The Martian at the Diner

liftarn_Warning_for_aliensAlice sat at the table across from him and tried to pretend he didn’t exist.  This was correct behavior, because, of course, he didn’t actually exist outside of her head.  Still, the Martian stared at her, watching her eat her syrupy pancakes bite by bite.

With long, red fingers, the Martian fiddled with a metal fork.  The sound of tapping on the formica table echoed in Alice’s ears, but no one else looked up from their breakfast at the diner.

“How do you even know what a Martian looks like, honey?”  He narrowed his slit-like eyes, pressing the lids into a thin line.  “It’s not like you’ve ever seen one.”

“Of course I haven’t, they don’t exist.”  Alice answered him in her head between bites.  The sweetness of the meal calmed her nerves and she took another bite.

“Then, how do you explain me sitting here?”

“I read a book last night about an alien invasion and the descriptions stuck in my head.”  Too late, Alice realized she’d said that last sentence out loud.  She put a sticky hand over her mouth, and her eyes widened as a baseball-capped trucker at the counter turned to give her an appraising look.

“Alien invasion?”  His face was all graying hairs and acne scars, but a grin of perfect, white teeth broke through that, and Alice saw that once upon a time he must have had another, easier life.  The Martian snorted and made a rude comment about the trucker as the man tipped his hat to their table, grabbed his plate and coffee cup, and made to slide in on the Martian’s side of the booth.  Being not actually there, the Martian didn’t have a choice, and was squished against the large-windowed wall like a folded up bug.  Alice chuckled.

“So, alien invasion?”  The trucker carefully set his plate and cup down and flashed that fantastic smile once again.  “I like those stories too.”

Alice dipped a cloth napkin in her water glass and used it to scrub the syrup from her hands.

“The problem is, that after I read them, I go around thinking I see aliens everywhere.”

“Maybe you do.”  The trucker lifted his ceramic mug to his face.  Alice was amazed he could even find his mouth in the middle of his wild, overgrown beard.  “In fact, I think the alien invasion has already happened.”

“Why do you think that?”  The Martian spat out, looking terribly uncomfortable pressed up against the wall.  His elongated head was tilted towards the window, and one red, pointed ear stuck to the glass like a Christmas poinsettia plants that often sat in windows during the winter.

Seeing that the trucker’s dark brown eyes twinkled, Alice laced her fingers on top of the table and said, “What if I told you there was an alien sitting next to you right now?  A Martian.”

The trucker sat back against the booth and turned to look at the Martian.  The Martian stared back, rounding his eyes now in a dare of some sort.

“Not much to look at, is he?”  The trucker carelessly aimed a thumb in his direction.  “Seems like those descriptions you were talking about need work.”

Alice laughed.  “You’re right, they do need work.”  She looked down at her bag lying next to her on the booth bench.  Inside rested five spiral notebooks and an out-of-date laptop.  The trucker’s eyes followed hers.

“I knew it,” he chuckled.  “You’re a writer, too, aren’t you?”

Alice blushed.  “They never get it right, the alien stories, and so I wanted to write one of my own.”

The trucker held up a finger and fished around in the back pocket of his jeans.  Alice held onto the edge of the table, readying herself in case she should need to run.  She’d come across many strange people during her mornings at the diner.

She didn’t need to worry.  The trucker pulled out a small notebook and flipped it open on the table next to her now empty plate.

“I write too.  Poetry.”

“Poetry?”  The Martian wrinkled the skin around a hole in his face that on a better looking being would have been a proper nose.

“Alien invasion poetry.  It’s a genre I created.  I write it on my breaks.”

Alice peeked at the title of his latest work.  “The Saga of the Space Titan.  It sounds…promising.”  She blushed as he flashed his teeth once again.  “Mine’s called The Martian in the Cornfield.  It’s a comedy.”

The trucker bit his lip.  “Say, you ever think about writing a collaborative story?”

He did have nice eyes underneath those furry brows.

“What would we write about?”  Alice pushed a wisp of her own gray-black hair behind her ear.

“Oh, please.”   The Martian rolled his eyes.

“How about a diner?  This diner?  And all the customers are actually aliens.”

“Is it a love story?”  Alice vaguely remembered brushing mascara on her eyelashes that morning.  It made her eyes look larger, more luminous.

“It could be.”  The trucker chuckled and held out his mug for more coffee as the elderly waitress on skates rolled past their booth.  She filled his cup and moved on to a group of teens in the corner.

“I know, I know!”  The Martian raised his hand in a frantic, mocking sort of way.  “How about writing The Worst Pick-Up Lines for Authors Ever?  Ever!”

“You hear that?”  The trucker nodded to Alice.  “I think he’s dissing us.”

Alice shrugged.  “He’s just mad that his book is out of print now.  I’m the first person to borrow his book from the library in over twenty years.”

“Ouch, that is rough.”  The trucker inclined his head in sympathy towards the window.  The Martian made a sulking, almost human face and curled himself into a ball.

“I’ve thought of writing him a sequel someday, to give him a better ending,” Alice offered.  “Currently he is a slave in a bottomless pit.  Tragic.”

“Maybe he should move to the diner.  Have a new life with all of the other aliens.”  The trucker pulled out a pen.  “My name’s Al, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Al.  I’m Alice.”  She yanked a notebook out of the confines of her bag.  “I think the Martian needs a girlfriend.  Maybe one of the waitresses.  He deserves some happiness in his life, don’t you think?”

“Well, you know him best.  I haven’t read his story yet.”  The trucker shrugged.

Alice looked to the sad, balled up Martian and realized he was fading.  “A new life is really what he needs.”

“Don’t we all, especially these days?  Now, first of all we need a title.”

“And an ending.  You can’t start something if you don’t know how it ends.”

Al shook his head.  “Not knowing the ending is the best part of everything.”

“Isn’t the journey the best part?”

“What does your Martian think?”

Alice regarded the last, disappearing remnants of the alien.  “I think, sourpuss that he is, he’s just happy to have a story at all.”

The two writers bent their heads over their respective notebooks and scribbled away long into the afternoon.  They parted ways, but promised to meet again the very next week, for Al had a commission that would take him through that town and he always had time for a leisurely breakfast.  That night, Alice dreamed of aliens with fuzzy beards and warm brown eyes.  Her Martian sighed over it all, but seemed content in his new existence as a million dollar stock broker who wore fancy suits, but took his meals in an old-fashioned diner where the hot coffee and pancakes kept on coming, and where a certain leggy blond on roller skates had captured his attention.

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