First came the summer snow. Then all the trees in the back yard fell down, and then there was that foot-high tidal wave in the town lake. “A hiccup of the earth,” one scientist said on the news. His image was rebroadcast, thick-spectacled and blinking, spreading this geological gospel across the nation’s screens: just one of many disasters.
We were newly married. Being married felt a lot like not being married, but a little different. Like when the miniature black holes began to appear at the edge of the parking lot and my husband ran out to move his car, I cried, wait! and then hesitated, realizing that his car was now my car too, sort of, and that maybe I didn’t want it getting swallowed after all. He parked down the street and jogged back, brow damp, and I kissed him harder than I meant to: not sure if I felt relieved that he was alive, or guilty about not wanting to share a car.
One day I came home from work and found my husband lying on his stomach on the patio. He was staring at the little crop circles in the lawn. He said, “From this angle, they look like a language. I think it could be Greek.”
I looked at the lawn. I said, “It looks like a lawn.”
“No, no,” he said. “Come lie down with me. You have to see it from the ground.”
My commute that day had been hell. A traffic light had fallen at Congress and Elizabeth, impaling a Volkswagen Beetle, and the traffic stretched for miles. The authorities assured us that it had been a fluke, no connection to the snow or the trees or the tiny black holes, but no one had wanted to take chances. The rest of the way home, cars darted through intersections on squealing tires. Adrenaline still clawed through my veins.
“How was work?” I asked.
“What?” he said, vaguely. “Fine.”
I said, “Matt, did you go in at all today?”
He said, “I worked from home. I like being here when you get back.” He reached out and patted my left shoe affectionately. “Come look, honey,” he said. “Your grandmother’s Greek, isn’t she?”
I looked at my prone husband. I noticed, for the first time, a bald spot blooming at the crown of his head. He rubbed my foot through my shoe, squinting up at me with hopeful eyes, and I suddenly saw the rest of my life as a series of moments like this: moments when I would choose to either swallow my embarrassment and placate this person, or else to walk away. How love is a choice you make every day, and keep making.
Tenderly, I lowered myself to the cold flagstones, grit nestling into my blouse and skirt. My husband smiled at me. I smiled back. Our teeth were inches apart. I gripped his hand, looked out at the lawn. It looked like trampled grass, in need of a mowing.
In February, the scientists, flushed with triumph, revealed their findings. “Aliens,” they said. They said it again and again, like they couldn’t believe it. And maybe they couldn’t: the scientist’s profession is one of skepticism. They take vows, like monks in photo-negative: I will spend the rest of my life questioning everything. My own vows had contained no questions. They were a glorious proclamation: We will be one. Nothing will tear our love asunder. Love is patient; love is kind, et cetera, et cetera. Conclusions so old that no one remembered the hypothesis.
The aliens were tiny on the news. They were so small they had not even registered human beings as lifeforms. To them, we were inexplicable natural events of an alien planet, part of an ecosystem they couldn’t comprehend. The scientists loved this term, ecosystem. They said it too much, when the rest of us were still hung up on aliens. As best as they could make out, the scientists said, the aliens had been terraforming our town for their own use. They were at war with fleas and mites and, devastatingly, a termite colony beneath the Ace Hardware that wiped out half of their force of operations.
The news channel showed an image of an alien sitting on a penny for scale. It was globular, glistening and white, with little tentacles that barely spanned the dip of Honest Abe’s eye. The scientists said, “Now that we know, we can fix it.” They had linguists working around the clock, international relations people. The aliens were sorry for what they had done. They hadn’t realized. They offered, in their tiny voices, to help with the tree-replanting efforts, to erase the black holes.
But the small apocalypses kept coming to our house. The clocks all stopped. Light bulbs died and were never replaced. I came home and found my husband on the lawn, or in bed, or in the dark. The refrigerator crawling with mold. In the laboratories, the aliens drew diagrams on the head of a pin. The world was accelerating into an enlightenment age. At home, I threw the crusty sheets into the laundry and scrubbed the fridge and bleached all the pennies. But the small things kept coming, and coming, and by the time we looked to each other again, we were too many worlds apart.