How Squabbling Spouses Faced Their Biggest Challenge

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Loretta and Mick are driving down a lonely highway one winter night. The purr of their Tesla contrasts with the rat-a-tat of hail splattering against the windshield. On a moonless night, all they can see is a small patch of pockmarked road ahead of them. While driving, Mick turns on the radio but there is only static. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he whistles a Sinatra tune played at the cocktail party they just attended. An unlit cigarette hangs from his mouth. A few specks of dandruff nestle on the shoulders of his sports jacket.

The blackness of the night unnerves Loretta, sending goosebumps down her spine. She turns up the heater, the warm air feeling like an embrace. She starts sniffing, detecting a familiar aroma. She is about to ask him about it when…kaboom!…brakes screeching…Loretta screaming…the car spinning…airbags exploding…the car winding up angled on the gravel shoulder of the road.

“Did we hit something?” Mick cries. “Are you all right?” He sees Loretta’s bloodied lower lip.

She touches it, marveling at how it matches her bright red lipstick. “I’m OK, I think.” Mick reaches out to touch Loretta’s cheek but she recoils. “This wouldn’t have happened if you had let me drive. You drank too much at the party. You promised me you wouldn’t,” Loretta said.

“What are you talking about? I had one, that’s it.”

“Bullshit, I smell those peppermint Lifesavers. Your standard go-to when you’ve had one too many.”

“C’mon, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re a goddamn liar and you know it,” Loretta said.

“You’re driving me crazy,” he said.

“It’s a short drive, babe.” They fall silent.

A plume of smoke streams from the hood. The engine shuts off. The hail stops for the moment. With the windows closed, all they hear is each other’s short breaths. “Uh, shouldn’t we check to see what was hit?” Mick asks. He grabs a pack of pocket tissues from the glove compartment and offers one to Loretta.

“If this is a peace offering,” she said, taking it. “Maybe we should call Triple A?”

Mick grabs his phone; it feels good in his hand. “Shit shit shit.”

“What?”

“No reception, we’re in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere!”

“Try to start the car.”

The engine cranks and cranks but doesn’t turn over. “Great, we’re stranded,” Loretta says, sitting motionless.They look at each other, shrug their shoulders, open the car doors and step outside into the utter stillness of the countryside. It seems strangely warm. Shards of headlight glass scatter on the road. They hear the hoots of screech-owls sounding more ominous than amorous. Peering into the darkness, they see nothing that would explain what happened, not a wounded animal or a tree trunk on the road.

Mick puts his arm around Loretta; she leans into him. They hear a distant roar, like a subway train approaching a station. As the sound grows louder, they clamp their hands over their ears. Feeling a sudden swoosh of air, they look up and see a spacecraft hovering above them. A bright light blinds them and the sound stops. Their bodies feel weightless as they are slowly lifted up into the ship. Once inside, they see three extraterrestrials sitting in front of an array of panels blinking red, green, and amber lights. Each one is short in stature with one large eye mounted on a buffalo-sized head, a small elephant-like trunk in the middle of the face, and legs and arms so stubby as to be afterthoughts.

Loretta looks at Mick with raised eyebrows. “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” she says, her voice rising an octave.

“If you didn’t hassle me about a drink or two…,” Mick yells.

“Oh, so now it’s two drinks. Aha!”

Mick sees the three aliens staring intently at them. “What the fuck are you looking at?”

“Give ’em a break; I’m sure they’ll tell us what they want,” Loretta says.

“Right, everything’s always ok with you till it’s not.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means that you’re always smoothing things over until you blow up and then all hell breaks loose,” Mick says.

Loretta steals a glance at the aliens. “Er, maybe this is not the time to…”

“There’s never a right time. If not now, when?”

The aliens begin making grunting noises, their arms moving spasmodically. As they look at each other, their trunks simultaneously curl upward. One alien depresses a lever and a beam of light encircles Loretta and Mick, slowly lowering them out of the spaceship. As they’re descending, they look up and see the aliens staring at them, shaking their heads.

Back on the ground, Loretta and Mick watch the space ship slowly recede into the blackness of the night. “I guess we shouldn’t tell anyone about this,” Loretta says.

“You mean how we were rejected by aliens, how they didn’t even want to conduct sexual experiments on us,” Mick says with a half-grin. “You know, they’re just a bunch of babies, couldn’t deal with a bit of, ahem, mature conversation.”

“If they thought their little visit to earth would be all sweetness and light they had another think coming,” Loretta adds.

Looking up at the empty sky, Mick yells: “You picked the wrong planet, buddy.”

“Let ’em go back to whatever boring place they came from,” Loretta says.

“Right, honey, we don’t need them,” Mick adds.

They look at each other and laugh. Reaching for each other’s hands, they never felt more peaceful.

Challenger of assumptions. People worker. Recovering nihilist.

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