By Michael Harper
Fifty yards above me, a ring of spinning lights hovers stoically. It radiates an ocular gravity, its significance weighing as much as a planet. All my senses are sucked into its orbit. The spinning ship makes a gentle hum like a well-maintained washing machine. The lights make me remember small things from my childhood. A fallen apple being devoured by bees. The smell of lilacs through my bedroom window in spring. Memories from before I possessed language to describe the daily miracles of discovering a fresh world.
Just as it had appeared, the ship bursts away in an instant, becoming a flicker of light in our memory. Leaving only shadow for us to taste and feel.
About twenty of us are in a clearing in the park. Nobody seems brave enough to speak. It would be like answering a phone call during church. There is a hesitancy to be first. We look curiously at each other while trying not to give anything away.
Finally, an old woman holding a poodle asks, “Was that a helicopter?” It’s a way to sound sane while leaving room for doubt.
“No. Definitely not. It was too quiet,” says a man wearing a suit and Converse high-tops.
“What do you think it was then?” asks a young woman pushing a stroller. The man with her whispers something in her ear, and she shakes her head.
It is the wrong pronoun. The it we all saw has broken apart into multitudes, taking on different forms and meanings in each of our minds. Every imagination carrying the experience bouncing and bumbling down different corridors like a running back, wriggling through a crowd of defenders. We know that the it multiplies quickly, and any hope at a consensus of truth is left in the wake of our minds’ justifications for the impossible.
“Maybe it was a drone,” says a girl doing dips on the playground equipment.
A stout man with a receding man bun and copy of Dune under his arm interjects, “What are we doing? We all know what it was. It’s a spaceship. We need to call someone. Did anyone take a video?”
His words sit there like a corpse. Nobody touches them. He looks around desperately. We all look away.
“I don’t know about that,” says the suit. Then, he laughs awkwardly.
This ignites the avalanche, and everyone gratefully throws out possibilities.
“I’m not wearing my glasses.”
“I saw it through the tree branches.”
“The lights were too bright.”
“There are all types of things in the sky these days.”
And I’m silent, which feels worse.
After fifteen minutes or so, the crowd begins dispersing from the holy site, sufficiently convinced by their collective reasonableness. Only an itch of doubt suspends itself in our brains, casting spider webs in the corners. But it’s good enough to live with.
Earthly desires slowly return. I’m hungry and have to pee. I head towards home. I know what I saw. I even know what it means. But now I don’t have to think about it, or more accurately, I don’t have to do anything with it. I can lie through silence, and comfortably believe nothing. Because it is our truth, something I am not personally responsible for. The good people of the world, those just trying to get by, agreed to it.
My grandmother always talked about a fairy she found as a girl in Ireland. She followed a twinkling light through the woods. It led her deep into the forest until she reached a stream she’d never seen. A boy her age was fishing there. She knew immediately they would marry. The boy was my grandfather.
Nobody believed her, of course. Not even my grandfather. When I asked him if he thought the fairy was real, he replied, “No. Nobody does. How could anyone?”
I didn’t understand what he meant until now. It’s the same reason UFOs are only spotted in rural settings. Groups can talk themselves out of what is impossible to believe. There’s enough doubt to weave an illusionary quilt of consensus to protect our realities with. While alone, we are only as believable as our best individual lie. Some of us might resist this group logic, but most of us trust what we want to hear. So, I can go home and get into bed and forget it all, even if I can’t fall asleep.