Clay and Molly Wexler, lately of Dallas, were driving through the desert in early September, many miles yet to Albuquerque and the bend the road would take there toward a newer new start in Santa Fe. The marriage had taken a bend of it’s own — “a turn for the suck,” in Molly’s vernacular — after Clay’s transfer from the San Francisco office. A wretched summer of heat, church picnics, Fourth of July picnics, Labor Day picnics and miscellaneous other redneck adventures had boiled up into a choice between upend their lives by leaving Dallas, or divorce. Clay and Molly opted to try the upending option first. Molly’s parents weren’t divorced and Molly didn’t want to be divorced. So now, as Clay had remarked in a snide moment of weakness, neither of them had jobs, but at least they were not divorced.
Molly said Santa Fe, for the arts community, and Clay said yes because at that particular moment in the decision-making process she had the moral high ground. Arts community maybe, but precious little call for a structural engineer like himself, certainly. Nevertheless he would bide his time. She would get bored, and if she didn’t get bored something else would happen. The air in Santa Fe was thin. Of course she didn’t believe that coming from him, but she’d experience it for herself soon enough. They would be back in the Bay Area within months, and Clay was certain he would be able to get back on with the firm as a consultant — at more than twice the pay no doubt.
Molly was at the wheel now, but she kept looking over at Clay rather than watching the road consistently as he would have preferred she do. But how she could see the road with her bangs practically combed down right over her eyes he didn’t know.
“What are you thinking?” she asked she finally asked him.
And here we go, thought Clay.
Nothing, was what he was thinking most of the morning. Nothing. Really. Just now he had set himself the task of thinking hard about beauty, beauty of the majesty of painted deserts variety. That lead him quickly to thinking about planets. Many — if not most — planets have no plate tectonics but our planet does have them. A handful of plates, buckling against each other, comprised the world’s crust. The sheer cliffs of the painted desert are striped with the ages of the earth. And all that shit.
Thinking of matters cosmic was Max’s little way of trying hard not to think of something else, something much more immediate. He was failing at that.
“Well?” said Molly. “What are you thinking?”
He vamped. “I’m thinking about the hierarchy of needs. How does it go? Body first. Air, then water, then food. Clothing, shelter. Then the needs of the mind. Self-esteem, sense of purpose. Do I have it right? Gets vague quickly after that. Our unnamable needs.”
“Where’s that Evian bottle?” she asked.
“Oh fuck, Clay. We should have stopped.”
Yeah well, but we didn’t, what did she expect him to do about it now? “Are you thirsty?”
“Never mind.” She paused. “And the spirit. Don’t forget the needs of the spirit.”
“How could I? Can’t forget the spirit.”
“Oh, but before spirit you need financial security in there somewhere. Without money you slip right back to base needs again. You have to pay for everything.”
“Yup,” he said.
“No free lunch,” she said.
“I’m telling you.”
“So maybe money is the like, basic basic need, at least in this world,” Molly murmured.
“I think I have to take a shit,” he told her.
“Had to for an hour.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? I wanted to stop back at that town and buy water anyway. You wouldn’t let me.”
“Need me to say it? You were right, okay!”
“I’m pulling over,” she said.
“You wouldn’t mind? Out on the side of the road?”
“Jesus, I’d rather you did it than talked about it.”
“All right, all right. we should switch anyway, you’ve been driving most of the morning.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “It isn’t a question of right.”
He refused to take the bait. She pulled off the highway.
Clay hopped from the Cherokee.
Molly leaned over, rolled down the window. “Clay? You really have to go, right? You’re not playing a joke?”
“A joke? A joke like what?”
She shook her head.
“I’ll be right back.” Everything had to mean something else. There always had to be a catch.
He hobbled into the hinterland, butt cheeks clenched. Didn’t think about toilet paper or a toilet-paper substitute until he’d gone too far to turn back.
