The Attraction of Heavenly Bodies
by Bob Sojka
It was pretty much women problems on my mind when I ran the four-by-four up onto the rear deck of the UFO. I was fighting sleep and wondering if, after all this time, I dared invite Lori Betterz to the reunion.
“Calvin,” she said, “I’ll be there. But if you want me to be there with you, you have to ask me.” I was staring at the dash speaker of my hands-free phone thinking on what to say next when the thump and all the glitter and scraping made me spill my Starbucks onto my crotch.
“Uh, I got a problem, Lori. I’ll call ya later.”
It was one AM, foggy, and the UFO didn't have any running lights on or anything. And even though there wasn't much traffic on the 101 at one AM, it was traveling way too slow for the left lane of the freeway. I didn't know for sure at the time if UFO's had running lights (they do), but I never saw one on the freeway before either. Besides, who’d have thought one would have been going so dang slow? And I sure thought that they'd have deflector shields or crash sensors or something.
I didn't even suspect it was a flying saucer at the time. It looked like a pita bread version of the Wiener-mobile with some big fancy symbol painted on it. I couldn't read it, but like a lot of these logos, I figured it was a brand thing, like the triple loop dealies on Toyota grilles, only bigger, and sort of holographic. It was pretty cool. That is, it was cool, until the pickup clunked it all up. The mud'n'snows dug half inch deep tread marks into the thin metal skin for a good two feet before it popped back out from under the truck, like a banana squishing out of its peel.
I guess just about all UFOs are rear engine jobbies, like the old Corvairs and V-dubs, 'cuz when I hit that sucker, it started jerking and sputtering and making loud woozing noises. The way it started boinging up and down, I thought it busted a coil spring or suspension strut or something.
Actually, I had knocked the polarizer out of balance on the gravitron when I rear-ended it. I would have figured that right off, if I knew as much about UFOs then as I do now. By the way, they aren't called UFOs. Their official name is guhZook. Sometimes they just say Zook, like we say plane for airplane.
The pita-mobile bounced off the center divider (another bad dent, but I don't really count that one as my fault) and wobbled for a good quarter mile before it steered over to the right shoulder. I pulled in behind the disabled rig and channel nined my old CB, but couldn't get anything but godawful static and whistles. That was gravitron interference, but I didn't know it then. I had just lit up the roll-bar KC spots and was getting down from the cab when the pita-mobile noises woozed down and the doors opened up.
The Zook had gull wings doors, like a De Lorean. I see them opening, and I'm thinking: whoa, this is way cool. About a microsecond later I'm thinking: this is gonna be expensive. Anyway, I'm looking for my proof of insurance card in the glove box and out steps this man and woman. You would not believe the outfits these two had on.
The babe is in this, like, gold-fabric bikini. It could have been three tiny gold spray-painted Nabisco triangles off a Ritz cracker box with monofilament-string for straps and it wouldn't have been more revealing. She wore high-heeled gold knee-boots. Her jet black hair was braided up into some sort of Viking hair-do, under this pointy tiara thing. What a sight; one AM, standing in front of the KC spots, spikes of light reflecting from her outfit. Hard sculptured body, not quite tall, everything just so: tan, mature but youthful, poised. She had a face stolen from every beauty I'd ever fantasized, and blended to superbowl perfection.
The dude, on the other hand, was King Vultan crossed with Hagar the Horrible. Big barrel-chested biker-looking oaf, he wore leather and chain mail, topped off by a helmet with a full rack of elk-antlers. I don't know how the hell he slipped so easily out of the Zook with those things. He could have taken the helmet off, I guess. But back then it would have been like expecting Spock to trim his ears.
I forgot about the insurance card, got out of the truck and just stared. I’m thinkin’ it’s way too early for Halloween; maybe these people are from one of the studios or something. Then the babe yawns and raises her arms up for a big three-hundred-mile-without-a-stop stretch. JEEEEZUZ, women built like that should know better. A passing eighteen wheeler stirred the air around her. A fragrance washed my way that reminded me of Tabu perfume with the lights off.
The biker-looking dude stepped past the shoulder, leaned one hand up on the freeway’s chain link fence, and took a sixty second stallion whiz on a bent up Mercedes hubcap. That was when I first started thinking something was a little out of the ordinary. He whizzed this day-glo orange stream that painted the hubcap and ran twenty feet down the gutter like a thin neon light. Totally weird. I used to work nights shuttling urine samples from the San Diego PD to a med lab, and I never saw one like that before, ever.
