I am in the bedroom and in the bedroom, on the top of our chest of drawers is a porcelain hand, the fingers of which point up to the sky, poised, waiting, open in a gracefully twisted acceptance of her rings and on the porcelain pinkie her wedding ring idles as it has done for weeks now. I can hear the radio playing in the kitchen and I can hear her moving about and I can hear the chirpy high voice of the disc jockey and the laughter of his female sidekick. It’s the morning show on Radio Red 104.7. She listens to it every morning. It’s inane but I can’t stop her. It is how morning radio shows are now. There’s a name and then there’s a sidekick, someone else who laughs out on the air, someone for the name to feed off, to feed on. Between songs, the sidekick says, ‘We’re like an old married couple’.
‘No, we’re not,’ he says. ‘We’re talking to each other.’’
My wife calls me to come into the kitchen and I pretend not to hear her. I want her to want me and to falter and fall uncaught when I do not come. I want her to think that she does not know me and that I am more than she thinks I am. I am mystery and I want her to say that she is wrong about everything. But most of all I want her to stop saying ‘You can’t get it up. You can never get it up.’
We have not been getting on so well recently because she’s having an affair with a much younger solicitor at the legal offices where she works. I’ve met him a couple of times, her lover, but I did not know they were lovers then, so I was polite to him when I met him. If I had known I would have vaporised the prick. Later she told me that they had laughed at my stupidity about this. How could I not know? He looks like a Mod so I called him ‘Mod Boy’ and then so did she. On the Sunday morning that I knew, a few months ago, she was tired and hungover. I had asked her how her party was and was ‘Mod Boy’ there, and she had turned away, her face flushed with the heat of deception discovered.
She is calling me again from the kitchen. ‘Come and listen to this’. I count to five. I do not want to appear in need of her or let her feel that she has any control over me or that I fear losing her to another man, one whom I have no way of competing with. In the kitchen, I stand near her with my arms folded and try to look like a distracted man indulging his silly wife.
‘Listen,’ she says. She pulls me closer to the radio, closer to her.
‘What are you—?’ I say.
‘Shhh! Listen. The guy’s nuts. Dan the dog walker he’s called.’ We look at the radio.
‘A spaceship?’ The presenter of the programme says. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. I think so. It looks like a spaceship. A spaceship. On the beach. I’m looking at it right now. Here on Holcombe beach. It’s a fairly small craft. Silver. It’s got three legs. A door, I think, and round windows. Like portholes. I know they’re portholes because I was in the Royal Navy.’
‘Sounds like a spaceship then Captain!’
‘I was a Chief Petty Officer.’
‘Don’t be petty now Captain.’
Somewhere, a dog barks.
‘Oh’, shouts the disc jockey. ‘Was that an alien?’
‘No. My dog. Quiet Nelson.’
‘You been drinking, Dan? Little Red Rocket Vodka maybe?’
‘It’s eight in the morning. ‘
‘Disappointed. Can you see any aliens?’
‘No. I can’t see any. I’m going to stay and observe. Take a recce. Over and out.’
‘Not over and out. Stay on the line Dan the dogwalker. We’ll be right back after this song. We’d like some aliens.’ The discjockey plays ‘Silver Machine’ and reminds us we’re listening to “Radio Red 104.7 sponsored by Red Rocket Vodka, it’s out of this world.”
‘Where are they?’ I say to my wife.
‘Where? Holcombe beach. He just said. Are you a zombie?’
She’s called me a zombie before. She said it after I questioned her about the route of a bike ride that she took in the summer. She said she had been to a local picnic spot that was a fifteen-minute bike ride away but she was gone an hour. When she came back to the house, her t-shirt, the pink one that says ‘living the dream’ on it, had been on inside out.
‘Your shirt’s on inside out,’ I had said.
She had looked down.
‘I put it on like this. Don’t you notice anything? Are you a zombie?’
I had wanted to turn her into a zombie, half-way at the very least. I’m not a zombie.
‘The aliens?’ I ask her. ‘Are they inside the spaceship?’
My wife looks at me and laughs. I have not seen her laugh all week. I’ve seen disdain, weariness, and shards of hate but not laughter.
