Peter Ho Davies's award-winning debut collection, The Ugliest House in the World, drew comparisons to the work of Raymond Carver, James Joyce, and V. S. Naipaul. The Washington Post hailed it as "astounding . . . Davies has left a unique, definitive footprint in the soil of contemporary short fiction." In his new collection, Davies's unforgettable characters—a Chinese son gambling with professional mourners, a mixed-race couple who experience a close encounter—strive for a love that transcends time, race, and sexuality. These are the stories of a sandwich generation—children of one century, adults of the next—caught between debts to their parents and what they owe their own offspring. Shot through with humor and grace, Equal Love confirms Davies's reputation as one of his generation's foremost writers.
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About the Author
PETER HO DAVIES’ novel, The Fortunes, won the Anisfield-Wolf Award and the Chautauqua Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Welsh Girl, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and a London Times Best Seller, as well as two critically acclaimed collections of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Harpers, The Atlantic, The Paris Review and Granta and been anthologized in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories.
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THE HULL CASE
"Of modern North American cases, one of the earliest and most widely reported abductions occurred in the early sixties to a mixed-race couple in New Hampshire." -Taken: Twelve Contemporary UFO Abduction Narratives, K. Clifford Stanton Helen is telling the colonel about the ship now, and Henry, sitting stiffly on the sectional sofa beside his wife, can't look up. He stares at the colonel's cap, the gold braid on the rim, where it rests on the coffee table next to the latest Saturday Evening Post and the plate of tunafish sandwiches Helen has laid out. "What color were the lights, Mrs. Hull?" the colonel wants to know, and Helen says, "Blue." The colonel makes a check mark. "Baby blue," Helen adds. She looks at Henry, and he nods quickly. He thought the lights were a cop at first. "Baby blue," the colonel repeats slowly, his pen scratching along. He's resting his clipboard against his khaki knee. His pants leg is crisply ironed, and his shoes glint. Henry wishes he could see what the colonel is writing. "Is that usual?" he asks. "Blue lights? In these cases, I mean." "I'm afraid I couldn't say," the colonel says. "'Cept I believe aircraft lights are usually red and white." "Yes, sir." "Then this wouldn't be an aircraft?" "That's what we're aiming to determine," the colonel says. "Sir." His smile reminds Henry of Richard Widmark. There's a pause, and then Helen asks, "Won't you have a sandwich, colonel?" and the colonel says, "Thank you, ma'am. Don't mind if Ido." He takes one and lays it on his plate, but doesn't take a bite. Henry thought the lights were a cop at first. They'd already been stopped once on the drive back from Niagara. He could have sworn he'd been doing less than sixty. The cop had shone his flashlight in Henry's face - black - and then Helen's - white. "Any trouble here, ma'am?" "Not at all, officer," she told him, while Henry gripped the wheel with both hands.
It was meant to be a second honeymoon. Not that they'd had a first, really. They'd been married for seven years. Henry had been serving in Korea, a corporal in the signals, when he'd been caught in the open by a grenade. Helen was his nurse in Tokyo. He'd heard that some of the white nurses refused to touch the black GIs, but she didn't mind. The first day she gave him a sponge bath, he tried to thank her-not sure if he was more embarrassed for her or himself (he felt an erection pushing at the slit of his pajama pants)-but she told him not to be silly. He always remembered that. "Don't be silly." Like it was nothing. "I'm just saying I appreciate it," he said, a little stung. "The nature of the race matter and all." "The race matter doesn't matter to me," she told him briskly. "And it shouldn't matter to you." Later she came back and he asked her to scratch his back, below the shoulder blade where it itched him fiercely, and she did. Perhaps it was the thought of losing his arm. He was so relieved when she told him they'd saved it. She'd been changing the dressing on his hand, unwinding the bandages from each fat finger. He whooped with joy. He asked her to have a drink