Harry came home late. The autumn winds swirled dead brown leaves around the Brooklyn streets, along with old newspapers and an occasional hat. The chill made him shiver. It had been a miserable seven-block walk from the subway along the dark, damp streets. The closed shops and the passersby who hugged into themselves against the cold emphasized his isolation. He didn't know how he could explain his absence, and dreaded Becky's reaction.
"You're home," she said, staring at him framed in the doorway. "Where in God's name have you been? What happened to you?"
He flinched at her questions and felt unsure of himself, but there was no place else he could go. He walked past her into their apartment.
Becky kept up the barrage. "For God's sake, say something. You can't just walk in after four days and not tell me what's going on. Are you sick? Get out of those damp clothes and put on your robe. I'll make some coffee. I was frantic. The police are looking for you. What happened?"
Harry was dismayed to hear about the police, but began to relax in the warmth and familiarity of his home. Even Becky's persistent questions seemed normal and comforting to him. What do I say to her? Will she understand? It's crazy. Who could believe me? If I heard this story I'd think I was lying. This roll is delicious. Better than the crap I've been eating. What do I tell her?
"Becky," Harry finally said after swallowing a bit of the roll, "I don't know where I was."
Becky continued on about how worried she was; how she had told his employer, Mr. Goldstein at General Grinding, Inc., that an emergency had taken him out of town; how all the neighbors walked the streets looking for him; how the police had asked about booze and other women; if he had been despondent about anything; but soon she became silent at his words.
They looked at each other. He was the same man who had disappeared: thirty-four years old, hair still dark brown, full across his brow in small ringlets. The black-framed glasses were the same. The small scar on his chin where he had fallen as a child was the same. Nothing was different, except that he was telling her a peculiar thing.
A woman! The thought flashed like summer lightening. He was with a woman! That damned Charlotte Kaplan has finally gotten him into bed. "You miserable bastard!" she screamed. "What the hell do you mean, you don't know where you been? Charlotte the whore Kaplan! That sex machine! You were with her! Tell me the truth, Harry Rabinowitz! I'll cut her heart out, and," she sobbed, "maybe yours!"
Harry groaned. "No," he said, "nothing like that. I swear it. Listen to me. It's crazy. I don't know what to make of it."
"So tell me."
Harry closed his eyes and compressed his mouth. For a moment she thought he was going to say nothing. Then he shook his head as if against some internal argument, and began.
"Just listen. Don't speak until I'm all finished... Remember I went out to get the paper? It was still light, so I decided to go through the alley. A short trip, right? Wait'll you hear how long it turned out to be."
Now Becky's righteous indignation turned to alarm. "You were mugged? Oh, poor Harry. What did they do to you?"
Harry frowned at her. "Becky, please. Listen. You'll know everything. A man walks up to me and says, 'You're mine,' takes me by the arm, and I'm in a room."
Becky stared at him. What kind of cockamamie story is he telling me?
Seeing that she was about to speak, Harry lifted his hand, palm toward her, and said, "Wait. Listen. The room was pure white. No windows. No doors. No furniture. No lights. Nothing. Even the bastard who grabbed me disappeared. Scared? Becky I never knew the meaning of the word until this happened."
Becky, her bosom heaving, didn't know what to make of these revelations. After 14 years of marriage, she knew her man. He was not lying. Oh God. He was hit on the head, with all this wild talk.
Harry continued. "There I was, alone in this damned place, when all of a sudden my 'friend' is back. Don't ask how he did it. One minute nobody, and then, zip, somebody. I reach out to grab him, but he is very fast."
The forgotten whistling teakettle shrieked its readiness to make instant coffee. Totally caught in the monstrous story, Becky automatically shut off the flame. Who cared about coffee? Their marriage was at stake.