Clay stood ankle-deep in brush. He looked for a spot. What kind of spot? Level, he guessed. Did it make a difference. Cat and dogs (he thought) sniffed around and circled a spot before committing to it. He looked at the ground. A brown jackrabbit darted right past his feet. He watched it go. It was cool, but so much smaller than he would have expected a rabbit to be.
Okay then. He looked at the ground, which was still there. He unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them and his underwear down just a little ways. He bent, twisted. Tried a couple different positions guessing at what the right angle should be. How the fuck do you do this without taking your pants all the way off?
He figured a way, squatting, reaching between his legs to pull the back of his waistband clear of all likely trajectories, hoped for the best, and then thought about rattlesnakes. Don’t think about rattlesnakes! Yeah right, and don’t think about a pink elephant while you’re at it.
The air was still. He’d hear a rattler if there was one. After all — they rattled.
Now he couldn’t go.
Don’t think of rattlesnakes, think about elephants, think about jack rabbits. Shit, don’t think. Don’t think! Shit!
A blue shadow moved over him, blocking out the sun. Something descended from the sky. He forgot rattlesnakes, bounding brown jackrabbits and all. His bowels released.
An extraordinary blue. A cosmic blue. How could something that big and blue and solid appear in the sky without noise — from nowhere?
It wasn’t saucer-shaped — more diamond-shaped really — yet a Dallas city block in length. It set down on one narrow point of itself without sound, without disturbing the dust or the brush.
He yanked up his jeans and ran in the direction of the highway, the Cherokee and Molly.
Molly was running toward him, shouting his name. She saw it too, so he wasn’t crazy.
He hugged her, took her hand, continued to run with her back to the Cherokee.
He opened the passenger-side door. “It won’t start!” shouted Molly.
“Won’t start?” Yeah, you read about that. UFO’s fucked with your car’s electrical system. Happened all the time.
But she had tried to start the car? “Were you just going to drive off and leave me here?”
“I was going to drive out and get you! How could you think …? It is a four-wheel drive you know.”
“No, no. Right.”
He crawled in. Turned the key. Didn’t start.
“I told you! Why don’t you listen to me?”
“I’m just trying it.” He ground the ignition again. Silence. Even the indicator lights stayed dim, like the jeep was a relic, a hump of static metal.
Molly said, “Oh fuck this whole trip, you and your ideas.”
“Later, Jesus, Molly. This is a situation.” He found the cell phone, where it had been dropped by Molly on the passenger’s seat. No signal.
“I tried that too,” she said.
“You certainly had a lot of time on your hands.” That’s my wife, he thought.
“I tried to start the car to drive out and get you, I tried the cell to call help for you, I ran out to find you. Why are you picking on me!”
“All right.” He took a breath. “Thank you.”
“Fuckwad. Are you okay?” she strained against tears.
“I’m okay. It didn’t do anything to me. It’s sitting there … quiet.”
“It’s so blue,” said Molly.
“That’s what I was thinking. Have you ever seen quite that color before?”
She shook her head.
The blue ship did something.
Though its surface was seamless, it split now, surrendering itself open into two half-diamond shaped concaves, which settled down next to each other on the basin of the desert.
Clay and Molly waited, watched. Five minutes.
“What’s inside?” asked Molly. “Can you see?”
“Not from here.” Pause. “Someone will come along.”
“Don’t even think about. Someone will come along.”
“Maybe. This is supposedly a busy highway and no one’s passed in all this time. Maybe no cars are running.”
“Don’t say that.”
Molly leaned into the Cherokee, reached under the seat, and brought up the Evian bottle.
“It told you that was empty,” said Clay.
“I’m just checking it. You checked the car, you checked the phone. Now I’m checking the water bottle.”
“I don’t want to bicker,” he told her.
“See, we agree.” The tension broke.
“On everything. That’s why I can tell my parents we never fight,” Molly said.
Clay rolled his eyes. “Your parents.”
“No. Your parents.”
