Love in the Time of Lizard People
1129 words long
"How do you know they’re not the ones who stole her? They literally took her place."
Notes from the author:
Just in case it needs stating explicitly: Bob is not a sympathetic character. He is not a reliable narrator. I don’t like him and neither should you. That said, it can be fascinating watching someone twist themselves in knots trying to justify their no good, very bad decisions.
The conversation comes around to the lizards, just like every conversation these days. The lizards and Becky Dalenberg. But this is Malcolm Dalenberg I’m talking to, so it’s not like I can reasonably expect him to not to have those things on his mind. It’s a miracle I’ve managed to keep us talking about anything else.
But all good things must come to an end and all that. He stares off into space, sets his beer down in its puddle and spins it a few times. I think, here it comes.
“Still no news about Becky,” he says. “They’re doing everything they can with what they have, but nothing so far.”
Which is about ten different kinds of awkward, considering that little chat with Carla yesterday. Or screaming match, if I’m honest. “Malcolm,” I say, “buddy. We’ve talked about this. How do you know they’re actually looking for her? How do you know they’re not the ones who stole her? They literally took her place.”
“Look, Bob, if you’d just talk to them yourself, you’d understand.”
“I’d get brainwashed like the rest of you, you mean.” The argument’s a week old, and it seems like I’ve been having it with everybody in town. Twice. “I’m not letting those dinosaurs redecorate my head in soothing we-come-in-peace colors. Far as I’m concerned, their pseudo-telepathy bullshit is just another clever evolutionary trick to help predators attract prey.”
“For the thousandth time, Bob, they don’t eat people!”
“You sure about that? Which dinosaur do they most resemble, do you think? Starts with a T, hates push-ups—”
“They don’t eat people, Bob, they are people. Just people from another planet, that’s all.”
Planet, sure. Or alternate universe. Timeline. It’s all up for grabs. All anyone knows for sure is that a thick, dry fog came down over the Corner of Main Diner a half hour past closing last Sunday, and when the fog cleared, the diner was gone. In its place was what looked like a futuristic police station manned (so to speak) by velociraptors in yellow uniforms. All the diner staff had gone home by then, thank goodness. The only person to disappear with the building was Becky. She’d stayed late to do the books. Malcolm had been out of town that weekend. A distant cousin’s wedding, something like that. Otherwise he’d have been right there with her.
I’m aware this is constantly on his mind. I should be more tactful. But I’ve been tactful all week while he keeps at me to talk to them, just talk to them and you’ll see, and I’m tired of tip-toeing around the prehistoric woolly mammoth in the room.
“At least they’re trying to help us find Becky,” Malcolm mutters. “More than you’ve been doing, anyway.”
I look up from my beer into a stare that’s like oncoming headlights and I’m a deer in the road. It takes me a moment to squash the urge to explain and defend myself. Trying to sound weary instead of guilty, I ask him, “What did Carla tell you?”
I’m mentally crossing my fingers hard enough to give every one of those lizards carpal tunnel, and maybe it works, because all Malcolm says is, “That they need to talk to you, and you flat-out refused.” Then he slams his glass down on the bar. “Dammit, Bob, you could have the key to finding her in your selfish little shriveled walnut of a brain. Why won’t you just fucking talk to them?”
That’s it. Looks can kill and I’ve been incinerated at my bar stool. “Hold up, buddy. Why me? You’re her husband. Carla’s her sister. What could they possibly need to know about her that you two couldn’t tell them?” And here’s where lightning ought to strike me dead on the spot, because that was such a lie.
“That’s what I want to know,” Malcolm says. “How could you help the Peace Officers locate her, if her own family can’t? They asked for you after they finished interviewing Carla. I asked her what was up with that. Carla says I should ask you myself. So. I’m asking.”
The look he gives me now makes me think the lizards taught him something about reading people’s minds. But he just waits, and I just shrug. “Like I said, I have no idea.” And lightning misses me again.
He holds my gaze for another couple seconds, then says, “Will you please just talk to them? For Becky’s sake?”
I nod. He sounds so defeated—so deflated. “I’ll think about it,” I tell him. He stares at me a moment longer, and then he leaves.
Stiffs me with the tab, too. Can’t say I didn’t deserve that.
It’s not like Malcolm can’t guess. It would be so easy for him to guess. He’s not stupid. And God knows he hates me enough now that he’d believe me capable of any damn thing. As far as he’s concerned, I might as well have held a gun to his wife’s head and pulled the trigger. It occurs to me that Malcolm could hardly hate me more than he seems to now. So, sure, why not let space lizards crawl through my brain and add everything I know about Becky to their psychic composite sketch or whatever it is? Because, yeah, I know a lot about Becky that Malcolm doesn’t know. Not the sort of stuff I’d have thought helpful to an interstellar missing persons investigation, but who knows how space lizard Peace Officers do things?
OK, so, let’s say I talk to the lizards, and it actually works. What then? Right now, no matter what awful things Malcolm believes me capable of, he hasn’t thought for a moment of the possibility that Becky might be screwing around behind his back with his best friend. He hasn’t had to. But if it turns out that this asshole she met in college—meaning me—really does hold the key to their cosmic tracking device, that’s gonna gnaw at him until he figures it out. And once he figures it out, it’s over. Ten years worth of worms come crawling out of that can, all of them shouting Our marriage was a lie and How could you and I hate you and can you just imagine that? Malcolm hating Becky?
Better if he just hates me. I can live with it. And maybe Becky’s fine, wherever she is. Maybe she’s even happy. Missing Malcolm, sure, but she’ll get over it. No one who screws around behind her husband’s back for ten years straight is going to miss him that much. Hell, put it that way, maybe Malcolm’s better off without her.
Look, Carla’s so self-righteous about it, she can tell him.
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