George Kenington was sixteen, and, as he told himself, someone who was sixteen knew more about love than someone who was, say, forty-two. Like his father, for instance. A whole lot more probably. When you were forty-two, you got narrow-minded and nervous and angry. You said this is this, and that is that, and there is nothing else. When someone thought and felt and talked that way, George thought bitterly, there was not enough room inside that person to know what it was like, loving a Venusian.
But George knew. He knew very well.
Her name was Gistla. She was not pretty in standards of American colonists. She had the pale greenish Venusian skin, and she was too short and rather thick. Her face, of course, was not an American face. It was the face of native Venus. Round and smooth, with the large lidless eyes. There were no visible ears and a lack of hair strengthened the globular look of her head.
But she was a person. The beauty was inside of her. Did you have to point to a girl’s face and say, “Here is where the nose should be, here is where the ears should be?” Did you have to measure the width between eyes and test the color of the skin? Did you have to check the size of the teeth and the existence of hair? Was all of this necessary to understand what was inside someone?
George snapped a leaf from an overhanging vine and threw it angrily to the ground. He was walking along a thin path that led from the colony to the tangled hills beyond, where hues of red and yellow and purple reflected like bold sweeps of watercolor. In a moment he would see Gistla, and with the color before his eyes and the sweet perfume of the flowers in his lungs, he felt again the familiar rise of excitement.
George had not always lived on Venus. The Colony was very new. By 2022, most of the Earth countries had sent colonizers to Mars. But as yet, in June of that year, Venus had been touched by only the sparsest invasion of American civilization. George had arrived just three years ago, when his father had been appointed Secretary of the colonizing unit.
And that was the whole trouble, really. Father was the Secretary, Mother was the Secretary’s wife, Sister was the daughter of the Secretary. Everybody was wrapped up in it. Except George.
George loved Gistla.
“Why don’t you find yourself some nice little American girl?” his father had said. “Say like Henry Farrel’s little daughter?”
Henry Farrel’s little daughter was a sweet sickening girl with a nasty temper and a nasty tongue. Her father was Governor of the Colony. She told you about it all the time.
“Or,” his father had told him, “why not little what’s-her-name, Doug Brentwood’s daughter?”
Little what’s-her-name’s father was the President of the Council. “My father is President of the Council,” she said. Over and over, as though in a settlement the size of the Colony, there would be anyone who wouldn’t know her father was the President of the Council.
It was all a very tight and careful circle, chosen on Earth with a great deal of “common sense.”
There were the ordinary settlers, of course. They had daughters. Some of them were very pretty and long-limbed. And George had thought about that.
Certainly there wasn’t a decent-looking girl in the whole Governing circle, and the sight of a girl with flashing eyes and a nice red mouth, who was shaped a little like something besides a tree stump, was indeed an exciting sight.
But there were limitations to the settler girls.
They had no background to speak of, and though that didn’t make any difference, George assured himself, they knew nothing about art, music, poetry, or anything really worth while. And, too, while George’s father had said, “Now, George, we’re all one here. Each of us is as good as another. Joe Finch, who cares for the flowers outside, is every bit as good a man as I am”--still George knew, if he told his parents he was going to marry Joe Finch’s daughter someday, there would be hell to pay.
So as long as the restrictions had been bound around him, there was no reason to go just half-way. George was not an ordinary boy. He did things in extreme. He was now in love with a Venusian girl, and his family was already starting to make him pay.
George turned off the path, just beyond an arch of thick purple-green vines that always reminded him of a gate to a garden. There was a quiet simplicity to this small clearing where he and Gistla met. There was an aloneness to it, and only the sound of the flat shiny leaves sliding together and the high, trilling sound of the small Venusian birds broke the peaceful silence. They had always met here, nowhere else.
Now, as George found himself in the clearing, he began to wonder what Gistla would say or do when he told her he was taking her home to meet his family. It had been a sudden decision, brought out of anger and indignation.
George sat down upon the flat hollow of a large vine. The sky was murky as usual, but the soft warm feel and smell of the growth around him, with its color and brightness, made up for a sunless sky.
As he waited, he remembered what his mother had said:
“Oh, George, you’re really not serious about bringing a Venusian into our home!”
And his sister, Mari, had said, “My God!” Mari, who was eighteen, said this to most anything.
But his father, eyes bright and alert, had said, “No, now if George wants to bring one of these, ah, Venusians home with him, that’s his privilege. I think it would be very interesting.”
George knew what his father meant by interesting.
Exposing Gistla to his family would result in deliberate sarcasm and eye-squinting and barely hidden smiles. There would be pointed remarks and direct insults. And when it was over, George knew, he would be expected to see the error of his ways. He would then be expected to forget about this odd creature and find himself a nice ignorant little Colony girl, whose father was a member of the Governing circle.
“And to hell with that, too,” George said.
“What?” George heard Gistla say. He turned quickly. She was standing at the edge of the clearing, her round green eyes looking soft and serious. She wore the usual gray cape that reached her ankles. Her voice was a deep round sound, and there was hardly any accent in the words she had learned so quickly since the Colony had begun.
“Talking to myself,” George grinned. The old excitement was inside of him. There was a kind of exotic quality in meeting Gistla that never disappeared.
She crossed the clearing, not too gracefully, and touched her fingers against his hand. This had been the extent of their physical expression of love.
“It is nice to see you, George.”
He noticed his feeling of pleasure when he heard her speak his name. There was something about his own name being spoken by Gistla that had always seemed even more strange than anything else.
