I am on break from class, hidden, i think, from sight. Apparently not, because i see Alex but not before he sees me and starts over. Alex has always been big buddies with Liz and has known her even longer than i have. IDK him well enough to decide whether i even like him or not. To me he’s just another nerdy kid with a guitar who has a half-assed garage band and dreams of being a rock star and who is always in a captious mood.
I’ve been listening to something classical and i guess he is drawn by the marvelous chess game of sound. He comes over to me and stops but does not sit down.
Hey Alex, i say pleasantly.
You like Mozart? He says incredulously.
I thought everyone liked Mozart, i say.
This seems to infuriate him more. Dont talk to me about Mozart, he says petulantly. We musicians are enslaved by his memory. We’re prisoners of his memory. Prisoners of Mozart and his eighteenth century music.
I see, i say and nod. I give up any hope of assuaging him.
Dead composers! Everybody likes dead composers. When Mozart was alive they seated him with the servants. He ended up in a pauper’s grave.
Uh-huh. You dont really hate Mozart.
Consider, i say authoritatively. The psychological insight, the dramatic integrity, the musical elegance.
Does your attitude toward dead composers include more recent stuff?
It does. Same for Kobain and Hendrix and…
IG2G2 class, i say.
During the Cold War the Stasi were the East German Secret Police, one of the most effectively and successfully repressive of any such cabal in any country behind the Iron Curtain. They rivaled even the KGB for sheer brutality. Their headquarters in East Berlin was in a gray, sepulchral building on the Normannenstrasse where many went in but were never seen coming out. The Sheriff’s office in Roswell, NM is hardly that but to Maria Deluca the difference is one of trifling degree. To someone with a phobia of snakes a little garter snake the size of a shoelace looks ten feet long and hissing.
Maria has been put in Valenti’s office to wait for a half hour to soften her up before The Man himself comes in to interrogate her. She is screaming inside as she watches the overhead fan stirring up flies’ corpses on the windowsill where the paint is cracked and where Michael came in to steal a stupid key.
Valenti comes in and sits at his desk and eyeballs her. Finally he says, What RU afraid of, Miss Deluca?
A lot of things, she says carefully.
You know what i think? I think somebody’s controlling you. Controlling you thru fear. Am i right?
You think someone’s squeezing me? She says cooly. That i’m a victim of extortion?
I’m here to help you. You know that dont you?
Then tell me what has you so afraid. What you saw the night of the Crash Festival? You were there to meet who?
Nothing, she says awkwardly. Just headlights.
Was there someone there waiting for you?
IDK. I was unconscious.
Maria, we both know why we’re here, right? So what do you say we stop lying to each other. Okay?
Okay, she says.
He comes around the desk and pulls a straight chair over and sits in it assbackward facing her, to be more intimate or more intimidating or both.
Now, he says. Who is Isabel Evans?
Um, she’s a girl at school.
Why does she make you so nervous?
I’m not nervous.
Isabel and her brother Max. How well do you know them?
Uh, not well, Maria says. Not well at all.
You know, i think you and i have something in common. I never got to know my father very well either. He was a sheriff around here 40 years ago. Did you know that?
Yeah, he was. A strong man. And he had this theory, you know, about aliens. That they were real. Sounds awfully silly, doesnt it?
That’s what everybody thought. But my father was a very stubborn man. And he wouldnt let it go. He believed. And he lost his job over it. And he lost his family over it. Now i would hate to see that happen to any other family in town, wouldnt you?
Now there’s one more thing that you and i have in common, isnt there? We’ve both seen things recently that have made us start to wonder. Made us question ourselves, our beliefs. And if we share those things with each other we’re both going to feel a lot safer.
Maria is crying now. Silently, in little sobs, but she is crying. Valenti thinks he’s got her.
Now, Valenti says. Isabel Evans. She’s just a girl?
She’s a special girl, Maria says.
And what makes her so special?
Where she comes from.
Where is she from? Maria, where are they from? Where do they come from?
A very nice family, Maria says, drying her tears with the back of her hand. And like you said Sheriff, we wouldnt want to destroy any other families, would we?
