Friday, January 27, 2012

Our Visit (fiction)

“So runs my dream; but what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.”

- Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam’, Part LIV,
___________________________________________




It was the first winter after their migration, when the air was so dry and cold that you couldn't make snowballs after a blizzard. We suspected that they were somehow to blame. We knew very little about them. The only source of news in our small town was intermittent reports over public radio when stations were allowed to broadcast.

When five of them arrived at the old store on a windy Saturday afternoon, it was the first time any of us had seen them in person. Marjorie and I were stocking the shelves while Uncle Wallis sat on a chair near the electric heater, working on the accounts. They were traveling in one of the original deep-green vehicles you don’t see any more, when they were still adjusting to daylight. At the time, black cars made them lose their balance and red cars hurt their eyes.

Two females and three males unfolded themselves from the auto, all of them dressed in heavy yellow greatcoats for the cold. We’d seen photographs and were prepared. They looked different, but weren't exactly frightening. You might even think they were human from a distance, but as they came closer you’d notice their crooked style of walking and the sharp angles of their shoulders and hips.



The females came in first, staring at our eyes and lifting the corner of their mouths in a gesture I’m sure was intended to be a smile. Despite the cold, neither of them wore gloves; they wrapped their hands in soft discs of something that looked like off-pink suede, using them to open the front door and place items in their shopping baskets. Two tall males flanked a short and rotund third who wore a wide, oily black belt around his middle. He made me nervous. The tall ones wore overstretched grey gloves, but the short one turned the doorknob with his three longest fingers which long curly prints that etched the brass (I never managed to polish it properly again). He wandered the length of the store while the tall ones were never more than a hooked arm’s length away.

Marjorie talked – after a fashion - to the females. We knew that they understood us, and they even managed to communicate with vocal noises that almost sounded like words. They were close to being lovely, when your eyes focused on the right places but you could never tell if the light fell strangely on their faces or if it somehow changed their features as it illuminated the all the shades of their soft skin. They filled their baskets with everything we knew they needed; boxes of peanuts, bags of peppercorns and cinnamon and all of our canned spinach. They asked if we had shredded coconut (it was rationed, for obvious reasons) and I politely told them that we didn’t. They almost-smiled again and headed towards the back of the store for soap and hydrogen peroxide.

The short male hadn’t spoken, but I watched him stretch his neck sideways to carefully examine everything in the freezers. I was trying to turn up the heater near the side door when he said “How are these made?” while point at a rack of dinner rolls. His voice was low and impossibly sharp, an infant crying through the strings of an un-tuned cello.

He turned his head and repeated the question to Marjorie. The other two males backed towards him softly and quickly, and the females lifted their baskets close to their knees. The tallest male tried to look me in the eye and his faintly mechanical voice said “Thank you. We are sorry that we are needing to be careful with our diet. We please want to know how these ingredients are created.”

The tone of his voice sounded blunt, but not threatening. Marjorie came to my side and found a few tiny words in her throat to say “That's just bread from Schultz’s bakery. Nothing but flour and milk, yeast, a little sugar and salt.”

Her last words tightened the air around everyone. The females started emptying their baskets into the deep pockets of their coats and the tallest male handed me some coins and powdery bills (perfect change, I might add) from his shirt pocket as he rushed to open the door. He had almost reached it when the short one stretched a horrible wide hand towards the rolls and screeched “They use salt in their bread!”

Marjorie started crying. Uncle Wallis reached for the broom handle under the counter while the two males flanked the short one and literally dragged him through the door. The females fled to their car (dropping their off-pink discs when the wind whispered past them) and we heard the short one laughing hysterically with that gasping bagpipe drone we’d heard on the radio, a bass banshee wailing at close quarters. “Salt in their bread! Do they know what this means? Do they know what they’re doing?”

His voice disappeared as the their car doors slammed. They drove north into the storm, leaving us shaken and exhausted. Near the doorframe, one of the female’s discs had curled and turned brown, but the other was inches away from where it had landed, quietly twisting and squirming towards the safety of the potato bin. Uncle Wallis stomped on it hard and we saw the tiny flash as it died.



For George
January, 2012

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love it

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of The Chrysalids as interpreted by Phillip K. Dick. Which is to say, me likey a lot. You've got an interesting thread here... maybe a series of short stories...?

Le G.

STAG said...

Gotta stop eating them radishes before you go to bed....

Derbecker said...

Black olives, actually. But you have a good point.

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