I moved to Paris in December of 1947, right before Christmas. It was a hurried move, just like the one I have to make now. Luckily I never married and have no family, so no ties exist to keep me here; just as none existed to keep me in Artesia, New Mexico, the town of my birth, and nothing on earth can keep me in Paris now.
Paris needs no explanation. Artesia, on the other hand, is a small town about thirty miles from Roswell. I thought I would die there just as my father and his father before that, but the events of 1947 changed that. I didn’t notify my boss of my departure, I simply bought the first ticket I could afford to the farthest place I could find. As it turned out that happened to be Paris. Fortunately I found a job at a tavern, Le Chat Noir ‘” The Black Cat ‘” owned by an American. In Artesia I worked at another tavern called the Dog’s Neck and except for the language each tavern was the same as the other. Sometimes when I close my eyes I think that I’m back in New Mexico, working at the Dog’s Neck Tavern for old Mr. Feeney. The air in the place always hung heavy with the smell of alcohol. Mr. Andrews, the dry cleaner, used to say that if you left a sponge on the top of the bar, in an hour you’d be squeezing out beer. I never thought life would change that much but it did. Even to this very day I still have nightmares about the summer of 1947. I spent many years trying to forget the place and the incident, but since the only job I could find in Paris happened to be another saloon the hope of getting New Mexico completely out of mind became impossible. There’s always a sound, or a sight, or something someone says that brings back the old memories. Last week one of our customers came in with an English language newspaper and left it on the bar. The top story reported that NASA intended to start a mission to study the surface, atmosphere and magnetic field of Mars. It was to be called Mars Observer and would be a year long project. That got me to thinking about Artesia and The Dog’s Neck Tavern and old Mr. Feeney. I can still remember the day his wife came into the saloon reporting that she witnessed an object in the sky, a flying disc she called it.
” Have you been drinking again?” Mr. Feeney asked his wife. She wasn’t against having a few shots of whiskey, but that is usually in winter and this happened June.
” I’m as sober as you are, Henry,” Mrs. Feeney shouted back, annoyed at the accusation. ” I spotted a large flying disc right over W.W.’s farm.”
Sure enough the next day W.W.Brazel, a farmer in Lincoln County, told us he found a pile of tin foil and metal on his farm. He intended to go to the Air Force Headquarters to report it. Most thought him as crazy as Mrs. Feeney. Certainly Mr. Feeney felt that way. I reserved judgement on it and went about my work of mopping floors and stocking shelves. Gladys the waitress seemed to be very quiet on the whole subject. She seemed nervous when anyone discussed the incident and plenty of discussion of it ensued from that day on. Right on into July customers came in every day relating their own story of seeing something in the sky. Gladys rented the back room from old man Feeney and whenever someone started talking about the ‘saucer’ Gladys always started to tremble.
” I need ten minutes off, Henry,” she said, retreating into the back room.
She usually returned after a few minutes, a little paler then when she left, and much quieter.
” Are you alright, Gladys?” I would ask, and she always nodded her head solemnly and went back to her work.
This went on for a few weeks until one day in July The Roswell Daily Record ran an article on the front page on July 8th : AIR FORCE CAPTURES FLYING SAUCER ON RANCH IN ROSWELL REGION. Well that report got all of Lincoln County talking. The Air Force said that there were sixteen sightings, but me and Mr. Feeney figured it to be more like eight hundred. Gladys visibly shook most days and I could see that Mr. Feeney thought of firing her. One night before we closed Gladys took me aside. ” I’ve seen them,” she confided, looking around to make sure no one else heard her. There’s something about the relationship between a waitress and a busboy that promotes confidence and to my knowledge I am the only one she spoke to about the incident.
” It seems like everyone has seen those flying discs, Gladys. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
” No. I mean I’ve seen them! They’re greenish purple and they have orange hair. They don’t speak.
They just walk into the backroom and look at me for a few moments, sit on my furniture, and then they’re gone.”
I stared at Gladys not knowing what to say. Luckily Mr. Feeney walked in and we had to stop the conversation. Gladys just about ran out of the tavern.
” I’m staying with my sister tonight, Henry,” Gladys shouted back at Mr. Feeney, while she ran to the door. She paused a moment and took a long look in the direction of the backroom and then ran quickly.
” Now what is that about?” Mr. Feeney said to himself. I pretended not to hear him and went about my business of cleaning up.
The next day Gladys didn’t show up for work. The Roswell Daily Record ran an article: AIR FORCE SAYS IT WAS A WEATHER BALLOON. Two days later, on July 11th, Mr. Feeney had to bring his wife to the doctor leaving me alone to close up the tavern. I was just about to close when I spotted Mr. Andrews the dry cleaner outside the window talking to an Air Force colonel. They seemed to be arguing about something. The colonel grabbed Mr. Andrews by the wrist. Mr. Andrews raised his arm as if to say OK. He opened the door to the tavern and handed me a box. ” Give this to Gladys. Tell her I got all the spots off of the slipcovers except for the green and purple ones.” He then walked out and I watched him and the colonel head towards the Air Force base. I opened the box that contained Gladys’ dry cleaning. Her chair covers lay on top with a bunch of green and purple blotches. I brought them to her backroom apartment. When I was about to leave I noticed a green handprint on the door. A strand of orange hair hung on the latch. I hurried out and locked the door. That was the last time I saw the Dog’s Neck Tavern and Artesia, New Mexico. I went right home and packed and left for Paris.
Here I sit now, over sixty years later and suddenly Paris doesn’t seem far enough away from New Mexico. After reading that report that NASA is going to study Mars I decided to buy a heavy winter coat and a one way ticket to Vladivostok. It seems that everything is so complicated. Just like answering the question – is lip gloss made from whale sperm?