"Pretty Purple Lights"


“Just saw a UFO,” I told her. I lay in bed with my cell phone pressed to my ear, my eyes full of dazzle, brain running its pragmatic subroutines to make sense of it all. I wanted to believe but didn’t have the knack. With this, as so many other things, I put my faith in logic.

Miranda’s voice sparked to life as she asked, “A real one?”

I knew I’d made the right choice to call and share this with her. All traces of resentment from our argument earlier in the day vanished like the sun behind the moon in an eclipse. It hadn’t been that much of a fight anyway. Miranda said in that passive-aggressive way of hers, “Nobody cares about me. Nobody listens.” I told her she was full of shit. Then we both headed off to our apartments in a huff. Now, I needed a way for us to move on from that without either admitting defeat. For Miranda, who loved to lounge around in panties and a tee shirt while watching alien shows on Netflix, what better solution could I come up with than to talk about something odd I saw in the sky? She loved to talk about flying saucers, military cover-ups, alien autopsies, Nazca lines, landing bases on the moon, and anything else to do with little green men.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought of making this story up. It happened to be true. “Yeah,” I said. “A real UFO. I’m not saying it was a flying saucer or anything like that. Just a pyramid of pretty purple lights in the sky. It just floated there for a while. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it was aliens. It might’ve been, but…. I figure some rich kid was out there playing with his new drone. Still, I mean … yeah. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s so cool!”

“It was beautiful, too. A radiant purple triangle….”

A few minutes after nine o’clock, I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette like I always did because my roommate Jason hated the smell of smoke. I paced around on the black, iron balcony, my hard shoes chiming with every step as if I were striking a brass bell with a dull hammer. I smoked, circled, stopped when the blaze of violet light caught my eye. It hovered at a point in the sky where no light should have been. It was past the murky mosquito pond, the woods in back of our complex trailing downhill, the rows of houses and the street below, and on beyond the next hill and next brief patch of oaks and pines not quite a forest, over where the folks with money lived. “What is that?” I muttered. It shone brilliantly through a gap in branches of the nearest trees where half the leaves already had fallen away. If it had appeared a couple of months earlier, I wouldn’t have seen it.

Immediately, my brain said spaceship. It was a made up of bold, shimmering beacons like the beams of three flashlights run through a curtain of purple satin. It looked the way spaceships often looked in movies from the 1970s and 80s before modern CGI and computers began to add so many unnecessary details. I thought of the stories I heard as a kid about strange lights in the sky that seemed to follow people home.

Whatever it was, it didn’t belong there. I smoked two or three cigarettes after dark each evening, and I recognized the red dots of two nearby radio towers. I could pick out an airplane’s lights by size, shape, and direction as it headed to or from the airport five miles away. Likewise, like a catfish seen through river murk, a chopper flying patients to one of the nearby hospitals displayed a certain mix of light and shadow that gave it away even before I heard the whir of turning rotors. This thing wasn’t a star, either—too big, too close, and a color unlike that of any star I’d ever heard of.

Without taking my eyes off it, I fumbled for the handle of the sliding glass door. “Hey, Jason,” I shouted, “you want to see something amazing?”

“What is it, Bill? I’m watching Dancing with the Stars!” He made no move to get up, but I felt his brown eyes staring at me from beneath those godawful Vonnegut eyebrows of his. I was sure his neck had wrenched around at almost a hundred and eighty degrees.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think it’s a UFO.”

“A what?” he whined as if he hadn’t heard me, but his recliner clapped shut with a sound like the crackle of lightning. Then he was beside me, leaving the door open as he lurched onto the balcony. “Where?”

I pointed.

“Holy shit,” he said.

“Uh huh,” I grunted.

“What the fuck is that?” he said.

“UFO,” I replied.

“Couldn’t be.”

“UFO,” I repeated.

“I guess … maybe.”

“It’s not a helicopter,” I said.

“No.”

“Not an airplane.”