Matt was telling me about the erosion of his differentials.
‘It’s not that I’m complaining,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t like you to think I’m complaining. I’m just saying that with all this equality coming in, there were bound to be losers as well as winners, and I happen to be one of them. Maybe I deserve to be. Maybe I was grinding the faces of the poor without knowing it. In fact, I probably was.’
It wasn’t that he begrudged everyone else being as well-off as him these days, he explained. Nor did he begrudge them being as good-looking. It was just that nowadays, without his differentials – with everyone being on the same level, so to speak – he couldn’t get a girlfriend.
In the old days, it hadn’t been a problem.
‘In fact, I didn’t really think about it at the time. Girls were always there, always available. So now I’m thinking, were they only interested in me because I was better-off and better-looking than other blokes, with a sports car and a big house in Ponsonby? I mean, maybe they weren’t really interested in me at all. As a person. Do you know what I mean?’ he asked, searching my face while I tried to avoid eye contact.
The thing was, in the old days Matt had never put much effort into cultivating the inner man, because the outer man had served him so well. This had left him with an inverse differential in the inner man department, which was now on view to a more discerning world.
‘It’s not that I’m unkind or unhelpful. It’s not that I don’t do my bit – I do. It’s just that when you get down to it, other men are more interesting than me, or more evolved or something. I don’t know. You tell me.’
Which rather put me on the spot. I couldn’t say, ‘Matt, the problem is, you’re boring. You have nothing interesting to say. Women want someone they can talk to.’ Because that would have been unkind. Though even with his rudimentary telepathic skills, he could probably hear me thinking it.
On the other hand, he was asking me for help, and I couldn’t lie to him, could I?
So on the basis that agreeing with a person tends to make them feel better, even if you’re agreeing that they’re not very interesting, I said, ‘Okay, Matt. Maybe you’re right.’
And watched his poor face fall.
‘In which case, maybe you could forget about getting a girlfriend for the time being, and just focus on yourself. Learn a new skill or something. What are you interested in?’
‘I don’t know. What is there?’
My heart sank. Where do you start with someone like that?
So I called for reinforcements, and we made it a community project: ‘Find a New Interest for Matt.’ He found it embarrassing at first, and who wouldn’t? But I think he enjoyed the attention, too. We put a big cork board on the wall of the Community Centre, where everyone posted their suggestions. The school took up the challenge, and the children wrote stories and pinned up paintings of exciting or satisfying activities.
I don’t think any of our ideas really lit a fire in Matt. But with all this community momentum behind him, he could hardly avoid doing something, even if it was only learning to knit.
In the end he exceeded our wildest expectations, by going to Mars.
The cork board was cleared and re-titled: ‘Matt on Mars,’ and as the months went by, it filled with smiling photos: ‘Matt at the Monuments,’ ‘Matt at the polar base,’ ‘Matt with ancient artifact,’ ‘Matt with Martian lizard,’ ‘Matt with Helena,’ ‘Matt and Helena in their new apartment,’ ‘Matt with Matt junior.’
He never came back. But in his absence he achieved a kind of hero status in our community, almost as if he was terra-forming Mars single-handed. It was a new differential more glorious than all the old ones combined. I almost wrote and told him so, but stopped myself.
After all, he’s a happy man at last. Who needs differentials?
© Sue J Davis 2015
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