Mike flips four burgers. Grease falls and the flames flare up heating his face. His beer is warm and bitter. He sips, sad-faced, eying the kids in the pool.
Jenny won’t eat. She only eats chicken. No pork. No beef. Mike melts the cheese before serving. The air is thick and sticky. Someone is crying. Without intervention the crying ends and they eat. Jenny leaves the table early, her plate full. The other two make more of an attempt.
The wife’s away and soon they’ll divorce. Mike knows it. When he has custody, they’ll eat only chicken, he decides. That and mac and cheese. He’ll move into an apartment, and the kids will visit on the weekends. When they’re over they’ll eat chicken, and mac and cheese, and ice cream. During the week Mike can eat whatever he wants, and the wife can deal with Jenny starving herself.
When night hits Mike has lost count — six, seven, possibly eight beers, he thinks. The little one is sleeping in her bed. The boy and Jenny are watching T.V. Mike is calm. Fireflies flicker all around the property. They look like stars and the stars look like copper and white confetti peppered across the skyline. Mike smells a newly lit candle from inside escaping through an open kitchen window. He wants to discipline Jenny for using his lighter, but he’s drunk and honestly doesn’t care. The candle is apple pie but it only smells like apples. The wife buys stupid shit.
Mike stays outside. He’s aware that it’s late now but he’s unsure of the time. The house is silent. The kids are all right, he decides. His eyes focus above him and the sight appears wrong, abnormal — some type of satellite burning up in the atmosphere, not a star or a plane. Mike waits. Five lights emerge in the southwest. They look like stars, just bright dots, but he knows that they weren’t there before. He stares. His hands sweat. He’s afraid. The lights hover for a while before moving uniformly across the horizon westward. It’s a craft, he decides, and it is boomerang-shaped from what he can see. The lights go out. Mike’s eyes remain focused. The house is silent. He thinks of his kids. The lights return, only four this time, and change course. The craft is moving towards Mike’s home.
The boy is asleep on the living room floor. Mike checks the digital clock on the stove; 11:30. He moves fast. Upstairs he finds the little one asleep in her bed. He hears movement from Jenny’s room. Little feet produce little sounds from inside the door, like water dripping out of a faucet. How much do aliens weigh? How loud are alien steps? He opens the door. It isn’t an alien.
“I’m not.” The girl must be able to tell that her father is drunk, and the father is trying very hard not to appear drunk.
“Do you want to see something?”
“Outside. I saw a U.F.O.”
“Unidentified Flying Object.”
“Oh,” she says. “Like a flying saucer?”
Jenny seems excited at the thought of an alien space ship hovering about her front yard. With great disappointment, they find the night sky without one.
“Wait. It was here and it disappeared for a minute or two, before. It came back then. It might be hiding or something.”
They wait. Nothing.
“We must have missed it.”
“When’s Mom coming home?”
“I don’t know. She’s got some stuff she needs to figure out.”
“At Aunt Clair’s house?”
“Yes, at Aunt Clair’s house.”
“Why couldn’t she figure stuff out at home?”
Mike looks down at his child. Jenny is older than she looks. She’s the shortest one in her class and thin. She’s smart, though, like her dad; she looks more like her mother than her father, but Mike can’t hold this against her. She is his favorite.
“You know you’re too old to waste food like you do.”
“I don’t like hamburgers. You know that.”
“You don’t like anything.”
“That isn’t true. I like what I like.”
“There are kids dying of starvation out there.”
“Would you want me to switch places?”
Jenny sits down on the porch and folds her arms across her chest. Mike can feel himself becoming sober.
“Do you see these stars? They’re light years away.”
“How far is that?”
“Well, say that one,” Mike points to a star directly in front of them, “it could be like fifty light years away, and that means that the light waves from the star take fifty years to reach our eyes. And light is the fastest traveling thing we know of, so I’d say the stars are pretty far away.”
“And that’s where your alien lives?”
“Yeah, smart ass. That’s where my alien lives.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe you.”
“Well, do you?”
“Yes. Actually, I do. You’ve never lied to me, and you aren’t crazy. I have no reason not to believe you.”
“Thanks,” he says with a diffident smile. He feels like he’s burning up inside. He feels very far away and dying, but here is better than before, and tomorrow she’ll be here.
Mike thinks about the billions of stars which burn years ahead of them, each bigger than Earth, and some bigger than the sun. His daughter’s littleness makes him intensely happy. The two of them wait for Mike’s spaceship. It doesn’t come. He wants to forget about the whole thing, but inside he is sure of what he saw, and Jenny believes him. If she is the only one Mike can convince, then that is good enough.
“We’ll keep this a secret, though, just between us.”
The girl nods her head in agreement.
Sean Gibbons is a recent college grad from Southeastern PA. He writes in his spare time, while attempting to find employment with an English degree. He hopes that writing will some day save him from actually working.