Monday, May 16, 2005


      Chills squirmed through Douglas's starry blue pajamas before he knew why. Strange echoes were leaking from the bathroom vent. He finally noticed them while drying his face. Tides of choppy squeaking - faint, but familiar. They were so distracting that he headed downstairs still holding onto the small towel.
      It was just as he turned the corner, in that moment when it becomes too late to actually do anything, that he finally recognized the sound of his mother crying. And she was sitting at the kitchen table, reading his dream journal.
      "Don't cry. Please..." He crossed the room quickly, set the towel on the table, and knelt by her chair. "It's not real, I know. See, your name isn't Fenchurch." She kept crying. He put his head on her lap. "Please don't be sad again."
      "Oh," she sighed, crying a little deeper. But she lifted her fingers to stroke his hair and took a breath to speak. "Amelia is my middle name."
      Douglas struggled for a moment. But then how - He must have misheard. He looked up at her.
      "Amelia is my middle name." And slowly, with much twisting of her face, she pulled a small yellow fish out of her ear. Douglas shivered.
      "Mom?!" Fenchurch saw his face, and laughed a soft, lovely laugh.
      "Oh, Douglas - it's all right. This is a Babel fish." She held it out to him. The world fell all around Douglas.
      "You knew!" he shouted, trying not to smile.
      "Not really," tried Fenchurch, "I mean, I didn't want to!" Tears filled her eyes again. "Oh Douglas, you're so young!" She hugged him, fish and all.
      "It's true, then?" he asked, mostly for himself, trying to remember everything Josef had told him, "About my father too?"
      Fenchurch hesitated. "It's mostly true," she replied, "but it leaves out the most important part. There's only one thing you really need to know about Arthur Philip Dent."
      He watched her face closely as a wide, warm smile appeared.
      "He was a good person," she said.
      Douglas sat down on the floor and closed his eyes. He knew. He'd always known. It was the way she looked at him. But to hear her say it... A good person is just about the hardest thing to find in the Universe. It takes a lot of thought to be good, Douglas knew. And for the first time in his life, he missed his father.
      From behind this moment, Douglas was only vaguely aware of his mother saying something, rising from her chair, and opening a cabinet. It was when she emptied an entire box of cheese crackers onto the table that he sat up to look. There, amongst the artificially yellow-orange squares, sat an artificially yellow-orange mouse.
      The mouse looked surprised for a moment, then preened himself as best he could.
      "Just can't help myself," confessed Josef, "Marvelous invention, really."
      "You're welcome to them," offered Fenchurch, "This is a very noble thing you mice are doing for us Earthlings."
      Josef choked on a bit of fur and cracker.
      "We live here," he said, coughing, "you know."
      "Still, you mice have lived in many places, and the Earth was a failed experiment," insisted Fenchurch, "It was terribly nice of you to stick around and look out for us."
      "Yes, well..." started Josef, "No, actually. The truth is, we're all just terribly bored and out-of-work." The room felt a moment of embarrassment. Douglas felt a decade of confusion.
      "How was Earth a failed experiment?"
      "The Earth," began Fenchurch, "is not actually a -"
      "There will be time for that later," the mouse interrupted, "We must be off."
      "Hold on," halted Fenchurch, "I am his mother and he is from ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha."
      "Mom!" objected Douglas, before he remembered he had no idea what she was talking about.
      "There is no safer place in the Universe than among mice," tried Josef. Fenchurch frowned.
      "Deep Thought picked Douglas?"
      "Indeed," Josef replied, "Hadn't talked to us in centuries, actually. Some people just can't appreciate a good conversation, I guess. It really is a lost art form, conversation. I can't remember the last time I -"
      "Josef, please..."
      "Anyway, the thing popped on just long enough to give us coordinates and a name. The coordinates are a jungle world on the other side of the galaxy. The name, Douglas Dent."
      Fenchurch walked to the table slowly and picked up the towel. She seemed about to cry. Instead, she turned to Douglas and pushed a small fish in his ear. If ever anyone had been more happy to have a cold-blooded vertebrate shoved through his aural tract, Douglas didn't want to know. Then reality struck.
      "Ewwwwrggh," shivered Douglas.
      "Sorry, honey. It's really the only way," she said, and placed the towel over his shoulder.
      "What's that for?"
      "You never know when you might need one."
      "Very true," interrupted Josef, who had finished cleaning himself, and was sliding down a broomstick toward the kitchen door, "But we really must be going."
      "What? In my pajamas?!" asked Douglas. Josef and Fenchurch laughed.
      "It's tradition," said Fenchurch.