with him. She said she didn't think so and his face fell, but then she laughed, her teeth as bright as her uniform. "Oh," she said, turning his hand over to wash it. "You mean after your release? Why, of course. I'd like that. I thought you meant now. You shouldn't be drinking now, not with your medication." And then she wound his hand up again in fresh white bandages. Her tour had finished three weeks later, but she'd stayed on in Tokyo, and by the time his discharge came through, they were lovers. They ate sushi together and she wore beautiful multicolored kimonos and it all seemed perfectly natural. He'd been in the army for nine years, so he hung on to her now as the next thing in his life, and one night after a fifth of whiskey-"Why, Henry Hull, you're stinko"-he asked her to marry him. "Of course," she said, and he laughed out loud. "Of course!" They'd gone back to New Hampshire, where she had a job in a hospital in Manchester. He'd found work at the local post office, and they'd been married within the month. They'd made a good life together. Helen's parents had been kind to him, after some reservations. "They know better than to try and stop me when I want something," Helen told him. Her brother called Henry a hero and a credit to his race at the small reception after their wedding at the town hall. Henry appreciated it, but it only reminded him that he was the one black man in the room. His own parents were long since dead, and his sister, Bernice, back in Summer Hill, had refused to come when she heard Henry was marrying a white woman. "What for?" she wanted to know, and when Henry said, "For the same reasons anybody gets married," she told him no, she didn't believe it. Henry didn't know what to say to that. He could hear her kids, his nephews and nieces, in the background, yelling, and then a baby's sharp, sudden sobs. "I gotta go," Bernice said. They hadn't talked since. His brother, Roy, had been more sympathetic. "You and me been dreaming about white girls since we were boys. Bernice thinks that's all wrong and maybe it is, but a man's got to follow his dream. 'S only natural to want what you can't have." But Roy hadn't come either. Henry and Helen did have a good life, though. Decent friends. Enough money. Helen had even taught him to skate. He liked his job, was proud of the uniform, and Mr. Rhodes, the postmaster, treated him well. The first week, when there'd been a little trouble over Henry's eating at the local sandwich shop, Mr. Rhodes had stepped across the street and told the owner that none of the postmen would be eating there again if Henry didn't. And just like that the shop integrated, although Henry told Helen he wouldn't have made anything of it himself. "Why not, for Pete's sake?" she'd asked him, and when he shrugged she'd exclaimed, "You're too darned dignified for your own good sometimes." He was the only black man he knew in Manchester, but he followed the news of lunchroom sit-ins and the Freedom Riders and joined the NAACP, although he was a lifelong Republican, like his father and his grandfather before him. He met more Negroes, but they all seemed a little shy of each other, almost sheepish. "Far as civil rights goes," one of them pointed out to him, "New Hampshire ain't exactly where it's at." What nagged Henry was that it was all too good, unreal somehow, more than he deserved. He thought of his brother and sister and all the kids he'd grown up with. Why had he been the one singled out, plucked up by life and set down here? It made him a little scared to have something. Helen said he was just being superstitious, but he couldn't shake the idea. He thought one day he'd wake up, or someone would come along and take it all away. When Helen had miscarried the first time, the spring before, along with the worry for her, he'd felt an awful relief that finally something terrible had happened. He'd been so ashamed he hadn't known how to comfort her, except to keep trying. But when she'd miscarried the second time, that summer, he'd decided they couldn't go through it again. They'd been distant these last few months, Helen insisting she still wanted a child, had always wanted one, Henry doubtful, thinking She wants one more now she maybe can't have one, wondering if this was how she had once wanted him, wo ndering if he was no longer enough for her, which was why the idea of a trip to Niagara felt like such an inspiration. Helen had laughed and called him a romantic but taken his hand across the dinner table.