"He began asking me questions," Harry continued. "All sorts of things. Was I married? How many children did I have? What did I think of the situation in Romania? He kept it up. I get thirsty, he brings water without me asking. I get tired, a chair appears. Food?" He smiled hopefully at her and was rewarded with a small shift of her stern expression. "Ugh, nothing like your cooking, dearest." Her face almost imperceptibly softened. "Becky, he couldn't read my mind, but he knew things about me that..."
The doorbell rang. For a moment they sat in the kitchen, Becky staring at him, open-mouthed, not wanting to answer it, but compelled by its persistence.
"Hello Becky. We saw your light on and...." It was her sister, Sadie, and Sadie's fat husband, Morris, who had come across the street for a visit. "Thank God he's home. Harry, we were so worried...." started Sadie, but as she spoke, Morris' loud voice overrode her. "Where the hell have you been? We've been going crazy. Up to one of your damned tricks again?" Morris had never forgot the time that Harry, aged 13, took him on a shoplifting expedition. Sears-Roebuck offered plenty of opportunities to steal things useless to city boys, like fish hooks and packets of screws. Harry got away, but a store detective grabbed Morris, who had to accept the humiliation on his own. He remembered his father's expression, crestfallen with tears in his eyes. What galled Morris the most was that Harry was held up ever after as a model of virtue for him to emulate. "Be like Harry," became his parents motto, hauled out every time they spotted one of Morris' indiscretions.
Harry frowned at Morris. "Don't start, OK? A lot has happened to me. If you want to hear, sit and have some Danish, but I'm not in the mood for a tirade. Becky, make some water."
While Becky refilled the kettle and provided instant coffee and Danish pastry, Harry caught his in-laws up on his adventure. When they were finally seated around the table, except for Morris who had no chair, Harry continued.
"So. The more questions he asked, the more confused I became. What do I know about nuclear policy and world peace? Did he want to know anything I know about, like machine tools? No, everything but. I become sleepy, and a bed appears. My interrogator vanishes and I fall asleep. Excuse me. I need to go to the bathroom."
Becky, tears rolling down her round cheeks, looked at her sister, who stared, wide-eyed, back at her.
"He's gone crazy," Morris whispered. "You'd better call a doctor. I never heard such crap in my life. Who the hell does he think he's kidding?"
"But where was he?" sobbed Becky, What happened to my Harry, he should tell such stories?"
Morris opened a cabinet door. "Do you have any Manischevitz wine?" he asked, then, finding a bottle, poured some for himself. "Listen. Whatever is going on, we better let him tell it all. Becky, I always told you he was bad news."
They heard the flushing water signal that Harry would soon be back with them. Morris sat in Harry's chair and drank the wine. Harry came in, frowned at Morris, and poured some wine for the women and himself. Leaning against the refrigerator, he continued with his story.
"I wake up, still there, with no idea of where I am, or how long Im there. My friend pops in again and asks if I would like to visit Mars. Who could turn such an offer down? Would it make any difference if I did? So I said, yes, at which point a door appears. The momzer takes me by the arm and out we go."
"On Mars?" Sadie asked. "But you can't breath there. What are you telling us?" Harry poured more wine for everyone.
"Yeah," added Morris, "what a lot of crapola."
Before Harry could respond, Becky spoke up. "Morris, don't start. Don't pick on him. He's telling what happened. I want to hear."
Harry smiled at his wife. She tentatively smiled back at him.
Glaring at Morris, Harry said, "This friend in the family likes to make trouble, no? Anyway, Sadie, I asked him the same question. All he said was to never let go of him and all would be well. You can bet I held on." He smiled. "Like Becky on our wedding night."
Becky blushed and drank some wine to hide her embarrassment. They all giggled.
"Did he give you a squeeze in return?" Morris roared, and the four of them burst into laughter. Sadie poked Morris. "Cut it out," she said. "No, wait a minute," Morris continued, his laughter drowning them all out, "I've got to know. did you like it?"
This was too much for them all and they again screamed with delight. Sadie got up to wash her face, and Harry put his arms around Becky. "Not nearly as nice as you, sweetheart," Harry whispered in her ear.
