I came home early, near panicked after enormous lights appeared over the city, to find Janelle in our apartment all close-legged and cozy with a guy I didn’t know, leaned over a teetering Jenga tower. They weren’t naked—yet—but she was flushed, red splotches peeking over the top of her low-slung blouse, cheeks rosy and full. Either horny or drunk or both.
“This is my coworker.” She cleared her throat. “Jacob.”
Jacob wiped his palms on fancy jeans and stuck his hand out like this was cause enough to become acquainted. Maybe get a beer sometime. Two chums. Casual introduction.
The lights outside were huge and growing bigger over the city. Moons, plural, converging on one point in the sky that—if I’m to believe movies—might soon rain brain-melting lasers.
“Look,” I said, yanking the blinds open. “Aliens.”
“It’s probably just another SpaceX launch,” Jacob said.
Janelle came to the window and rested her head on my shoulder like we were two stargazing lovers enjoying the night sky. “It’s not what you think,” she said.
“It’s exactly what I think,” I said. “These are definitely aliens.” A faint hum began to echo through the city and grew louder, building impetus, like a rolling bass drum signaling crescendo.
“That’s not what I mea—”
“SpaceX?” I turned around. “Are you stupid, Jacob?”
Every channel on TV was the same. Shaky cellphone videos. Interviews of people standing on the street casting theories about apocalypse. All eyeballs and finger pointing. A lot of pointing.
And suddenly I wanted her to tell me something reassuring, even if it wasn’t true. “Are we going to die?”
“Jesus,” Janelle said.
“It’s SpaceX,” Jacob said. “Not Jesus.”
We all sat down on the couch staring at the TV instead of looking at the very real looming death just outside the window. It was comforting, I think, to have that filter, like watching a war in news clips, and maybe I could pretend we were at some kind of remove. We could get back to our night. Our night. Their night. Yeah.
“Is there any wine?” I asked.
“A little,” she said. Because she drank it…with Jacob…in our candlelit apartment.
I downed the rest of the bottle and grabbed another from the pantry, refusing to acknowledge that she’d opened the only half-decent merlot we’d ever owned. The one I bought for our upcoming anniversary.
“We should have some kind of plan,” I said.
“We don’t need a plan. Like I was saying, It’s probably just SpaceX. They do this weird shit all the time and everyone freaks out.”
“Stop saying SpaceX,” Janelle said.
I took a long swallow from the bottle and handed it to Janelle, passed the interloper’s grabby fingers. He pouted at me with his stupid, don’t-need-a-plan lips.
The discs began to overlap, crisp rounded edges coalescing in the sky, blanketing the entire city in moon-colored light. “This is definitely not SpaceX,” I said, and I decided if we were going to die, it should be on the roof.
I ran into the hallway, Janelle right behind, the intruder still wrestling into his too-small coat like he was invited. I shoved him to a stop inside the apartment and slammed the door hard enough to send the Jenga blocks clattering to the tile. Our tile.
There was a group of people already on the roof when I busted through the door. They were sitting in lawn chairs, drinking, whispering, hushed panic hanging thick in the space between words.
My next-door neighbor stood near the edge of the building next to his two little girls, a hand over his eyebrows to block the too-bright light, forehead pinched into rows of oily little skin-worms.
“What do you think it is?” I asked. “SpaceX?”
He looked at me, then at Janelle staring gape-mouthed at the sky.
“Don’t know, but it’s definitely not SpaceX.”
“Definitely not,” I said and drank the last of the cheap wine.
The noise in the air took on a body, changing into something too loud, too complete, like standing behind a revved-up jet engine.
Janelle shouted into my ear, “We’re going to die!”
My brain shook to the deep, bellowing roar coming from somewhere implacable in the sky.
I put my mouth on her ear and said, “Why were you alone with him?”
She looked at me pleadingly, her eyes saying that maybe she was sorry and that when it really mattered, like right now, before we were all about to be zapped into oblivion standing on a roof, she only wanted me. “It’s just…”
And the noise stopped. The lights blinked out of existence. All at once it was back to normal, leaving us to reconcile abrupt silence under light-polluted stars.
I wanted to forgive her, forget the night, go home and have profound, end-of-the-world sex in the kitchen. But the aliens, whatever they were, fractured our timeline and the rest of my life would somehow be measured by befores and afters.
“It’s just what,” I said. “What were you going to say?”
She crammed her hands deep into her coat pockets. “Maybe it was SpaceX.”
We watched throngs of people below slowly dissolving from the street, back to their homes and bars and jobs. I wondered if Jacob was still in our apartment, if he still sitting on my couch watching the news. See? SpaceX.
“Tell me the brainwaves made you do it,” I said. “Lie to me.” I wanted her to tell me something reassuring, even if it wasn’t true.
Spencer is an emerging writer in Phoenix where lives with his wife and two children. He is an intern with Superstition Review. His work appears or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Riggwelter Press, and Ellipsis Zine. Find him on Twitter @LitmanSpencer