The First Time My Father Saw Venusians
The first time my father saw Venusians, he was waiting in line to apply for unemployment benefits.
The first one, a 'man' standing ahead of him in the queue, wore a jean jacket in the dead of June. That was the first sign, but what really gave him away was his penchant for glancing back over his shoulder. Then there was the 'woman' that got in line just behind Dad; he could tell she was an undercover Venusian because her hair was dyed red, “red like a stop sign,” even though she had to be at least sixty. Once the 'security guard' started eyeing him up and down, it became clear the Venusians had planned an ambush. He got out of there without a second thought. It’s been nearly a decade now since Dad's had a real job, but he's never gone back, never seen a penny from Uncle Sam.
The second time my father saw Venusians was not long after that, at our family's ritual Sunday dinner. We were at a Ruby Tuesdays, or an Applebee’s, some generic place like that. I was talking about my college applications, but Dad was preoccupied; he was having a hard time, I would later learn, identifying the Venusians in the restaurant. . . at least until a roar of exuberant laugher erupted from the table nearest ours.
A wide-eyed expression formed on his face; this look that read confusion and shock all at once. (His face would get stuck that way afterwards, just like Mom used to say mine would when I'd make funny faces at Sissy.)
He turned towards the offending party and shouted: “Laugh, assholes, laugh!”
My mother was mortified. My sister’s cheeks turned bright pink. But the folks at the table didn’t react at all. Didn’t even flinch, just carried on chatting. My father's unprompted outburst was so absurd, so unlikely, they probably just figured they'd heard wrong; that whatever this odd man was shouting about had nothing to do with them at all.
Either that, or they really were Venusians. Who knows.
A few days after that, Dad asked me for a ride to the pharmacy—his car had been repossessed by the Venusians, of course. I figured he had to pick up his blood pressure medication, but he didn't bring any little orange bottles back to the car with him.
"Look, Dicky," he said, opening the pack of photographs. "Look what the aliens do to the clouds." I felt a cold knot in my gut. He flipped from one photo to the next, explaining how the Venusians had shaped them into signs and symbols.
"They're giving me the middle-finger in this one."
All I saw was clouds.
"This is in the shape of the Devil. See the horns?"
"They even turn the clouds into porno!"
But I didn't see any pornographic clouds, only regular ones.
"Those are nice pictures," I said. "But they're just clouds."
He fell silent. A slight trace of horror tinged that perpetual expression of his, that vague look of shock and confusion. He put the photos away and stared out the window for the rest of the ride. He rushed into his room when we got home; I remember hearing the soft click of the door locking behind him.
The next day, my father told me I was a Venusian. He pointed a stiff finger at me, and said, "I know what you are, okay? So you better back off, you better leave me alone."
"That's crazy," I said, and his eyes got even wider. He started to shout, sending spittle at my face. I just kept saying, "I'm your son, I'm your son."
It wasn't working. Once he started jabbing his finger against my chest, I got nervous. I had to try something else.
"If I'm an alien," I said, forming the words in spite of the quivering lump in my throat. "Then how do I remember going to the beach, you and me, when I was small enough to sit on your shoulders?" That memory felt further away than time could account for—as far away as if it had never been mine at all. I wondered if it felt the same way for him.
He softened. Backed away. Stood there blinking for a while, then went and locked himself in his room again.
"You're not one of them, Dicky," Dad admitted later. He never apologized, just adjusted his accusations. "But they control what you say, what you do," he said. "Like they control the clouds."
"You need help, Dad."
"See," he said. "Like that. They're making you say that."
Then it was my turn to lock myself in my room. We started taking turns—Mom, Sissy, and me—caring and not caring, being there and being anywhere else. It was the only way.
Dad wept when the Venusians with guns and badges came for him. He thought they had really gotten him this time, that they'd take him back to their mothership and do God-knows-what to him. But they just left him at a psychiatric hospital.
He was there for a week. They pumped him full of injections, gave him pills that knocked him out for fourteen hours a day. After day three or so, he didn't see any more Venusians. And he didn't see any for a few weeks after he got out. But they came back, eventually. They always come back.
Years later, after the third trip to the hospital (but before the fourth), Dad wrote himself a check and took five hundred dollars out of my mother's bank account. He bought a one-way ticket to New York City and didn't tell anyone. We filed a missing persons report. We checked hospitals and jails for five days. At the end of the sixth day, we heard a knock at the door, and there stood my father: tired, haggard, and hungry. My father, with a black eye, bruised knuckles and a dry wound on his lip. My father, sad and pathetic.
I took him in my arms and said, "Don't ever do that again."
Sissy wasn't home. Mom was relieved, but too angry to talk to him. It was her turn to lock herself up.
He told me he'd only had enough money for a Greyhound back to Miami, and he hadn't eaten in two days. I microwaved some leftovers and sat with him as he ate. I sat in the way one sits when they want to make it clear they are waiting. It felt like a long time before he spoke.
“What did you do?” I said. “What did you do?”
He told me about the first time he saw Venusians. And the second, and the third, and many other times after that. He told me they had been bombarding him with rays from outer space, hot energy that makes his bones hurt. He said they had commanded him to go to New York City to meet one of their agents, that they'd told him this through the television, and that these demands had come with a threat: if he didn't show up, they would bombard the entire world with the same rays—only much stronger—and that would be the end of everything.
"I couldn't let them do that," he said, staring blankly over my shoulder. "I couldn't let them end the world with you still in it."
I took a good look at him then—at the old, broken man he had become—and I saw what the Venusians had done, what their work had sown. I saw cheeks too hollow for a wife's kiss; a gaze too distant for a daughter to recognize. I saw shoulders too feeble, too weak to bear the weight of a son.
And I tried to remember, but could not recall, the last time I had seen my father.
Michael Garcia-Juelle is a writer, student, and teaching assistant in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami, FL. His work has been published by Nanoism, Shotgun Honey, Typehouse, and others. He writes because the power of writing mystifies him, and he loves a good mystery.