She sat down beside him, and they looked at each other while the leaves whispered around them and the birds fluttered and chirped. He discovered again the feeling of rightness, sitting beside Gistla. There was a solidity about her, a quiet maturity that he seemed able to feel in himself only when he was with her. And that too was strange, because in American terms of age, she was much younger than he.
Sitting, as they were doing, silent, watching each other, had been most of their activity. You did not need to entertain Gistla with foolish small-talk or exaggerated praising.
But right now he wanted to tell her quickly, to make sure that she would feel the enthusiasm he had felt.
“Listen, Gistla,” he said, while she watched him with her soft-looking round eyes. “I want you to come with me today to meet my family.”
His words seemed to have an odd ring to them, and George waited tensely until he was sure that she was not shocked or angry about what he had just said.
She sat silently for a moment and then she said, “Do you think that is right for me to do, George?”
“Sure it is! Why not? They know about you and me. They know we’re in love.”
“Love--” She spoke the word as though it were an indefinite, elusive thing that you could not offer as reason for doing anything.
Gistla was very wise, George realized, but this was a time for enthusiasm, a time to strengthen their own relationship in this world.
“Say you will!” George said.
“Do you want me to?”
“Well, sure I do. What did you think?”
She held her hands in her lap quietly. They were not unlike his own, George observed, except for the extreme smallness and the color.
“I do not think it will be nice for you or them,” she said.
“Ah, listen, Gistla. Don’t talk that way. It’ll be fine!” But he knew that he was not deceiving her with the lightness he tried to put into his voice.
Then, although she had never done it before, she reached out and touched his cheek. George had grown used to the emotions that reflected on her face, and he knew she was suddenly very sad. “Yes, George,” she said. “I will go with you to meet your family.” And she said it as though she were telling him good-by.
It was no better than he had expected. It was worse. Much worse. And he was growing angrier by the moment. They were all seated in the rock-walled patio behind the large white house. Gistla sat beside him, looking very small and frightened and very different. And it was that obvious difference that George had hoped everyone might ignore. But instead, each of them, his father, his mother, his sister, appeared to be trying to make it even more obvious.
The first strain, when everyone had sat there staring at Gistla as though she were something behind a cage, had passed. But now his parents and sister were moving in a new direction. They had relaxed, having found control of the situation, and they were cutting her to pieces.
“Tell me,” his sister was saying, her eyes dancing slyly, “don’t you people have some very strange tricks you can do?”
George tightened his fingers against his palms. He heard Gistla answer, “Tricks?”
“Yes.” His sister’s white smile shined. “You know, like making things disappear, things like that.”
“My father,” Gistla said seriously, “can do very wonderful things. He is a musician.”
George’s father leaned forward, blinking amusedly. “Really? What does he play?”
“Play?” asked Gistla.
“Yes. He’s a musician. He must play something, some kind of instrument.”
Gistla looked at George, but George did not know what to say. He wished he had never tried to do this. He wished he had just ignored his family and gone on loving Gistla in the privacy of his own emotions.
“Well, now,” Mr. Kenington was saying rather impatiently. “Does he play something like our violin or clarinet or oboe, or what?” His father, George had noticed, was becoming impatient more frequently since he had become Secretary. The Secretarial post was very important.
“He does not play anything,” Gistla said carefully. “He just ... makes the music and I hear it.”
“But how?” Mr. Kenington insisted. “What does he play the music on? He certainly can’t make the music without using something to make it on.”
Gistla glanced again at George and he said quickly, “It’s pretty hard to understand, Father. I don’t think--”
“No, now don’t interrupt just now, son. This is very interesting. We’d like to know what she’s talking about.”
Mrs. Kenington spoke for the first time. “Are you just making this up?”
It was like a whip coming through the air. His mother sat there, blinking, the suspicion and distrust she felt for this creature showing in her eyes and upon her mouth and even in the way she was sitting.
“Now, Lois,” Mr. Kenington said, as though he really sympathized with what she had said, believing that not only Gistla was making it up, but that all of her race made everything up. But he was stubborn. “Come now, tell us. Tell us what you mean.”
Gistla’s smooth head turned this way and that. “Sometimes,” she said slowly, “my father journeys to other places, and if he cannot return soon, he sends me music. When the light has gone from the day and I am alone, I hear it.”
“You mean he sends it by wires or by radio?” Mr. Kenington asked with surprise.
“Now, wait a minute,” George’s sister leaned forward, smiling. “You just hear this music, is that right? Up here.” She tapped her forehead.
“Yes,” said Gistla.
“My God,” George’s sister said. She looked at her parents, arching her eyebrows.
“You shouldn’t make things up,” George’s mother said.
“Mother,” George said, his face coloring. “She’s not making things up!”
“Just a moment, son,” Mr. Kenington said crisply. “You don’t want to talk to your mother in that tone.”
“No, but, my God,” George’s sister went on. “Imagine. No wires, no loudspeakers, just ... up here.” She tapped her forehead again.
“I’m not talking to my mother in any tone at all,” George said, disregarding his sister.
“Well, she shouldn’t lie,” said Mrs. Kenington with conviction.
George stood up. “She is not lying, Mother.”
“I forbid you to argue with your mother that way, George,” said Mr. Kenington.
“I mean, my God,” said George’s sister happily. “This is an innovation! Can you imagine? Gistla, or whatever your name is, could your father make his music sometime when we have a dance?”