The colonel wants to go back over the details again, as if he's trying to trip them up. "I thought you said it was cigar-shaped, Mrs. Hull?" "From a distance," Helen says impatiently. "Up close, you could see it was a disk." She looks at Henry for support. "We had a pair of binoculars along for the trip," he says. "I thought it might be a star at first. But when I pulled over at a lookout and used the glasses, whatever it was was definitely moving." The colonel is silent, so Henry hurries on, a little breathless but feeling that more is required of him. "A little later it came to me that I'd left the car running the first time while I leaned on the roof with the binocs. I thought the vibrations from the engine might have been the problem, see, so I pulled over again, stepped away from the car before I put the glasses on it. And it was still moving." Henry wants the colonel to write this down, but his pen doesn't move. The colonel doesn't even ask him about the binoculars-his service issue 10 3 42 Weavers. "Spinning," Helen says. "Don't forget it was spinning. That's what gave it the twinkling effect." "Right," Henry says. "The lights that looked like they were moving across it from a distance were actually fixed to the rim." He makes a circling motion in the air with his index finger while the colonel stares at him. "Did you write that down?" Helen asks, and the colonel blinks and says, "Yes, ma'am. I got it. 'Twinkling was spinning.'" They had agreed before the colonel arrived that Helen would do most of the talking. Henry hadn't wanted them to tell anyone about what they had seen right from the start, but Helen insisted on calling her sister, Marge. Hadn't Marge seen a UFO herself in '57? Henry shrugged. He'd never believed Marge's story, but he knew Helen needed to tell someone, and Marge at least wouldn't make fun of them. But it hadn't stopped there. Marge put Helen on to a high school science teacher she knew, and he told her they should really notify the air force. Now here was the colonel with his clipboard. Henry hadn't wanted to meet him, but Helen had had a conniption fit. "Henry Hull! How's it going to look," she said, "if I'm telling this story and my own husband won't back me up?" Henry told her it wouldn't make any difference, but what he really thought was that nothing he said would help her, might even make her less believable. "You're a white woman married to a colored," he wanted to tell her. He didn't think anyone would believe them, but Helen wasn't having any of that. "Of course they'll believe us," she said. "So long as we tell the truth. We have to try, at least. You've no gumption, Henry, that's your whole trouble." It seemed so easy to her, but Henry had had to work hard to be believed most of his life. Now he can see that Helen is getting tired of going over the same story again and again. "I'm not telling you what it means," she says. "I'm just telling you what I saw. We were hoping you could explain it to us." But the colonel just spreads his hands and says, "Sorry, ma'am." "You act like we're lying." "No, ma'am," the colonel says quickly. "I assure you." Henry knows what's coming next. Helen wants to get on to the part inside the ship, the stuff Henry doesn't remember. He asked her not to talk about it, but she told him she couldn't promise. "What if it's a matter of national security?" she said. "It's our duty, isn't it? Think what it could mean for the future of everyone." So now she explains to the colonel how she only remembered this part later, in her dreams. Henry feels himself shrink, but the colonel just makes another scratch with his pen, and Helen starts to tell him about the aliens-the short gray men-and their tests. "Gray?" The colonel looks from Helen to Henry, Henry to Helen. "Gray," she says, and he writes it down. "And short," she adds. "But not like dwarfs, like children." In her dream, Helen says, she remembers them scraping her skin with a strange metal instrument. "Like a dentist might use, only different. It tickled," she recalls, without a smile. Then she remembers them pushing a long thin needle into her navel. "That really hurt," she says, "but when I cried out they did something and the pain stopped at once. They seemed sorry. They told me it was a pregnancy test." The colonel, who has been taking notes with his head down, not looking at them, glances up quickly. "Oh, of course I'm not pregnant," Helen says brusquely, and Henry sits very still. This is what he feared all along-that they wouldn't be able to keep their private business out of this. "Have you ever heard of anything like it?" Helen asks. The colonel tells her he hasn't. "You have no memory of this?" he asks Henry, who shakes his head slowly. He's racked his brains, but there's nothing. Helen can't understand it. "How can you not remember?" she cried the first time she told him, as if he were the one being unreasonable. "Helen tells me I was in another room on the ship, drugged or something, but I don't recall." He wishes he could support her now, but also, in the back of his mind, he resents her dream, his weakness in it. Helen presses on. She says she knows how it sounds, but she has proof. "I'm just getting to the best part," she says. "The part about Henry's teeth." "Teeth?" the colonel says, and