‘Yeah. That guy. Where is he?’ I ask again.
‘Holcombe beach,’ she repeats. ‘A spaceship. As if. On a beach in Norfolk. How could we not see it coming? They’re here! They’re here! Maybe
they’re body snatchers! They’ve come to take us! Come to take over our lives. Indoctrinate us with their alien ways.’
‘There’s lots of things we don’t see coming. Can we talk later?’ I say.
‘I’m going out tonight. Work … drinks … I won’t be late. It’s a leaving party.’
‘Who’s leaving. Where are you going? Is Mod Boy going?’
‘I don’t know. What do you want to talk about?’ Her tone is pitched to let me know that she knows exactly what it is that I want talk about (it is the only thing I want to talk about) and that she is already drained at the very thought of it.
‘Us,’ I say.
‘Us? Ugh.’ Her smile is gone. But I need to talk. I’m needy, that was another thing. ‘You’re too needy’.
But I need to get an answer. If she tells me she is not having an affair, not fucking this young guy, then I will keep on asking because I will not believe anything she says until she tells me that she is doing all these things.
‘I’ll go and look at the spaceship then, if you’re out.’
‘I’ve got all day.’
‘You could look for a job instead. You’re more likely to find one of those.
Maybe you could blame that on the aliens. The spacemen took my job.’
Six weeks ago, I was made redundant from a job I did not like but I like not working. I got a small pay off that is getting smaller. This worries her.
‘I will. But I want to see what this is all about.’
‘Like most things, it’s about nothing. Well then. Have fun,’ she says. ‘You’ll be on a beach with a bunch of other losers. There’s no spaceship. It’s a joke. Disc-jockeys are always pulling this kind of shit. Last year, they said Morrissey was dead because he’d been seen in Sheringham. If I were you I’d check the news, ask the police. Otherwise you’ll drive all that way and waste petrol as well as your time, both of which cost money.’
‘We are not alone,’ I say. ‘There has to be more life out there.’
‘I’d like there to be more life in here, in this house, in our bedroom. Wouldn’t you?’ She says and then she walks into the bathroom and locks the door. I look in her handbag, but her phone is not there, and I know that she has it with her and I wonder, what kind of person takes their phone to the bathroom with them but of course I already know.
I get to the beach late in the morning. By now it has been fenced off and there are some official types milling about and some men in military uniform, an army of some kind, men who you know what to do in any given circumstance. Men who always know where the exits are. I am not like these men, but there are also a lot of ordinary people, people like me. Some of the people have come to worship and prostrate themselves before this magnificent machine. These are peaceful, loving, earnest people in loose clothes and they will not be moved from this miracle by anybody or anything. They have formed a startling wall of flowing cotton and are waiting for a sign. Other people have come to look, to take photos of the machine using it as a backdrop to their own self-important self-portraits. And there are others who have come to protest and send the visitors back to where they came from, wherever that is. There is also a camera crew who appear to be setting up a series of shots while people mill about, wondering –
“Where have they come from? What do they want?”
‘The machine must have come in the night. Dan the dog walker, celebrated by us, had spotted it on his regular morning walk, taken a photo and then called the local radio station.’
That conversation was being replayed by incredulous people who wanted to relive the moment and vicariously ‘be’ Dan and live his moment of discovery, which is the single greatest moment in the history of the world, the one when we finally get to know that we are not alone. Someone plays the discovery recording.
‘A spaceship?’ The discjockey recording says.
‘Yes. A spaceship. On the beach. I’m looking at it right now. It’s a fairly small craft. Silver and very red. A lot of red. It’s got three legs. A door, I think and round windows. Like portholes. I know they’re portholes because I was in the Royal Navy.’
I don’t remember hearing about how red it was. I listen for Nelson. There he is.
‘Was that an alien?’
‘No, my dog. Quiet Nelson.’
‘Any aliens?’ The discjockey asks in the – by now – familiar dialogue, then the discjockey is back with a new line of enquiry.
‘You’re live on-air Dan the dogwalker. What sort of dog is Nelson?’
‘Collie. A border collie to be exact. Eight years old. To be exact.’
