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Eyelet You Go

H.L. Fullerton writes fiction--mostly speculative, occasionally about aliens--which is sometimes published in places like Lackington's, Persistent Visions, and Daily Science Fiction.

At the party someone, I forget who--we were all wasted by then--asked, What's the funniest item of clothing you've ever worn? It wasn't quite the non sequitur it sounded. Gertie had decorated her place with those cheesy conversation starter napkins. You know what I'm talking about--the ones with screwball questions or ubiquitous dares scrawled across them, the kind that don't actually pick up a spilled cocktail, but dissolve into doughy clumps that leave colored smudges on your hands and clothes. Those.
She'd squealed when she saw them in the party store, did the same dance my dog does when he has to go outside. She grabbed my arm and said, We need these for Friday. They're like so lame they're ironic, don't you think?
I think you don't know what 'ironic' means, I said.
Don't be like that, Chantal. Later, she told me she meant 'kitschy.' I pretended not to know what she was talking about. I'm like that sometimes.
Which was why I was also pretty sure the napkin read "funnest clothing item" (though it should've been "most fun," if one wanted to go all grammar-like) and not "funniest," but whatevs. Drunk people, amirite?
Fun, fun, funniest: an eyelet lace baseball cap.
Everyone laughed, trying to imagine me wearing something like that. Truth? I didn't even remember having it until the question was asked. Then the photo my mom took of my sister and I wearing them, standing in front of the garage of all things--flashed in my head. My sister wore hers bill front. I wore mine backwards, gansta style. The back had a round hole puckered by a wide white ribbon tied into a tight bow--so someone could fuck with your head.
I got mad, thinking about them. Wished I could remember who'd sent them. Ask her WTF she was thinking, sending lace baseball caps to Little-League playing eight-year olds. Tell her that photo was the only time we ever wore them. Tell her we didn't need your judgy, patri-archaic, gender-conforming nonsense. Sweet is for suckers.
I was the only no. Why wouldn't you go? everyone said. You'd pass on an alien joyride?
First off, how would I know the aliens were issuing an invitation? You think aliens speak English? I said. Besides, you don't know where they'd take you or if they'd even bring you back. Maybe they're on a hunting trip and you're the catch of the day.
You're taking the question too seriously, Gertie said. It's asking whether you're open to adventure. She crawled on her hands and knees towards me. Be adventurous. Say yes to the aliens, Chantal.
I think the real problem was no one else took the question seriously enough. These friends of Gertie's would take candy from a serial killer if he had a cool enough ride.
Refusing to see the danger doesn't mean it's not there. But I let it slide. It was a party. Gertie wanted all her friends to like me. Be fun, fun, adventuresome. Fine, I'd let aliens take the whole lot of 'em for a spin.
(Except for Gertie. The bugbots can't have her, too.)
Gertie said her phone. Said she'd die without it. Told the story about the time she and Alvin broke up because she left it in an airport bathroom and caught the next flight home rather than stay in Cancun without it.
Alvin picked a sex toy. Told Gertie he'd share if she wanted. Gertie laughed and told her ex he could keep his, she wasn't sharing her phone with anyone.
I said, pry bar. There was a lot of eye rolling and don't be such a tool guffaws.
A pry bar isn't something to make fun of. I could dismantle the world with a large enough one. Take it apart piece by piece then burn the lace baseball cap bits.
You know what else is a device? A ray gun.
Bet your joy-riding, adventurous aliens won't be caught dead without them.
My sister and I never stopped letting people fuck with our heads and accepting it like the whole world is some funky, ironic photo shoot. Our mom should've taught us to say, No, thanks. Showed us how to decline gifts we didn't want instead of keeping them just because some jerk scrawled our names across it.
Dear Aliens:
No, I would not like a ride in your unidentified flying object, but it was very kind of you to ask. Please have this special hat as a token of my appreciation--the hole goes in back.
P.S. Gertie also sends her regrets.
Trust me to pick the lamest napkin. I crumpled it into a ball and threw it at Gertie. She uncrumpled it, read it, and tossed it back at me, eyes at full plead. Your turn, Chantal, she said.
If I read the napkin I picked, Gertie would lie. She wouldn't say Alvin. I wouldn't say Aliens. No one would tell the truth and it'd be like we were all capping our memories in eyelet lace to pretty them up. Pretty is for parrots.
I made up my own conversation starter: If you could be anywhere you wanted, where would you be?
Alvin said Cancun. Stella wanted In-N-Out Burger. Gertie said she'd stay right here and everyone hug-tackled her for being so sweet.
Me, I'd be back in front of that garage, sporting an eyelet cap, mugging it up with my sister. I'd stop her from smiling. Tell her a hard stare and a good frown might be all that stands between you and peril. That just because someone asks doesn't mean you have to say yes. Adventure is the promise of all captors.
But out loud, for Gertie, for her guests, I said, The bathroom and crawled down the hall to piss.
Alvin cornered me before I could. You know what your problem is, Chantal?
Finally a question worth answering. Yeah, I wanted to say. My sister got on that stupid alien ship and they never brought her back and you idiots would jump on it just like her without a second's thought. Worse, you want to take Gertie with you and I still have stupid matching lace baseball caps hanging in my closet and people like you who want me to wear them. But the answer I gave Alvin was: You're in my way. From the look on his face, he knew I was right.
I crawled past him, thinking, Don't roll over. Be the lever, not the wheel.
In the bathroom's oval mirror, flashing colored lights gave me a flickering halo, like I'd lost a circuit or two. When the walls rumbled so hard plaster cracked, I knew it was neither police car nor ambulance arriving.
From the living room, came muffled cries of surprise and shouts of awesome cool. I froze. Pictured Gertie and Alvin and all the rest piling outside, not yet sober enough to recognize danger when it flashed in front of them.
Say no! to the aliens, I screamed. Say no, Gertie.
I yanked open the bathroom door and ran down the hall of Gertie's empty apartment, thinking a pry bar would be a handy device right about now. Better than selfie-taking phones (whose flashes I could see through the front windows lighting up the courtyard.) I hurried, hurried to stop Gertie from sweetly saying yes to an adventure.
Outside, the UFO was already lifting off, its colored lights gone dark. My foot caught on something and plastic skittered across the pavement. The ground was littered with phones. I fell to my knees, searching for Gertie's amongst them, wondering what that her final image would look like. How long this new photo would haunt me.
Hey, Chantal! You made it to the afterparty. That was Gertie's voice.
I looked up and there she was. I could barely believe it. You didn't go? I thought you wanted to be adventurous.
She held up her favorite device. They wouldn't let me take my phone. Ironic, right?
Sure, I said, even though she was still misusing the word. Totes ironic.
And, Gertie said as she helped me find my feet, can you imagine what would happen to you if I wasn't around...? Face it, Chantal, you totes need a keeper. Luckily, you got me.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 13th, 2017

Author Comments

Ever wonder about napkins that don't napkin properly or what the niche market for lace baseball caps is or how gifts can be burdens and when politeness might cause harm or why friendships work between seemingly disparate personalities?

I do--and then I add aliens and write a story about it.

- H. L. Fullerton
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