She remembered being a shy, quiet little girl, browsing in the mom and pop record store with her older brother, who was a huge music buff. He especially loved vinyl, and this particular music shop had a large selection of used records. He would wander away to peruse the bins while she explored the store, entertaining herself by thumbing through the CDs and playing with the knickknacks for sale.
She found herself entranced by the artwork on the fronts of the albums. Sometimes an artist would feature a photo of themselves or their band, and those were interesting for a second, but her favorites were the CDs designed like tiny, colorful works of art, with paintings that told a story. She wondered how one might come to have a career in the field of musical artistry.
She paused to study the plastic key chains the store was hoping to sell as impulse purchases, by the presently empty front of the store. They were shaped like aliens, and they glowed in the dark. Their large, hollow eyes stared back at her, and their hands were raised in spooky extraterrestrial greetings.
There was nobody else around, and the man who had been following her around the store (who thought she didn’t notice him) finally decided to come over to talk to her. She thought it was odd, an adult wanting so strongly to speak to an eight-year-old girl, but people were odd. There was a lady a few houses down from her own who chased kids out of her yard by throwing figs from her fig trees at them, and that was pretty odd too, but nobody seemed very bothered by her.
He smiled at her, catching her eye as he’d hoped, opening up the conversation. As she held onto the plastic yellow-green alien, and turned it over in her hand, he asked her if she liked aliens.
She hadn’t really thought about it before that moment. She supposed she liked them okay. “Sure,” she replied.
“What do you think aliens eat?” he asked.
She thought about this for a minute. Never having thought much about aliens at all before this moment, she tried to imagine what they would serve for dinner.
A starry sky popped into her head, and a spaceship. She pictured the spaceship flying through the galaxy, and wondered what would be out there in the great beyond for aliens to farm for sustenance.
“Clouds,” she answered. “I think aliens eat clouds.”
He smiled at her again. “I think you’re probably right about that, sweetie. What’s your name?”
She hesitated to say anything more. He had moved closer and was now looking at her intensely. It had started to make her uncomfortable. “I’d better go find my brother. He’s probably wondering where I am.” She scanned the store, trying to find him quickly.
“I could buy you that alien key chain if you’d like it. If aliens eat clouds, do little girls eat candy? I have candy in my car outside,” he said, pointing to a battered, old beige car she could see parked outside through the storefront window. He grinned widely, trying to be playful, but all she saw was teeth. Rows of big white teeth. She looked up to meet his eyes. His eyes weren’t smiling anymore.
She turned, shaking his hand off her arm as she ran to the back of the large building, quickly spotting her brother browsing near a wall. She ran to him, frightened and babbling about the man with the teeth and the clouds and the aliens.
He rolled his eyes and told her to stop being so dramatic. Aliens didn’t have big teeth, stupid. She tried to explain what she meant, but he was tired of listening to her nonsense, and walked away to pay for the records he’d found that day. He couldn’t wait to get home and listen to the old vinyl by the band The Church that he’d found. What a score. He loved their song, “Under the Milky Way” and couldn’t wait to hear it come to life on his vintage record player.
She stayed close behind him for the rest of their time shopping, and for the walk home. The man was gone from the front area of the store where she’d held the plastic alien, and the car he’d pointed to – the car with the candy – was gone when they stepped outside. She almost wondered if she’d made up the entire incident. She felt ashamed for being unkind to an old man who was probably just trying to be nice, and crazy for deeming a friendly smile evil.
Years later, sitting in her house at the top of the stairs, alone on the hill (except for her sleeping dog), she looked out her window, and remembered the incident. Over the years, she had learned to trust her own instincts, and knew the man was most likely a lecherous molester, at best. She congratulated her eight-year-old self for having the guts to act on a strong feeling.
As she stared up at the starry sky, imagining that she could feel the planet slowly turning, she once again visualized the aliens eating clouds for dinner. A whole family of aliens bellied up to a celestial table, passing around the cloud loaf and mashed clouds, with big glasses of cloud juice on the side.
And she smiled.