‘Be exact as you like Dan. First time caller?’
‘Yes. First time caller but long-time listener.’
‘Really? You sound familiar.’ Here the disc jockey pauses as if to gather himself. ‘Good man, Dan the dog walker and what a first-timecall! So, tell us about your spaceship. Can you get close, get right up and get a good look?’ In the background is the faint noise of a siren and Dan’s voice is lost in the nearing urgency of the alarm.
I circle around the spaceship until I am on the side where the windows are, hoping to be the first person to get contact, a close encounter of the second kind, but a soldier stands in my way. He is not armed, and his uniform is ill-fitting, and the camouflage of his jacket doesn’t match the camouflage of his trousers and his boots do not look authentic, perhaps he is Special Forces. I know from television that his type does not conform and often isnot what you expect. I cannot see his face because he is wearing a ski mask of sorts and while I am looking at him, I notice that behind him, other also poorly dressed soldiers are rolling out spools of tape and banging thin poles into the sand. For an earth-shattering event, I have to admit it all looks a bit half-hearted. Have they been drugged by some invisible gas by the crafty aliens? I do not want to suffer the same fate. I am not lethargic by nature and see no virtue in doing nothing.
‘I’ll be back this afternoon,’ I say to the soldier. He looks right through me. And then he bursts out laughing. Just as quickly he regains his composure.
‘Don’t be nervous,’ I say. ‘They are friendly. If they weren’t, you’d all be dead.’ I survey the scene as I imagine a man gathering intelligence might look.
I am surprised that there are no police and then realise that the military take precedence in a situation like this. I must get back home at lunchtime because I am hoping to catch my wife doing something that she should not. My wife is not home when I get there. She could be in town or still at work or at his place having a quickie.
In the afternoon, there is a wispy cordon around the machine that prevents anyone not authorised from getting closer than 100 yards. When I reach this perimeter an earnest man and his girlfriend are there arguing with a soldier. It could be the same soldier as this morning. I am not sure then I see it is not, this one has matching jacket and trousers and he is wearing trainers. I think this is poor discipline for an army to allow. I stare at him. It is him! He’s changed his jacket. Good soldier, I think, apart from the shoes.
‘It’s the people’s spaceship,’ the woman says. ‘We found it. Not you.’ The soldier stares through her. I nod my head to him as if to say, ‘I know you.’ He nods back, and the man and woman see this. Silenced, they turn around to look at me.
‘Do you know him?’ The woman asks.
‘Not exactly. We know each other,’ I say. ‘In a way.’
‘Tell him it’s the people’s ship.’
‘I think he heard you.’
‘Then why doesn’t he say anything?’
‘He’s just doing his job. You won’t get past. I know these kinds of people.’
‘I figured that,’ said the man. ‘Let’s go. Pubs are open.’
‘Loser,’ the woman says to him. ‘You always give up without a fight.’
‘No. I pick my battles is all.’
‘Won any lately?’ She says. The man exhales and his shoulders slump. He hasn’t got the stomach for this fight, I recognise these signs. ‘You,’ the woman says to me.
‘What about me?’
‘You can get in. If you know him,’ she jabs a finger in the direction of the soldier. ‘You can get us in if you know him. Unless you’re one of them.’
I wonder who us is. Her? Me and her? That might be alright. Me, her and him? No. He’s weak. He’s not up for it. Them?
‘Maybe you and me,’ I say. ‘But not him. Sorry.’
‘Him?’ She says. ‘He wouldn’t know what to do with an alien if it was down on its knees unzipping him.’ I smile knowingly. I also add a smirk because I like the way this conversation is going. She mentioned sex first. We cannot go backwards know.
‘What if it’s a guy alien?’ He asks.
‘What if it’s a guy alien. Down on its knees. Unzipping me?’
‘I don’t think that they’re sex voyagers. Why do you have to be so literal,’ she says. ‘It was a metaphor. You expect anal probing too?’
‘No. No it wasn’t a metaphor,’ he says. ‘But voyagers are good. Good description.’
‘Or a simile, I think then.’
‘No. Not that either.’
