so what … ” prompted Ira, helping herself to another cookie.
“So I asked him what we had to eat. And he says, “We’ve got bread, but it’s stale – ‘cherstvy’”, right? So of course I threw it out – why let it sit around gathering mold and stuff? It didn’t even seem all that stale to me, so I wondered why Honza was so fussy, but whatever. And then he blows up at me and tells me to go away! He actually said ‘Get out!’ – ‘Proch!’”
“Rude!” exclaimed everyone – except for Ira, who frowned thoughtfully.
“Are you sure it means the same in Czech? What?” she parried Yulia’s incredulous glare. “Remember that first time you visited Honza in Prague? And you saw all those signs saying “Pozor!”, and then you kept bitching about their …”
“ Ugh, ‘shaming culture’,” facepalmed Yulia. “And then it turned out that ‘pozor’ was Czech for ‘attention’, not ‘shame’! … So do you think it’s worth talking to him?” she asked after a short pause in a calmer voice, and topped up her tea.
Meanwhile, Honza was on a WhatsApp call to his sister.
“I don’t even know what happened, Martinka! I just told her we had some fresh – cherstvy – bread that we could eat with cheese, and she up and throws it in the bin! So then I asked her why – ‘proch?’, and she gets mad at me and storms out! Yulia never acted like one of those crazy Russian girls before, but this… What did I even do?!”
“Hmmm… you know, I don’t think ‘proch’ is the Russian for ‘why’,” suggested Martina musingly, “it’s ‘poch’mu’ or something …”
Honza mulled this over. Martina had studied foreign languages for her hospitality course, so she might have a point.
“OK. But what could ‘cherstvy’ mean?”
“No idea. We didn’t learn that …”
“I feel like such an idiot!” groaned Yulia to her friends the next day at the local cafe.
“So similar languages or not, looks like you’ll have to learn each other’s,” smirked Ira, “and in the meantime, Google Translate is your new best friend.”
“Who’s gonna go first, though?”
“Toss a coin?” suggested Oksana. “Or I you can’t decide, you can always learn another language to talk to each other. Like English …”
“Or Chinese,” supplied Igor.
Yulia actually giggled at that, then perked up as a new song started playing.
“That’s our song,” she explained, tapping her foot to the beat. “It was playing in the club where we first met.”
“‘Swalla’? Your Honza’s an optimist, is he?” sniggered Igor.
The next crisis called for something stronger than tea.
“How did he screw up this time?” asked Ira, passing the shots around.
“You know Honza was gonna meet my family, right? So he – he – cracked up laughing when my Dad introduced himself! And didn’t stop snickering!”
At the same time, Honza was unloading to Martina.
“Well, what am I supposed to do if Yulia’s Dad is called ‘Penis’? Just imagine: he stretches out his hand to me and says, ‘I’m Shurik.’”
Martina just guffawed in response.
“Get used to it, little brother.”
And without further ado…..here are your winners!!!!
Your 1st Place Winner is……..”When Men Pause” by Marien Oommen!!!!
2nd Place: Whatever Rhymes Is True by Ken Miles
3rd Place: Navigating Foreign Affairs by Vicki Chvatal
4th Place: A Pot by Any Other Name… by Ilana Leeds
5th Place: Correct Change Only by Robt. Emmett
6th Place: SOS By Phil Town
The favorite character was Marien’s “Zara”.
Story with the best dialogue goes to “Whatever Rhymes Is True” by Ken Miles.
Congrats to all that participated!!!!
Thanks everyone for my second place, too. (I wanted to rhyme this, but can’t!)
No category prizes this time?
Ohmygarsh I must have copied and pasted, and completely cut off those two sections!
I updated the comment with the favorite character and the favorite dialogue, I think you personally will be quite pleased with the edit 😉
Thanks for the update, Carrie
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