Like Brownies

We’re lucky we had kids before the Antiglians brought us here. All creatures, save for the most beautiful, had been sterilized upon arrival.

They placed us with other human families in a small section of the sprawling interplanetary refuge. I haven’t seen any other Earth animals, but sometimes I swear an elephant’s trumpet rises above the mix of alien sounds. My wife, Maura, shrugs. It’s all white noise to me, Noah.

Our new home is a cookie-cutter four bedroom with all the creature comforts—except a roof. I’ve gotten used to alien faces hovering above when I eat, bathe, hell, even when I take a dump, but I couldn’t stand those columns of eyeballs watching me have sex. I can only do it completely under the covers. I miss seeing Maura’s body.

Jim slams a toy Ferrari into my foot and mutters, “Sorry, Dad.”

“Ooh!” Cindy says in that way kids have when they expect their siblings to get in trouble. She clutches a stuffed puppy that reminds me of Tuppins, who died just before we left Earth.

I rub my foot. “It’s okay, but why don’t you put the car away so we can work on long division?”
“No.” Jim scowls. “I’m never gonna need it.”

I’d said the same thing to my mom when I was his age. She told me that no one in our family had ever gotten a degree, that I could be the first.

I never expected to be the last.

Jim is already on the other side of the room, chasing Cindy with the car. She trips, sending the dog flying through the air, and a group of Antiglians point their quivering, anemone-tipped appendages at my daughter. I scoop her up to shield her from their view.

“Put me down, Dad!” She wriggles free. “I’m fine.”

A thump-plop-thump outside sends the kids rushing to the window. Our trough brims with roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and a pumpkin pie. It’s always seventy-two degrees in the habitat, but it must be November on Earth. Antiglians are obsessed with customs and calendars. This is our first Thanksgiving here.

Maura helps me set the table. “Everything smells wonderful, Noah. A delicious feast with no pots and pans to scrub. What could be better?”

“It’s engineered.”

She takes a bite of stuffing. “Mmm. Well, they can engineer my food until the day I die.”
Jim scoops massive heaps of everything on his plate. I serve little Cindy.

“This is so good, but I really hope we get pizza tomorrow,” Jim says between bites. “The pizza here is out of this world.”

Maura and Cindy laugh.

“Well, technically, it is in this world. It’s out of our world.”

Jim rolls his eyes. “Not mine. Everything here is better.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d backpacked through the Rockies. Eaten a peach fresh off the tree.” My voice catches. “You’ve never even seen the ocean.”

“Yeah?” Jim glares. “Well at least here I—”

“Boys! Quiet.” Maura almost never raises her voice.

“Sorry, Mom,” Jim mumbles.

She turns to me. “Do you have something to say, Noah?”

“I thought you wanted me to be quiet.”

Maura mutters something about stubborn, old mules, and I feel like an ass.

“Sorry.” I kiss her cheek.

“Scoundrel,” she says with a shake of her head.

“Who wants to play shuttle racer on the Holo after dinner?” I ask.

Jim grins. “You’re going down, Dad!”

He makes good on his threat. We all play until the sleeping signal flashes.

The kids scamper off to their bedrooms so they’ll be rested for the morning petting session: two hours in a pen while the Antiglians feed us treats that taste like brownies. Those who put on a show get the most.

I don’t dance.

Maura settles into bed while I toss and turn.

“Noah?” She yawns. “Did you skip your sleep aid?”

“Yeah. I feel like thinking.” I stare at the sky. With the artificial lights, it never gets dark enough in the enclosure to see the stars. A couple Antigilans skitter by above, tentacles entwined.
“Earth again? I don’t know why you romanticize the place. You had to wear a bulletproof vest to go outside and scrounge for food.”

I snuggle against her. “Don’t you remember when we used to sit on the dock, dip our toes into the water, and listen to the loons?”

“We were teenagers.” She turns to face me and takes my hands. “Don’t you remember the stench of the dead fish? The loons didn’t last much longer.” Her voice fades as her eyes close. “It’s Thanksgiving. We’re together, and I’m thankful…”

Restless, I head toward the family room. Everyone was allowed to bring one memento, and I chose my college degree. I need to hold it, to feel like a Bachelor of Mathematics, not some exotic novelty.
Halfway down the hall, I slip and land with a thud. That stupid Ferrari. I stifle a curse, hoping I hadn’t woken anyone up. Whimpers and soft footsteps grow closer. Damn.

“Daddy.” Sobbing, Cindy throws her arms around me.

“Shh, baby. It’s okay.”

“The noises.” She pulls back, eyes wide with fear. “Are the soldiers here?”

“No, sweetheart. They’re light years away. They can’t hurt us.”

I carry her back to her room, tuck her in, and place the dog in her arms. “You’re safe.” I stroke the silky wisps of her hair until her eyes flutter closed. “You’re safe.”

Last Thanksgiving, we shared a can of room-temperature soup. The hollows of Tuppins’ ribs danced like tiger stripes in the light of our only candle—spring blossom scent or something like that—so artificial it made me queasy. I hadn’t even seen a goddamn flower since before Cindy was born. She’ll be five soon.

They gave us a cake for Jim’s birthday. The kids’ faces were round and happy as we sang, their voices clear and strong. Back in my own room, I pull the covers up to my shoulders. Tomorrow, I’d teach Cindy to add. I could use pizza to explain fractions.

I turn back to Maura, sleeping sweet and peaceful, close my eyes, and remember her words.
We’re together, and I’m thankful.

I’ve always liked brownies.

Michelle Kaseler is a software engineer by trade, but can be whatever she wants to be when she reads and writes. A two-time Boston Marathon qualifier, the only thing that matches her enthusiasm for creating stories is running. And cheesecake.

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