He was a never-nude, but she loved him. Mallory Smith always thought gymnophobia was something they made up for Arrested Development but then she met her husband. John insisted on always having his feet covered, so it didn’t interfere with intimacy as much as if he insisted on always wearing pants or something.
Porn stars wore socks, why not her husband?
That wasn’t his only idiosyncrasy though. Lots of little things about him; for instance the way he held a comb or how he never seemed to use the bathroom unless she asked about it.
But none of that mattered to Mallory. He was kind and good and treated her right. He made plenty of money with his home business doing online training for immigrants.
She thought he was cute. Maybe the cutest man she had ever met. He was handsome in his own way, if a bit awkward. Uncomfortable in his own skin you might say.
As Mallory gathered her things to head to work, she looked over at John sitting at the kitchen table. “I love you, you strange, strange man.”
He put down the paper and smiled at her, “I love you too. Far more than I ever expected.”
She smiled at his words and gave him a quick kiss. “Alright, I’m headed to work. I’ll see you this evening.”
There are moments in life that everything changes. Moments where one action will alter the course of your destiny forever. Sometimes common sense can come into play. For instance, those nude pictures you send your boyfriend might turn up someday to end your presidential run. But sometimes life-changing events aren’t so obvious. For instance, forgetting your keys might not seem like a life-shattering event but it could turn out to have ramifications that change your entire worldview.
When Mallory scrambled back into the house for her keys, John was no longer at the kitchen table. The newspaper was folded neatly, and his chair was pushed in. He was always so tidy. His socks were never wadded up on the floor. Instead, they were always neatly folded inside the laundry basket.
She realized that maybe she could get her keys without the embarrassment of John seeing her. She crept from the kitchen into the living room, but as she did she saw John walking into their bedroom.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. You think, Oh I’ll just sneak up on my husband and tickle him. But maybe your husband is expecting someone else to show up. Or maybe he’ll think he’s being attacked and defend himself. Maybe the events will start a chain reaction that ends with the Earth being swallowed by a sentient asteroid but then spit up because we aren’t cooked properly.
Or maybe what happens, and what did happen, is that you walk into the room and your husband is nowhere to be seen.
Mallory looked under the bed and in the closet but she didn’t see him anywhere. She assumed he must be hiding from her as a joke, but there were only so many places a grown man could fit. She was about to give up and start calling for him when she noticed the light coming from behind the bedroom door.
She almost didn’t see it. She never looked behind the bedroom door. Most people without kids never do. It’s a handy corner to throw things and then forget them until years later. It’s the type of place where heartbroken socks go to hide from their partner. The type of place where dust bunnies pile up so high that they form governments. The type of place where spiders go to plot when best to drop on you. The type of place that secret societies meet in, albeit very tiny secret societies.
Mallory did something she hadn’t done in years, she pushed the bedroom door shut, immediately destroying years of hard-fought dust bunny freedom. What should have been a plain, dust-covered wall was instead an open doorway leading into a dark, industrial stairwell. Concrete walls were sparsely lit by flickering overhead lights and the entire place smelled faintly of chicken and vegetables. She expected a secret tunnel under the house to smell musky or vaguely of death. Instead, it smelled delicious, although the chicken might have other views on the matter. She wasn’t sure if she should be frightened or hungry.
She was at one of those moments again. Decisions and luck and fate and forgotten keys all came together at that moment in a swirl of destiny with a sprinkling of chicken.
Mallory wasn’t stupid. She had seen movies. She knew what you were supposed to do in this situation. Leave. Get out. Move as quickly as possible while carrying as many weapons as you could without losing your pants. Attack first, ask questions later.
But this was her husband. This was John. The most gentle man she’d ever known. Although come to think of it the dirty sock folding did seem vaguely serial killer-ish.
She took a tentative step through the doorway and stopped. Nothing happened. No serial killer jumped out. She noticed a sign at the bottom of the stairs but it was too dark to read.
Mallory took a deep breath and another careful step. As the words came into focus, she froze.
Human suits must be worn at all times. Fastening optional.
Mallory thought about turning around again. The idea of human suits did very little to make her feel less like she was inside a horror movie. Maybe it was just supposed to be funny. She knew John had a strange sense of humor.
She could hear the sound of cooking. She couldn’t figure out why John would have a secret basement kitchen under the house. He was a bit of a nerd though, maybe he liked to pretend he was Batman.
The stairwell led to a corridor. Here there was much more light spilling from around the corner of an open room. The cooking noises grew louder.
Mallory steeled herself and walked with purpose around the corner.
“What in the-”
Her words left her throat as her mind caught up with her eyes.
The man behind the kitchen counter wasn’t John. That was the first thing she noticed.
The second thing she noticed was that all of his skin and clothes were hanging off the front of his body loosely. It was like a hospital robe that was unhooked in the back.
The third thing she noticed was that she was counting the number of things she was noticing.
The fourth thing was that behind the human flesh was a being that seemed to have stepped straight out of a science fiction movie. Its skin was more like that of a snake or lizard than a human. Scaled and dark colored. She didn’t really have much chance to soak in the details though as she became distracted by the way the creature was stirring vegetables.