Molly’s smile faded. There was more activity with the blue thing. The open concaves of the diamond ship started to fill, then to overflow. Icy blue liquid cascaded down the outside walls. It reminded Clay of Lake Tahoe for seem reason: cool and clean. Damn it was hot in New Mexico in September! Tahoe next year for sure.
He found himself leaving the Cherokee and walking toward the shimmering pools; Molly too. They reached the ship. The water did not spill onto the desert floor, rather it flowed in deeps streams down the walls, then turning, it streamed back up again.
A hint of spray dampened the air. Clay and Molly held fingers under the stream. So cool.
Molly cupped her hands. She brought the water to her face. She splashed herself, swallowed. She cupped her hands for more. “This is like the best water ever … “
He did as she had. The water touched his skin, mixed with the stinging salty sweat above his lip, and cleansed the sour away. “I didn’t know how thirsty I was,” Clay said.
Molly undid some buttons, stepped into the falling water, letting it stream down her neck and front. “What a great gift,” she said.
Clay took his shirt off, pressed against the side of the ship. The water flow over his back, cooling his flushed skin. “Water,” he said. “Alien water.”
They undressed, they bathed and they held their clothes out to be cleansed: their shoes, belts, car keys, wallet, everything.
The waters ebbed. They stood naked. The sun was at zenith, but Clay stayed cool, even after the air dried him.
Clay thought about it. “That was probably a bad idea.”
“What happened?” asked Molly.
“Are you okay? I think I’m okay.”
“I think I’m okay. What?”
He realized he was looking at her. Shook his head. “You’re better than okay.”
She crossed her arms over herself. “Shut up. I wasn’t prepared for this you know.”
“You are really really beautiful.”
She picked up her clothes, but they weren’t even close to dry. “Damn,” she said.
“What are you worried about? You look fine.”
“Fine? A second ago it was beautiful. Now I’m fine.” She put the back of her hand under her jaw, the way she did when she felt self-conscious about the slight hint of a second chin.
Don’t say anything, he warned himself. But he tried to fix it, it was like a sick compulsion and he couldn’t stop himself. “Neither us is getting any younger.”
Molly shot him her red glare. Then she tried to pull on her heavy wet jeans. Oh, shit, he thought, will I never learn to quit when I’m behind? “Molly.”
She forced her arms into twisted, soaked sleeves. Picked up her sandals. “I’m going back to the road.” she said.
The blue ship slowly closed itself up. Then it rose from the ground without causing a ripple in the air. To see something so huge move so gracefully: Clay had nothing to compare it to. “I can’t even wrap my mind around it,” he muttered.
The ship hovered a hundred feet off the ground, then zipped west.
“Well that’s that,” said Clay.
“It’s going the same direction we were.” said Molly.
“If the aliens wanted directions to Albuquerque, they only had to ask,” said Clay.
“Let’s not tell anyone about this.”
“No way. I don’t want to be interviewed on some Discovery Channel freak-fest. No thank you.”
“Aren’t you going to put your clothes on?”
They felt a little dryer now. “Nah.” He placed his arms akimbo. “Think I’ll stay like this.”
“Shut up,” she said.
He shifted his feet and was stabbed by a pointy pebble. Then again, maybe just put on the shoes.
Two silver ships descended from the sky.
Smaller than the blue ship had been — automobile-sized, in fact — the silver ships landed side by side.
Like the blue ship, the silver ships were completely smooth and seamless. Clay hesitated.
“Let’s leave,” said Molly.
“I wonder if they are going to open.”
“No. I want to go.”
The ships opened. From each a silver orb ascended, like two human-sized wobbly balls of quicksilver.
The wobbly balls started floating toward Molly and Clay.
“Run!” Molly shouted too late.
A quicksilver ball hit her and splattered. The other hit Clay like hot Jell-O and nearly knocked him flat. Silver goop covered his eyes. He wiped them quickly, trying to see what had happened to Molly. The goop slipped over his skin, climbed up his urethra and every other opening, filled every wrinkle and crevice, enveloped each muscle in his body. Once it touched all of him it began to bead out his pores. The beads gathered into globules sliding down his length, dropping at his feet. They vanished into dry ground.