Finally, the babe kind of smoothes herself down with her hands, like women do for confidence right before making a move, and comes walking over to me. My insurance guy is always telling me never to admit to anything when you have an accident, so I was sort of searching for how to be evasive.
"Is this city the source of the sex channel?" That's her first words to me, I swear.
Then she says, "I am Shardonna. Bugforn, my assigned arousal unit, has been lying to me. He has said that no humanoids are capable of frequent copulation with women as unattractive as myself. But I have watched the primitive raster-scan signals from the sex channel. Earthlings are easily aroused-- some even by animals and machines. Male earth arousal units in this reality plane often take pity on homely women like me and eagerly share their kindness with them. Yes?"
I say, "Huh?"
"What is huh?" she says.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I think I kind of missed part of the conversation. My name's Cal. Calvin Shafter. I'm awfully sorry about your, ahh... trunk lid."
"Uh, the collision. It was all my fault. I was on my cell phone and couldn't see a thing in this fog, and you folks were just all of a sudden right there. Bingo! I mean I couldn't..."
"The redimensionalizing sequencer failed to couple properly with the matter repulser unit. It is Bugforn's fault. He was arguing with me when we were initiating the space-time reconfiguration and forgot to degauss the boson coils again. I hope we have not seriously affected the spaceworthiness of your craft."
"My craft? You mean-- Oh, heck no. Babezilla... er that's my craft, er truck. See the license plate?” I pointed to the license plate spelled out, “B-A-B-Z-L-L-A?." With her hands on her hips, she bent over straight-legged from the waist for a better look. "They only let you use seven letters,” I said. “But don’t worry, Babezilla, she's built for terrain. She’s got a 8 inch lift kit. Your rig slipped right under her heavy duty chrome-plated reinforced custom oil-pan shield. Ain't no damage to her at all."
"Your vehicle is a female? Do you serve as her arousal unit?"
"Uh, I'm not sure I'm following all this real well, but Babezilla's just a truck. A machine. Kind of like your pita-mobile. I just call it a ‘her,’ if you get my drift."
"Pita-mobile. Your car. Well, I don't know what you call it. It almost looks kinda like a flying saucer, but..." That's when it hit me. I bent down and noticed there weren't any wheels.
"guhZook," said Shardonna.
"I thought you sneezed."
"guhZook. It is the word for our interpositional space-time redimensionalizer... our craft. guhZook. A generic term implying a craft or vehicle capable of transporting goods and beings between space-time quanta. It is disabled.” She shot a witchy look at Bugforn then started tearing up. “We are marooned."
While I was trying to let all this sink in I started noticing the traffic sounds. It dawned on me that we couldn't just stand there on the shoulder of the freeway at one AM having an intergalactic cultural exchange, waiting for a semi to rear-end us in the fog. So I figured I'd be a good semenitarian, and offer them a free haul to Eugene and Patty’s fixit place.
“It’ll be OK, folks. Don’t get in a lather over things.” I popped down the tailgate and had Shardonna and Bugforn cool their heals while I called Eugene on my cell phone. My buddy, Eugene Twigstiff, is my best friend and my insurance agent. His twin sister Patty is a heck of a mechanic. Together they run a great little truck stop slash insurance office slash apartment-motel-diner-complex down in Compton. I’ve been living there ever since finding work again this side of the Grapevine. If anyone could fix up their rig, Patty could. I have uninsured driver coverage, so I figured it shouldn't be too much of a hassle if we could get parts. I was headed there anyway, so I figured things would be all Jake again if we did this right.
I told Eugene I had kind of goofed and already admitted that the fender bender might have possibly been my fault. Eugene, Patty and me been pals since we were brats, and they’re always deflaming my bacon. Eugene said it would be cool. He’d stroke the claim adjuster dude and we should just tow in the pita rig.
The big hairy-backed fella, Bugforn, insisted that the best way to haul their rig was to lift it up onto Babezilla’s pickup bed. As big as the Zook looked on the street, it was light as a feather. So, me and Bugforn rolled open the sleeping bags I had in the pickup bed and used them to pad the roll-bar and side rails. I used some nylon rope and a few bungy straps from my behind-cab Rigid Tool tool-box to lash the Zook onto the back of the truck. Once we got rolling, we looked a little like ants on roller skates, stealing a picnic pie. The Zook hung over Babezilla’s sides into neighboring lanes, but I asked and found out about the Zook's flasher lights and hugged the shoulder. At one AM, with the flashers on, we were able to merge over to the I-110 OK and get to Patty's 24 Hour Motor Mecca without any trouble.
