“Until Proof to the Contrary” (short story) by Bernard Mathon
English Publication History: Travelling Towards Epsilon (New English Library, 1977)
Original: French (Jusqu’à preuve du contraire), 1975
Translated by Beth Blish, 1976
Synopsis: An exotically beautiful woman catches all the men’s eyes at the beach and that same woman catches a lonely man on the dance floor, from where they head back to his place—him in a drunken stupor and she shifting sexes like a magnet’s polarity. It seems that her Control Center short-circuited and she tells him of her alien mission on Earth, by which she dissolves and a small lizard appears, who speaks condescendingly to the man. The lizard’s pronunciation is terrible, so he uses it as a weapon against the lizard. 18 pages
Pre-analysis: Comic absurdity in science fiction is, largely, a hit-or-miss affair. Fritz Leiber and Robert Sheckley usually hit the mark but Cordwainer Smith almost always misses the boat with his bizarre stories, which, while they may attract the nostalgia of some, seem to me like a ragtag jumble of randomness and indulgent poetry. In Travelling to Epsilon, Bernard Mathon has a story that’s hugely entertaining throughout and serves up a good twist at the end.
Analysis: Just as the stoic philosophers once said that no one learns as a blank slate, relationships never start as a blank slate either. Both partners carry a history that affects their emotions regardless of the current events, actions are guided by past results, and paths are chosen that lead to higher chances of happiness. “Until Proof to the Contrary” is a absurd take on this notion, where the woman is question is definitely not who she seems to be. Through folly, wit and circumstance, the man peels the layers of truth from the woman; each peel as ridiculous as the last. This exfoliating of her layers comes by the sometimes active manipulation of the man and sometimes by passive carefree manner at the passing events.
The woman maintains her beautiful facade, but only with a coping mechanism of conformity (the robot), behind which lies her inner rage (the lizard), but lying unseen to many is her multiple personality disorder (the Jelly Nineteen), and so forth. The story psychologically deconstructs the mind, through absurdity, of a common woman going through a relationship with her own set of experiences… all in front of the man; initially only wanting to share sex, he receives so much more.