The silver ships closed, floated up, and scooted away.
Stunned, when at last able to move again and see — he saw the same thing had happened to Molly. He clothes lay in tatters around her, as if her silver glob had shredded them to get to her skin. She was shorter. No. He was standing higher all of the sudden. No. He was taller. His muscles rippled, filled with coursing blood.
“Oh man. Look at my … “
She was looking.
“I’m huge,” he said. He wrapped his hand around it. It was beautiful, the most magnificent phallus imaginable. “I can’t believe it,” he said.
“And look at me,” Molly said. “My ass. My legs.” She ran her hands over her breasts. She touched her new long neck. “Oh fuck,” she whispered, and broke into a run.
He tore after her, leaving his clothes.
She reached the Cherokee, yanked open the nearer door and bent over the side-view mirror. Clay reached her and stopped. Stretching, and turning, trying to see as much of herself as possible in the tiny reflection, she examined her lean chin, her narrow shoulders.
She turned to him at last, with satisfaction. “Oh you lucky boy,” she said. “Look at your gorgeous wife.”
He caressed his shaft. Still hard. “And you lucky girl. Look at this incredible cock.”
She smiled. “I’m completely swollen too.” It was true, her nipples were like raspberries. “Look at my clit. I think if I touched it, I’d … “
He touched it, she exploded.
He watched her for minutes, standing there, half supported by his giant hand around her slim biceps, as she came in waves. With every wave she changed: little things, just enough, hair color from rust to golden to jet. Her skin from brown to ivory and pink. The angle of her breasts, the cut of her shoulders, everything flowed, moved, like a hundred or a thousand different women. My god, this could go on forever. Her eyes fluttered (blue, green, and brown) and one of the thousand women coming under his hand whispered, “You’re here. For me. Here for me now.”
At last she settled. “Molly,” he said. “Do you know that I’m in love with you, that I’m attracted to you? Do you know?”
“Yes, honey. I know it, I know how you really feel, and I know you really meant it before when you said I’m beautiful. Even before we changed.”
In her, he saw every woman he could ever imagine, every desire, endless variety. In him, she saw trustworthiness, security, a man who desired her without end. I love the silver ships! he thought.
He held her, looked for a smooth area on the rough desert floor to lay her down. He was not in a hurry, not desperate — his huge cock was going to be full and ready forever — but he was anxious to please her with it. She looked around, seemed to read his thoughts. “There’s no good place,” she said.
“I’ll try the engine again. We’ll find a hotel.”
“No. I want to fuck outdoors,” she said.
He nodded. “So do I.”
A dozen green ships descended from the sky, landing silently on either side of the highway, then opening unassumingly. Plumes, powdery emerald dust, billowed from their hollows and covered the desert like green snow.
From the settled powder, a new landscape arose: beds of downy moss upon the ground. Nimble shade trees stretched toward the sky. Ponds of blue water pooled. Furred creatures grew out of the tree limbs and scampered back and forth, chattering pleasantly. Rainbow fish jumped in a babbling stream. Once or twice, what looked like miniature unicorns carrying big lollipops in their mouths darted through the forest. When all this was made, the green ships closed, floated above the trees, and moved west.
Clay carried Molly down and made love to her.
The afternoon rolled by. Molly got up after awhile and slipped into the nearest pond. It was one of the hot ones, with steam rising off. After a time, she moved to a cooler one, and floated on a lily pad. She called Clay to join her.
“In a bit,” he said. For now he lay content on his back, listening to the new forest, dancing fingers over his stomach, his pubes, enjoying the stickiness, in no hurry to wash off.
He must have napped awhile, because the next thing he sensed was Molly’s cool skin and hair against his chest as she slipped next to him.
She lay her hand across his scrotum.
“I’m glad you’re my man,” she said.
“Let’s never fight.” she said.
“We made up.”
