by Bob Lovely
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
As he pulled his truck past the sign reading ‘Litton, Pop. 302,’ Albert Old Eagle felt his first real twinge of doubt. “What the hell am I doing here?” The question could apply both to Albert’s life situation and his current location.
In life, he was wandering and had no real direction. He was three months divorced from Lisa, his abusive, alcoholic wife of two years, six months, eight days and one morning — and he was counting.
He had come to his current location by walking into a realtor’s office with the money he had saved from manual-labor paychecks and several per capitas — money he had scrupulously hidden from Lisa’s irrational desire for more and more alcohol, and which was the spark that had ignited many an argument. Thank God she had been unable to bear children.
Albert pulled up in the driveway of his new home. The peeling, light-blue paint would need to be scraped off and the house repainted. Overall, however, the place didn’t look so bad. The windows were all intact, the porch looked sound and the house itself didn’t sag. The small yard was enclosed by a wooden picket fence with the same light-blue, peeling paint. The house reminded Albert of his life: intact, but needing some work.
As Albert was coming out of the house for his third load of stuff, he saw exactly what he had been expecting. Coming slowly up the road was an old white guy, in a perfectly preserved old pickup, with a shotgun mounted in the cab behind the man’s head.
Albert inhaled sharply. “Here we go.”
The old white guy pulled up in front of the drive, blocking it, and rolled down the window. “You movin’ in?”
Albert swallowed, dry. “Yes.” He tried to keep his voice as neutral as possible.
The old guy reached across himself to extend his right hand. “Name’s Roy.”
For a moment, Albert didn’t know what to do. He approached the truck slowly, then softly took the man’s hand. “Albert Old Eagle.” His mind racing for something to say, he came up with: “This truck is old, but it looks new,” and wished he hadn’t said it.
“Could’ve rolled off the showroom floor today,” replied Roy. “I keep her that way. Guess she’s as close to a wife as I could ever put up with.” He grinned. “Looks like you don’t have much stuff, but I’ll help you carry it in.”
Albert’s concern now completely forgotten, he smiled. “I got coffee brewing.”
* * *
“Nineteen fifty-five,” said Roy proudly. “My Daddy told me to take good care of her, so I have. I’ve kept her just like new. Cost me a bit, but she’s my only vice, hobby or lady, so it’s worked out okay. I was married once, for about two months. We never really fought, just didn’t belong together. Not much for changing my habits. That truck now, her and I get along just fine. Lucky I guess, sounds like your marriage was a lot rougher than mine.”
It was now dark outside and the kitchen was filled with a golden glow from the overhead lights. The two had also filled the kitchen, and their evening, with laughter and stories, and lies told in that way where you don’t expect to be believed.
As the night wore on, they drank up all of Albert’s can of coffee, some tea he dug out of a box, and then a few cans of pop. When they got hungry, Albert found some crackers and a few tins of pureed goo that had once been pig parts best not contemplated.
Albert got quiet.
Roy leaned in close. “Whatchya thinkin’ about, son?”
Albert shifted his feet. “I just want to apologize.”
“Whatever the hell for?” Roy’s face took on a serious cast for the first time in hours.
“For being racist, I guess. I mean, when you first drove up, I felt so much like an Indian in a tiny, little, white town and here you come — old, white guy in his pick ’em up.”
Roy grinned. “Guess that shotgun in the cab must’ve spooked you a little.”
Albert studied his feet. “No. The old white guy in the pick-up with a shotgun scared the hell out of me!”
Roy laughed. He seemed to laugh with his whole body, every bit of him shaking in his own little Royquake. He looked right at Albert, his eyes twinkling and his thinning shock of white hair sort of little boy tousled. He looked just like Santa.
“I like you, Albert Old Eagle. I think you’ll fit in real nice here in our little town.” It was after 3:00 a.m. when Roy finally went out, fired up his 1955 pickup and drove home, promising that after sun-up he would introduce Albert to “some of the folks around town.”
* * *
“This is the place,” said Roy. The two had pulled up in front of a medium-sized, white house with red trim. The green lawn was neatly mowed and the property was surrounded by a white picket fence. They got out of Roy’s antique pickup, let themselves through the wooden gate and stepped onto the porch. Roy knocked lightly on the front door.
The door opened and Albert froze. Standing before him was a man in blue jeans and a red and green flannel shirt. From the top of the flannel shirt rose a very thin, grey neck and atop that was a bulbous head, medium grey all over and set with a thin, lipless mouth, two nostrils and a pair of large, convex, shiny black eyes.
Somewhere in the distance Albert could hear Roy’s voice. “Albert, meet Bob.”