Shardonna sat gear shift and Bugforn sat shotgun. Bugforn didn't say a whole lot. Come to think of it, he couldn't say much because he had to keep his antlers stuck out the window. He kept reaching for the dash, fiddling with knobs, asking, “Where is the volume control?” I showed him the volume knob, but when he messed with it he said, "Dimensional volume, fool! Not signal gain!"
As we drove, I asked Shardonna about where they came from. She seemed embarrassed. “We are humanoids from another galaxy,” she said. She called it Soso. I think that's its name. To this day, whenever I ask Shardonna about her galaxy she just says "Our galaxy of origin is unremarkable. It is Soso."
She was real curious about Earth and me, though. “What are men and women here like? Why are you traveling without an arousal unit of your own? What kind of woman is a man like you entitled to on Earth?”
I told her that being a normal guy, my ultimate babe fantasies run in the direction of Sandra Bullock or Charlize Theron. But like most guys, I suppose, my dating pattern runs more along the lines of Holly Hunter and Kathy Bates types. Not that that's so bad. After all, if your plain-Jane gals actually have enough spirit, personality... or, what, nymphomania? to wash away a guy's unapproachable-unachievable-super-babe fantasies, then you're looking at a chick that's really worth having around.
She didn't know who the celebrities were or what plain Jane meant. I pulled out the People Magazine from the lunch box under my seat. She looked through it while we drove, pointed to pictures and asked, "Plain Jane?" and I’d say like, yeah, or give her a score of 1-10 on the babe-o-meter. Same thing with the guys on the hunk-o-meter. She didn't believe me at first, but then she started to get the idea. She pointed at me and asked, "Eight point three?" I sort of blushed but couldn't answer. Then she poked Bugforn and laughed, saying, "Two point one!" Bugsie got a little torqued off. She asked me to rate her, and I told her she was clean off the scale. At first she thought that was bad, but then her chin rose up, she smiled and elbowed Bugsie a good one.
After she got the hang of the babe-o- slash hunk-o-meter, she asked me why I dated women of the wrong scale reading. I tried to explain that on Earth it depended a lot on how you felt about yourself and the other person. She was skeptical of this.
I admitted that maybe it was just rationalization. But we ordinary-Joe and -Jane types bought into it to feel good about ourselves and our lovers. Sure guys drool over babetastic women, but you gotta take what you can get. “‘Cept don’t get me wrong,” I told her. “Looks aren't everything. The sisterhood, they think stuff and have hobbies and money and all just like guys. I'm all for women's rights and all that. Really.”
She never heard of women's rights. So, I explained--equal pay for equal work, no harassment in the work place without a good reason, no-pay-check-no-nookie and all that. Bugsie was not a happy camper hearing this. He about jammed his rack in the window frame turning around to add his two cents worth. “Earth men should adopt ideas from our right to wife movement,” he said in a huff. He complained that back at Soso, Shar used to always be satisfied because she was homely and lucky to have him as an arousal unit, but the signals they had recently discovered from the Sex Channel were ruining their relationship.
Turns out our worlds have almost opposite standards. But, as Bugsie pointed out, our rules are making us both unhappy.
That’s where we got with our talking by about two AM when we arrived at Patty and Eugene's AAA certified Motor Mecca. The Mecca’s a whole square block that includes their garage, the apartment building I live in and nine motel rooms. Plus, they got their little insurance office, and they rent store fronts to massage, suntan, and aroma therapy shops. Patty has a pretty good machine shop in the back where they let me store and work on my Indian and Enfield. When construction up and down the coast is too flat to afford Norte Americanos I pick up a few bucks from time to time fixin’ flats and changin’ oil at the Mecca.
Eugene heard Babezilla pull up. The high lift cam and tuned headers make her pretty loud. He opened the shop’s double-sized overhead door, so we just drove the whole kit and caboodle inside for the night. I figured we could slip the Zook off in the morning for a better look. Eugene said a few howdies to everyone (he about broke off his left eyelid winking at me when he seen Shar, then swallowed his chaw when Bugsie walked over). He told us we all looked a little washed out and that Patty was asleep in front of Leno, so maybe we should turn in for a spell before getting too worked up trying to fix things. “No charge for the room for friends o’ Cal.” Another flurry of winks, and then he pulls my elbow and whispers, “We had a pre-paid cancellation, so what the hell.”
