My name is Jacob Solomon—Jake, to my friends. The day an alien showed up and stabbed me in my arm in 1987 was a really crap day. But, that was the day that started everything. The sort of nonsense that turns the mundane into something extraordinary.
Like you’d expect, if you know much about aliens, I didn’t know he was an alien. Not at first. I thought he was just a hobo stumbling off the street into the cafe I ran with my mom.
Or he could have been any variety of homeless drug addict looking for a quiet place to pass the night. I stood at the door, wiping my hands on my apron, telling him it was closing time.
“Come on. Let me in, son, I need a drink,” he said, grabbing for the collar of my shirt.
“This isn’t a bar,” I said, attempting to undo his hands from my collar. He had a death grip on me. “Let go. There’s a bar down the street. They’re open late.”
“I need warm shelter. Something to keep the cold rain off me.”
“This isn’t a hotel,” I informed him. I almost had one of his hands free. But the other was clutching me too tightly.
“Just for a few hours,” he begged.
“Closing time, man. It’s almost 10.” I kept trying to pry his fingers away but he had some kind of supernatural grip on me.
His breath smelled of liquor and stale old things, like saltines and newspaper. I wasn’t sure what sort of drugs he’d been using to get that particular fragrance, but I really didn’t want a homeless drunk to fall asleep inside the cafe. We were just a small shop, the kind with tiny cafe tables and tiny chairs. We were modeled on a French patisserie and our maximum capacity was twenty bodies, according to the fire marshal. Our max. And that included myself and my mom, who was usually running the shop with me, all the way till closing.
But tonight she was out on a date with a new guy, and I’d volunteered to close up for her, though I had an early morning meeting the next day. I’d just begun my first year at NYU and I still had loads of schoolwork to finish for the night. What’s a young nobody like me doing at NYU? Thanks. Thanks a lot. But, for the record, I don’t disagree. Well, it was nothing spectacular—I got in through a grant for the disadvantaged. That smarted, but I’d take it. Anything to improve things for my mom and me.
There was no way I could carry the homeless drunk out on my own if he sat down to get warm and fell asleep or passed out. I stood firm, trying to block the door, but the bastard did a pump-fake move and when I tried to block him, he slipped around me the other way and hurried to the counter.
There were a few other patrons still inside, but they were doing the typical New Yorker thing and minding their own business. Everyone was used to seeing crazies materialize from the darkness as night fell. Best ignore that shit and hurry on your way.
I let the door fall shut, and with it, the cool air that was seeping in around my legs and creating gooseflesh along my bare arms. Golden leaves, shiny with rain, gusted in around my feet, scattering over the white tiles of the floor.
I sighed and followed the hobo. He was really making a nuisance of himself just in time to ruin my plans of finishing closing duties quickly and getting upstairs to the apartment. My plans of reading Treasure Island for my English course were fading as the hobo made more work for me.
“One drink,” I told him, taking pity on the poor fool. “But you have to drink it outside. On the house, if you’ll just leave once it’s ready so I can close up.”
The other patrons took my hints and began to gather up their things.
“Fine,” the hobo said, rubbing his hands together. He stared up at the menu on the wall behind the counter. He squinted and smiled, then ran his fingers through his damp hair. He took his hand out and looked at it, like he was surprised at the texture of his hair. I wondered what sort of drug he was tripping on. Ecstasy? Mushrooms? I knew people who did all sorts of things, though I’d never done any myself. Irresponsible luxuries like that had no place in my life. Not since my dad left us a few years ago.
I went behind the counter and leaned on it, waiting. My bones and muscles were tired. My feet barked at me to sit down. I’d been on them since 5 am when I opened the cafe for my mom—covering for her, again.
“So, what do you want? A cappuccino?”
“And toast and jam. What is that? It sounds lovely. Something about the words. I think I would like that: toast and jam.”
“Well, it’s toast and jam. Exactly what it says it is.” We specialized in comfort food, but I wasn’t going to make him food. “I said a drink. No food. Sorry. The kitchen closes an hour earlier than the rest of the shop.”
“But I’m hungry, son,” he said in a raspy voice.
“Haven’t you heard the expression, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” I asked, going to the espresso machine. I weighed out the beans for a medium capp, and quickly ground them into the portafilter. I tamped them down and inserted it into the machine. I steamed the milk and when the espresso was done brewing, I poured it all into the disposable cup.
“Here you go,” I said, putting a lid on it and handing the drink to the hobo.
He took it in both hands and oohed at how warm the cup was. “That’s very nice.”
“I’m glad you like it. Now it’s time to leave so I can finish closing up.” All the other patrons had made their way out. I just needed to get him out of the place and then I could relax, finish the closing tasks, and get up to my room. My bed and book were calling to me.
“Now, what about that toast and jam?” He asked holding his hand out. His fingers trembled just like I’d expect a drug-addict’s would.
Before we could begin arguing more and I lost my patience, the front door opened with a tinkle of the entrance bell and another man entered.
“Damn,” I muttered, shaking my head. I should have locked the door behind the last non-drug-addled patron as they left.
“Jacob Solomon,” the new patron growled, looking straight at me.
“He’s not here,” I said quickly. In my experience, if ever someone came into the cafe specifically asking for my mother by name, it wasn’t a good thing. It was usually a bill collector of some kind, one that was still looking for my dad, years after his disappearance. It was yet another reason I had no fond memories or feelings for the man. “Yeah, you just missed him, man. And we’re closing, so if you don’t mind. Come back when we open at five a.m. and have a nice petite dejeuner.”
I tried to hustle him out, but now the other hobo was huddled in a corner, avoiding eye contact with the new weirdo. It was a night for all the crazy, I guessed. When the weather turned cold, that often happened.
“I have come with a dire warning,” the new guy said. He was dressed in a weird outfit. Looked like something Michael Jackson or Bootsy Collins might wear. Or my favorite, KISS. Maybe even ABBA. Just some kind of disco nonsense crossed with a space suit angle.