Albert noticed his hand was extended, and Bob took it gently. A handshake Grampa would appreciate, thought Albert absently. His grandfather had always taught him to shake hands with people and to do it a certain way, basically just offering the hand, keeping it rather limp and not making eye contact.
Grampa was a traditional Indian man and had told him this was the traditional way of shaking hands, not the White Man’s firm grip and direct eye contact — what Grampa had always referred to as the “White Man’s ‘I will kill you and take your woman’” handshake.
Albert smiled to shake himself out of his reverie. It seemed Bob smiled too. Albert could not tell any change of expression on Bob’s face, but it seemed Albert could feel Bob smiling. “Uh, nice to meet you,” stammered Albert. “Where ya from?” Suddenly feeling like a total idiot, he was surprised at the warm, smooth feel of Bob’s hand. He had expected the touch of a cold lizard.
Bob again smiled inside Albert’s head. “Andromeda,” he said. “And you?”
“Uh, North Dakota.” Albert’s knees were shaking.
“Please come in.” Bob extended his arm into the interior of the house. Albert smelled apple pie.
“Roy,” Bob said, taking Roy’s hand.
Roy smiled. “Good to see you Bob.”
The three walked into a very neat and ordinary looking living room. Inside were a television, turned off, a bookshelf full of books, and a table with four chairs. In one of the chairs sat what appeared to be a smaller version of Bob, wearing jeans, but his shirt was a tee with a picture of bright-colored plants and the phrase “Botanical Gardens” on it.
Standing in a doorway into what must be the kitchen was another Andromedan. This one also looked just like Bob, same size, but was clad in a blue dress and a red-and-white checked apron. With oven mitts, it was holding a steaming-hot apple pie. All three of them gazed at Albert with their huge, lidless, shiny black eyes.
Albert felt very naked. He also realized he needed to pee. “Uh, may I use your bathroom?”
“Just through there,” said Bob, indicating with his chin.
Just like Grampa. His grandfather had taught him never to point, though Albert still did. Grampa had said it was worse than rude, and that respectful people indicated with their chin instead.
Albert opened the door and found the light switch. When he flipped it, he was almost blinded by the glare. Bob’s home seemed very neat. The bathroom was museum-clean, as if it was kept clean but never used. Albert wondered if Andromedans eliminated bodily wastes in the same manner as humans. It would be a while before he’d feel comfortable asking. Albert did what he had to do and washed his hands, making sure to leave no mess.
Returning to the living room, Albert found Roy looking over the shoulder of the smaller alien at the table. “Whatchya readin’, little man?” Apparently it was a young male.
Albert heard, in what he thought was Bob’s voice, “Doh!” from the kitchen. Albert felt a sudden surge like a mild electric shock and laughed. He was certain the three aliens were amused, and it seemed he was feeling their laughter. Roy didn’t seem to get it at all.
Bob emerged from the kitchen. “I have asked Susan to make enough lunch for the two of you.”
Albert’s grandfather had taught him good manners; he knew better than to come into someone’s home and refuse their kindness. “Thank you,” he said, feeling like it was the first non-idiotic thing out of his mouth since he had stepped foot in the house. He addressed the boy. “Your parents must be proud of you, reading a book like that with a perfectly good TV right across the room.”
Bob replied. “Oh, we watch very little television, though we do like a few cartoons. And your news is rather amusing.” He said the word “news” as if placing quotation marks around it.
* * *
Lunch was excellent: cold roast beef sandwiches with spicy brown mustard and hot navy bean with bacon soup. Bob began the meal by giving thanks to the plants and animals that comprised the food, though it was not a prayer in the sense of acknowledging any particular deity.
At the end of the meal, Susan produced slices of the apple pie that were a bit too big for all concerned, but they ate them anyway, along with a glob each of vanilla ice cream. Susan also made coffee which she served to them all, including the boy. She gave Roy only about a third of a cup, and he filled it the rest of the way with water from the tap. She set a full cup in front of Albert, the coffee black as night.
He took a sip. It was incredibly good coffee, and stronger than Albert would have thought possible. It was so strong it was almost “spicy hot.” Albert wondered if perhaps he was being played with, the way he knew sometimes Indians would feed weird stuff to someone from outside the culture, just to see if they would politely eat it. Everyone else was drinking it though, so Albert did as well. It was the best-tasting coffee he had ever had, though he left the table certain he would never sleep again.
Albert sat, wide awake, in the passenger seat of the immaculate interior of Roy’s pickup on the way back to town. “Why didn’t you tell me they were aliens?”
“Why? I didn’t tell them you were an Indian. Here in Litton we respect people’s privacy and treat people with respect, whether they’re from up the road, New York City, or An-drom-i–da.”
As Roy drove away from Albert’s place, Albert stretched and watched the sunset in the western sky. Maybe I’ve moved to the right place.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Bob Lovely