Waiting with Liz and Michael and Izzie in the back lobby of the school. It’s deathly quiet now because everyone else is in class. We all have a free period and would rather be somewhere else than this sewer. There’s always a shithouse smell of ancient urine that no amount of disinfectant can completely remove. We decided to wait here for Maria. She agreed to come back here after Valenti interrogated her. If she doesnt it’ll mean she talked and then IDK what we’ll do.
Michael paces the floor, his hands jammed into his pants pockets. Liz is sitting quietly next to me. Izzie is sitting with her arms around her knees, silent as a corpse. I rarely see her this quiet so it’s easy for me to forget how vulnerable and frail she is under all the bluster.
IDK, Liz says. Maria was just, like, nervous.
Nervous like overexcited nervous? Michael says. Or so nervous she’s gonna crack nervous?
Michael, i’m sorry, Liz says. I’m not really sure what she’s gonna say. I’m not sure of anything anymore.
You’re not sure, Michael fumes. That’s fine. That’s just great.
Sit down Michael, i say.
He looks at me and finally does what he’s told.
Max, i’m sorry, Liz says. I never shouldve told Maria in the first place.
Prob’ly not, i say. But you did it because you trusted her in the first place. And you needed to tell somebody. It was only human.
So why did you tell me?
It was more than human, i say, smiling a pallid, wintry smile at her. You’re both too nervous. Maria will be fine.
Why, Max? Because you hope she’ll be?
Any of you take a psychology class? No? Sometimes under extreme stress people who are always cool and collected that everyone depends on go completely unglued and the hysterics like Maria become icy calm.
You think Maria will be icy calm?
I’m convinced of it, i say.
When Maria walks into the lobby and stops Izzie says, You lied for us, didnt you?
Like a criminal, Maria says. Because i realized what it’s like to be you.
You look awful, Isabel says.
There is an uncomfortable silence.
Maria says venomously, Yeah, thanks for saving our asses, Maria. Oh, sure Isabel. Any time.
After more silence i see that Maria is about to cry or do god knows what else and that somebody needs to do something. I walk over and stop in front of her and say, Dont ever let anyone tell you that you’re weak, Maria.
No? She says.
No, i say. You’re stronger than you know. And your greatest moment is yet to come.
I carefully embrace her and say, I’m proud of you, my human sister. You did good.
I give her the lightest of kisses on the cheek, then move back. I make the sign of the cross and say, I hereby designate you an honorary extraterrestrial. And that’s an honor that even little Miss Perfect over there…I incline my head toward Liz…that even Liz doesnt have.
Everybody laughs but me and Maria. I sit down and wait for something to happen. Maria sniffles and wipes away an inchoate tear and walks away. Liz starts to get up and walk after her and i say sharply, No! Leave Maria alone. She’s fine. Leave her alone.
Michael gets up and says, I’m outta here. Izzie drifts silently away like a ghost into the mist.
How did you know? Liz finally says.
That Maria would be okay? I didnt. I’m not a fortune teller.
But you knew!
I surmised, i say. But…
You thought she was more afraid of Valenti than you? Or more afraid of you than Valenti?
Neither, i say. I think it was because of how Izzie approached her and tried to make nice at the Crashdown. Izzie’s effort didnt amount to much, but it was something. And the timing was perfect-it was right before Valenti walked into the Crashdown that time and talked to her. Maria realized that Valenti was just trying to use her to get at us and that we’d never really done anything to her.
You’re something else, Max, Liz says.
One minute you’re sitting there like a Vulcan telling everyone to be calm and the next you’re…you’re handling Maria like some godfather talking up one of his own.
Well. If i start to get fat Like Tony Sprano, remind me not to eat so goddamn much. Liz, somebody needed to stroke Maria, a little, and no one else was doing it.
I get up and walk over and look out the window at the urine colored sun.
Do you like sunsets? I say.
Guess so. Why?
I think i’m gonna take the jeep out into the desert and look for one. Come with me, dushka. We can look at the stars and try to guess which one has my home planet.
Sure, she says. Why not?
Bring a sweater, i say. It gets bloody cold out there at night.
Yes, mother, she says.