Word Association, with a twist: the story had to be "uplifting" from start to finish.
Martin was thirty-five when he found the Meaning of Life. It was hiding in a stack of porno magazines in the bathroom dresser.
“What in the hell?” said Martin.
“Oh shit,” said the Meaning of Life. It was small and round and had no handles or blemishes.
“Get out of my dresser!” Martin yelled. He was a yeller.
“Maybe you shouldn’t shout so much,” said the Meaning of Life. It bounced free of the magazines and rolled across the floor to the toilet. “Now if you don’t mind, I have to use the john.”
“I’d like to see that,” said Martin, who no longer felt like yelling so much.
“Maybe you should learn to mind your own business,” said the Meaning of Life. “Pervert.”
Later, the Meaning of Life came up and hopped onto Martin’s bed and rolled over to his feet. It glowed with odd hypnotic patterns that spiraled inside of it like dissolving clouds of smoke or drops of milk in a jug of water. Martin was fascinated, but tried his best to mind his business.
“So,” said the Meaning of Life.
“So,” said Martin.
“I reckon you want to know what it’s all about,” said the Meaning of Life.
Martin desperately did, but didn’t want to seem over-anxious. “Not really,” he said. “I guess it’s none of my business.”
“That’s a little too much,” said the Meaning of Life. “A little healthy curiosity is good sometimes.”
“Right,” said Martin, trying to look more interested.
“If you don’t mind my saying,” said the Meaning of Life, not hesitating to see if Martin did in fact mind, “it looks like you could use a little help getting some things on track.”
Martin glanced around the room. Half the floor was covered in pizza boxes, the other in newspapers and generic junk. The two halves were not cleanly divided. He looked down at himself and realized he had not showered in weeks.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“Right then,” said the Meaning of Life. “Put me back in the dresser and we’ll try again next year.”
“Hold on!” yelled Martin, biting his tongue to remember to keep his voice down. “hold on. I just… I don’t know if I’m quite ready for a change.”
The Meaning of Life glowed dark blues and greens. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” it said. “I was kind of in the middle of something back there.”
“Oh, sorry,” said Martin. He normally wasn’t the type to apologize.
“Well, we’ll work on knocking,” said the Meaning of Life.
For the next week, Martin worked on knocking. He worked on not yelling. He worked on saying “please” and “thank you,” asking the Meaning of Life to pass the salt, and holding the door for it from room to room.
“Yeah, that’s good,” said the Meaning of Life. “Let’s work on ‘fetch me a beer’ next.”
In a month, Martin had cleaned his apartment entirely. In two, he was the perfect gentleman. He pulled out the chair for the Meaning of Life, lifted it to the counter without being asked, picked up its favorite desserts on his way home from the office, and never complained when it wanted to watch American Idol instead of Dr. Who.
“I think we’re about ready to try you in the real world,” said the Meaning of Life.
That night, they went to a bar. Not a hole-in-the-wall pool joint like Martin used to frequent, but a top end wine bar that the Meaning of Life picked out. Martin sipped a chardonnay while the Meaning of Life had whiskey. There were girls there. Martin had not been with a woman in some time.
“Relax,” said the Meaning of Life. “Just be yourself. But not too much.”
Martin’s first attempt at flirting was miserable. She rolled her eyes and walked away.
“See, that was too much,” said the Meaning of Life. “Remember what I taught you. Charming.”
And so Martin was, with a little over-the-shoulder coaching from the Meaning of Life.
“Now let’sh take her back and nail her,” said the Meaning of Life after his fifth whiskey.
“Really?” Martin whispered.
“Shit, whysh not?” said the Meaning of Life. “Even gentlemansh gotsh to get layed.”
And so they did. Martin was the perfect lover, attentive and ginger in a way he had never even contemplated before. The woman was not the type to do this sort of thing, but Martin, she felt, was special. The Meaning of Life watched it all from the countertop, giggling quietly.
The next morning, Martin cooked the woman breakfast. They had lunch the day after.
“You’re so good to me, Martin,” she said on their third date. “You’re perfect. How come no one ever snatched you up?”
“I guess I’m just a late bloomer,” Martin said, winking at the Meaning of Life.
Martin and the woman were soon married in a lavish ceremony. Martin paid for it all, because his new attitude had garnered him a new job, and then a raise. The Meaning of Life watched proudly as Martin the slob, the uncouth, the ingrate, moved up in life and closed on a new house, one with a huge bathroom and a giant flatscreen TV. And Martin never forgot to bring the Meaning of Life a beer when it wanted one, without ever being asked.
“I get it,” said Martin one day, as he took off his tuxedo from a black tie charity affair he had just attended with the Meaning of Life. “The meaning of life, the real meaning of life, is to be good to other people, and they will be good to you, in turn.”
“No,” said the Meaning of Life. “The meaning of life is getting some schmoe to do everything for you.”
“What?” said Martin.
“Nothing,” said the Meaning of Life. “Now put me back in the dresser. I have some business to attend to.”