“So how was your afternoon shopping trip?” Mother asked as she set her coffee cup down in the saucer. “Did you find Darryl some new school clothes?”
“Yuck!” Darryl said on his way to the refrigerator, “I don’t like buying any dumb school clothes!”
“It was all right, I guess,” I sighed, “Darryl can’t wear what they’re selling here. The styles are all wrong for back home, but we did find some lovely souvenirs for Lanni and Harna.”
“On the way home we saw a real neat car!” Darryl said excitedly.
Mother raised an eyebrow in my direction.
“It happened on the way back from the shopping mall,” I confessed. “Darryl noticed a strange car following us.” Coffee doesn’t really taste as good to me as it used to, I thought as I took another sip. Guess I’m spoiled on harng!
“Grandma, this car had a gadzillion antennas!” Darryl gushed as he rummaged through the refrigerator. “Is there any more apple juice?”
“It wasn’t quite that many,” I smiled, “but it did look like a mobile transmitter for Radio Free Pluto!”
Mother chuckled as she got up to help Darryl find something else to drink.
“It was a very pleasant experience,” Harshan chimed in, “just like on Homeland. A representative of the local municipal government presented Melissa with a certificate of welcome!”
“Harshan!” I protested. My face burned with embarrassment. “You know full well that was an unmarked police car!” Harshan and Mother shared a hearty laugh at my expense.
“Old bigfoot strikes again,” Mother observed, referring to my fondness for depressing acceleration pedals a little farther than necessary.
“Yes,” I admitted, “That ‘certificate of welcome’ was really a speeding ticket.”
While we adults were chatting, Darryl finished his drink and left the room. He returned a moment later with a baseball.
“Hey Dad,” he called, “Want to go outside and play catch?”
Harshan agreed, so the two of them went into the back yard to toss the ball back and forth. We could watch them through the kitchen window as we sat and talked. After about a half an hour, Harshan came back into the house, but Darryl decided to stay outside and climb the oak tree. He was deep into the tree, when a group of kids from the neighborhood came by on their bicycles. They dismounted their bikes, dropping them to the ground in a clatter, and walked towards the tree. They didn’t know that Darryl was in the tree, or that we were watching them from Mother’s kitchen window.
“This is the house where that dorky deaf kid used to live,” a young voice announced, “but I saw him here yesterday with his father.”
There was a rustling noise and a thump as Darryl dropped out of the tree.
“I’m not a dorky deaf kid,” Darryl retorted, “my name is Darryl.”
“Hey, you can hear me!” came a startled voice. “How’d you do that?”
“I had an operation in Thorgelfayne,” Darryl explained.
“Thorgelfayne? I ain’t never heard of no Thorgelfayne!” came a sarcastic challenge, “You mean you had an operation on your ear!”
“It’s not a part of the body, it’s a place!” Darryl scoffed their ignorance. “It’s where we live. We just came to visit my Grandma in Chicago.”
“Oh, I get it,” the voice said in mock enlightenment, “Thorgelfayne is some hick town in Wisconsin!” The other kids laughed derisively.
“It’s not in Wisconsin!” Darryl insisted proudly. “It’s not even in the New Nighted States. It’s a whole other country on a whole other planet.”
“Sure it’s on another planet,” mocked a different voice. “I was here yesterday, and I heard you talking with your father. I’ll bet that’s why your father calls you a space cadet, ‘cause you believe in Thorgelfayne. You’re all spaced out!”
At that point, about a half-dozen voices called out “Space cadet, space cadet” several times.
Darryl tried to defend himself. “I don’t care what you guys think, ‘cause I know what’s true,” he shouted. “In fact, my father, he’s a real extra-cholesterol being!”
All of us adult eavesdroppers did our best to suppress our chuckles, and there was a hush outside. Finally, one of the older kids spoke up, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! If your father was an extra-cholesterol being, he’d be real fat; not from some other planet. You’re so dorky, you don’t even know what you’re saying!”
