The Dinner Party

Vic closed his front door and listened as the footsteps of his departing guests receded down the path. He sighed. The evening had not been a complete disaster; it could have been worse. But then again, it could also have gone a lot better.

He moved into the dining area and cleared onto trays the left-over food and drink, the glasses and plates. At least they’d appreciated the food, and Vic had tried to cater for everyone. Bulao and Minner had relished the fish, while Karok and Batta had gorged on the meat. He’d liked it all – the perk of being host and selecting the menu. Then everyone had tucked into the sweetness of dessert. And they’d enjoyed the wine – with hindsight, perhaps a little too much.

He cleared the dining area and carried the trays into the kitchen. The conversation had flowed smoothly; quite an achievement considering their different backgrounds. This is the point of such dinner parties, Vic reminded himself, that social evenings would bridge the divides of culture, language and origin.

He scraped the left-over food into the waste disposal. But it was those differences that had led to the argument. Perhaps inevitably, the subject had been families and children. You’d expect a divergence of opinion over how close families should be, and the bringing up of offspring, but this evening the feelings had been expressed with more heat than Vic would have liked.

He piled items into the basin for washing. Some have large families, others have small, and each assumes that children will become independent and leave home. Surely there’s general agreement over caring for offspring, nurturing and training them with the necessary skills for life?

But no: Bulao and Minner had asserted that the best start in life was independence. The young learn quickest if left to fend for themselves. Some would be lost, but the process ensured only the strongest and smartest would survive to reproduce. There was a brutal logic to this “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest”, but Vic, Karok and Batta had declared this approach to be heartless.

Bulao and Minner had countered with the bombshell that they had no idea how many surviving children they had. For them, the time, energy and attention devoted by others to rearing children was better expended in producing more offspring in the first place. The more produced, the higher the chances of survival and thriving. Bulao and Minner had teased Karok and Batta – unfairly, Vic thought – that devotion to a handful of children was “putting all your eggs in one basket”. Suppose your few children had accidents, or caught fatal diseases, and none of them survived to reproduce?

Vic sighed again. He’d tried to act as peacemaker and reconciler, suggesting a compromise over valid considerations of quality or quantity. Should you train a few children with your knowledge and experience, or rely on sheer numbers to produce a few exceptional ones? Or was it nurture against nature: strong parental input versus the variations of evolution? They had agreed to differ, except that producing worthy offspring was a valid goal in life.

Vic extinguished the lights and headed for his sleeping area. Perhaps the variety among them was the strength of their society, despite the tensions that it caused. Bulao and Minner would be home at the Great Lake by now, with the other amphibians, producing countless spawn to their hearts’ content. Karok and Batta would be at the River in the Forest, where the reptile community guarded the eggs in their nests. For his part, Vic was happy to be a mollusc, one of a long line of snail species who reproduced as hermaphrodites. He curled up in his shell for sleep, as the moons rose into the alien night sky.

The Dinner Party

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