[fictional account based on real people]
“So, how are you?” These gatherings were always rife with small talk. I could hear that phrase being parroted around at least a dozen other times, and yet despite the consistency of the question, rarely did anyone have a decent answer.
“Fantastic!” He answered with an emphatic arm motion, wine swishing out of his glass; his lack of concern made me think that this probably wasn’t his first. “Did you hear about Mars?” he asked enthusiastically. Every now and then someone would surprise you with an answer completely left field.
“Err, I’m not sure?”
“There’s water on Mars!” He replied, with ever growing enthusiasm, his face slightly red, either from excitement, or to match his tipple of choice.
“Oh. I thought that was old news.” Admittedly I wasn’t as up to date with my Mars trivia as possible, but I could have sworn they had this exact discussion on Breaking Bad a few years ago.
“No, they just found out that it’s flowing water!” He said, eyes bulging with weight of this knowledge. “Flowing!” He repeated, still in awe.
“…Cool.” I wasn’t entirely sure where I was supposed to go from here. As much as I loathed small talk, I wasn’t sure I wanted to debate the existence of aliens with my superior. That was a whole can of worms I wasn’t quite ready to open. After all, there was so much weather to discuss.
“Do you know what this means?” He pressed. “It means-”
“That it’s even more likely that there’s life on Mars?”
“YES, EXACTLY!” He roared, to the point where nearby party goers turned their head slightly out of either concern or confusion. A few didn’t react at all; this is standard Dr N., we expect nothing less. “Could you imagine? Life on Mars!”
“Yeah, wow,” I said feigning a new enthusiasm for an age old debate. As much as I admire the Mars Rover, and space, and the ever expanding universe, I’ve found that the aliens’ debate can often segue into questions of personal philosophies and beliefs. As interesting as those conversations are, I wasn’t nearly as drunk as Dr N, therefore I wasn’t nearly as comfortable as Dr N.
“So, what do you think?”
“Life on Mars of course!” And people call me loud. “So, do you think it’s there? Should we send a band of intrepid astronauts up to space on an alien hunt?” He chuckled at the concept – perhaps he was considering the cast of Apollo 13 on Mars, hiding in a red crater with a hunting rifle, decked out in camouflage as though they were on a safari hunt.
“Well,” I said, unable to help myself, “I think someone should probably let David Bowie know. He’s been asking for 40 odd years.”
A hoarse laughter erupted from his lips, guffaws echoing through the room, and drowning out the idle sound of small talk, his already red face deepening to a shade of scarlet.
“Ah, very good,” he said, officially giving his stamp of approval. “Very good indeed. You’re quite funny aren’t you Stephanie.”
I don’t know what I expected.
“It’s Sarah actually,” I said, my pride getting in the way. I wasn’t going to let Stephanie get my compliment!
“Oh yes, of course of course,” he mused, seemingly unflustered. “Though there is someone else called Stephanie, right?”
Apology accepted. “Probably in the world yeah. It’s quite a common name.”
He chuckled again. “Ah Sarah. You keep that sense of humour, it’ll get you far. Much further than those loser academics who can rile off proteins and will end up stuck in a lab someday. You know there was a fellow at my university – Ronald Dobbs, everyone called him Ronnie, for some reason his friends called him Billy.”
Anecdote time, I was now trapped in his history. This really was my fault, this is what I get for being a smart mouth.
“Anyway, Billy or Ronnie – we weren’t that close – was a funny guy. He always used to come up with these comments at the drop of a hat. Whenever a consultant would ask him a question, if he didn’t know the answer, he’d just make them laugh. And you know what, it always worked. Without fail. Now he’s the top Cardiologist in Edinburgh.”
I hid a smirk, thinking of the reaction the orthopods would have if I substituted basic anatomy knowledge with a knock-knock joke. Somehow I don’t think I’d be quite as successful as Dr Dobbs.
“Wow,” I said for what felt like the millionth time this conversation, each time my feigning enthusiasm felt like it was getting less and less sincere. “That’s good advice. Anyway, I should probably get a top up,” I hastily commented. Not that I disliked the company of Dr N, but he was known for his anecdotes, and I wasn’t sure I could muster up the courage for another one without a drink.
“Yes of course!” he declared, “Yes go get a drink, enjoy yourself, it’s Christmas!”