At this point, a fistfight broke out! Harshan shot out the door as fast as his adrenaline could carry him, and Mother and I were hot on his heels.
We found Darryl lying under the oak tree; the bullies had vanished, bicycles and all. His clothes were mussed up, and it looked like he was going to develop a whale of a shiner on his left eye. He looked so precious, like he was asleep.
Harshan bent over him and examined him gingerly.
“Is he going to be okay?” I asked in a quavering voice.
“He hit his head on a tree root when he fell,” Harshan answered solemnly, “I think he’s had a concussion.”
Mother dashed into the house for her car keys, and we drove Darryl to the hospital without speaking to each other. Mother muttered comments about the other drivers under her breath; her hands shook, but she tried to conceal it. Harshan looked helpless, determined, and horrified all at once. I was stunned, all my emotions cancelled themselves out: I just sat there holding Darryl and pleading silently with any deities who may have been listening.
It was only an hour, but it seemed like an eternity while we waited. They examined Darryl, and decided nothing was wrong with him. He came to and then passed into a natural sleep, and they wanted him to rest for a while so they could check him again before we took him home. Poor guy, he must have been exhausted from the beating he got.
Finally, I heard Darryl’s panicked voice. “Emeoma!” he called.
The nurse walked around the edge of the desk. “I guess Darryl’s awake now,” she observed casually, “What’s that he said, is it pig Latin? Enema-hay?” She shook her head and picked up a metal clipboard. “I never heard of a kid actually requesting one of those.”
“‘Emeoma’ is Thorgelfaynese for Mommy,” I explained hotly.
“And just where does one talk in Thorgelfaynese?” the nurse asked skeptically.
“In Thorgelfayne,” I answered, “that’s where we’re from.”
“I figured you’d say something like that!” she sighed, as we walked up to the examining table where Darryl was. He was very agitated, but he didn’t sit up.
“Emeoma!” he screamed.
I reassured him by telling him that his father and I were with him: “Laskoli ib dotæ eo aku kaldoma,” I said. The nurse peered up at me as she went about checking Darryl’s vital signs.
“Emeoma, ueo eppe θorgelka eppe Heimtæ!” Darryl screamed in despair, stretching out all the vowels, then his body shook as he cried.
“That sure is a pretty language,” the nurse decided, as she scribbled on the clipboard. “What did he say?”
I was so concerned about Darryl that I didn’t really think, I simply translated. “He’s upset because he left all his friends back on Homeland—er—back home. We’re visiting relatives here in Chicago.”
The nurse nodded, closed the clipboard and left the room.
I tried to soothe Darryl, but the more I tried, the more he panicked. Harshan stepped in and talked with him for a while. We discovered that Darryl couldn’t seem to hear me! Could the blow to his head have caused his inner-ear prosthesis to work loose?
“It’s okay, Melissa!” Harshan soothed, pulling me away and leading me to the waiting room, “we’ll get him to an ear doctor and everything will be okay!”
“You should be grateful that you aren’t Human,” I said as we sat next to the doorway, “I am so ashamed. Oh! Those little boys!” I turned my head and noticed in surprise that the nurse had been standing there all the time! She had overheard me! “My husband isn’t Human,” I explained, and regretted it instantly.
“I had a husband like that once,” she sighed. “But yours seems to be pretty nice to me. Now I don’t want you to worry about Darryl’s hearing. After he’s all calmed down, I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Suddenly, my hometown became a strange village inhabited by dangerous creatures on a savage and backward planet. Here we are, stranded twelve light years from home and proper medical care for Darryl! What will happen to him? How will we get out of here? My thoughts ran wild as I imagined all sorts of horrors. What will they do to him in this primitive hospital?
Harshan held me tightly and said soothing things to me in Thorgelfaynese. The nurse pushed something into my mouth, gave me a little paper cup of water to drink, and then I slept.