‘See. Too literal.’ Then she takes my arm. ‘Come on,’ she says. ‘We’ve got work to do. Let’s get some beer. It helps me think.’ I can smell alcohol on her breath. The beer-inspired work that she has in mind is to think of a plan to get us into the spaceship. We spend a long time unable to think of any plan and when it is getting dark, I tell her that to go in at night would be bad and wouldn’t work. I tell her not to get angry, and I explain that the only reason that I say that is that I do not think my guy works the perimeter at night, and we need him to get us in. He is our guy on the inside I tell her.
‘What’s his name?’ She’s close to me now and her sour breath is on my face and it floods into my mouth. I turn to the sea and suck as much salted air as I can.
‘No names, no pack drills,’ I say. I do not think either of us knows what this means. I tell her that everything is on a ‘need to know basis’. We both know what this means.
‘Let’s leave it ‘til tomorrow. RV here at 0900 hours.’
When I get home, my wife has made dinner.
‘How was your spaceship? Did you voyage to the final frontier? Did they offer you a paid job?’
‘It’s quite interesting actually. The ship itself is red, Coca Cola red and I was thinking, why that colour?’
‘Maybe they’re from Mars, the red planet.’
‘Don’t be facetious. Nevertheless, I think it’s red because they are telling us something. A message. They are friends and they have been watching us. Do you remember when Coke beamed an ad onto the moon? The Coca Cola logo? No. Well, I think the voyagers saw —’
‘Voyagers? Ad men from another planet? Intergalactic Mad Men?’
‘That’s what we call them now. The voyagers saw it as some sort of signal.’
‘Like the bat signal?’
‘Like the bat signal’ I say, now she gets it. ‘And so, they painted their ship red to let us know. It’s the same colour. It’s a friendly gesture.’
‘You’re an idiot,’ she says.
I look at the plates and cutlery and wine glasses laid out on the kitchen table.
‘I’ve got to go,’ I say.
‘Where?’ She asks.
‘Whom then. An alien? Sorry. A voyager?’
‘Of sorts. A stranger.’
‘Strange. Yes, I can believe that. I just made dinner. You’ll have to cancel. We can sit and talk. You said you wanted to talk.’
‘This is important to me,’ I say.
‘More important than us?’ She asks.
I must think, and then I think I have got the advantage, so I press it home.
‘At the moment, yes. This moment is not just life changing, it’s world changing.’
My wife starts to cry. It is too late for her, and I go back out into the night, to another town where she cannot come looking for me, and I sit in an Indian restaurant. While I wait for my meal, I eat poppadoms and on a series of paper napkins I draw a map and the ship and a bad portrait of the woman I met that afternoon. I study her portrait. She doesn’t look human, also, she looks unfriendly and I wonder if they are not friendly voyagers but unfriendly invaders and whether it is possible that I subconsciously uncovered their plan. An invasion! But why? What’s wrong with their own planet? Why come to ours? I need to know. I also need to warn the world. The waiter puts my food down, sees the napkins, and asks me if I’m an artist.
‘No,’ I say. ‘I’m a scientist. Working on that spaceship out at Holcombe.’
‘Would you like more poppadoms?’ He says. ‘More pickles? More napkins?’
I take out my phone and check social media for what is really going on. Nothing it seems is really going on, except a cover up. It looks like a Government site has put out a simple message declining knowledge and asking everybody not to panic and has also posted a picture of Orson Welles’ ‘This is not War of the Worlds’. It is a conspiracy, obviously. They are buying time to see what the voyagers want. So far, there has been no communication from the ship. This seems like brinkmanship to me. I go further on the web and see what is being said. Again, a hoax! And then a theory, much more popular, that the claims of a hoax are a part of a bigger conspiracy and it is as I thought. There is a lot of hate for this theory too though, but then there are always non-believers. There are also blogs, a Facebook page and a bunch of tweets. Radio Red 104.7 has a blog about it all and has an interview with Dan the dog walker and a photo and he looks a lot like the disc jockey for the afternoon show but not much is made of this. The colour of their blog echoes the red of the spaceship, it’s like a clever tribute. I find it perplexing that this monumental event does not appear to be worthy of the national or international news. The bloggers and tweeters are blaming the Illuminati for the cover up. I tweet what I saw and about the soldiers and their odd uniforms (were they– the voyagers – already amongst us or, and I capitalise my tweet – ARE THEY INVADERS?). We are spreading the word and most importantly we will not be ignored. One blog is called – ‘What do they want?’ and lists possible reasons for their invading, some friendly, most hostile.