this time Henry sees a twitch to his lips that makes him feel cold inside. "That's right," Helen says, and Henry can tell she's seething now. The aliens, she explains slowly, as if to a child, were surprised that Henry's teeth came out and Helen's didn't. "They didn't understand about dentures," Helen says. Henry feels his mouth grow dry. They have argued about this part. He didn't want her to tell it, but Helen feels it's the clincher. "How could we make that up?" she asked him last night. "Plus there's the physical proof." "This was after the other tests," Helen says. "They were as curious as kids. I'm jumping ahead a little, but don't mind me. Anyway, after we were done, the one I think of as the doctor, he left the room, and the grayer one, the leader, he told me they were still finishing up with Henry. Anyhow, a few seconds later the doctor runs back in. He seems very excited and he asks me to open my mouth. Well, I don't quite know why, but I wanted to get this over with, so I obliged, and before you know it he'd pushed his little fingers in my mouth and he was pulling on my teeth. Well! You can imagine my surprise. I slapped his hand away quick as I could. He was pulling quite hard too, making my head go up and down. 'What do you think you're doing?' I said, and then he held out his other hand, and can you guess what he had?" The colonel shakes his head slowly. "Why, Henry's dentures. There they were, sitting in his little gray hand. Well, I snatched them up at once. I don't know what I was thinking. It made me so worried about Henry, I guess. That and the fact that he's always losing them, or pretending to lose them, anyway." She pauses, and Henry thinks he should say something. "They pinch me," he mumbles. "And they click. I don't like them so good." Helen laughs. "I tell him he looks like a fool without them, but he doesn't care. He has such a fine smile, too." Henry looks past the colonel's shoulder and out the picture window. He does not smile. It's October, and the first snow is beginning to fall in the White Mountains. "Anyway, I snatched them up, and then the leader started in about why my teeth were different from Henry's, so I had to explain all about dentures, about how people lose their teeth as they get older or, like Henry here, in accidents. I thought it was funny they were so flummoxed by dentures, but you know, now that I come to think about it, I don't remember seeing their teeth. They had these thin little slits for mouths, like I said before, and when they talked it was as if they didn't move their lips." "Did they speak English?" the colonel asks. "Or was it more like telepathy?" "Maybe," Helen says. "Like voices in my head, you mean? That certainly could explain it." "And their fingers?" the colonel asks seriously. "Would you say they had suckers on them? Small pads maybe?" Helen pauses and looks at him hard. "No," she says very clearly. "I would have remembered something like that." There is an awkward pause before she goes on more brightly. "Anyway, to cut a long story short, I thought the whole thing about the dentures was funny and I remember laughing, but it must have been one of those nervous laughs, because afterward when I looked at my hand where I'd been gripping them, I'd been holding them so tight that the teeth had left bruises." And here Helen holds out her hand to the colonel. He leans forward and takes it and turns it to the light. Henry can just see the crescent of purpling spots in the flesh of her palm. Helen nudges him. Henry doesn't move for a moment, but then he decides. She's his wife. He'll try to help. He holds a handkerchief over his mouth and slips his plate out. He passes it to her, and with her free hand she places it in her palm so that the false teeth lie over the bruises. The denture glistens wetly, and Henry looks away in embarrassment. "See," Helen says triumphantly. "Now that's evidence, isn't it?" "It's something, ma'am," the colonel says, peering at Henry's teeth. "It's really something."
Henry has tried his damnedest to remember what Helen's talking about. But he can't do it. It's the strangest thing, he thinks, because he recalls the rest of the trip-start to finish-vividly. They'd gotten up at five A.M., packed the car, and been on the road to Niagara by six. Henry wanted to get a good start on the day. It was September, peak foliage. "What impossible colors," Helen breathed, sliding across the seat to lean against him. "Better than Cinerama," he told her. He'd sung a few bars of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and made her laugh, and she'd done her best Dinah Shore: "Drive your Chev- ro-lay, through the U.S.A." She'd got impatient with him the evening before for simonizing the car, bringing out the gloss in the two-tone paint job. Now, he saw, she was proud. But when they stopped for brunch at a diner in upstate New York, Henry felt uneasy. The din in the place died when they entered, and the waitress seemed short with them. He ordered coffee and a doughnut, but Helen had the short stack and took her time over her coffee. When he called for the check, she looked up and asked what his hurry was, and he said they still had a ways to go. Didn't he know she had to let her coffee cool before she could drink it? "Have a refill or a