We were all pretty tired by then, so it sounded like a good idea. He gave the pita pair the big suite with the two separate bedrooms and baths. I grabbed some clean overalls from out in the shop for Shar and Bugsie to wear the next day to keep from drawing too much attention to themselves. I told Bugsie he would have to lose the antlers. He protested, but I reminded him that he hadn't seen another rack since he landed. He said he'd think it over. I showed them the bathroom, towels and all, explained what the stuff was for and how the plumbing worked and finally left them to their room for the night.
I went to my room, stripped to my BVDs and did a little Zen to calm down enough to sleep. Arms outstretched, fingertips touching, "Ohmmmm." It worked. As I drifted to sleep I kept seeing this replay of Shar stepping out of the Zook and doing that seventh inning stretch in the beams of my KC lights. It made me squirm just thinking about it. I'm telling you, women have certain powers that guys can't even understand, let alone defend against.
I couldn’t help being attracted to Shar. What healthy male wouldn’t be? It didn’t seem like Bugsie’s hold on her was all that tight. And even though he called her a wife, it sounded like maybe that arrangement wasn’t quite the same as with us, or at least not the same as what it’s supposed to be with us. I kept thinking how Lori and me really clicked. Yet neither of us seemed able to completely commit. Some skinny pool boy would come along and Lori would get the hots for him for a few months. I’d want to bike to Cabo and party for a few days but she’d have continuing ed credits to do. Or about the time we were ready for each other again I’d meet some wet tee shirt queen in a bar or some desperate flying saucer house wife marooned on the freeway. It was always something. It was too late to phone her back. She was probably PO’d at me anyway.
I really wanted to go to our twenty year class reunion on the weekend. It would start Saturday evening with a catered reception and end with a dance in the old high school gym. I looked forward to seeing that crowd again and finding out what everyone had made of themselves. I had lost track of most of them. Lori would be there. Maybe I could fix things then.
Eventually I floated into badly needed sleep.
I woke up a little after four AM to sounds of commotion from down by the garage and Shar and Bugsie talking to each other. I thought I must have been dreaming, because, when I looked out the window, what I saw was like watching the fast forward on a VCR. Shardonna and Bugsie were there and so were Eugene and Patty. They seemed to be in a kind of a fuzzy bubble around the Zook where everything and everyone was running and talking at chipmunk speed. The four of them ducked in and out of the Zook, picking up tools and carrying things around, playing with flashing lights. Too weird. I decided I better check this out and threw on my clothes.
The fuzzy bubble surrounding the Zook was less obvious as I approached the shop. And as I walked up to the Zook the fast forward seemed to sync back to normal speed. I guess I was inside the bubble, ‘cuz when I looked out at the street there was a guy on a Harley doing a wheely that just stood on end unmoving. Even the exhaust looked like it was posing for a still photo. I stopped behind Bugsie just as he made an opening appear in the Zook’s side by talking to it. He said something like OK, Zook, ooopen wide so we can see your problem. And just like that, the side of the saucer sort of ripples like a fish wrigglin’ and pulls its skin back for Bugsie to see in.
There, looking out at me from the hole, was Patty, holding a digital circuit tester in her hands, curled up amongst all sort of hoses and glowing gizmos. “Well, Hi Cal! Glad you could make it. Did you get a good nap? What time was it in your room when you left?”
“A little after 4 AM.”
“So this is still Saturday early?”
“Of course it is; what’d you think?”
“Well, by my watch,” she said with a bit of a giggle, “It’s Sunday evening. I was just checking to be sure we didn’t miss settin’ up for breakfast at the diner. You lose track of outside time in here. They adjust it to flow faster or slower than outside the bubble depending on what they need. If you’re looking for Shardonna, she’s inside with Eugene; they’re using the onboard computer to do our taxes. April 15 is next week, you know. Shar showed the rule book to the computer and it said it could crank it all out in a Soso minute. Sweetie, would hand me that little plastic box of snap-in fuses? They’re not quite like the one’s in the Zook, but I think they might work.”
I started to hand her a box from the top of the roller bench when Bugsie’s hand brushed mine aside. “She said Sweetie, not Calvin Shafter.” With raised eyebrows I looked at Bugsie and then back at Patty and silently mouthed “Sweetie?” Patty giggled.
“I think he likes me,” Patty whispered.
