JENNIFER A. HOWARD
With the spaceship only six months out, scientists gathered supergeniuses, linguists, and diplomats to get ready to communicate with the aliens. They assembled the planet’s codebreakers and mathematicians, translators and speechwriters. They invited especially sensitive therapists, as well as those, such as sociopaths and adult children of alcoholics, who could read faces with skill, and those who couldn’t – kids with Asperger’s and soldiers with PTSD – because maybe no faces would be involved. They imagined other ways to speak, to listen, to a species they had no image of at all and invited cupcake bakers, trombonists, caricaturists, perfumists, organic gardeners, knitters, butlers, gorillas with sign language training, men who had sailed around the world alone, nightclub waitresses, coal miners, grifters, women held hostage for years, middle school social studies teachers, newborn babies, golden retrievers, teenage texting champs, sitcom laughtrack performers, the terminally ill, the colorblind. Twins. And then more, in case. Tapdancers and tree surgeons and roofers and honeybee whisperers. Butt doubles and cover bands and agate hunters. Pharmacists, wetnurses, massage therapists, travel agents, soda jerks. Fish doctors, snake milkers, exorcists. Stepmothers. The too young and the extremely ugly, the chronically fatigued. The president’s personal secretary. Avon ladies, soccer coaches. Experts in charades, semaphore, Braille, iambic pentameter, palmreading, ham radio, blackjack, pig Latin, feng shui, mixology, Fortran. Orchestras, book clubs, executive committees, circus troupes, leper colonies, the gluten-free. A muster of peacocks and the entire Pittsburgh Steelers defense. A ship’s purser and a sandwich artist and a hammerhead. The guy who did Garfield Minus Garfield. But the scientists still weren’t sure anybody would know how to say hello. So they adjourned to a room and asked each other when it was they were most understood, when they were least misinterpreted. At first nobody spoke, but then one linguistic anthropologist dropped his grammar book, and a U.N.-appointed astrophysicist started unbuttoning the shirt of the woman next to her. The lot of them all approached the center of the space, and they put their hands on each other: interjections, whispers, parentheses.
JENNIFER A. HOWARD lives teaches and edits Passages North in Michigan’s snowy Upper Peninsula. Her collection of short-short fiction, How to End Up, was published by New Delta Review.