The Meaning of Love (by Court Order)
By Sophie Macdonald
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” The speaker had a nasal voice, not helped by her twelve noses. She tapped tremulously upon a glass, and the room fell silent.
“Excellent.” She cleared one of her throats, and looked around the semicircle of chairs in front of her. “Now, before we start. Does everyone have one of these?” She waved a glossy red pamphlet, to a murmur of acknowledgment from the class.
“Wonderful! My name is Rita, and I will be your course facilitator for today. I will start with a little housekeeping, if I may. The bathrooms are out of the door and to the left. We will have a break at 10:15 for tea, and again at 13:00 for lunch. There will be no afternoon break. We’re an informal jolly lot here.” She gave a titter, and the monster immediately to her right flinched. “Just one rule, if I may be so bold.” She paused, and moved her spectacles down her noses. It took a while. “There will be NO killing of other classmates. Is everyone clear?” There was a grumble of assent.
“Tip top!” she exclaimed. “Let’s get started! Let me see.” She peered around the classroom. “Marvin! Can you tell me why you are all here today?”
Marvin flushed a deep shade of red, which was difficult for him because he was covered in thick black hair. He cleared his throat. “Um. To learn about what love is.”
“Exactly!” She clapped, but no one joined her except Alvin (which was just plenty, as he had more arms than anyone in the class). “You have all demonstrated a lack of understanding in that regard, and have been sent here by court order in lieu of a more serious sentence. I’m sure no one wants to end up in their local planetary jails,” she looked hastily at Leon, who was about to complain, “OR being eaten by Lava fish, if that is your planetary custom.” She mentally kicked herself for being so culturally insensitive.
“Leon, why don’t you tell me why you were referred here?”
“I shouldn’t be here,” he muttered, kicking at his chair leg with an unidentifiable part of his anatomy. (She really MUST learn more about his planet.) “I do understand love. I loved my wife so much that I tore out her third heart—the romantic one—and made a pie with it to have at a candlelit dinner.”
“Hmm.” Rita nodded wisely. “Who can tell Leon what he could have done better?”
“Sacrificed a thousand jellyfish in her honour?” said Alvin, hopefully, who had done just that.
“Nooo…” Rita sighed. “Leon, my notes say that you did not put the plates into the dishwasher afterwards. Is that true?” Leon bowed his head and nodded.
“Alvin. Tell me about what happened after you sacrificed the jellyfish to your love?”
“I laid them out in front of her, and I did my special dance—the one that she likes with all the jazz hands—and I read her a poem.” He paused. “Roses are red, violets are blue, jellyfish must die, all for you.” A collective sigh went around the room, except for from Leon who kind of resembled an invertebrate, and shuffled his chair slightly further away.
Rita nodded. “And then what did you do?”
Alvin looked surprised. “Nothing. I did nothing.”
“Exactly, Alvin!” Rita lent forward and pointed a finger at him. “Who had to clear up all those jellyfish? Your wife!” She looked down at her notes.
“Brenda. Do we have a Brenda?”
A small squeak came from a chair across the room. “What happened, Brenda?”
“I made my husband his favourite breakfast,” she said, her little squishy face pink. “Even though he likes wormsicles, and I don’t, I cooked them up and then I woke him up with a big plate of them.”
“Wait, you woke him up?” Leon got there before Rita could. Soon the whole room was laughing and shaking their many heads.
“What?” Brenda’s eye was teary. “What did I do wrong?”
“You woke him up.” Rita made a noise akin to a plumber assessing the cost of a repair. “No wonder he reported you, Brenda.”
She tapped the pamphlet. “Please open your pamphlets, everyone. You will see that we will address the following things in order throughout the day: Chapter 1—cleaning up your own mess, Chapter 2—letting your loved one sleep, Chapter 3—letting your loved one choose the TV show and, after lunch, Chapter 4—the making of hot beverages for your loved one. I feel confident that by the end of the day you will have mastered all of these things, and you will go back to your planets with a true understanding of the meaning of love.”