I wagged my face at the floor and headed for the open gull wing door. Eugene pulled me over to this little sort of desk thingy where Shar was flipping ledger pages in front of what looked like a big eyeball on a stick. I couldn’t believe how big the inside of the Zook was. I looked back out the door and guesstimated the Zook’s dimensions-- like maybe a twelve foot circle. Then I went back in again and I swear The Lakers team and Staples Center would have fit with room to spare. I looked out the door once more and said “What the?”
Bugsie saw me and started nodding with a raised eyebrow. “Volume Control,” he said.
“Volume... No. You gotta be sh...”
“Volume control,” he said again, making a little back-and-forth twisty gesture with his fingers. He smirked and went back to his business with Patty. I ducked back inside the Zook and Eugene had his portable printer on the table next to his Turbo Tax manual. The ends of the data and power cords were lying in what looked like a little holy water font on the corner of the table. Meanwhile, filled-in IRS forms were chunking out at 16 pages a minute.
“We’re about done here, Flash.” Said Eugene, about choking on his little Joke.
“Yeah, and who are you supposed to be? Dr. Zarkhov?”
“Hey that’s rich, Cal. Maybe not, but this year I’m getting twice the tax refund as last year. Plus Shar done it as a favor, so I don’t gotta write Freddy de Marinaro a check for doing ‘em.”
“Aw Eugene, don’t cut Freddy off, or he’ll miss payments to the gym and stop buying the Nutri-system meals. He was doing so well on his diet. You gotta take care of your buds, Eugene.”
“Oh I guess I can have him look it all over and give him a few bucks.”
I smelled that Tabu-kinda-scent again, and sure enough Shar had come to stand behind me while I was jawing with Eugene. She slipped around me real close, rubbin’ against me lightly and fiddled with the cords in the holy water a little. She looked over her shoulder at me as she leaned over.
“How are you doing, Calvin Shafter? Did you sleep?”
“Uh, ya. But only about an hour.”
“We came to offer you use of a resting platform inside the Zook, but you had already achieved unconsciousness. Eugene advised it would be impolite to wake you. I don’t think he understood about the time dilation inside the Zook. Pity, you could have been more rested and we would have had more time to talk. But Bugforn and Patty have nearly completed repairs. Would you like a tour of the Zook? A full walking tour takes nearly four Soso days at maximum volume amplification, but I suggest we just visit the art gallery. We have beverages much like your cockales and hideballs.”
“Er, that’s probably cocktails and hi balls. They’re kind of the same. It’s slang for mixed drinks with alcohol.”
“I have heard of this alcohol. It is an aphrodisiac. Yes?”
“Afro what? Oh, yeah. Well, no, not exactly. I mean it can help sometimes. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker and all that. But shouldn’t we be a little considerate of the big fella? You sure he’s OK with us drinkin’ and strollin’ without him along?”
“Bugforn? Always Bugforn!” She huffed and turned away balling her fists and pacing. Then she stopped. When she turned back she relaxed like a cat coming to nuzzle your shins.
“Bugforn has discovered your Patty friend. He says he wants to remain at the Motor Mecca to do research.”
“But I thought you were anxious to fix the Zook and get back to Soso?”
“I am afraid, Calvin Shafter. Soso men can end an arousal agreement at will. Bugforn only came to earth to prove to me it was not as the raster scan signals portrayed it. But some things are and some are not. I would have no security here if he voids our agreement. I am so confused. I think I would feel better if I went home.” She began to cry.
Just then Bugforn came inside. His face hardened and he asked if he could be alone with Shar. I decided I was completely out of my element, so I left. I waved at Patty and Eugene on the way out and went back to my apartment to try to sleep a few more hours. The guy doing the wheely had almost touched back down as I looked toward the street, and as I exited the bubble he jerked into real time and roared into the night.
In the room my cell phone showed a missed call from Lori. I tried calling her back, but got no answer. I crashed on the bed and slept.
I woke not sure if last night had been real or a weird dream. There was a heavy aroma in the room. It smelled like biscuits, gravy, toast and coffee. Patty was making breakfast in the motel café.
I got up and drew back the curtain. I could see the big café picture window off to the left. To my surprise, I saw Bugsie through the window, standing behind the counter. That didn’t seem right. I rubbed my eyes and squinted hard against the morning sun, but couldn’t see Shar nowheres. I dashed into the john, took care of business, splashed my face, then walked as quickly as I could to the café.