‘If they’re not going to do something good, one asks, why don’t they go back home?’ This is a popular thread.
‘Maybe they can be of use or want to something to help us, teach us tolerance maybe.’ This is not such a popular thread.
‘Maybe they want to kill us all. Take our planet seems the most likely.’
‘They can have this shitty planet.’
‘The aliens need to be captured and contained – don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
‘THEY ARE INVADERS!’
‘They’re invaders and they’re going to invade your wife!’
‘E.T. was a good alien,’ someone adds but they are rebuked with a reminder that E.T. was fiction, and Spielberg is a Jew. From this post, someone manages to connect the Holocaust and from that thread the spectre of mutually assured interplanetary destruction with random anal probing becomes a hotter topic.
Our house is dark when I get back and there is a note from my wife, she has left it on a clean plate.
I’ve beamed down to earth. If you’re ever back on
this same planet. Do not come looking for
I’ve set my phaser on kill.
Early the next day I drive out to the spaceship. I drive slowly because I haven’t got a plan to share and I am hoping that I will be able to think of one soon and hope that my co-conspirator has brushed her teeth or better still, will not show. When I clear the dunes, I am astonished to see that the spaceship has gone. The tape has gone; the soldiers and the crowds are also all gone. Two men are throwing scaffolding poles into the back of a truck parked in the sand on the spot where the spaceship was. There is a worrying lack of concern that history has just passed us by.
‘Did it take off? What’s happened?’ I ask one of the men.
‘Got towed away man.’
‘Parking fine. By-laws. Can’t have spaceships on beaches in Norfolk
apparently. Local council. To think, we pay our council taxes.’
‘That doesn’t make sense,’ I say.
‘No shit. They had to take it down. Causing a commotion.’
‘A commotion? But what happened? The spaceship? The soldiers.’
‘Don’t be a twat.’
‘But I saw it. Were there aliens? Were you here?’
The man stops and plants one of the scaffold poles into the sand and leans against it.
‘Jesus. You know what, I was here and there was. We’re packing up, at
about two or three this morning, one of the aliens came out to take a
piss. Told us to go away. To leave.’
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘They’re just like us. Get a picture? What happened? What did it look like?’
‘It looked just like some bloke.’
I recognise this man as the soldier from yesterday. I ask him if he has seen the woman I was with, he says he has no idea who I am talking about. He is no longer in uniform, but I am in the same clothes, so he must recognise me if I recognise him, he has been trained, and I have not, and I guess he is pretending not to know me. Soon, they have packed up and are standing next to their truck, smoking. I am stunned, and I am alone on the beach and the sea is calm and flat. It is like this never happened but it has, I know it. A light rain begins to fall, and it pockmarks into the dirty sand and soon all the tiniest traces of the scaffolding, the tent, the soldiers, and the spaceship are mizzled away. The invaders have gone as quickly as they came. Perhaps they hoped that no one would notice, and everything would go back to how it was before. I look around me and it is as if nothing has happened. It has and it is in the past now. I want it back.
‘What was it all about?’ I shout across to the men.
‘Publicity stunt. Vodka company.’
‘Conspiracy!’ I shout back and smile because I know that he knows that I know.
‘Whatever pal.’ He stops and bends down and picks up an object. He considers his next move and then spins the object over to me and it lands in the sand close to my feet.
‘A ray-gun then I guess,’ he says. It’s a bottle shaped object, glass, and has ‘Red Rocket Vodka’ printed on it. I watch as the men flick their cigarettes away and get ready to go. The soldier that I was talking to looks over at me as he steps into the cab of his truck and winks. His eyelids snap together in a horizontal slit and he shuts the cab door and waves goodbye. When they are gone I look up to the skies.
‘I’ll wait for you!’ I shout out across the frontier of my world to another one, one that must be better, and I stand and I wait.