cigarette," she said, pushing the pack of Chesterfields across the table, but he told her a little sharply he didn't want either. He felt people watching him. Helen finished her coffee and went to the bathroom, leaving him alone for five long terrible minutes. He could hear a child crying somewhere behind him, but he didn't turn to look. When she came back he hurried her out before she could retie her scarf, leaving a big tip. He had to stop to urinate fifteen minutes later and she made fun of him for not going earlier. "You're like a little boy," she said, and so he told her how he had felt in the diner. "Oh, Henry," she said. "You were imagining it." It made him mad that she wouldn't believe him, wouldn't take his word for it, but he didn't want to spoil the trip with a fight and he let her half convince him, because he knew it would make her feel better. He played with the radio, pushing buttons until he found some Harry Belafonte. Helen just didn't notice things the way he did. He loved her for it, this innocence, cherished it, though he couldn't share it (found his own sensitivity sharper than ever, in fact). That night when he stopped at two motels and was told that they were full, he didn't make anything of it, and when she said as they left one parking lot, "You'd think they'd turn off their vacancy sign," he just let it ride. "Must be a lot of lovers in town," she added, and squeezed his thigh. When they finally found a room at a place called the Falls Inn, she pulled him to her and he started to respond, but when she told him she'd forgotten her diaphragm, he pulled away. "It'll be okay," she told him. "Just this once." She clung to him for a moment, holding him against her, before he rolled off. They lay side by side staring at the ceiling as if it were the future. After the second miscarriage, Helen had been warned that she might not be able to carry a baby to term. "We can't take the risk," Henry told her softly, but she turned away. "You're afraid," she said, curled up with her face to the wall. The knobs of her spine reminded him of knuckles. "I'm afraid of losing you," he said at last. He told her he'd go out and get prophylactics, but driving around in the car, he couldn't. He stopped outside one store and sat for fifteen minutes, waiting for the other cars in the lot to leave, listening to the engine tick as it cooled. He was afraid of losing her, he knew, though the admission, so abject and ineffectual, shamed him. But behind that fear was another-a dim, formless dread of his own children and what they might mean for the precarious balance of his marriage, which made him shudder. There was one more car in the lot, but before it left a police cruiser pulled in, and Henry backed out and drove slowly back to the motel. When they were first married, Helen used to call him by a pet name, Big, burying the tight curls of her permanent against his chest. He would stroke her neck and answer in the same slightly plaintive baby talk, "Little" or "Little 'un." It was how they had comforted themselves when they felt small and puny beside their love for each other, but remembering it now only made him feel hopeless before the childlessness that loomed over them. Helen was asleep when he got in, or pretending, and he lay down beside her as gently as possible, not touching but aware of her familiar warmth under the covers. The next day had started better. They'd gone to the falls and been overwhelmed by the thundering white wall of water. They bought tickets for the Maid of the Mist. Henry bounced on the springy gangway and made her scream. They laughed at themselves in the yellow sou'esters and rain hats the crew passed out and then joined the rest of the identically dressed crowd at the bow railings. "Oh look," Helen said, pointing out children, like miniature adults in their slickers and hats, but Henry couldn't hear her over the crash of the falls. "Incredible," he yelled, leaning forward, squinting in the spray as if in bright light. He could taste the mist in his mouth, feel the gusts of air displaced as the water fell. Suddenly he wanted to hold his wife, but when he turned to Helen, she was gone. He stumbled from the railing looking for her, but it was impossible to identify her in the crowd of yellow slickers. He felt a moment of panic, like when she'd left him in the restaurant. He bent down to see under the hats and hoods of those around him, conscious that he was startling them but not caring. In the end he found her in the cabin, her head in her hands. She told him she'd thrown up. She didn't like boats much in general, she reminded him, and looking at the falls had made her dizzy. "I didn't want you to miss them, though," she told him, and he could see she'd been crying. He put his arm around her, and they sat like that until the trip was over. The other passengers began to file into the cabin around them, taking off their hats and jackets and hanging them on pegs until only Henry and Helen were left in theirs. They had planned to go on into Canada that afternoon, the first time they'd been out of the country since Korea, but instead they turned around, headed back the way they'd come. It was late afternoon, but Henry figured they could be home by midnight if he got a clear run and put his foot down.