Becky cuddled closer. "But what happened, Harry?"
"Well, Mars ain't what it's cracked up to be. Red sand everywhere. And bleak? You wouldn't believe it. We're making footprints all over the place. 'For posterity,' the momzer says. I say, 'It's a nice place to visit'...." His listeners shouted in unison, "But he wouldn't want to live there," and they again all howled with joy.
"Wait!" Sadie screamed over the tumult, "I laughed so hard I peed in my pants. Don't say anything until I fix myself up. I'll borrow some panties, OK, Becky?"
"Sure, why not?"
While Sadie was gone, Becky found some cold cuts in the refrigerator and made sandwiches. Morris opened a jar of pickles and found another bottle of wine.
Sadie returned, saying "Harry, what did he look like? You were abducted by an alien on a flying saucer. I thought they were all little green men with things sticking out of their heads."
"To tell the truth," Harry responded, "he just looked like a regular person. Anyway, he continued with the questions. And then, the physical. He shines a light on my chest, there's a little whirring sound, and a copy of my heart pops out. Next is my lungs, my kidneys, my gall bladder, and everything else."
"He didn't take your brain?" Morris asked. Then he answered his own question: "Of course not. What use would he have for a nothing like that?"
Sadie looked at Becky and shrugged, as if to say, "What can you do? I'm stuck with him."
"Goddamn it," shouted Harry, "can't you stop for just a minute? I go through this this craziness, and you have to pick at me. If you want to hear what I have to say, fine. If not, get the hell out of my apartment."
"Stop causing trouble," Sadie snarled at Morris. Then she turned to her sister. "Becky, you know what it's like with these two. What can you do, they're like little boys trying to see who's got the biggest wee-wee. Men? Feh."
Morris placidly munched on his sandwich.
After a moment, Harry continued. "There's not much else. We took a few more trips. The red spot on Uranus, or is it Jupiter? Who knows? We spun around in it till I got dizzy. Next, off to Pluto where, oh boy, is it cold. So, then on to Mercury, where it is a little hotter than Miami in the summer."
Everyone nodded at this wisdom.
Then, glaring at Morris, Harry said, "The momzer told me that I was a big disappointment to him"--Morris continued chewing on his food--"because they had hoped to get someone who knew the president. Anyway, I blinked, and the next thing I knew I was on the subway, coming into Church Avenue. And here I am."
"Poor Harry," Becky said, "I've read about such things in the newspapers. It happens." Then, looking at her sister, she said, "Right, Sadie?"
Sadie nodded. "Yeah, I read about two sisters, twins, such sweet-looking girls, who were kidnapped by a flying saucer. They said things happened that they couldn't print in a family paper."
Morris got up and put on his coat. "You're all crazy, but who am I to argue? C'mon Sadie. Lets get the hell out of here before he tells us the one about the golem that ate Prague."
Harry waved them out the door. "Sadie, you are always welcome, but Morris, him you don't have to roll over here. We starve to death for a week after one visit. Watch out for traffic."
Becky started to speak, but Harry picked her up like a leaf and carried her into the bedroom. "This is what I missed the most," he said.
Later, while Harry slept, Becky called Sergeant Kenny to tell him the news.
"Oh, he's home, then," the Sergeant said. "I'll call off the dogs...Where might he have been?"
"Oh, Patrick," she replied, all breathless, "he was taken by a flying saucer."
"A flying saucer, was it? What won't they think of next? Oh well, I don't care much one way or the other. More important, darling. When can we get together again?"
Harry snored. Becky blushed.
Charlotte Kaplan, tired from her four days in Atlantic City, rolled over in her sleep and smiled.
Bertram Benmeyer is a retired clinical psychologist who has taken up writing in the last few years. He has published more than 20 short stories and articles and is currently working on a science fiction novel. He enjoys listening to jazz, blues, classical, and other music.