by Christopher James
I came here once before, when I was still with Mei, and we spent five hundred baht to drink magic mushroom milkshakes on the beach. After which we lay back and Mei claimed to see shooting stars. I don’t see them, I told her, and she shrugged and smiled. I miss Mei. Maybe why I came back.
This is where they land, sometimes, says the internet. Little green men. I’m not sure I believe in that, but am open. And if they don’t come, and all I get is a week at the beach in Thailand, is that so bad either? Petals carved into vegetable garnishes with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Purple clitoral ternatea or butterfly peas left on the pillows, though the hotel’s so cheap by all rights they shouldn’t even have legs on the beds. Incense everywhere. Warm water, hot sand, cold beer. Boat rides to snorkel spots, captained by a Swiss expat who used to sell gold till he got robbed at gunpoint, then jacked it all in and moved here. Jewellery people seldom get insurance, he explains, because it’s something new every night, or every week. He lost everything.
The ship’s assistant’s a twenty-something in a metallic bikini with tattoos of dragons covering half her back and stomach. Once, she tells me, she was diving alone and got wrapped up in the tentacles of a jellyfish the size of an armchair. Took her one hour to swim back, in pain all the way. The dragons, I realize much later, cover her scars.
Guys come by on the beach all day long with books of tats they can do very cheap, and I look at the dragons, having decided I’ll get one of my own. Henna or permanent? I hesitate. Henna. Then change my mind. Permanent instead.
Is it true aliens land here sometimes? I ask. Sure, says the former Schmuckhändler. I heard that too, says the ship’s assistant. My friend saw some, say the tattoo guys. But another man I met tells me they’re making it up because I’m a tourist. I have a theory, I tell him, that they’re not aliens, but previous inhabitants of Earth who got smart and left, and now they’ve destroyed their new planet and they want to come back to this one. No, says the man. People who see aliens here, that’s the mushrooms talking.
Either way, I sit out every night with beer and cigarettes and watch the skies. I didn’t smoke when I was with Mei. She did occasionally, and I’d complain about the taste on her lips. But after we split up I got a yen for it. The routine, more than anything. Plus the rush, of course, with that first smoke of the night. Mei worked with me, teaching art to the kids I taught English. She was perfect. Everything that’s wrong with me, she accepted it uncomplaining. My comic books, my wardrobe, my movies, my back hair, my toenails, when I eat tissue paper, when I forget to wash my stubble out the sink, that time I got drunk and put toothpaste all over the walls, all over the apartment.
I don’t remember why we broke up. It was my idea. I thought I could do even better. And then I found out I couldn’t, but now she’s happily married and has a son she loves with Down’s Syndrome. She was my only friend too. I didn’t realize at the time.
The restaurants, the beachside restaurants, start getting busy about six, when the sun goes down, and they dig torches into the ground demarcating their territory. They have red and white plastic chairs whose legs sometimes buckle, tipping drunk laughing tourists head over heels. When bottles fall in the sand they mostly don’t smash, but sometimes miraculously they do, and then the waiters pick up everyone who’s barefoot and carry them away and squat down in the sand until they’ve picked up every last shard of broken green glass. One in the morning, they let most of the candles on the tables go out, and only one or two popular places stay open. By three, those’ll be closed as well, and couples will leave at last to lie in the sand, pretending to each other they can see shooting stars.
I’m aware of all of this, but as background. I’m serious by now about looking for visitors from outer space. I only have a couple of days left here, and the internet says they come more often at the weekend.
“Hey you,” says a voice. “Take me to your leader!”
It’s the ship’s assistant, a stripy dress pulled over her bikini that makes half of her look visible against the night and the other half not.
Hey, I say to her. I pass her a beer, and she finds a chair to sit with me a while. “Any luck?” she asks.
None so far.
“I had a thought,” she tells me. “What if they don’t look like little green men? What if they just look exactly the same as people? How would you know?”
I guess I wouldn’t.
“You might have met aliens already and not even realized,” she says. Her dress has rucked up where she’s sat down and the tail of her dragon is caressing the underneath of her thigh. She looks like Mei, a little bit. Maybe. It’s been four years, and after that length of time everyone looks a little bit like everyone else.
To be honest, I admit, I doubt they really exist.
And she understands, and shrugs and smiles, and stays with me anyway, watching the skies until the sun slowly rises.
Christopher James lives, works, and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in many venues, including Tin House, McSweeney’s, Smokelong Quarterly, and Wigleaf. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.