by Rosaleen Bertolino
The aliens had a disturbing smell, a bit like cabbage; Min often held her breath when they came close. Their freakishness was compounded by their wrinkled gray skin, and the way their long ears flapped when they attempted human speech. Their speech! Only this morning Mrs. Alien had said to Min, “Will you pancake?”
They’d just finished breakfast, hadn’t even eaten everything on their plates. She couldn’t mean that they wanted more food. But what did she mean? Mrs. Alien showed her apricot-colored teeth, her ears flapping like mad. Their smiles looked like terrible grimaces. In the world they came from, apparently people smiled not with their mouths but with their ears.
Min cocked her head and held up her hands to indicate puzzlement. Mrs. Alien cheerfully grimaced and flapped her ears. Maybe she was giving a compliment. Even now, after almost a year of working for them, Min found them difficult to comprehend.
Mr. Alien’s attempts at human speech were even worse than his wife’s. Snorts and gurgles emerged from his mouth as from a stuttering machine, one about to explode. Today, his ears flapped in friendly supplication as he rose from the table and lumbered off to take his morning nap.
Other than their unintelligible speech, and of course their smell, the two of them weren’t bad to work for. They paid well. Their black, wet eyes were kind.
“I have eight anuses,” Mrs. Alien said, dabbing her mouth with a napkin.
Min fled to the kitchen and turned on the garbage disposal to muffle her laughter. She didn’t care what Mrs. Alien actually meant by that remark, could hardly wait to tell that one to Dot.
After his nap, Mr. Alien put on a cowboy hat and lumbered out for a stroll. He liked cowboy hats. Min had concluded that he wore them in order to seem like a regular guy, like one of the soy and quinoa farmers that came to town from the surrounding countryside, his way of attempting to blend in. But he would never blend in, not in a million years. The hat was too small and perched on his vast gray head like a joke, as bad as the spandex that covered the rest of his body. He wore no shoes, having hooves. There were jokes about that in the farming community.
Min understood that they, meaning humans, should be grateful to the aliens for saving the Earth—for cleaning the air, the water, the soil by means of their oxygen-rich exhalations and miraculous gel technology—but in fact many people weren’t. They held secret meetings and plotted revolution, plotted to take their planet back. After all, the aliens had benefited, too. They were living all over the new, improved Earth, thousands of them, part of the new ruling class, and most weren’t as easygoing as Min’s employers.
The revolutionaries claimed that the aliens eventually planned to eliminate the human race, who, after all, had damaged the planet in the first place. But Min herself thought the aliens would have done that as soon as they’d arrived, if that was their intention. Who knew what was true? Opinions, lies, and reality all swirled into a muddy mess. People chose sides and believed what they wanted, despite any evidence to the contrary.
Mrs. Alien appeared in the kitchen in blue spotted spandex and a curly red wig, clutching her purse. “I go to bang,” she said, giving a little wave of her leathery fingers.
“Have a good time!” said Min. Probably Mrs. Alien meant “bank” but who knew?
Perhaps she was having an affair. Min snickered at the thought. She’d heard that alien copulation took twenty-four hours and occurred only once a year. Aliens didn’t suffer from the human handicap of incessant sexual desire. They led rational lives, inhaling carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Min’s sexual partner, Tod, said the aliens were nothing more than ugly sentient plants. Combine an elephant and a flower and you had the aliens in a nutshell, although that made them sound more attractive than they actually were. Two-legged, round-bellied, with long, limber arms and bulbous heads—they looked like creatures out of a nightmare—but instead here they were, settled in suburbia, sprouting leaf-like protrusions out of their leathery hides.
Min washed and dried the dishes. She went upstairs and opened the windows of the bedroom wide to let the room air out before she changed the bedding. This was, honestly, the most unpleasant part of her job. The aliens shed profusely in their sleep—flecks of dried epidermis, thorns, dead leaves, a sticky substance like sap. She swept the detritus into a dustpan and tipped it into the trash, trying not to look, then crammed the sheets into the washing machine, selecting hot water and extra detergent.
Back on their home planet, the aliens slept on a self-cleaning gel, but Mr. and Mrs. Alien wanted an authentic Earth experience. Whatever was the point? No matter how hard they tried their experience would never be authentic, only as strange and silly and oddly touching as if Min decided to bury herself in a meadow in order to experience the life of a wildflower.
Mrs. Alien occasionally mentioned details of what life had been like on her home planet. Since her English wasn’t to be trusted, however, the details couldn’t be either. Despite this, Min couldn’t get out of her head the notion that somewhere in the galaxy was a planet where, night and day, the sky was as pink and sweet as cotton candy…
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