The colonel has a few more questions, and he asks if they'd mind talking to him separately. Henry feels himself stiffen, but Helen says, "Of course." He can tell she wants to go first, so he gets up and says he'll take a walk. He'll be back in about fifteen minutes. He steps out into the hall and finds his topcoat and hat and calls for Denny, Helen's dog. He walks out back first, and from the yard he can see Helen inside with the colonel. He wonders what she's saying as the dog strains at the leash. Probably talking more about her dreams. She thinks maybe the little gray men took one of her eggs. She thinks she remembers being shown strange children. They had agreed that she wouldn't talk about this, but Henry realizes suddenly he doesn't trust her. It makes him shudder to think of her telling these things to a stranger. When he takes Denny around the front of the house, he is startled to find a black man in his drive, smoking. The young man drops the cigarette quickly when Denny starts yapping. He is in an air force uniform, and Henry realizes that this must be the colonel's driver. He feels suddenly shy. He tells him, "You startled me," and the young airman says, "Sorry, sir." And after a moment, that seems all there is to say. That sir. Henry lets Denny pull him up the drive, whining. The poor dog hasn't been out for hours and as soon as they're at the end of the drive squats and poops in full view of the house. Henry holds the leash slack and looks the other way. When they walk back a few minutes later, the airman is in the colonel's car. The windows are fogged. Henry knocks on the driver's-side glass. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" The airman hesitates, but his breath, even in the car, is steaming. "I could bring it out," Henry offers, and the young man says, "Thank you." And it's the lack of a sir that makes Henry happy. He takes Denny inside and comes back out in a few minutes with two cups of coffee and climbs into the car with the boy. He sets them on the dash, where they make twin crescents of condensation on the windshield. When Henry sips his coffee, he realizes he's left his teeth inside with Helen, and he's suddenly self-conscious. He thinks he must look like an old fool, and he wants to be silent, keep his mouth shut, but it's too late. The airman asks him how he lost them. "A fight," Henry says. And he tells a story he's never told Helen, how he got waylaid by a couple of crackers when he was just a boy. They wanted to know his mama's name, but for some reason he refused to say. "I just call her Mama," he said. "Other folks call her Mrs. Hull." But the boys wanted to know her first name, "her Chrustian name." Henry just kept on saying he didn't know it and then he tried to push past them and leave, but they shoved him back and lit into him. "I don't know what I was thinking," he says now over his coffee, "but it was very important to me that those fellas not know my mama's name. Mrs. Hull's all I'd say. I knew it, of course, although I never called her by it or even rightly thought of her by it. But I'd be damned if I'd tell them, and they beat the tar out of me for keeping that secret." "Yeah, but I bet those boys got their share," the airman says, and Henry smiles and nods. He can't be more than eighteen, this driver. They talk about the service. The boy is frustrated to be a driver in the air force. He wants to fly. Henry tells him how he was put in the signals corps: "They liked having me fetch and carry the messages." The boy, Henry thinks, is a good soldier, and he feels a surge of pride in him. But then the coffee is finished and Helen is at the front door. "Henry!" She doesn't see him in the car. "Henry!" He's suddenly embarrassed and gets out of the car quickly. "There you are," she says. "It's your turn." Henry ducks his head back into the car to take the empty mugs and sees the airman looking at him strangely. "Eunice," he offers awkwardly. The young man's face is blank. "My mother's name. Eunice Euphonia Hull. In case you was wondering." He closes the car door with his rear, moves toward the house. Inside, he hands Helen the two mugs, and she takes them to wash up. Back on the sofa, Henry sees that his dentures are lying beside the plate of sandwiches, but he feels uncomfortable about putting them in now. The colonel asks him to describe his experiences, and Henry repeats the whole story. They'd been making good time until the cop stopped them around ten- thirty, and even then Henry had still expected to make it home by one. He explains how they noticed the lights a little after that and about twenty minutes later how they began to sense that the object was following them, how he had sped up, how it had kept pace. Finally he describes it swooping low over the road in front of them and hovering a hundred yards to their right. He'd stopped, still thinking it could be a chopper, and got out with the binoculars, leaving Helen in the still running car. But after getting a closer look he'd become uneasy, run back, and they had left in a hurry. They couldn't have been stopped more than ten minutes, but when they got home it was almost dawn, hours