Mallory was never certain why she reacted the way she did. Maybe it was just that she was trying to cling on to any sense of normalcy. Mallory didn’t know what this thing was or what it was doing under her house, but she was certain that vegetables shouldn’t be stirred with an egg beater.
“What in the world are you doing? Use a spatula!” She grabbed one out of a jar on the counter and showed the being how to move the food around in the pan.
“I didn’t know. I turned the handle and the metal thingies moved the vegetables around. Am I going to flunk out?”
Flunk out? Was John teaching actual aliens?!
She was mesmerized by the way the loose skin moved as the thing talked but after a moment she realized that it wasn’t attacking her or trying to make a suit out of her flesh.
No one ever accused Mallory of being slow. She quickly went through a thousand possible responses, most of them involving some variation of “Help!”
Instead, she said, “I’ll tell John you are improving.”
The creature smiled. Or at least Mallory thought that was happening. It was difficult to say with the face all bunched up like that.
The things said, “Thank you very much.”
“You just keep at it, you’ll be cooking like a champ in no time. Try to keep your face out of the pan though, you’ve got a bit of chicken in your eye,” Mallory said. She didn’t really know what she was saying at this point, she was simply trying to stall her inevitable demise at the hands of this strange creature. “Anyway, I’ll just be going.”
She backed uneasily away from the cooking figure but it made no move to follow or stop her. As she made her way around the corner back into the corridor she sped up her pace a bit. Unfortunately, while this moved her away from one strange kitchen it moved her into another.
Here a similar sight greeted her although thankfully this time the room’s occupant looked fully human. A dark-skinned woman stood in a kitchen in front of a cutting board full of fresh produce. In her hand was a kitchen knife, but Mallory realized the woman had no idea how to use it.
“Don’t hold it like that you’ll ruin your human suit.” What am I saying? “That’s the blade. Use that end to cut the vegetables while you hold the other end.”
The woman smiled appreciatively and opened a cabinet revealing a trashcan. She pulled the can out and showed Mallory the contents. It was filled with what Mallory could only assume were the equivalent of gloves. Flesh toned gloves. Very flesh toned.
“Oh dear. You really did ruin your human suit. That’s very wasteful. We’ve only got one planet you know.”
The woman eyed her suspiciously. The moment stretched on uncomfortably.
Mallory knew she shouldn’t have said it. This was it. This was when the alien would take off the human suit and turn Mallory into a kebab.
“One planet? Ha ha ha ha ha ha!” The alien woman didn’t exactly laugh. Instead, she actually said ha. But it was clear from the look of glee on her face that she thought it was funny. “I think I understand Earth humor now!”
“Oh good. You get an A-plus!”
The woman, at least Mallory thought it was a woman, beamed with happiness.
“Keep it up. Try not to burn the vegetables or waste any more hands. I’ve got to catch up.” She gestured vaguely farther down the corridor.
“Oh, you just missed John. I’m sure if you hurry you can catch him. One planet! Ha ha ha!”
Mallory knew she should have turned around. She could pretend she never saw anything. Pack some bags and go back to her mother’s. But this was her life and despite everything she had just seen, she still loved her husband.
Mallory sprinted down the corridor. She passed a room full of people watching television. She paused long enough to say “Good job” before hurrying after her husband.
She turned a corner and there he was. Naked. Well almost naked. He had socks on. She shouted, “John!”
He twirled around and his jaw dropped. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here? What is this place? Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
He sighed. “I get hot wearing them. When you aren’t around I never wear anything but the socks.”
“So you are a never-nude nudist? Wait a minute. That’s not important. What about my other questions!?”
“This is my job. I told you I train immigrants. I might have left out a few details.”
“Like the fact that they are aliens from another planet?”
“For starters, yeah. But they aren’t dangerous or anything. They just want to live in peace.”
“How can you be so sure they aren’t here to take over the Earth?” She knew what he was going to say. She didn’t want to be right, but it would explain a lot of things. Like the socks.
“Because I’m from another planet.”
After everything she had seen, she wasn’t surprised at all. But it was still shocking. How could she have been duped so easily? She slumped to the ground and sat with her back against the wall.
John knelt down beside her and said, “I really do love you. I didn’t think I would find someone who would make me this happy. Especially not a human. But I love you. I didn’t mean for you to find out, especially not like this. But what was I supposed to do? Unzip in front of you? I just never knew what to say.”
Moments. Decisions. This was what it all came down to. This was the culmination of thousands of small choices. Mallory had always known John was strange, did this really change anything?
“John, I love you too. But if I’m going to stay with you, I need to know something. And I need you to be honest with me. Always from now on.”
He nodded his head yes emphatically.
“I need to know….why do you always wear socks? Is it to cover up your alien feet? I mean, can’t you just cover those too?”
“Oh no. It’s nothing like that at all.” He looked at the floor in the way he always did when he was embarrassed. “My feet get cold.”
She grabbed him then. Threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“I can handle this. I think. You obviously need my help here. I should have known you were an alien this whole time. You are hardly qualified to teach anyone.”
“I fooled you didn’t I?”
“I was distracted by your cute human suit.”
This was love. This was life. This was the end of her old life and the beginning of her new one. Decisions. Moments. Forgotten keys.
And cute human suits.