Patty was moving her bulk in and out of tables, delivering eggs and bacon to a mixed crowd of scruffy regulars and bermuda-shorted motel one-nighters. Seeing me, she brightened her face and bobbed up and down with a cheerful wave that rippled from the flesh of her underarm to the waist of her apron. I waved and made my way to her to deliver a hug before enquiring about Bugforn.
"Patty, what is Bugforn doing behind the counter?"
"Oh, Bugsie? We're getting married. Isn't it wonderful?"
"You are what?"
"Oh, that's right," she said. "It's only been a few hours for you, hasn't it? Eugene and I have been with Shar and Bugsie for about three weeks now, earth time-- in the time bubble around the ship. After repairing the saucer they worked through their personal..."
"Whoa! Whoa! What the heck are you--" Patty let out a peal of laughter. Then, seeing that customers had started eaves-dropping, she motioned me toward the kitchen for greater privacy.
Eugene and Bugsie were working up short orders on the grill. It was Saturday. The repair shop didn't open until noon. The beeper on Eugene’s snake-skin belt was just visible at the side of his apron.
"Hey there, Buffalo Bonzai," said Eugene. "Seen any flying saucers lately?" Then he slapped his thigh and nearly gave himself a fit laughing.
"Would someone please tell me what is going on," I said, a little curtly, watching Bugsie adjusting his antlers as he stood tending a heap of hash browns.
"I am good for business," said Bugsie. He smiled ridiculously and tapped his antlers with his spatula.
"I'll just bet you are," I said. "Eugene?"
"Okay, pard. Here's the deal," said Eugene. "When you went to sleep... er, last night... Bugsie and Shar had a heated discussion about their relationship and what comes next."
"Yeah, I think they were into that when I was leaving."
"Could well be," said Eugene. “But after fixing the gravitron me and Patty were getting ready for the mini-vacation Bugsie had offered to take us on in the Zook.”
"Excuse me, Eugene. Please make sense."
"OK, OK. Well, like I said, after degaussing the boson coils, or whatever, there was plenty of bubble time before we had to open the cafe’."
"So you decided to have a tour of the solar system?"
"Exactomundo," said Eugene, making a goofy pistol shot at me with his fingers.
"They were real nice, Cal. And such great hosts and tour guides. You really missed out. But Bugsie said he could take you for a spin another time when someone brings the Zook back to collect his research notes," said Patty. "But Shar needed to return to their home because Bugsie had annulled their contract. It seems they were sort of in a trial period and had found out they didn't get along for some reason, and they wanted to make a fresh start."
“Yeah, well from what Shar was saying, Patty, you and Bugsie hit it off OK.”
"Bugsie was swept off his feet by me at first sight," said Patty. "Men from his home have a different standard of beauty. He felt so guilty for dumping Shar. He was afraid she would go all to pieces being rejected for her looks. It is kind of chauv' when you think about it, Cal. But it's the first time I've ever been on the winning end of it. I've told Bugsie he'll have to work on his whole view of women. But we're so happy, Cal."
"And where were you while all this romancing was going on?" I asked Eugene.
"Actually I don't know. I mean I was with Shar and sometimes Bugsie on the shake down trip– our mini-vacation. The Zook is so big inside and you know how different time is in there."
"Where's Shar now?"
"It's so sad, Cal,” said Patty. “She's gone. Bugsie decided to stay here with me. She said she had to go back and think things through. Nothing turned out like she expected. She wanted to talk to you again, but when we told her you'd be leaving for the reunion this afternoon, she decided to leave right away. But she asked us to thank you for being so kind and for helping her see herself differently."
"Huh? We talked for an hour or so driving down the freeway, and just a little last night-- or whatever the calendar time was. But we hardly had a chance to iron out all this relationship stuff."
"Well, apparently you made a good impression."
"Is she coming back?"
"I don't know. We asked her that, but she said she was confused. Maybe she would, maybe not. It sounded a lot like sayonara when she left."
About then Larry, the UPS driver, walked into the kitchen to see if Eugene and Bugsie had forgotten his order of hash browns.
I guess, looking back, it was all so improbable, that explaining it so matter-of-factually would make most people think I'm nutty as a pecan log. But that really was the way it all happened.
I had only been around Shar for a few hours. So it wasn't like I seriously thought that a bond could have formed between us. Still, I felt like I had lost someone. I guess for a guy like me, getting close to someone that exotic, even for just a couple of hours, raises your hopes more than you could guess.