later than they expected. "Mrs. Hull," the colonel says, "claims you were screaming when you came back to the car. About being captured." Henry feels a moment of irritation at Helen. "I was yelling," he says. "I was frightened. I felt that we were in danger, although I couldn't tell you why. I just knew this wasn't anything I understood." He pauses, but the colonel seems to be waiting for him to go on. "I was in Korea. I mean, I've been under fire. I was never afraid like this." "These dreams of your wife's," the colonel asks. "Can you explain them at all?" "She believes them," Henry says quickly. "Says they're more vivid than any dreams she remembers." "Can you think of anything else that might explain them?" Henry pauses. He could end it all here, he thinks. He looks at his dentures on the coffee table, feels the flush of humiliation. He opens his mouth, closes it, slowly shakes his head. The colonel waits a moment, as if for something more. Then: "Any dreams yourself?" "No, sir," Henry says quickly. "I don't remember my dreams." The colonel clicks his pen-closed, open, closed-calls Helen back in, thanks them both for their time. He declines another sandwich, puts his cap under his arm, says he must be going, and they follow him out to where his driver holds the door for him. The car backs out, and they watch its taillights follow the curve of the road for a minute. Henry wonders if the colonel and his driver will talk. If the colonel will make fun of their story. The thought of the young man laughing at him makes him tired. But then he thinks, no, the colonel and the airman won't share a word. The boy will just drive, and in the back seat the colonel will watch him. Henry feels like he let the boy down, and is suddenly ashamed. They stand under the porch light until the car is out of sight. "Well," Helen says, and he sees she's glowing, almost incandescent with excitement. "I think we did the right thing, don't you?" He feels his own mood like a shadow of hers. Bugs ping against the bulb and he flicks the switch off. In the darkness, they're silent for a moment, and then he hears the squeal of the screen door as she goes inside. It's not late, but Helen tells him she's about done in. The interview went on for almost four hours. She goes up to bed, and Henry picks up in the living room, carries the cups and plates through to the kitchen, fills the sink to soak them. The untouched sandwiches he covers in Saran Wrap and slides into the refrigerator. He drops his dentures in a glass of water, watches them sink. Then he goes up and changes into his pajamas, lays himself down beside his already sleeping wife, listens to her steady breathing, dreams about the future. A few weeks later they'll receive an official letter thanking them for their cooperation but offering no explanation for what they've seen. Henry hopes Helen will let the matter drop there, but she won't. She wants answers, and she feels it's their duty to share these experiences. "What if other people have had them?" They'll meet with psychiatrists. They'll undergo therapy. Henry shows symptoms of nervous anxiety, the doctors will say, but they won't know why. Eventually, almost a year later, under hypnosis, Henry will recall being inside the ship. He and Helen will listen to a tape of his flat voice describing his experiences. Tears will form in Helen's eyes. "It's as if I'm asleep," he'll say on the tape. "Or sleepwalking. Like I'm drugged or under some mind control." Under hypnosis, Henry will remember pale figures stopping their car. He'll recall the ship-a blinding wall of light-and being led to it, as if on an invisible rope, dragged and stumbling, his hands somehow tied behind him. He'll remember being naked, surrounded, the aliens touching him, pinching his arms and legs, peeling his lips back to examine his gritted teeth, cupping and prodding his genitals. It'll all come back to him: running through the woods, the breeze creaking in the branches, tripping and staring up at the moonlit trees. "Like great white sails," he'll hear himself say thickly as the spool runs out. Afterward, he'll tell Helen in a rage he's finished with shrinks, but in the months that follow she'll call more doctors and scientists. She'll say she wants to write a book. Something extraordinary has happened to them. They've been chosen for a purpose. She'll talk to journalists. Henry will refuse to discuss it further. They'll fight, go days without speaking. Tonight, in his dream, Henry wakes with a violent shudder, listens to his heart slow. He's lying in bed with Helen, he tells himself. He can feel her warm breath on his back. She rolls over beside him, the familiar shifting and settling weight, but then he feels the strange sensation of the mattress stiffening, the springs releasing. He opens his eyes and sees his wife rising above the bed, inch by inexorable inch, in a thin blue light.
Table of Contents
The Hull Case 1 Brave Girl 21 The Next Life 35 Small World 49 How to be an Expatriate 70 Frogmen 82 Equal Love 96 Sales 107 Everything You Can Remember in Thirty Seconds is yours to Keep 126 On the Terraces 141 Cakes of Baby 156 Today is Sunday 170