The woman was out-of-the-box, no-assembly-required gorgeous. Though technically, her face shouldn’t have worked. In a serendipitous mix of Asian and Slavic features, her chocolate-almond eyes were just a little too widely spaced and set above impossibly high cheekbones. Her aquiline nose charged boldly down the sharp angles of her face toward a set of lips that stretched rather cheekily across a delicate jawline. But somehow, she managed to fudge the numbers to achieve the sublime.
His bar manager, Suki, sidled up to him, catching him off guard. “You could always go and talk to her, you know. You do own the place.”
“Very funny, Suki. Didn’t you know that the expression ‘to be out of one’s league’ was minted specifically for occasions like this. And she is well and truly out of my —”
And then it happened. The mystery woman sealed his fate with a simple smile; it was all the encouragement he needed. He knew that any romantic overture could spiral off in any one of a million horrible directions; even with her wonky math, she was truly greater than the sum of his parts. Not that his parts were without their own appeal. With a playfully sly grin and cheeky gleam in his eye, he was by no means a stomach-turner. But he wasn’t necessarily a head-turner, either. Yet there’s an incredible sense of freedom you got from not being God’s gift to women.
Morrissey shifted his charisma into first gear and casually made his way to her table. He decided to start with something from The Classics. “Hello,” was always a good icebreaker, followed up with a splash of honesty. “You know, I’ve been rehearsing what I’d say to you if I ever managed to work up the courage.”
An eternity passed before she spoke. “Really? And what have you come up with?” Her voice was honey.
Morrissey shook his head nonchalantly. “A few platitudes, some faint praise, but most of it is absolute gibberish. I’m usually completely intimidated by beautiful women.”
Self-deprecation was a tricky manoeuvre, one if not performed artfully could result in complete emasculation. Luckily enough, she seemed to be playing along. “Then I must not be trying hard enough since you are, in fact, talking to me.”
“Don’t get me wrong — you’re a passably handsome woman, to be sure,” he said, taking refuge in the cocoon of sarcasm.
“Is this what you call flirting?”
“It’s what I call flirting. Others may beg to differ. In all honesty, I’m secretly hoping that you’re already attached.”
She eyed him quizzically. “Why would you go to all the trouble of approaching a strange woman only to hope she’s unavailable?”
“It all comes down to pressure — and the art of avoiding it. That’s one of the things you’re either going to love about me or absolutely detest. Rejection I can handle — rebuilding my self-esteem is sort of a hobby of mine — but if a beautiful woman accepts your overture, well, that’s when the performance anxiety really kicks in.”
“You are a peculiar fellow, aren’t you.”
“It’s best you know upfront.”
“And this technique, it works with women?”
Morrissey leaned in closer. “You tell me.”
The woman smiled. As if it couldn’t get any better. “You do have a certain…charm about you.” She extended her hand, her touch warm and electric. “My name is Kiki. Kiki Pashmina.”
“I’m Dave. Dave Morrissey.”
“Alright then, Dave,” she said as she tossed back the carafe of Coke in one gulp. “Do you think you can handle the pressure of buying me another drink?”
He gave her a sly wink. “If you play your cards right, I could probably get us a staff discount.”
“You are a smooth talker.”
Morrissey nodded, somewhat proudly. Sometimes he surprised even himself.
Morrissey was seven when he first suspected that the world didn’t fit him quite right. Two sizes too big or two sizes too small, he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that planet Earth pinched him in all the wrong places. Discovering this uncomfortable truth wasn’t like when you learn there is no Santa Claus, or that In The Beginning, Man created God and not the other way around. No. The truth had hit him very much like the tight, smelly fist of a schoolyard bully called Norman Riley.
The fight, if you could call it that, didn’t last long; a three against one attack rarely does. Why do thugs always travel in threes? But Morrissey managed to get off one good shot that seemed to make his point. After that, he spent most of the time blocking Norman’s punches with his nose while his henchmen pinned Morrisey’s arms.
Later that night, he sat at the dining room table, silently pushing peas around his plate while his mum sat patiently opposite. She was too good at mothering to force him to talk before he was ready, but he knew she couldn’t go on pretending he didn’t have an entire tissue box bunged up his nose to stop the bleeding.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she said softly.
Morrissey shrugged the question away without meeting her gaze. Finally, he answered. “Norman Riley is a wanker.”
His mum suppressed a grin. “Davey! You can’t call him that.”
“Well he is. He’s a bully and a wanker.”
“But he’s never picked on you before.” A twitch of worry flickered across her face. “He hasn’t, has he?”
Being the new kid in town made Morrissey easy prey in Norman’s book, having only recently moved to London from a small town south of Sheffield. Up until now, he’d been able to avoid the brunt of Norman’s torments; there were plenty of other victims further down the food chain. “No. I can usually stay out of his way.”
“But not today?”
“Not today.” Today, Norman had come at him with a full-on purpose. Kids can be horrible to one another, and Norman excelled at horrible. “He said…he said things.”
His mum tried to defuse the situation with one of her tender smiles. “People say things all the time, Davey. Doesn’t mean we have to start fights over them.”
Morrissey glared. “Does it look like I started the fight?”
“No, but — “
“It was about you.” The words came rushing out, unbidden. “He said things about you.”
She stiffened. “What…sort of things?”
Morrissey replayed the scene over in his head, complete with Norman’s malicious glee at having spread the poison. “He said you and his mum got into an argument at the Co-Op. Didn’t you just say that we can’t go around starting fights?” His mum looked away, sheepishly. “He said the fight was about whether or not UFOs are real. How is that even worth fighting about? He said you told her you’d seen one, that you’d even seen an alien.” His mum’s fascination with extraterrestrial phenomena was no secret to him; they’d often make a game of it as they looked up at the stars. Sometimes, when they were out in public, they would play a game of spot the alien, playfully pointing out likely candidates who could be extraterrestrials amongst the passersby, making up fantastic planets complete with complex races and civilisations. But that was a game. Their game. Norman had turned it into something vile and twisted. “He said you were a crackpot. A freak. A mental case.” Morrissey turned his eyes up from his plate, fighting the well of tears. “Is it true? Did you see one — an alien?” His words felt sour and accusatory on the way out.
His mum blanched. Morrissey could tell she was struggling for just the right answer. “That’s silly, Luv. Why would I say that?”
“Why would Norman say that? He’s not smart enough to make something like that up. Is it true?”
She took too long to answer. “I’m so sorry, Luv, I really am. It’s something I don’t like to talk about.”
Warren A. Shepherd was seven when he first realized the world didn’t fit him quite right. Two sizes too big or two sizes too small, he couldn’t be sure. But having been transported from the streets of London, England to the streets of Toronto, Canada at such a young age left him with a profound sense of alienation — a boy with one foot in each world yet belonging in neither. The experience, however, did sharpen his sense of self-awareness and made him a keen observer of the human (and not-so-human) condition.
When he sees what humankind is capable of, both the good and the bad, he imagines how we would cope amongst the stars and is driven to tell stories of strange new worlds to try to explain the one that he often cannot.
After all, it takes an alien to know an alien…
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