Ordinarily I flat freeze up when I get within badminton distance of a really babe-a-licious female. I get, like, brain damage or something as soon as one nukes my field of vision. It's not because I'm any kind of loser or anything, I just have this confidence-override subroutine that kicks in around women of looks. It's probably like generational memory-- an evolved emotional rejection callus, or something. Take all this, add a little AIDS-to-ebola paranoia, and it's easy to end up a permanent male platonic-pal-millenial-kinda-guy suffering a major case of babe deficiency anemia.
Shar was different. She didn't have any idea that she was beautiful. Us everyday fellas learn the hard way that exotically dollifferous women melt down decent ordinary guys. They have, well, ‘powers’ I guess I'd call it. If a guy isn't a piece of rock candy himself, with money, great wheels and an asskick personality, he's basically defenseless and is usually better off just window shopping. That is, of course, unless you're willing to do back flips to please some belle of the ball who's all full of herself. The longer you live, the less willing most guys are to be uncomfortable in a relationship just to be, well... laid.
I know what you're thinking. And you're right. I might be willing to be a little more uncomfortable if I were dealing with a take-it-or-leave-it primo babe-a-mundo situation.
I kept mulling all this over for the rest of the day. I’d poke my head into the café and motel office every now and then to convince myself it was all real. Bugsie only wore his rack while cooking. Later he took it off as he puttered around the office behind Patty. I had to keep reminding myself that, even though this was his first day on the job, him and Patty had three weeks together, getting to know one another in the Zook’s time bubble.
I finally got up enough guts to call Lori Betterz about three in the afternoon. She's one of my Kathy Bates girls. Before this week I hadn't heard from her in almost a year. We always had good times together. I had been wondering for several weeks if she was going to the reunion, and if she’d go with me. We used to have a pretty good thing, but I started getting cold feet again a year ago when the commitment thing started coming up in conversation.
I finally got hold of her around four-thirty. I was about to start telling her about the night's experience and caught myself in mid-breath. Of course I couldn't. Especially not on the phone. But I figured maybe later after some tequila sunrises. I could start as if it were a joke and see how she took it. That's how Lori and I did things when we were seeing each other. She said she’d see me later and I could make up my mind at the reunion if I wanted to ask her out or not.
I rode the Indian to the reunion. It was really running boss. As I was driving up I caught a glimpse of Lori walking into the gym with a couple other familiar looking people. I was glad to see that she was wearing leathers. It meant she had me on her mind.
I wasn't sure how I was going to react to the reunion. I halfway wanted to know how everyone was doing after all these years. But there were some real jerkoffs that I wasn't anxious to see again. Especially if they came expecting to pick up the old personality games in mid-stride.
Eugene and Patty were the only ones I'd stayed tight with. Well, I guess there was Freddy Marinaro, too, but it wasn’t like we hung together much or anything. Me, Eugene and Patty just treated him like a normal guy, which was more than he ever got from the crowd in high school. None of the rest of them were terribly bright or had anything in common with us. I doubted if there would be much bragging going on. Before yesterday I was happy enough just to be working. But now here I was, an ambassador to the universe, with an alien sparking off my best friend’s sister. What a trip!
I must have been the last person to arrive. By the time I started climbing down from the Indian, I was alone at the far end of the parking lot. It was divided into little alcoves of trees and curbs to provide shade during the day. Only the first row of alcoves near the gym had cars in it. I walked toward the second tier of trees just to stretch my legs and stare up at the dusky sky... smog actually. I was still nervous about going in and was working my way up to it gradually.
I got about three parking spaces away from the Indian when I heard that "eeku eeku" sound that usually comes from car security locks when you press the key fob. A fuzzy patch of light about the size of a basketball floated twenty-five feet in front of me. The light was grainy and swirling, like the snow in one of those shake-up Christmas balls. The eeku eeku sounded once more from the center of the ball, and Shardonna's Zook blinked into existence right in front of me.
The dimpled skin of the Zook had healed over nicely. The gullwing door opened elegantly and Shar stepped out wearing a killer black after-five cocktail dress.
"Patty said I might find you here. I wanted to thank you for being so kind and for helping us."
"I was just being a good citizen."
"Ambassador between worlds."
"Hey, I just had that thought. Can you read minds?"
"No, but I have very developed skills of observation and can learn how a person thinks."
"Yes. And I know that you like me. Patty said that she thought you would be upset that I left. She explained about the dance. I would like to dance with you and have more time for us to know each other."