“So, no divorce.”
“Mmm.” He drifted.
“The ships didn’t go back the way they came, did you notice? Not into the sky. They like followed the highway, west.”
“Yeah,” he said. Did they have to talk right now?
“Maybe this is happening everywhere. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“Splendiferous,” he muttered.
She was silent, but for a moment only.
“Who are they? What do they want?” she asked. He didn’t answer. “Clay? Did you hear me? Who do you think they are, what do you think they want?”
Imponderables. Always with the questions, this one.
“To spread joy and peace and hot sex through the galaxy,” he said. “Let’s talk later.” Right now, he floated in an endorphin sea which occupied him plenty, thank you.
“Maybe if I’d found a job I liked,” she said.
“In Dallas, I mean.”
Forget all that now, thought Clay. Who cared?
She spoke again. “In Dallas, you know? Or maybe if we’d never gone at all. I could have gotten into one of those church groups. Would you have gone to something like that? Or maybe if …”
If what? “Don’t start that, Molly.”
“Still, all those brown lawns, all those malls. All those glass buildings blinding you when you drive past on the freeway. And those Texas flags flying everywhere. Flags big enough to cover a football field. And all those football fields!”
“Okay, okay,” murmured Clay. “Anyway it’s over.”
She sighed comfortably. “That’s right. Dallas is over,” she said. And then she said it again. “Dallas is over.” He felt her settle comfortably closer to him, but only for a moment.
“Why would they do all of this for us? These ships?”
He pretended to sleep, not that that trick had ever worked on her before.
“Do you think there are other kinds of ships?”
He shifted his weight, tried to get comfortable again without actually turning completely away from her. “Oh, Molls,” he said. “If they want to do for us, let them.”
He rubbed his eyes. They’d been thirsty, and the ships brought water. They had a stupid fight about body image and the ships fixed their bodies. The ships made the desert a paradise for lovers, because — well because they were lovers. What else could she want? My needs are met.
His stomach knotted. “That’s it!” said Clay. “I get it! The ships read our thoughts, fulfilled them.”
“My god, you’re right. I wanted this body. I wanted it for myself. Unconsciously, but it happened.”
“Well great. Then you should be happy. Have a nap with me, Molly.”
“Can it guess what we’re secretly wanting, way down inside? What will the next ships will bring?”
Next ships? “No no. We’re fine, right now.” He wanted nothing more. Don’t think about it.
“What if someone had desires they weren’t proud of? Or shouldn’t have. There could be black ships, there could be red ships. Bad ships. People have all sorts of thoughts.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” he said. Black ships filled with plague, white ships filled with fire. No. No there couldn’t. Don’t think that. Don’t think anything. Red ship, black ship, white ship, bad ship.
“But we don’t know Clay. We don’t know what we really, really want. It changes. They could be pretty pink ships, but inside, deep down, for all we know — Ouch!”
He had grabbed her biceps harder than he meant to. “Leave me alone! No! Sorry!” he shouted, sounding shrill. “You’re going on and on! Happy happy ships, full of sunshine and goodness and everything right, I tell you!”
She wrenched her arm free. “Don’t talk to me like that!” She looked at her arm and it was bruised purple. She bruised easily. “You said never again!” Molly said. Reproach — her fucking long suit.
“That was an accident, obviously!” he said. And he’d never touched her, never touch her, never done more than put his own fist through the wall, or shake her hard to get her attention, so who was the real victim here anyway?
Never mind. Too late anyway. Too late now for apologies or excuses, or reasons. Try reasoning with her, can’t be done. Try not to think of a pink elephant. Can’t be done.
Above the new tree line — by the hundreds, by the thousands they showed: blotting the sky, housing shadowed desires in their pretty, shining holds and descending. He’d know something
in a minute, maybe. Or she would. Or nothing. Or not. Molly raised one arm to the level of her face in involuntary — surely futile — defensive action. Clay, in his nakedness, shuddered. Pink ships. Pink ships.