Anyway, it’s not like I’ve never gotten a parcel before, it’s just that this is the type where you keep going back to the mailbox to see if it’s arrived. Like, every day.
“Roland, shit. Stop with the mailbox and read this paper with me.” Uncle splays his legs on the step so that I have no where to sit. I eye the mailbox. “Look, the meeting is going to happen tomorrow. It’s kind of a big thing, Roland. The President is going to meet our new friends on the lawn of the White House. Can you imagine that?”
“My shit is a big deal too, Uncle. It really is.” I run to the mailbox and open it. Empty. I race back to Uncle. He’s shaking his head. “I’m going for ice cream.”
It’s funny how you wait for some things and get impatient, other things you wait for your whole life, no problem. And a few things – well, they’re already happening, you just don’t know it, so you’re not waiting or being impatient. You’re just already there. I walk down the street, everyone’s reading about the meeting. Only it’s called The Meeting now. Is that like my walk is to The Ice Cream? Or when I go to the bathroom it’s for The Shit?
At the ice cream place, I take maple walnut and wait until it’s half-melted before I start eating. In the street, a van is driving slowly, loudspeakers blaring about the end of the world. “It’s not the end of the world!” I scream. “It’s just a bunch of spacemen!”
The ice cream falls off the cone. The van keeps rolling. I go in and beg for another scoop, as though they gave me the first one improperly, it’s amazing what you can get away with when people are spooked.
Overhead, fighter planes soar over the block, so low and fast that the windows buckle like they’re trying to figure out if they should just break. I throw a rock at one, and it shatters. “It’s the airplanes!” I cry, then I laugh. Anyway, the parcel I’m waiting for is a worm I ordered from Jamaica, like one of those pet worms. Lifespan of 3 years, if you can believe it. Hardly have to provide for it at all, just give it some grass now and then and occasionally scoop its waste. Give it a glass bowl to scoot around in. Teach it a few tricks.
An old woman comes up to me. “This is going to change everything,” she mutters. “We’re in days of post-disclosure. Do you know what that means?”
“All the movies were wrong? I mean these guys almost look like us. I mean, their ships are big and blocky, not sleek at all. They’re boring, lady.”
Her eyebrows arch. “That is blasphemy. Blasphemy! Show respect to our new friends. They have come from a long way to help us.”
“Or to eat us. Or vaporize us. Whatever, lady. Tomorrow’s going to be the same day as always. I’ll smoke weed. Some drunk homeless guy’s going to ask me for money. I’ll dream about a girl I can’t have. Run out of toilet paper, find a hole in my socks, stub my toe. There’ll be a twister somewhere. A bunch of car accidents. All our wars? Well they’ll just keep on going, you know? Same thing as yesterday. That’s all.”
“This changes everything,” she insists, leaning in.
“The hell it does,” I tell her. “Now out of my way, could be my new worm is at home.”
The apartment’s empty, though. A note reads ‘gone to the church to pray for the President’, and I think what, are the aliens going to eat him? In my bedroom, there’s a magazine with ordering instructions for the worm. I wrap it around my nose and inhale.
Out the window, people are reading the papers. They’re looking at the sky. I take a nap, and get up to eat, then go back to bed. No one’s back yet. Must be a lot of praying to do.
Next morning, the streets are empty. Everyone’s watching the meeting on the White House lawn. I’m running to the mailbox. Inside, there’s a box. It’s about the size of a phone. Says it’s from Ethiopia, which is not Jamaica. Ethiopia is just not and never has been Jamaica.
Inside the wrapping, there’s a big matchbox with holes in it, plus a note showing me how to care for the little guy. I open the box. Sidney is about four inches long, and as thick as my thumb. You’d think he was a caterpillar, the way he moves, but he doesn’t have legs. He’s just quick, that’s all.
“Hi,” I say to him. “I’m Roland.”
“Where is everyone?” he asks.
“They’re pre-occupied, is where. Full disclosure was three months ago.” I scratch my nose. “Welcome to post-disclosure.”
“Put me on your shoulder.”
I do, and we walk down the street. It’s empty, like I own this city, me and Sidney. For a while, we do own the city, I guess. There’s not even any cars.
“So,” says Sidney, “what do you want to do today?”
We go to the park and play on the grass. He eats a bit of it. Eventually, he asks if he can crawl around in me, and I tell him sure. I put him at one nostril and suddenly he says ‘watch this!’ and he’s crawling up one nostril and out the other. “Floss your nasal cavity!” he dares me, so I go ahead and do it, careful not to pull him apart but he just says don’t worry about it, “If you break me, I’ll grow out again, I’m good that way. Ethiopian, you know.”
“Not Jamaican?” I ask him.
“Hey, come on,” he says, offended. “Say, have you ever seen an alien?”
“Only on television.”
“Okay. Give me some weed.”
We do it in the middle of the street. I take my clothes off and roll around on the asphalt. He slides over a sewer grate, pretending like he’s going to fall through, giggling the whole time. Sirens should be ringing. People should be shouting. But there’s nothing. Noon comes, and nothing.
“Let’s go home,” Sidney tells me. He sits on my shoulder as we walk. Sometimes, he pats my ear.
In the apartment, everyone’s watching the television. Their mouths are open. On the screen, stuff is happening. People are talking. Same thing as happened yesterday. Same thing as going to happen tomorrow, you can be sure of it.
“This is Sidney,” I tell everyone. “He’s going to be living with us now.”
“Hey family,” says Sidney. “It’s great that you can take me in like this. If you ever see a slime trail on the carpet, it wasn’t me! Just going to tell you that now, before things get awkward.” They’re all still watching the television. “Because you know, it’s snails that leave trails…”
I raise my voice. “So what happened?”
My dad looks at me. He shakes his head. “They ate the President.”
“They say they need to be fed to greet us properly. So they ate him. I don’t think they’re going to eat anyone else, though.”
“Okay. So what are they going to give us?”
“They haven’t got to that yet.”
I yawn. Sidney yawns too. We go to my bedroom and close the door.
“I don’t get it,” says Sidney. “Is it really worth turning everyone’s lives upside down just because some thing happens? We still have to live our lives, right?”
“I know!” I reply. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the splash pad. I’ll get you a bathing suit. Then we can go for tacos. You can hide under my hat. I bought a hat to hide you in. I don’t usually wear them, but I got one.”
“You bought a hat for me? To hide your worm?”
Outside, everyone moans together, a long echoing noise that turns into screams and then sobbing.
“Yeah,” I tell him, letting him snuggle against my cheek as the noise of those people rises and falls again, like this isn’t just a Thursday in May, the day I got my worm.