It took some time to get a grip. We made intergalactic small talk for a few minutes. I laughed about Bugsie the short-order cook. Eventually Shar took my hand, and we sauntered into the gym.
A number of people recognized me. I could see that how-did-he-ever-land-a-babe-like-that look on their faces. I felt like I had just won the stud-o-rama lottery. I was grinning and thinking, look at me now, peasants. The band was in the middle of a heavy metal number.
"I have seen dancing on the raster-scans,” said Shar. “It is an art form similar to one in our home place that we practice before love-making. Would you dance with me, Calvin Shafter?"
A tinge of excitement bristled up and down my limbs.
We danced. Let me tell you, that Shar could really put poetry into movement. I closed my eyes. I was well off into some great fantasizing of one- and two-hour relationship scenarios.
"Why did you come back?" I asked Shar in my best worldly-wise-sounding whisper.
"To thank you. I told you that."
"Yes, but this must be painful for you-- returning to this place where Bugsie is."
"Bugforn and I have parted friends. I have had many weeks now to think about this and to feel better." The time dilation thing was still freaking me out. "I have been able to put him out of my mind, but not you. I have decided that I want to experience you as my..."
As Shar was inviting me to be her arousal unit, I saw Lori and some of the old gang heading toward a table. Lori arched up on her toes, looking toward me. She waved once our eyes met. I twiddled my fingers back at her.
"Why do you feel that way?" I asked Shar.
"Explain more precisely."
"I mean, why would you come all this way back to... to..."
"To mate with you?"
"Well, I was looking for better words, but that's it."
"You were kind. Also, unlike Bugforn, you are eight point three."
My equipment all came on with that statement. The fantasies were revolving through my head, faster and more elaborate than a few minutes back.
"Let us go back to the Zook," she said, taking my hand now and leading toward the door. "In the Zook we can adjust the time flow. Mating in an adjusted time field is more pleasant."
Whoa. She had my attention now. I felt my pace quicken. I was grinning as we made our way through the dance crowd. We passed Bert Thomas, old Mr. Asskick Rock Candy himself-- former wrestler, basketball star and football team captain. I was thinking, Bert, if you knew now what I know. Your ten plus is about to lose to an eight point three. Yup, I was on my way to the holy grail.
Then I stopped. Shar almost lost her grip on my hand as she continued half a stride ahead of me. I couldn't move. A significant thought was burrowing up from my unconscious mind and I had to wait for it to catch up with me. I looked behind me. There was Bert--eleven and a half on a scale of ten--an arm's length away. Twenty feet further back was solid six Lori, looking at me with an absolving curiosity that only former lovers and true friends can wear on their faces.
"What is the matter?" asked Shar.
"Nothing, Shar. Nothing at all. But there is something I need to do." I tugged on her hand, pulling her toward Bert. As I was about to say, "Shar, let me introduce you to Bert while I take care of something," Shar stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes were riveted on Freddy de Marinaro, who was just then undulating his unkempt bulk across the gym to the hors d'oeuvre table while reading from a large paperback entitled The Top 100 Internet Sites.
Shar looked at me and then back at Freddy. Her eyes had that look you see on people that have just decided to trade the old station wagon for seventy-two payments on a new Miata. The People Magazine conversation came back to me, and I could feel the gyroscope inside my head righting me from the uncontrolled tumble I had been in for the last fifteen minutes.
"Freddy! Hey Freddy ol' pal," I called out.
He mouthed, "Who me?" I laughed softly and looked at Shar.
"Would you like to meet Freddy, Shar?" She could hardly speak, but nodded affirmatively in rapt appreciation. I walked Shar over to Freddy as the band started playing "Wind Beneath My Wings." While I introduced them, Freddy's mouth hung open and his glasses were about to slip off his nose. Shar put an arm around him, pushed his specs back into place with the other hand and pulled him onto the dance floor, almost tripping on his dropped book.
Lori had been watching this little scene of the intergalactic soap opera. She really wasn't expecting what came next. Actually, I guess I wasn't either. I turned to Lori and started walking toward her. I asked her with my eyes and my best and warmest smile if she would come dance with me.
It's been years now and we are all still friends. The pita-mobile stops in for a visit and a lube at Eugene's from time to time, and we all catch up on things-- like Freddy and Shar's triplets. But in all this time, what I still remember the most about that night was the expression on Lori's face as our finger tips touched on the dance floor. I wish you could have seen it. It was out of this world.
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