by Foster Trecost [Originally published in Dark Sky Magazine]
I counted telephone poles sticking up from the ground and the seconds in between them. The old highway cut straight through the sand, and it seemed the road would go on forever. No curves. No hills. Just poles.
I’m not sure when she changed. After kids, I suppose. She didn’t smile very often, joked even less. I looked over to watch her drive. Not even a blink. Just a stare, dry like the desert, untouchable like a cactus. I wanted to say something, but I knew she only wanted to drive, to hide behind the wheel, an excuse to concentrate, a reason to focus on something other than me. Maybe I had changed, too. I went back to the poles.
She once asked me to keep her young. “There’s not much I can do about aging,” I said. So she asked me to keep her youthful. “That, I can try.” But the truth is, she’s the one who kept me youthful.
I remember days in the park, the grocery, the doctor’s office, it didn’t matter where, everyone we saw was someone else. We spent hours inventing stories about people, who they really were, what their lives were like. She got the idea from a Simon and Garfunkel song. “See that woman over there,” she said in the checkout line. “She’s having an affair with her tango instructor. Her husband knows it, too. But he’s sleeping with his secretary.” She looked at me, and waited to see what I would say.
“Do you think they know?” I asked.
“Do you think they know that her tango instructor is married to his secretary?”
She kissed me, right there in the checkout line, for a long time. And that’s how it started. That’s how everyone we saw became someone else.
I tired of the poles and wanted to turn on the radio, but I figured no stations were in reach. I also figured she would turn it off if I found one. I wanted to talk or break something.
I must have dozed off because I don’t remember stopping. I woke to an empty car, still running, her door open. I jumped out, looked around, and found her standing in the sand some ways away. I walked to where she was but let her speak first. She stood in front of a cactus, prickly in bloom.
“They’re spies,” she said.
“They’re spies from another planet, sent here to watch us. See those flowers,” she said. “Those flowers aren’t really flowers.”
It was my turn. “No, they’re not. They’re communication devices used to send information back to their home planet. Information they gather throughout the year.”
“Yes,” she said. “That’s what they are. Communication devices.”
I wanted to ask where she had gone.
It’s a treat being able to feature Foster Trecost as a guest author. Besides the fact that he has a badass name, I’ve really been enjoying reading his stories at Fictionaut and elsewhere and wanted to showcase something of his. Thus, he gave me this wonderful piece, orginally published at Dark Sky Magazine. But to spice it up a bit, here’s his commentary, his ’behind-the-scenes’ observations, if you will. Thanks, Foster.
This story came from two unconnected places that became connected.
I was staring at a cactus with a friend, who said something along the lines of: “Look at that flower. It looks like a communication device, like it could be sending messages about us to it’s home planet.”
And the more I looked at it, the more it became just that, a communication device. And the cactus was no longer a cactus, it had turned into some sort of celestial spy. Not only was I looking at it, it was also looking at me.
And then there’s Simon & Garfunkel. In “America” they sing about a couple on a bus making up stories about people:
Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful his bow-tie is really a camera”
I liked the idea of this game.
Last year, I traveled to my hometown of New Orleans to see S&G play at a music festival called Jazz Fest. I was standing next to the person who made the quote about the cactus when they played “America”…..and the story circled back on itself. And that’s how I wrote it.